The burdens of leadership can be almost unbearable. In the second half of Exodus chapter 15, Moses had to deal with the people’s disappointment after discovering the watering hole was bitter. In chapter 16, the people grew nostalgic for Egypt’s rich foods, but they conveniently forgot the pains of their past slavery. Now, in chapter 17, the Israelites have once more forgotten the Lord’s care, and they doubt the Lord’s presence. They believe they are going to die of thirst in the desert:
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Exodus 17:1 – 4)
It’s not hard to imagine their plight. The unrelenting sun beat down on them. Their children and their animals were desperate for a drink. The problem began when the people forgot what the Lord had done for them. They forgot the waters of Marah, the paradise of Elim, the meat, and the Mana that the Lord provided. Remember: God is best seen in our rearview mirror. Because of his faithfulness in the past, I can march into the future. When we take our eyes off of God, though, we see only obstacles and challenges. In pain, people lash out at their leaders. Moses cared about his people, and because of their pain, Moses was ready to give up in despair. It’s a vicious cycle. How can leadership break that cycle? It’s a question of vision. What were they focused on?
Notice as we conclude this story, God didn’t send rain or rivers to rescue the Israelites. That would have quenched their thirst, but it wouldn’t have answered their question. At the heart of the matter, their problem wasn’t thirst; it was faith. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Listen to the rest of the story:
The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:5 – 7).
Today, in your meditation, answer their question for yourself: “Is the Lord among us or not?”