He named the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled, and because they tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Illustration. Child cries; parent sends for doctor; pleasant medicine is prescribed. Later the child cries again; cry is apparently addressed to parent, but real aim is to see if the doctor will give more pleasant medicine. Chiding with the parent is a cover for experimenting upon the doctor. Here - previous murmuring against Moses had resulted (Exodus 16:2-5) in food from God. The people would see whether like conduct might not lead to a like result; they chode with Moses, but, in reality, they were tempting - trying experiments upon - God. Notice: -
I. THE CHIDING (ver. 2). An outward manifestation of displeasure against the visible leader. Why should Moses have brought them, thirsting, to this barren and inhospitable spot? The fact that their journeys were "according to the commandment of Jehovah" (ver. 1) is altogether forgotten or ignored. Not a rare offence: the people, displeased, blame the minister, quite forgetting that he has a master other than themselves. Churches are called Eben-ezers and the like; they might often as truly be called Meribahs. The question which must be put in such cases is one not easy to answer: "Why strive ye with me?" The answer is involved in that other question which few grumblers care to face - "Why do ye tempt Jehovah?" Chiding can only be passed on with the motive which inspires it to its true object; he who tries to answer it otherwise does but stand in God's light, doing that which Joash declined to do for Baal (Judges 6:31), and which, with yet more reason, God's servants had best abstain from in his cause.
II. THE TEMPTATION. The inner motive for the outward manifestation was to see whether God was really among them, and would indicate his presence by supporting his servant. He had given quails and bread, would he now shield Moses by supplying the demand for water? Observe -
1. The favourable side of the offence. The people remembered that God had helped, whence they inferred that he might help again. Memory fed hope. So far it was well. Memory, however, was but half instructed, The remembered gift was more thought of than the giver. Hope was not faith; it could not prompt the prayer of faith. God was not regarded as he should have been, and consequently men could not state their needs with confidence, "nothing doubting."
2. The unfavourable side of the offense. Jehovah, they thought, was the friend, if of any one, of Moses. They regarded him as a being apart, quite as likely to be their enemy as the enemy of the Egyptians. Perhaps, however, if they put his friend in difficulties, to help his friend he might appease them. Is not the same thought latent still in like cases? "If the minister is a good man, God will help him, and we shall be the gainers. If not, we shall get quit of him, and possibly his successor may remedy his defects." A kind of witches' ordeal from which the accusers hope to profit any way. Trouble should strengthen trust, and when it does, trust will be rewarded. Beware, however, lest imperfect trust take the form of temptation. God will justify his own elect, but experiments made on him are apt to recoil on the experimenters.
III. THE RESULT (vers. 5, 6). The people spoke at God instead of to him. Moses, instead of being the channel for their prayers, was the rock whence might echo their complaints. God, in answer, draws himself yet further off from the complainers. They get their water; but they lose that which they might have had as well, the sense of the presence of their God. The experiment was successful, physical thirst was slaked; it was also a disastrous failure: instead of gaining a strong assurance that God was indeed among them, they gained rather a confirmation of their suspicion that he was not among them, but at a distance. Conclusion. - Beware how you tempt God. Whether is it better to endure discomfort and have a nearer sense of his presence, or to escape discomfort and endure his absence? Thirst endured trustfully must have brought the Israelites such a realisation of the Divine presence as would have quenched, what was worse than thirst, the irrepressible desire to murmur. Temporary satisfaction then, as ever, thus obtained, led on to yet deeper doubt. - G.
Is the Lord among us, or not?I. WE OBSERVE AN INCREASE OF SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE AMONG A PEOPLE.
II. WE OBSERVE SPIRITUAL-MINDEDNESS IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE AMONG A PEOPLE.
III. WE OBSERVE CHRISTIAN LOVE IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE AMONG A PEOPLE.
IV. ACTIVITY AND DEVOTEDNESS IN THE CAUSE OF CHRIST IS AN EVIDENCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE AMONG A PEOPLE. We have three remarks in conclusion —
1. The unrenewed may learn from this subject that there is no hope for him of any radical improvement save in the grace of God. The Holy Spirit is the sole agent for this work.
2. The Church of God should learn from this subject that the grace and presence of the Lord in the midst of them is the one thing needful.
3. Let all know that the Lord is to be found in the power and sufficiency of His grace by all who seek Him through the Saviour.
(H. F. Holmes.)
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