And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Again, in outstanding deference by God, Israel’s contentious nature comes out and God’s grace answers the cries of His people. So many generations ago, Jacob had wrestled the Angel of the Lord and been renamed Israel - “strives with God”. And the nation of Israel, now freed from Egyptian slavery and under God’s leadership under Moses in the desert of Sinai has lived up to that name. First they doubted God over food. Now they are fighting with Moses and God over a perceived lack of water. God came up with a novel plan to shut them up.
He led Moses to a large rock. Now in my opinion that had to be the opposite of what Israel was looking for. In the desert, you look for water by looking for green, for palm trees, for an oasis that shows water is there. Instead, a dry barren rock becomes a flowing stream when God instructs Moses to strike it with his staff and show Israel just how much God can do.
But there is a vivid reminder that more than just water was seen at the rock. Moses renamed it Masseh - “testing” and Meribah - “quarrel” because of the events that led to God’s provision at that location. It was a place of simultaneous blessing and painful reminder of Israel’s repeated lack of faith in God and trust in the leadership of the man Moses whom God had provided.
Leaders will always have their Masseh moments where people will test the strength of the leader’s faith. Moses did the right thing. When people grumbled against him, he cried out to God. He knew that God was the real leader of this people. And there are those Meribah episodes as well, when an argument against God seems to be all the leader hears. The leader knows better, but the people need to hear from God. And that is where this episode lets us know that God will know just what to do. Israel never really looked at a rocky outcrop in the desert quite the same way again! God could make of the dry desert stones a stream of water to care for His children. That is the lesson of grace for grumblers!