There is a reference to a person, place, or event that makes your stomach turn. I don’t know what it is, but you do. You never mention it because it was an utter embarrassment or an epic failure. You wish it never happened and you’ve kindly asked those who witnessed it to never bring it up again.
Massah and Meribah were two such references for the people of God. The Jews of the 1st century were a proud people and were quick to mention how Yahweh had chosen them, and had NOT chosen everyone else! They were slow to repent at the words of John the Baptist and quick to counter that “we have Abraham as our Father.” They always seemed to bring up that they were the “circumcision” and everyone else was the “uncircumcision.” What you never heard them mention, however, was the events of their ancestors at Massah and Meribah. In the story of God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the incidents at the places translated as “the place of testing God” and “the place of fighting and quarreling” were conveniently and repeatedly overlooked.
The plagues had weakened Pharaoh’s resolve, and the passover had broken it. The people were liberated as the dry ground of the Red Sea became the watery grave of the pursuing Egyptian army. However, the shouts of joy and the praises of the people quickly gave way to grumbling over a perceived lack of provisions within a few pages of recorded history. By the time they reached Massah and Meribah, “the chosen ones” had had it with their wanderings.
Like a petulant child complaining because their ice cream cone is “too cold”, the recently liberated people of God began to wish they could return to Egypt. The fact that God actually responded to their belly-aching with daily bread is a testimony to just how gracious and merciful of a heavenly Father we serve. The fact that the Israelites would subsequently complain about eating manna everyday is a testimony to just how immature and selfish we can be, even on the heels of the miraculous provisions of God.
I’m sure the Jews hated reading verse 8 of the 95th Psalm and its reference to the two “M” cities as surely as you probably cringed as I reminded you of that time you got it really, really wrong. The beauty of the Lenten season is it provides us the opportunity to remember our own Massah and Meribah. Lent is about remembering. As you’re quick to remember what Christ accomplished in Jerusalem, may you not fail to remember why your Massah and Meribah moments made Easter necessary.
Rev. Kyle Himmelwright – Columbia First Church of the Nazarene – Columbia, SC