When Faith in God Is Challenged 

Exodus 17:1-7

Dr. William S. Epps, Senior Pastor

Sunday, February 20, 2022
When Faith in God is Challenged
1Next, they journeyed forth, the whole company of the sons of Israel, from the wilderness of Sin, setting out as Yahweh directed, They pitched camp at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. 2So it was that the people became dissatisfied with Moses, and said “Give us water, so that we may drink,!” But Moses answered them, “Why are you so dissatisfied with me? Why are you putting Yahweh on trial?” 3Still the people were parched for water there, so the people grumbled against Moses, and said, “What is this? You have brought us up from Egypt to kill us, along with our sons and our stock, of thirst?” 4Moses then called out to Yahweh for help, saying, “What am I to do with these people? A little more, and they will be stoning me to death!” 5So Yahweh said to Moses, “Move along in front of the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel: take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river Nile, and go along, 6When you see me standing in front of you, there on a rock in Horeb, then strike the rock, and water will flow forth from it, so that the people can drink.” So Moses did exactly that, as the elders of Israel looked on.7For that reason, he called the name of the place “Massah (Testing) and Meribah (Dissatisfaction),” on account of the dissatisfaction of the sons of Israel and on account of their putting Yahweh to the test, asking, “Is Yahweh present with us, or not?" Exodus 17:1-7
We began this month focusing on the passage from Psalm 137, a psalm of remembrance. That psalm chronicled the situation of persons in captivity lamenting their condition. The passage heightened our awareness that lamenting is a part of life. Life doesn't always work like you desire. You express your displeasure through lamenting. The passage also heightened our awareness about how to respond to undesirable situations. You refuse to humor those who want to poke fun at what you consider sacred. You recognize that tyrants always find a pretext for their tyranny. Thirdly, we were made aware that we pledge our allegiance and loyalty to God.
The second in the series was from the book of Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 4-7 and 11. Making the best of adversity. We became aware firstly to face the reality of the situation for what it is. The inhumanity to which we are subjected is harmful and horrendous. Secondly, we learned that we are to be productive where we are. Build what you need for yourself. Provide the sustenance to sustain yourself. Produce a posterity. Seek the peace of the city and pray to the Lord for it, for in the peace thereof, shall you have peace. Finally, plan for the future believing that the Lord has plans for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  
Consider how you have remembered what you have been experiencing and how you have been managing adversity in your life.  
Monday, February 21 2022
President’s Day
This third Sunday in February the focus is on a passage in Exodus 17:1-7 which shares what to do when faith in God is challenged. Here is an instance about people asking, “is God among us or not?” In their frustration they vented their doubt, disappointment and distress passionately. Has your faith in God ever been challenged? Imagine a situation in which you may have asked like the children of Israel did, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Here is a story about a people's faith in God being challenged.
The unfolding drama of this dilemma is quite interesting, insightful and inspirational.
A contingent of persons set out as directed by God into the wilderness. They came to a place called Rephidim (a place of spreading out) but there was no water to drink. The people became dissatisfied with Moses and expressed it. “Give us water, so that we may drink,!” But Moses answered them, “Why are you so dissatisfied with me? Why are you putting Yahweh on trial?” Still the people were parched for water there, so the people grumbled against Moses, and said, “What is this? You have brought us up from Egypt to kill us, along with our sons and our stock, of thirst?”   
The Lord instructs Moses, “Move along in front of the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel: take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river Nile, and go along, 6When you see me standing in front of you, there on a rock in Horeb, then strike the rock, and water will flow forth from it, so that the people can drink.” When Moses did this, water came forth in abundance, providing for the needs of the Israelites. He named the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel), an epitaph which the Israelites would gladly have stricken from their history. 
The point of this narrative is underscored by its summary conclusion:
Moses names the place “Testing and Dissatisfaction,” a name that reverses the sequence of previous events. Since the dissatisfied people put Yahweh (and Moses) to the test by their complaining, a complaining which posed the unbelievable question, “Is Yahweh present with us, or not?” The scandal of this question of course is that their release and their freedom, their rescue at the sea, their guidance and sustenance provided through the wilderness, and their very presence at Rephidim all answered such an inquiry in unmistakable events. The only unbelievable aspect of the narrative is that the Israelites could possibly ask such a question at such a time, and on the basis of so flimsy a provocation. The question anticipates the terrible doubt that is to come (Exodus 32), even as it poses the real basis of the grumbling and neglect of the many proofs of the Lord’s presence with them.
Consider what it means to challenge your faith in God.  
Tuesday, February 22, 2022
The Israelites should have learned to trust God to supply their needs, based upon God’s previous provision of water at Marah (Exodus 15:22-26) and quail and manna in the wilderness of Sin in chapter 16. Furthermore, the Israelites did far more than just grumble, as they had previously done. Before this, the Israelites had grumbled against Moses and Aaron (15:24; 16:2, 7-8), but now they are quarreling with Moses and about to stone him (17:4)
Before, the Israelites asked Moses what they were to drink (15:24), but now they are demanding that Moses give them water to drink.  Since Moses had been able to miraculously sweeten the waters at Marah and to produce quail and manna, the people appear to be demanding that he perform another miracle for them.
The difference with this situation and the response of the people compared to other instances is apparent. When the waters at Marah were bitter the people complained, what shall we drink? Moses cries out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood that made the bitter water sweet. It is as though he must prove he has God’s authority to lead them by producing water miraculously. The people were challenging God here as well. The challenge of the Israelites was, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Imagine this question being asked as the pillar of cloud, in which God was present and by which God revealed God’s glory and led them to this place, hovering in their sight. Moses' rebuke (that the people were putting God to the test) fell on deaf ears. They began to rehearse their memories of the "good old days" in Egypt, contrasted with their miseries and lack of resources in the desert (17:3). Unable to dissuade the people, Moses could only cry out to the Lord for help (17:4). 
This incident at Massah and Meribah becomes a description for the hardness of the hearts of the people. Also, Massah and Meribah is evidence of the grace of God and of God’s presence and provision for the people
Consider what it means to neglect to trust the Lord to supply your needs particularly when the Lord has supplied them before.  
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Firstly, faith in God is challenged in circumstances of dissatisfaction

