Download or listen to Lenten Midweek IV, “Is Yahweh Among Us Or Not?” (Exodus 17:1-7)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Is Yahweh among us or not?” That’s the question, isn’t it? We ask it about great suffering, or about natural disasters, or when we are caught up in humanly incomprehensible events. Is Yahweh among us? Is God really with us? No doubt, for many people, evil really is a problem for their conception of God. If God is merely a benevolent higher power, looking down with love on his scurrying, ant-like people, he must be impotent and greatly disturbed by the amount of suffering in the world; either that, or he looks down from so great a distance that the only plausible image is of a semi-senile grandfather. But it is not only the great question of God and evil that causes us to ask whether Yahweh is among us. We ask it on the much smaller scale of our day-to-day inconveniences or short-term difficulties. Our short-term memory is pretty remarkable. We can receive the goodness of God on Sunday, and by Monday morning we’re complaining about how God must have left us to face life alone. Israel receives manna—very literally, bread raining from the sky—and within a few minutes, they’re already grumbling and rebelling against Moses and God because they don’t have any water. And that’s not even including the fact that God was the one who brought them out of Egypt, safely through the Red Sea on dry ground, and kept them from being slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army. Okay, God, You got us out of Egypt when we were caught between an army and a big lake; okay, You gave us bread from heaven; but how are you going to give us water? Really? I’m pretty sure God can think of something. And He does, right in the midst of their testing and quarreling, God provides what they need. God is present at the exact point where they are most unsure of His presence.
Massah and Meribah. Testing and quarreling. The place is named for Israel’s rebellion and lack of trust. Don’t worry Moses, it gets worse. Not only do the people doubt the presence of the God who brought them out of slavery and gave them manna; soon they will make a golden calf and say that it rescued them. The people test and quarrel; yet, in the place of their rebellion, God stands on a rock, which Moses passes by and then strikes with a staff, and water flows from it. The people make an idol while Moses is on the mountain receiving a commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before My face”; yet, this time Moses stands on the rock, while God passes by the place of idolatry. Yahweh said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23, ESV). And still we wonder, is Yahweh among us or not, because we cannot see Him in the sort of glory that would impress us. It would impress us alright: He says to the people through Moses: “…if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you” (Exodus 33:5).
God cannot come to us in the open, uncovered. No physical evil, no natural disaster, can compete with the devastation of falling into the hand of the living God; not because He is evil, but because we are. We insist on putting Him on trial so we can justify ourselves; if God is evil or unconcerned, we are justified in doing and saying and thinking whatever we want. If we cannot satisfy our own thirsts, we blame God, forgetting that it is He who gives us everything we have. And yet, right there, in a place named after our rebellion and idolatry, God pours out water to satisfy our thirst, and He shows us the glory of His goodness. On a rock shaped like a skull, Christ stood and He was struck with nails and spear. Water came out and flowed for all people to drink. As we stand before Him, He covers the glory that would certainly consume us in wrath against sin, and we see only His back, His glory hidden in beaten, battered, bloody flesh. And there He declares His goodness; there He proclaims to any and all His Name: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). That is, any who want to see God, and who wonder whether Yahweh is really among us, must see Him only in Jesus crucified; otherwise, for those who would have Him in some other way, He will by no means clear the guilty. There, in Christ on the cross, and only there, Yahweh is among us; there, and only there, He shows His glory; there, and only there, He satisfies the thirsty forever. Drink up! your Massah and Meribah is His Mercy. Where you least expect Him to be, even on a Sunday morning, there He promises to be present. Do not search into His unrevealed Presence; there is only death that way. Instead, He will hide you in the cleft of the Rock, which is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:12).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/25/14