OceanSide church of Christ

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The Mistakes at Meribah

Cory Landolt


     A person could receive no higher compliment than for God to mention his conduct as an example for others to follow; and he could receive no greater rebuke than for God to point at him and say, "He is a tragedy. Look at him and learn from him about what not to do."


      Falling into the category of "Don't Do," ancient Israel became an example of how to displease God. Paul wrote, concerning the Israelites, "Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). In Exodus 17, as the Israelites journeyed toward Mount Sinai, they came to Rephidim. But because of their unfaithful attitude, Moses names the place "Meribah" and "Massah" (Exodus 17:7), which mean "testing" and "temptation." The event portrayed a powerful example in the eyes of the Psalmist: " Harden not your heart, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness; When your fathers tempted me, Proved me, and saw my work" (Psalm 95:8, 9).


      What was it that Israel did that brought forth such a stinging rebuke from the Lord? What are the lessons we may learn from their mistakes at Meribah?


       First, the people began complaining. Finding no water there, the text says, "the people quarreled with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why quarrel ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt Jehovah?" (17:2). Their request was more than simply asking for a glass of water. It was an unnecessary complaint against Moses and God. The text continues with a more complete depiction of the scene: "And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore hast thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (17:3). They tested the Lord by showing doubt that He was among them. One of the worst sins of which the human heart can be guilty is accusing God of being cruel and uncaring with His children! When we complain and murmur about our situations, are we not testing the Lord? Do we doubt that He is "among us"? Do we act as though He were far away and unconcerned about our problems?


       Second, the people were selfish. Instead of looking at God's design for them, these people focused on their thirst. Their desire for water blotted out their picture of God's merciful leadership of His people. He was preparing them for a greater service as His nation, but they were fretting about the lack of moisture for their tongues. Their response reminds one of people who complain about the treatment of soldiers in military boot-camp; they complain about the lack of hydration, food, and relaxation the trainees receive. But they neglect to understand that the harsh and rigorous training prepares one for a greater service. Rather than murmuring, they should be rejoicing that they are going to be well prepared for the competition.


       Third, the people were disobedient. The Israelites, both as a multitude and as individuals, belonged to God. They had been redeemed by His hand and were to live by His words and trust in His care. However, at Rephidim they refused to listen to Him. They hardened their hearts by denying God's concern for them and by rejecting His plan for them. This ought to remind us about Jude's statement concerning the Israelites disobedience: "Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not" (Jude 5).


        Every person and every nation must make the decision to follow either the path of obedience or the path of self-will. The only way one can turn into the lane of disobedience is by choosing to become deaf to God's directions. At its base, this response is a hardening of the heart toward God. But with His words, "Today, if ye would hear His voice" (Psalm 95:7), He invites us to lead lives of obedience.