A human being can go for weeks without eating, but only a few days without water. When Israel came to Rephidim, there was no water in sight (Exodus 17). Before long, children were crying and families were growing faint from thirst. It was a critical situation.
Moses understood the ways of the Lord and he knew just what was happening with Israel. He realized that God was letting His people be stretched beyond measure. Why? Because He wanted them to cast themselves completely into His care. He longed to see them rise up in faith and say, “God is able!” Scripture then tells us, “[Moses] 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?” (Exodus 17:7).
The words “Massah” and “Meribah” both mean the same thing: “a place of trial and testing.” Moses ran through the camp crying, “This is Massah—a test, a trial! It isn’t the end. God hasn’t forsaken us, so keep holding on! The Lord is looking for faith, wanting to know what’s in our hearts. He knows how to meet our need—He only wants us to trust Him!”
Tragically, Israel did not trust the Lord, so God instructed Moses to pick up his rod, go to Horeb, and strike a certain rock there. When Moses hit the rock, water came gushing out to meet Israel’s thirst. The Lord proved once again He was with His people in spite of their unbelief.
How did Israel tempt the Lord in this episode? Was it in their anger toward Moses? Was it in their murmuring? Or was it in their idolatrous fornication? None of these things was the real issue. Here is how Israel tempted God: “They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?”
God had that water in storage all along. He could have supplied it to Israel at the first pangs of their thirst but He waited. His heart yearned for His special, chosen people to recognize His love for them and cast themselves into His faithful arms. But once again, they failed!
So, God tried them yet again, this time by allowing them to hunger. Moses later said, “The Lord thy God . . . humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger . . . to prove thee” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
Here was another test of faith. Would Israel hold their empty stomachs and wait for God to send them bread? Would they encourage one another toward faith? All God wanted was to hear, “God, You opened the Red Sea for us and sweetened the bitter waters of Marah. We trust You to feed us. Live or die, we are Yours!”
That is all God was waiting to hear!