In the nineteen sixties and seventies some people with a ton of time on their hands lobbied to have pretty much any book that contained sex, drugs, or rock and roll in any of its various forms stricken from the record of humanity. Their idealogical descendants can currently be found denouncing flamboyant Telly Tubbies, or whatever other societal ills that plague civilization.
It is curious then, that there is no recorded history of Christians trying to have the first half of the bible officially banned from good society. How has the history of Israel survived being banished from our presence and forced to wander the earth in search of rest like Cain, or Bruce Banner? These are the question that keep me up at night.
Reading the Old Testament is a dangerous venture. One minute you’ll find Moses warning the people not to touch the face of the mountain, lest they get incinerated; the next minute, you’ll find all the people dirty dancing in front of a golden altar. The sacred and the profane are colliding around every corner. The people of God are delivered from Egypt, then plopped in a desert to await instructions on how to live as a free people after 400 years in captivity.
Throughout all the mishaps and R-rated scenes in the Old Testament, this week’s Psalm harkens the reader back to the final straw in the wilderness generation’s faithlessness. What would you expect would cause God to sentence a people he has led out of bondage to a lifetime of desert wandering, that would only end after every last one of that generation was dead? What deadly sin would you guess would push God over the proverbial edge? Gluttony? Lust? Pride? Idolatry? Drunkenness? Violence to the poor? Wanton greed?
How about thirstiness? How about fear? If you would guess either of those “pet sins,” you are a far better guesser than I am. But his people’s thirstiness and a willingness to give into fear was so enraging to God that Moses had to talk him down from destroying the people once and for all. He relented at simply waiting out the current generation. Once they had all died from old age, he would bring their sons and daughters into the Promised Land. But not before that happened.
And it is especially odd that the psalmist would end this amazingly beautiful, God-honoring, exultant, uplifting song with a remembrance of the bitter waters of Meribah and Massah. God has just led his people out of Egypt, has just parted the Red Sea, has just rained down bread from heaven, but what happens after you eat bread (particularly in the desert)? You get thirsty.
I don’t know about you, but when I get thirsty, I get cranky. I get demanding. I lose faith that water is on the way. Even the promise of water from a rock seems hopeless. Even the past experience of watching bread fall from the sky seems like a remote remembrance. Worst of all, I stop believing that God himself cares if I live or I die.
I lose heart. I give in to fear.
Psalm 95 is an invitation to come back. It is an invitation to believe in the goodness of God once again. In the call to sing gladly to the Lord, and to shout out to the Rock of our rescue, there is a call back to hope.
Don’t lose heart. Don’t let your fear turn into faithlessness.
Let your need be an invitation for God to prove his care.
Let your thirst be an opportunity for God to provide living water.
For He is our God and we are the people He tends and the flock of His hand.