Exodus 17: 1-7, 3rd Sunday of Lent
March 23rd 2014
By Pastor Tim Woodard
Tests! I dislike tests! Always have and probably always will! In High School, my English teacher would give us a list of twenty words every Monday and on Friday he would test us to see if we had learned how to spell them. I dreaded Friday mornings because of this. When I was in technical training in the Air Force, there was a test every week and if we failed it we were set back, which was not something one wanted to have happen. Most of the class studied hard for those weekly exams. Either way, none of us enjoyed taking the tests. In order to get a drivers license there was a test. When I went to school there was even a class that helped you prepare for that test. Multiple choice questions, essay questions, fill in the blank questions. Everyone was always asking questions and if you didn’t know the answer you were penalized!
The real problem with tests, at least for me, was and still is… that I always know more than the tests measure. You see, I believe learning has nothing to do with the testing. In seminary I had to memorize the Greek alphabet. You had to get it perfect. We were required to take the test every week until we got a perfect score. It was pass – fail, there was no in-between. You could not get a passing grade in that New Testament class without passing that test. Of course, we all did it, all of us that made it through school. It was a total waste. I forgot it as soon as I passed the test. I remember a philosophy class I took in college. I took the final test and never went back to class. Clearly I hadn’t passed it, yet, to this day I remember the class. It changed me. It got me all excited about philosophy! I found it fascinating and interesting, but my professor never knew what I learned, because his test couldn’t measure it!
In our scripture lesson this morning the people of Israel, at least some of them, are seen to be testing the Lord. [The Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”] [Moses said to them, “Why do you test the LORD?”] The situation they find themselves in is that there was no water for them to drink. [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?”] These are the same Israelites that God, through Moses had freed from bondage in Egypt. I know you all know the story. Through Moses God preformed many miracles in order to accomplish this. Once out into the wilderness God continued to show his favor and power for these people. Surely, they did not need to be reminded of God’s power and strength?
If we view this simply as a test that they were ‘testing’ to see if God could give them water to drink then shame on them. The only way they would believe that God passed the test would be if they were given water to drink right then and there! What foolishness! Their testing method was as flawed as my philosophy professor’s! No one can fault these people for being thirsty. Nor can you dispute their concern. One will surely die if deprived of water for more than a couple days. They had their whole families and their livestock out there in that wilderness with them. Moses was the leader and they were demanding he fix this situation! Now we know that Moses always turned to God for help in such matters. [So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”] I feel for poor old Moses. I know how hard it is to respond to questions and concerns that are out of one’s hands to fix. In Moses’ case, there was no sign of water and Moses knew nothing more than the people about where to find water. So he did what he could, he pleaded with God for help.
If this had been a test of Moses’ faith, then surely he passed with flying colors! Moses knew that God would help him. He barely knew how to form the request he made unto God yet he believed, he trusted, that God would once more respond and make things right. That’s faith! And when God told him what to do he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. [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.”] I mean really! Strike a rock and expect water to come forth! What an absurd instruction! Where would you have found the answer to that one on a professor’s test!
Moses was a man of faith. Not that he started that way. Remember all the ways God reached out to him to make him a believer? The burning bush for starters; who wouldn’t have come to believe if they had been there that day; well in all fairness to Moses, he did stop and go to the bush to see why it burned but was not consumed. Not familiar with the story, check out Exodus chapter three. Surely, by this time one would think that the people would have had more faith, if not in God at least in Moses’ favor with God! Yet, one must have empathy for these people. They were thirsty and there was no water in sight. Their situation was quickly becoming dire. Miracles of the past quickly fade when one still needs the essentials of life today. Water is definitely an essential of life!
In my own journey, God has personally reached out to me and given me clear and unmistakable signs; signs that were so profound that there seem to be no justification, whatsoever, that I could ever question God’s presence in my life or question the direction that God wants me to go. Yet, I do and I have! Isn’t that awful? Isn’t that what we are thinking about the people of Israel? Isn’t it just awful that they would be questioning God’s intent for them after all God had done for them; freeing them from bondage and all? Most theologians that expound on this passage point to this as the driving issue of the passage. What about acknowledging the human side of their plight? Isn’t it reasonable for them to be questioning Moses and God about their wellbeing? Do you still question God or your chosen leaders?
In my position as a pastor I hear a lot of the stories of life. Many people have confided in me about their life situations and that of others. In my own journey of life I have needed to make major changes in the direction of my life and I have witnessed a lot. Lots of people I am acquainted with, journey with even, share with me their life situations. I have seen real life dramas play out in the communities I have lived in. At one point twelve out of a group of sixteen families had lost their homes to foreclosure in the neighborhood where I once lived… just outside of the city of Sebastian. I have watch on the news the tragic events of others. Earth quakes, tsunamis, nuclear plants leaking radiation, bombings and civil war. Yes, life is quite real and few true humans would ‘not’ find questions rising up in their guts, their hearts and their minds, at least from time to time. Faith comes easy until you develop a tumor in your body or your doctor says there is nothing more that medical science can do for you.
I believe the people of Israel passed the test of being human and falling victim to the harshness of human life. They instinctively wanted to live a bit longer and see their families and livestock live as well. They passed the test; they knew they must find water if they were to survive, despite all that their God had done for them in the recent past. They also passed the test of believing in Moses and his connection to God. That’s why they went to him. They knew that if anyone could get another miracle out of God it would be Moses. So they went to him and pressed him to seek help from the Lord his God! And Moses passed the test of faith as well! Moses turned to God asking for help and direction. It matters little the structure of these successive requests. What matters is they turned to those they knew had helped them in the past. They passed the test, even if those who witnessed their actions failed them!
The essence is not in the testing – the essence of it all is: in the action! Do your actions account for your faith, even in the midst of life? The sentences you put together may not always clarify your love for God or your belief that God is always with you. That of course is the ultimate question: “Is the LORD among us or not?” Sometimes, in our humanness we shall cry out to God in pain, anger even. We shall cry and we shall rant, yet that does not mean we are a people who have lost our faith! Moses followed the will of God and from out of a rock the people were nourished and given the water they needed. Our God, your God and my God shall give us what we need, no matter how poorly we answer the questions on the tests of faith, as life continues to test us.
Be of good heart, we are no less than… nor more than… those who came before us. We shall question and God shall answer. Amen.