By and large, Americans do not understand the gift of clean and readily available water. Even during droughts, currently, people in places like California still can turn on the water in their homes, and get a drink. In places like Rome, artesian wells are all over the city, and one can get clean water from public fountains.
The travels of the Israelites involved the logistics of water. There didn’t just have to be water for the humans. There had to be water for the livestock. Water was life. When the water dried up, or the waterskins were empty, it wouldn’t take long for concern then desperation to kick in.
We often speak ill of the Israelites when they challenged Moses. How dare they admonish the great prophet?! Later Jewish commentators would also respond the same. The reality is, though, would we really be all that different when things aren’t going well?
No one ever promised the Israelites that the journey would be easy. They seemed to have made the assumption. Then they placed the responsibility of their assumption onto someone else…Moses. Often Moses was really in conflict with their assumptions, rather than them, per se. Moses dealt with the ongoing disappointment of the Israelites that the world would just be handed to them.
There is often a pervading view that we have no responsibility in regards to our faith and salvation working out in our lives. True, God provided us unmerited grace and provided the way. Our small part is to accept it. Yet, that is really only the start.
Think of it this way, if you were at the bottom of a cliff and the only way to escape was up, and the cliff wall was too smooth to climb and you didn’t have any rope, pitons, or other climbing gear…someone is going to have to throw you a rope. You still need to grab the rope and (preferably) tie it around yourself. If there is only a person (rather than a winch or other mechanical device), they will struggle to pull you up. They might still accomplish it (and if it’s God, God will), but for your own sake, you need to help, even if it’s “walking” up the cliff so you don’t bang yourself around.
The Israelites (and often ourselves) just wanted to be pulled up quickly and cleanly, with no need to put any effort into it. Was it still primarily God’s efforts? Yes. Did they still have a part? Yes!
Moses didn’t help in the second instance. He actually turned this life-giving event into a curse. His words were not life-giving to the people. The water was, but that was God’s work, not Moses’. Moses lashed out in (understandable) anger and probably some hurt. In so doing, though, he damaged his and God’s witness. Again, it wasn’t as if the Israelites didn’t have their part (like above). Moses, though, had his part, too, and lashing out wasn’t supposed to be it.
By the time Jesus came, for many God’s words were life-giving water “covered” in curses. Religious people and rules “gave” out God’s words (water) but in such a way as to make it a burden, and not life-giving. No one, really, had a good grasp of what Jesus really meant. The Holy Spirit flowing into and through people was not understood, and it couldn’t be understood until all was fulfilled through the cross, the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
1) What is the longest a human being can be without water? What is the longest you have been without water? Does the difference between the two help your perspective of the Israelites?
2) Water as the source of life makes sense from an ancient (and even modern) perspective. John says that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit when talking about water. What does this mean for the Holy Spirit and people?
3) Thinking of cursing the water (of life), in what ways is the Water of Life (the Holy Spirit) being cursed by humanity today?