Summary: Hard times and difficult circumstances are not an argument for the absence of God in our lives; Hard times and difficult circumstances are in fact, an argument for the presence of God in our lives.
We assume that sailing through life with ease is a sign that God is with us. We assume that when a tragedy happens, God was looking the other way. We assume that when we find ourselves out in a desert standing in the middle of nothing but dirt and rocks, we assume that there has been some mistake.
Never assume anything.
Hard times and difficult circumstances are not an argument for the absence of God in our lives; Hard times and difficult circumstances are in fact, an argument for the presence of God in our lives.
God has taken the Hebrews out of Egypt by crossing the Red Sea and had them take a right turn out into a harsh desert. If they had turned left they would have been in the Promise Land in about three days – but they turn right into the desert. God has led them to the desert, and that is without a doubt. Now, God is having them move again. They are moving to a new camping spot. The pillar they follow stops at Rephidim – The worst possible place to camp. You’ll notice that in verse one it says that there was no water, which means there was no oasis. It means there was just rocks and dirt and more rocks and dirt. The people are exasperated, even a child could pick a better spot to camp than Rephidim!
If we look back a couple of chapters, we see that a pillar of cloud guided them by day and a pillar of fire guided them by night. Ex. 13:21 “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” This pillar appeared as they were crossing the Red Sea and it stayed with them the entire time they were in the desert. Whenever the pillar moved they followed. Whenever the pillar stopped, they stopped to camp. So, here in verse one the pillar is on the move and the whole community (about two million) follow it. God is showing them the way.
Ok, let’s stop right here. Have you noticed that before? See, we have seen the people complain in the last chapter and in this chapter that God is not with them….so, what’s with the cloud? Am I missing something? They have this pillar of cloud by day and this pillar of fire by night (which would have given some kind of light to the camp) and the Hebrews think this is normal? What are they thinking? How in the world can they just dismiss the cloud and the fire? I mean they step out of their tent at night and there is this huge pillar of fire outside the camp – there is no possible way they could miss it.
Further, we have seen that they receive manna, a bread like substance, every morning. Every morning they wake up, take stroll outside and there is the manna. Is that normal?
Was it normal to experience ten plagues without being harmed? Is it normal to cross a large body of water on dry land? Is it normal to be following a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud in the desert? Of course not. So they have all of these abnormal miraculous things happening around them and still they doubt.
See, Meribah (verse 7) has a legal connotation. What is happening here when they complain is that they are calling into question Moses and God. They are asking, “is Moses our leader, is he really our authority?” They are also wondering if this God is so great? Sure He saved them, sure He can do some awesome things….but He has made some kind of mistake – two million people have stopped to camp where there is no water! So they complain against Moses and against God.
Why do they complain? Because they have a better idea. They have a better plan for their lives than God does. Their idea is to first find a place to camp that has water. The obvious. Then their second idea would be to turn left and go to the promise land where there is everything they need. Now that’s a plan and it is a plan that includes big blessings, so lets get on with it. So when they tell Moses (verse 17) “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” They are insinuating that they have, obviously, a better plan and that Moses’ and God’s plan stinks.