“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” Psalm 95:7-9
So often, the Psalms are a real source of comfort and peace to weary travelers. We love to read them when we are discouraged or confused. Often, when we can’t find the words to express our frustration or anger, the Psalms stand as testaments to the durability of prayer and our easy access to a caring and engaged Heavenly Father. But sometimes, as in the 95th above, the Psalms can stand as a warning: a barricade to steer us away from the sharp and dangerous edge of a steep mountain.
What happened at Meribah?
The Israelites had just been delivered from 400 years of back-breaking and soul-demoralizing slavery in Egypt. Through no effort of their own, their bonds were broken miraculously by God who saw their every, weary step and heard their every question, recorded their every prayer. To provide for their needs, God was raining down bread from heaven and quail in the camp to sustain them. God was revealing some of His power through amazing miracles. And He was guiding them, calling out to them, shepherding them . . . loving them.
He was Emanuel: God with them.
But within days, the people turned on Him. They were in the desert, hungry, tired, afraid, wondering . . . and thirsty, and in their anger, they demanded water. Moses, in his growing frustration said, “You want water? Here’s your water!” With the staff in his hand, and at God’s command, he struck a nearby rock and water like a geyser sprang out: a flowing stream to slake the nation’s thirst.
What happened at Meribah? Many things of which I am too familiar.
It is so easy to read this story with the context of history and say, “How could these people be so ungrateful and demanding? God was in the middle of their every moment, sustaining them, providing for them, protecting them, guiding them . . . loving them. Why didn’t they just ask instead of grousing around like spoiled children?”
Good question. Sound familiar?
How many times have I done just this. How many times have I been so wrapped up in my own personal defeat or discouragement that I forget that I am actually, physically surrounded by the greatest and most loving Spiritual Being in the universe who is actively working on my behalf in all ways and in all respects. How many times have I reached out to other people for help instead of reaching out, first, to my Heavenly Father who knows me better than anyone.
How many times have I let my emotions define my moment instead of seeking the truth of my circumstances from the One who, in them, lives with me?
This part of Psalm 95 is here to serve as a reminder, a tall fence to guard us from the slow and sour nurturing of a hardened heart that won’t remember and trust.
For as many times as I have thrown tantrums in my mind with God about how I thought I was being short-changed in life, I have known a quiet grace as His response. For as many times as I have wondered about where life was going and became fearful of the options, I have later known peace in the security of being led by the One Who Knows Me. As many times as I have been angry with God in my circumstances, insecurity, self-righteousness or selfishness, I have known deep and swift forgiveness.
How many times? Every time.
Today, He is asking me to remember his faithfulness, love and presence and to trust Him. He has set this up as a guard rail against a bitter heart and weary mind.
This verse is a deep and cool stream of truth, flowing freely for us: as much as we want, whenever we want.
This is a smoothstone for us as we live through the dry and uncertain days of Meribah.
“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” James 1:23-25