Test or Protest?

Exodus 17: 1-7

“The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?'”

When the devil dared Jesus to leap from the roof of the temple, Jesus replied by quoting scripture, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” The God of the Bible may test humans, but testing God is the opposite of faith.

Faith does not say to God, “Prove yourself!”¬†Deuteronomy 6:16 is specific: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” ¬†Massah (and Meribah) is the spot, of course, where a water shortage in the wilderness caused the people to rise up with the fury of a mob. Moses, terrified for his life, cried out to God. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Israelites were eating manna at the time.

Is the Lord among us or not?

Yes, the people of Israel required water to live. We all do. But the contrast is clear. Not even bread from heaven convinced the Israelites that the Lord was faithful. The truth is that despite all that God has given to us in our lives, in our most desperate and angry moments, we may be tempted to ask as our ancestors did, “Is the Lord among us or not?” We may be tempted to make our own ultimatums of God.

We may say things like, “God, I will not give you my life when don’t you protect children from abuse….when don’t you end terrorism… when you don’t cure my loved one from cancer.” When we say these things, we are basically commanding God, “Do it or else.” Testing God is a mutinous attempt to put human beings in God’s place because we believe we know better. There is a better way.

Protest as Prayerful Speech

It was the voices of the Hebrew people groaning under slavery in Egypt that got God’s attention in the first place. Throughout scripture, from the Torah to the Psalms and the Prophets, cries of protest in the face of suffering are always appropriate. Jesus himself cried out at the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

To voice our protest is not to usurp God. It is to express our pain; and, on the deepest level, our protest is grounded in hope. We can cry out to God because we trust that God cares about us. Protest believes God is listening and will respond. We don’t have to tell God what to do. God has this. God never lets us go, not even when we don’t know where the water will come from or when.



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