"So it was that the people became dissatisfied." Dissatisfaction leads to doubt. Doubt leads to demanding proof. This causes us to neglect to remember all that has been done.  Listen to the admonition, "do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did" (Psalm 95:8-9)Do not be disloyal and faithless and unreliable
Satan challenged our Lord to prove that He was the Son of God by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, but our Lord rebuked him with a reference to this incident at Massah and Meribah (Matthew 4:5-7). Satan had no right to challenge Jesus for this would suggest that God is so unreliable that God must prove God’s self.  
They went from asking to demanding. Dissatisfaction can lead to making some awful choices that can bring about devastating consequences.  
Consider what it means to have your faith in God challenged
when you are disappointed. 
Thursday, February 24, 2022
Secondly, faith in God is challenged when God's Presence seems absent.

“Is Yahweh present with us, or not?"  Mack King Carter refers to what he calls the absence, ambivalence and ambiguity of God.
Wrestling with "the God question" "Is God with us or not?" ignores God's previous sustaining grace.  
There was a lot of complaining and grumbling in the wilderness. Delivering one kind of "ultimatum" after another, they set themselves up as the ones who could judge whether or not God was with them, and whether God was doing what God was supposed to do. If we are the ones to decide what shall count as evidence of God's good presence and activity among us, how presumptuous would that be to determine the kind of God you want as oppose to being chosen by a God that covenants with you. We have seen the outcome when we make God in our image. 

