Reading: Psalm 95:1-11
Consider: Psalm 95 may seem a strange combination of praise (v1-7a), mixed in with warning and judgement (v7b-11). The psalm reminds the people of Israel of events during their time wandering in the wilderness, after their exodus from Egypt, and before they entered the promised land.
In Psalm 95:11 it says: So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest”. This might seem a bit harsh to us reading this verse in the twenty-first century. We might be tempted to see God’s judgement of the people of Israel as impatience on the part of God. However, this could not be further from the truth.
In verse 8 of the psalm it refers to ‘Meribah’ and ‘Massah’. We need to go back to read Exodus 17:1-7 to understand what is being referred to here. In Exodus 17 we read an account of an incident where the people of Israel quarrelled with Moses and tested God. We can all understand the necessity for water and the passage in Exodus makes it clear that ‘… there was no water for the people to drink’ (Exodus 17:1). The Israelites reaction was to quarrel with Moses and to ask him to give them water.
You may be wondering why this angered God. The issue here was that the people of Israel had seen many times that God’s favour rested on them and that he had miraculously saved them on numerous occasions. Despite this, instead of turning to God to ask for help, they turned to Moses. Moses rightly asks the Israelites why they are arguing with him; as if he could solve their problems for them. Moses could see that the Israelites reaction to the shortage of water, revealed the condition of their hearts; they failed to trust God. When times were good, they recognised and accepted God’s favour, but when times were tough they failed to turn to God and seek his intervention. Despite their disobedience, the outcome was that God graciously provided water for the Israelites, through the miracle of Moses striking a rock and water pouring from it.
If you have been wondering about the names ‘Meribah’ and ‘Masseh’, they mean ‘quarrelling’ and ‘testing’ respectively. God ensured that every time these names were mentioned in the future, they would remind the Israelites of their failure to trust God.
Returning to Psalm 95 we read the following: Today, if only you would hear my voice, ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did’ (95:7b-9). Can you see that despite having seen what God did, the Israelites could not put their trust in him in this situation. This ultimately led to the whole generation who left Egypt dying in the wilderness, before the remainder entered the promised land.
Do you understand how patient God was with the people of Israel. Time and again they rebelled against him and time and again he showed great patience with them, demonstrating that he was indeed their God. This brings us to the Israelites’ question in Exodus 17:7 – Is the LORD among us or not? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’.
The application of this to us today is not to be like the Israelites and harden our hearts. It means remembering God’s dealings with us and trusting in him for the future. It is easy to see God in our lives when things are going well, less so when things go wrong. Psalm 95 (and Exodus 17) teach us to trust in the faithfulness of God in all circumstances.
Pray: Father, forgive us for so easily forgetting what you have done for us and turning to other human beings to solve our problems. May we learn to trust implicitly in you, knowing that you are indeed among us. Amen