Massah and Meribah: Living a Thankful Life in a Grumbling World
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Ingratitude is one of the official symptoms of this age. In fact, ingratitude made the noxious list of behavior that characterizes living in the last days (2 Timothy 3:2-4). We are warned in Scripture that ungrateful hearts are often unbelieving hearts. That was certainly true of ancient Israel in the days of the wilderness wanderings. In the book of Exodus, we follow the account of Israel’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt where God’s power was demonstrated uniquely in world history. (Exodus 1-14)
Through mighty power God delivered His enslaved people and brought them out of bondage to pursue a new life in a Promised Land. Even though Israel had seen the unparalleled might of these liberating miracles, and even though they had tasted of the provision of the Lord day-after-day, they still did not trust God to meet their needs en route to this new homeland.
One major spinout is recorded in Exodus 17 where Israel erupted with gripes over their circumstances. Panic gripped the people over the shortage of water, and instead of trusting the God who had parted the Red Sea to secure their deliverance, the nation grumbled and complained. The text says they put the Lord to the test and quarreled with Him.
In response, Moses put new names on the map to identify this location as a place of national failure. Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling, grumbling) would mark the spot of a major attitude problem that would bear terrible consequences. On this occasion Israel tested the Lord, “Massah,” and from that appalling attitude flowed grumbling and quarrelling with God, “Meribah.” Psalm 81:7 and Deuteronomy 33:8 suggest that God was testing the Israelites in these instances, and so God’s tests were met with severe grumbling. The Psalmist gives a vivid descriptor when he wrote, “They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the LORD.” (Psalm 106:25)
One man said that the problem with life is that it is so daily, and some days are heavier than others. Like when:
The car mechanic says, “Your repair is going to be over $2000…”
The doctor says, “You have leukemia and chemo begins immediately….”
The contractor delays the completion of your home for the fifth time…
You are not appreciated as you think you should be by your employer…
Your circumstances are yet another reminder that you are not in charge…
Massah and Meribah can come easily if we are not drawn to some biblical perspective.
Perspective like this statement from James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Or, these words written by the Apostle Paul from a Roman jail, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14-15)
How easily we forfeit our joy in the Lord Jesus Christ and settle for grumbling in our tent. This is not a small problem. If left unchecked a murmuring heart can land us in the wilderness indefinitely. Grumbling nurses frustrations that are kept warm for yet another day. Complaining spreads discontent and discord, and can breed an irredeemable callousness of the heart. Sadly for Israel, a journey that could have taken weeks, bound them to a forty year journey in unbelief with them never reaching the land promised and prepared by the Lord.
Massah and Meribah are replaced in a person’s life only through the transforming power of worship and praise. Like Asaph, we need to enter the “sanctuary of God” that we might be reminded who is on the throne of this world. (Psalm 73:17) We need the calm assurance that worship brings as God’s truth comes to our troubled hearts. We need gracious reminders that nothing enters our lives without the permission of God who works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Scotty Smith in his very helpful book, Everyday Prayers: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith, writes, “Purpose now, by the grace of God, not to indulge in pettiness, self-pity, gossip, over-talking, under-listening, or cynicism all week long.” This becomes a major part of the believer’s witness in this world. God-centered worship gives the power and perspective we need, and we will find when our hearts are heavy that His mercy comes and delivers from the dark attitudes we all battle.
In closing, let’s follow this ancient worship leader who calls us to put aside our own Massah and Meribah, and to enter the rest and peace found in Christ alone.
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”