Notice that the people are all about God's need to act when there's no water, but seem to take the water for granted when it was provided plentifully in the past. "Which experiences shall we take as the most reliable evidence concerning God in the world and in our lives?" In fact, in Exodus 15:27, just before the manna story, the Israelites spent time in, "Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water." The spare narrative about that comfortable part of the journey doesn't mention any conversation about God's care or Moses' leadership when things were going well. Imagine during the comfortable parts of the journey. 
There is a parallel between the doubts of the people at Rephidim, and our own doubts at different points in our lives, when things get tough. In response, think about "the memory of oasis points in our past, where provision of our needs has carried with it a strong sense of God's presence," but also on the future hope that draws us forward, "something that reaches back to us from the future, to give us a foretaste of what lies ahead."

It's hard to imagine that the people had any idea of what lay just ahead, up on that mountain, and how it would shape their lives, but Janzen says that when water gushes from that rock at the base of Horeb (another name for Sinai, where they would receive the Torah), "sustaining water comes not from where they are but from where they are headed for." What would it look like to be sustained by the future more than by what is right before us in the present, or by what we've received from our ancestors before us? Have you ever had that experience?

Consider what it means for your faith to be challenged in God when you feel that God is absent, ambiguous, and/or ambivalent.
Friday, February 25, 2022
Thirdly, faith in God is challenged by our perspective of our wilderness experience.  
There's more than one way to see, and remember, the wilderness experiences. 
We might explore several other themes in this reading: first, there's the wilderness, a powerful symbol, like Moses' staff, capable of being experienced in more than one way. Throughout the story of the people of faith (and even today), "wilderness" can be a lovely (in a rugged and stark way), pristine, holy place where you can draw closer to God, or it can be a lonely, threatening place, symbolizing despair and abandonment. Think of the desert fathers or monks in monasteries away from "the world," think of Jesus preparing for ministry and being tempted by the devil. Perhaps as an illustration of the hope and desolation of the wilderness, Gary Anderson reminds us that Israel later would send the scapegoat bearing its sins off into the desert, where it would die. As "a spot of uncleanness and death," he writes, "the wilderness was a natural location for Israel to rise up in rebellion against her Creator."
If the wilderness itself embodies two very different meanings, the memory of Israel is also starkly divided about its time there. On the one hand, there's the memory of grumbling, complaining, and unfaithfulness, but it's also true, Gene Tucker writes, that the people looked back on their time there under "God's gracious and miraculous care." And so, while manna is remembered to this day as God's gracious response to human need, what's remembered about the water incident is the grumbling rather than the gift, as verse 7 tells us, in the names Moses gives the place, Massah and Meribah.  
Consider what it means that your perspective about what has happened influences your perspective on what is happening
in either a positive or negative way.
Saturday, February 26, 2022
Lewis Grizzard, the famous twentieth-century American philosopher, left us with many memorable sentences, but none of them ever landed closer to the truth than this one: "Losing feels worse than winning feels good." Why does pain almost always seem to weigh more than joy? It's another way of saying the pains of life weigh more than the joys of life. Charles Poole, discussing this as the weight of pain. We seem to remember the disappointments and negligence in life more so than the moments of fulfillment and support. Imagine permitting the negative to outweigh the positive with a perspective that eclipses the good with the present disappointment. 
Lift every voice and sing / Till earth and Heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, / High as The list'ning skies,
let it resound loud as the Rolling sea
Sing a song full of faith that the Dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of The hope that the present has brought Us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day Begun,
Let us march on till victory is Won.
Stony the road we trod, / Bitter the Chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady Beat,
Have not our weary feet, / Come to the Place for which our fathers sighed?
We have Come over a way that with tears has been Watered,
We have come, treading our path Through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from The gloomy past, till now we stand at Last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is Cast.
God of our weary years, / God of Our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy Might, / Led us into the light,
Keep us Forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Least our hearts, drunk with the wine of The world, we forget thee,
Shadowed beneath thy Hand, / May we forever stand,
True to our God, / True to our native land.
~James Weldon Johnson
Consider what it means to think of the Lord’s goodness to you particularly in life’s disappointing dilemmas and distressing developments.  

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