Deep Waters of Contention
For me in ministry it has been much tougher than intensive care visits for parishioners, struggles to meet church budgets, handling the swing of emotions from a birth, to a wedding, to a death—all in the same day, and struggling to sleep Saturday nights because of the awesome responsibility of preaching to God’s children on Sunday mornings. I am comforted by the revelation that my most vulnerable situation was also what finally drove Moses over the edge as a leader—bitter, griping rejection by God’s people.
Moses faced griping and rebellion throughout their wanderings, but in the fortieth year it happened again, and this time Moses had had it. In Psalm 106:32-33 the psalmist uses these bitter waters to warn us against rebellion in the ranks and leaders who lash out.
“They provoked fury over the waters of Meribah (Hebrew meaning “Contention”) and it went badly for Moses because of them, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.”
Numbers 20 gives a fuller account. After forty years the people still gripe when the water runs out. They lash out against Moses saying that it would have been better for them to have been swallowed up or incinerated like Korah and Abiram. It was Moses’ fault that they would die an agonizing death by dehydration. God tells Moses to take his staff, and this time, unlike the first water from the rock miracle, he is only to speak to the rock. Instead, he lets the people have it with his mouth and strikes the rock with his rod twice. The Lord graciously poured the life giving water from the rock, but Moses is told he will die without setting foot in the Promised Land.
Lord, forgive me for the times that I have lashed out against your people. Use Moses’ example to help me to lean even harder on your Spirit so that I will grow in patience, gentleness, and self-control. Keep my spirit from bitterness and my lips from exploding. Help me rest in the fact that only you can enable your people to drink the “Living Water.”
Note: It’s bothered me since I first heard this story as a kid. Why was God so hard on Moses because he hit the rock? After all the first time, this is exactly what he told Moses to do. Why did God get so upset about a second strike, and did this keep Moses out of the Promised Land forever? What do you think? Tomorrow I’ll share my thoughts.
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