Season after Pentecost (Proper 21 [26]): The Old Testament Passage – Lost in the desert and really thirsty

“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (Exodus 17:1)

For a while now I have been focusing on the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the land that the Lord God had promised them. And I don’t just mean that the RCL has caused that focus. What I mean is that my focus has been on what the Israelites have been doing and saying. Of course they are weary and unsure of what the future will hold. They are not sure how to relate to this Yahweh, this Adonay, who is leading them. There ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are far removed from them. And Joseph enjoyed the comforts of Egypt (eventually) while they only knew the whip hand of their overlords and slave drivers. To hear them tell it, that was better than desert. But there is also Moses, who interprets what the “new” Lord God wants, and mediates the Divine’s message to them. What do they think of him? And how is Moses acting towards them?

“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” (Verse 2)

Some time back, Moses came down the mountain from communing with God, and Moses’ face glowed. It so unnerved the Israelites that Moses had to hide his face. I am not sure at this writing if Moses’ face was still covered. It seems a lot of times in this passages Moses has aligned himself with God; that is, he and God are guiding the people through the desert. And I have to wonder how the Israelites were separating out in their own minds the difference between the messenger of God and the Lord God the Divine.

“But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Verses 3 – 4)

And as I ponder on these things, I have to think back to Moses encountering the burning bush. And how Moses was kind of reluctant at being drawn into this rescue mission of God’s. Moses had his encounter with the Divine then, and during the exodus in the desert. The Israelites had not seen the power of the Divine except through what Moses did.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Verses 5 – 6)

I do not mean to point fingers at anyone, really. But I can see things from the perspective of the Israelites. They are far from home, in “sketchy” conditions, and relying on an old man who gets testy with them. A few days ago I was commenting on one of the psalms that we a praise to God for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians and shepherding them through the trials of the desert. Very good hindsight. But today, we are in the moment (or at least in the moment with the Israelites). And things have been pretty shaky. I can relate to that.

“He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Verse 7)

It is a question that many have asked – is the Lord with us or not? Nations, armies, and generations have asked, does the Divine have our back or not? When things are hard going, and the odds are against us – is the Lord with us? Sure, we will be able to know in hindsight. But what about in the “now”? May you, beloved reader, find your own answer to that question. Shalom!

One thought on “Season after Pentecost (Proper 21 [26]): The Old Testament Passage – Lost in the desert and really thirsty

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