2015-2016 Horizons Bible Study
Come to the Waters
Lesson 3: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 42
It was a hot day. The children were playing hard, their faces red and their hair wet with sweat. There were listless. Hot and thirsty, the two boys started to pick at each other in the car. I had forgotten the water bottles and the snacks, which did not help the situation.
If two boys after an hour in the sun were crabby, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be part of a large group facing a vast, dry wilderness with no convenience store in sight. Their water bottles just don’t carry that much, not with a party of 1,000-plus herds of sheep. The sheep are complaining. The children are crying, well, those who aren’t lying motionlessly inside the tents. The people of Israel are scared. After several days without water, they know they could be goners.
Understandably, the people of Israel get angry with Moses. “Did you bring us out here so that we, our children and our livestock would die?” Moses goes to God, throwing up his hands, “What do you want me to do? They are ready to stone me.” God tells Moses that he is to take his staff and some elders, and they are to go to Mount Horeb.
Mount Horeb is the mountain of God, the place where Moses is called by God to rescue the Hebrew people and, in some strains of the biblical tradition, Mount Horeb is the place where Moses receives the law. God tells Moses to strike the rock at Mount Horeb and open up a spring. God reassures Moses, “Don’t worry, I will be right at hand.”
For the Hebrew people, the issue is the lack of water in Exodus 17:1-7. For God, the issue is the people’s lack of trust and dependence upon God. In Exodus 16, God has provided quail and also manna, quite literally daily provision as sweet as honey.
Human beings’ ability to trust is short-lived. Just because God provided in the past does not mean we are willing to trust God right now when the need is great. When there is a family crisis, a frightening diagnosis, another monstrous tragedy where a disturbed man shoots innocent people, we too complain and say, “Where are you, God? Couldn’t you have done something to prevent this? It doesn’t much look like it. What are you going to do now? Help us!” I have asked the same questions. Have you? What were the circumstances?
When we turn to Psalm 42, the question is still: Where is God? But now the question comes from those who are hostile to the writer of the Psalm: Where is your God?
In today’s culture, references to God are largely absent or deemed irrelevant. If there are Christian characters in a television show or movies, they are depicted as buffoons, judgmental, hypocritical or mean-spirited. (The only television show that I know of where faith in God is a nuanced, sometimes lovely part of everyday life is the BBC production “Call the Midwife.”) Several books have made the best-seller list that are anti-God and anti-faith, like Richard Dawkins’s book “The God Delusion.”
Added to the lack of positive depictions of God, faith and Christians, there are also thoughtful and moral people who genuinely question whether or not faith does more harm than good. Others believe that all religions offer paths to God and that there is no need to claim one faith.
In the absence of positive examples, it is becoming imperative that we Christians learn to talk about the goodness of our faith, the times when we have had the same questions and the experience of God’s presence in worship, Bible study, prayer and service. To give a positive witness to Jesus Christ is not damning people, telling them that they are wrong, nor is it having all the answers. It is more the gentle sharing of where God has been in your life. What would you say?
The writer of Psalm 42 has no answers to the taunts of others who mock with the question, “Where is your God?” Not complaining or angry, the writer is sad, imploring and asking God, “Why have you forgotten me?” The answer that comes to the writer and to us is the memory of glad worship with the congregation in which the presence of God is real. In his book “Psalms,” James May writes, “The soul sees the face of God… . That encounter with God is the answer to the question set by the society and the solution to the troubles that challenge faith.” The memory of God’s presence can give us hope that we can trust God in times of hardship and times of joy (see Psalm 42:5-6a).
ROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries at First Church in Richmond, Virginia.