On their journey towards Mt. Sinai from Egypt, the Israelites became angry. Actually, they became angry a lot, but this time they said something particularly foolish:
Exodus 17:7 (KJV): And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?
I spent some time pondering why on earth they would ask this question. It’s a pretty stupid question, really. Is the Lord with them? Well, let’s quickly re-cap everything He had done for them in a few short months since Moses returned to Egypt:
- They saw Moses’ staff miraculously transformed into a serpent (Ex 4:29-31), which was meant as a token miracle to convince the Israelites that Moses really was a man sent from God to rescue them from captivity, just as He had promised their fathers (cf. Gen 15:6, Ex 6:6-8).
- They saw Moses turn the Nile River into blood (Ex 7:14-25).
- They saw the plague of frogs strike Egypt (Ex 8:7).
- They saw God miraculously kill all the frogs dead at once (Ex 8:8-15).
- They witnessed the plague of lice, and the pagan magicians themselves even acknowledged that “this is the finger of God!” (Ex 8:16-19).
- They beheld the plague of flies, and the way the Lord miraculously kept all flies out of the delta of Goshen where the Israelites were! (Exodus 8:20-24).
- They saw the Lord do yet another miracle, removing the plague of flies once Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites (Ex 8:25-32).
- The Israelites saw the plague which struck all the cattle in Egypt on a set date, a plague which did not touch the area of Goshen where they themselves lived (Ex 9:1-7).
- They witnessed the plague of boils (Ex 9:8-12).
- They saw the plague of fire and hail, “such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.” Once again, this plague did not touch the Israelites (Ex 9:13-26).
- They saw the Lord miraculously stop this plague upon command (Ex 9:27-35).
- They witnessed the awful and devastating plague of locusts (Ex 10:1-20).
- They beheld the plague of darkness, “even darkness which may be felt,” over the entire land of Egypt (Ex 10:21-29). Bizarrely, this darkness did not effect their own homes. Can you even begin to imagine how awe-inspiring this must have been to the Israelites, and how terrifying it must have been to the pagan Egyptians!?
- They witnesses the last plague, which killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt (Ex 12) – a plague which even stuck the cattle (what little were left!). More than that, they each personally experienced the Lord’s blessing and protection when they applied the blood of the passover lamb to their doorposts, so that “the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you,” (Ex 12:23).
- The Lord allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt well-provisioned and enriched with goods from the Egyptians (Ex 12:36).
- They saw the Lord, every single day, lead them in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (Ex 13:21-22).
- God miraculously split the waters of the Red Sea in the dead of night. The Lord showed Himself as a cloud which came between the pursuing Egyptians, laying a thick blanket of darkness before the enemy, but lighting the way for the Israelites to make the crossing onto the Sinai Peninsula by the roaring fire of His glorious presence (Ex 14:19-22).
- They saw God drown the entire Egyptian army in the river (Ex 14:27-28).
- The Lord miraculously provided heavenly food for them in the barren wilderness (Ex 16).
In light of all this, why in the world would God’s people even ask such a foolish question? They asked it because they were ungrateful, selfish, self-centered, and inherently wicked. I’m just the same, and so are you. We’re ungrateful for God’s blessings and provisions. You’re selfish and materialistic, ignoring God’s grace and petulantly demanding still more. Like the noted philosopher Janet Jackson asked, “what have you done for me lately?”
These people had lots of reasons to trust God to provide for them and take care of them. He’d rescued and cared for them every step of the way. More than that, He was visibly revealing Himself every single moment of every single day, by cloud or by fire. If you’re a Christian by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect, finished work, then think about the Israelites the next time you’re tempted to complain and ask anything stupid. If you’re a Christian, the Lord is always fully with you, in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:23).
For those who are interested, here is my own translation of this verse from the Greek Septuagint.