1-2 Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn't a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: "Give us water to drink." But Moses said, "Why pester me? Why are you testing God?" 3 But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, "Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?"
(Exodus 17:1-3 The Message)
Okay, I just have to ask this question - why on earth would a huge band of wandering people actually "camp out" in a place where there was absolutely no visible water for their basic physical needs? Sometimes I think we just don't "think" about where it is that we "camp out" for a while along the way. We "get going" with God really well, then all of a sudden, we find ourselves "camped out" at a place that seems barren, without any provision for our basic needs, let alone our spiritual needs! Then what do we do? You got it! We complain to God because we are in a barren and dry place! There are times that I wonder if God would just as soon answer with "Duh!" instead of his overwhelming patience.
As I was reading this passage with my weekly Bible Study small group, I just got carried away by God to a place of considering the words of the passage. I want us to break this down a little to see what God can reveal to us through these "wilderness wanderings" of his people, Israel. First, I saw that the passage began with the words, "Directed by God". That means that they weren't in a barren and dry place totally because they just wandered out their on their own. They were on a path with God and came upon this dry place. The fact is, we don't know what the path will hold, but God does. He is aware of the exact points of "barrenness and dryness" that are part of the wilderness journey and he prepares a way out of the desert place (in his time).
Coming out of the desert place is often done in stages. We seldom find that moving from the wilderness into the land of plenty is never a "direct" journey for us. In fact, we see that the wilderness almost presents obstacles to us ever getting out of that place! Water was essential to this group - and they had none. It likely seemed quite impossible to them that they'd ever leave the wilderness without the provision of water they'd need to make the journey. We would probably equate this to the various "things" that just seem to keep "coming up" in our journey that seem to "trip us up" a little. The fact is, God prepared this people to make the move to this very place. Therefore, there must be a provision in what appears to have nothing of value!
Why do we move by stages through the wilderness? God has to take enough time to teach us the lessons of the wilderness. I think there are a lot of lessons that we only become attune to when we are stripped of all we depend upon and are face-to-face with our utter need. In those places, no provision that we could make on our own will get us through. In fact, we keep camping out at the bitter waters and the dry places, completely unaware of the miracle that lies just beyond the points of our intensest need!
The waters you face in the wilderness today may be a little bitter, if they exist at all. The bitterness of reliance on our own efforts, past failures, disappointments of missed opportunities - all need God's touch to truly make them "sweetness" in our lives. In the place of barrenness and thirst, we finally find that God's touch is all that will take care of the bitterness we have experienced.
Tomorrow, I will expand upon these lessons of the barren place a little further. Until then, don't curse God for the barren place, but thank him for the miracle that is just around the corner. His purpose in the barren place is just to drive us further into his provision!