56. More on Water – Complain or Ask?

Meditations in Exodus: 56. More on Water – Complain or Ask?

Ex 17:1-2   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?”

What a difference just a few words can make!  What could Israel have said to Moses? They move on at the Lord’s leading: The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded.” (v.1a) As we have observed before, the Lord is leading this people and so if there is any lack it is down to the Lord, and so now the next lack appears: “They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (v.1b) And there was are, back in a testing situation yet again where there is a need. How do they handle it?

“So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” (v.2a) Those five words could have been so different if there was a ‘please will you…’ in front of them, but their attitude is hostile, hence the word, ‘quarreled’. Moses faces them up with what they are doing: “Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” (v.2b) It’s not me you are having a go at, he says, it’s the Lord.

Now what might have been an appropriate response of the people in the light of this situation? Let’s be fair, they need water and there is none so there does seem to be a problem, but as we have now noted more than once, they are where they are because the Lord has led them there. Now He has either made a mistake – and they have yet to learn that God doesn’t make mistakes – or He has brought them there to destroy them – and they have yet to learn God does not tell lies, because He has not only delivered them from slavery but He has said He has Canaan waiting for them, so He is not going to destroy them now – or He has some other purpose in mind which they have obviously not yet understood. It is obviously the last one that applies and it is, as we’ve said a number of times, to teach them to trust Him and be obedient to Him. That’s how blessings will come in the years to come and so they need to learn that.

Before we rush on we need to check out our own approach to these things. I have already confessed to being a grumbler – that is so often my first response – but I am learning to pause up and check out what is going on. Be honest, when things start going wrong, what is our response, how do we handle it.  Illness strikes, redundancy occurs, we have a break-in, somebody runs into our car, and so on. Life can have its difficult moments. When those moments arise, what is our immediate response?

Now I suspect most would now respond, “Pray!” which is a truly spiritual answer, especially when we have just read such a passage as this, but I want us to be honest and honesty compels me to acknowledge that so often I don’t identify what is happening as ‘one of life’s little problems’ until a little time at least has passed. I don’t know what it is, but it takes a while for me to think, “Ah, this is a difficulty where I need the Lord’s help”. It may be because so often my first response to such a situation is, “What can I do about this to sort it out?” Now, please, this is not a wrong response because we are called to take responsibility for our own lives and so, yes, we maybe do need to take action ourselves, but sometimes ‘the thing’ is beyond us, or for us to handle it well, we really do need His grace. It is only as that fact dawns on me that I then pray and ask for His help.

But Israel haven’t realised they need God’s help, they just blame Moses and basically say, “Get us out of this!”  But he can’t, it is God who is leading and God who knows where there is water. As it happens it is under a rock just not far off where they are standing, but the people don’t know that and they have a hostile outlook, maybe generated by fear, but whatever generates it, they are hostile: “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?” (v.3) Trouble!

Now Moses has started to learn what to do in such situations: “Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (v.4) The right approach of the people would have been to go to Moses and say, “Moses, we seem to be running out of water again. Would you speak to the Lord again please and ask Him what He wants to happen. Does He want us to do something or does He want to do something.”  That should be our approach, as well, to our difficulties: “Lord, please will you help. Please will you give me your grace to handle this, or will you please deal with it yourself.”

The Lord always has the right answer and so He instructs Moses: “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.” (v.5,6) Now wasn’t that easy! Well no, actually it was a miracle. He was told where to go and then what to do, and the water pours forth. End of problem!

Now if we had been standing in the desert with Moses wondering how to resolve this problem I am sure we would never have guessed that way out! This is the thing about God’s wisdom, when you are facing the difficult situation, you may stand there and think, “What would Jesus do?” or whatever is the current bracelet tag reminder, but actually you can think and think and think and you will still be clueless – until God speaks and tells you the answer. Sometimes you will say, “Well that is obvious, why didn’t I think of that?” but other times it takes faith to respond to what you hear because it seems a bit far out. The lesson? God knows, ask Him! Then be obedient. It’s called trust and then faith.

29. Steered

Meditations in James: 29 : Steered by the Tongue

Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

We take life for granted. We don’t think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day!  We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted.  Take the mouth for example.  We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively.  We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world.  We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather.  We criticise people in the news and at work.  And we wonder why we feel so negative about life.  We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken.  We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise.  Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people.  Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.

James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He’s talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he’s gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for.  Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen.  We zoom in and more and more detail is seen.  That’s what James is now doing.  He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!

He doesn’t go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it.  He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse.  It’s a very obvious picture.  As the rider pulls on the reins the horse’s head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head.  The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us.  There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body.  Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45).  As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set.  We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed.  If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set.  What we say, we tend to do.

Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes.  The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat.  The same implication is there.  Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job.  We say, “Yes, I’ll take it.”  Our course is set by our tongue.  Someone chides us for wrong behaviour.  We lash back with our tongue defensively.  Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone.  Our course is set.  In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division.  No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow.  Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.

James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting?  It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.

Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!