October 1, 2017
Over the past month, Amy & I have been drinking a lot of water. In fact, it is the only thing Amy & I have had to drink during that time. She & I chose to eat and drink cleanly for 30 days and I’m happy to say, our 30 days will be over this coming Thursday. That does not mean, however, that my consumption of water will stop and there is good reason for that.
Importance of Water
There are three things in this world that are essential to the continuing of life: oxygen, food and water. Take one of the three away and life as you know it will quickly change for the worse. Take water for instance, I came across an educational video on You Tube called, “What if you stopped drinking water?” and here is what I learned:
Our bodies are 65% water and that is where they want to stay;
Now all of that water:
Carries nutrients and hormones all throughout our body;
Regulates our body temperature;
Cushions our joints; and
Keeps our eyes moist.
How about our brain… Did you know our brain is constantly measuring water and sending us signals, like letting us know we are thirsty after a hot and sweaty day outside? The reason our brain cares so much is because when we get dehydrated, the brain is affected. When we are dehydrated, we may feel light-headed, and most likely our thoughts and responses are slower than normal. In fact, studies of the elderly found that many who presented as confused or lacking clarity are not suffering permanent memory loss, they are actually suffering from constant dehydration.
Now, all of that is what would happen if we just don’t get enough water, but what about being totally deprived of water. Well when we are totally deprived of water, our bodies will begin to shut down in 4 to 5 days. In those moments, it seems, there is only one question, will you have life or will you have death.
This is one reason why the cries of desperation are so loud when coming from someone in need of water they can drink. They are literally begging for their life when they are desperately crying out for the gift of water. Some may not like the sound, or the volume of voices begging for their life, but wouldn’t we all scream at the top of our lungs if we found ourselves living without water to drink? Wouldn’t we cry out as loudly as possible to our leaders… or to anyone we thought could help? Surely, we would.
Maybe this explains why only yesterday Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico said, “I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying… If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying…” You see, the people of Puerto Rico continue to wake up to a new world where clean drinking water is scarce and people are desperate. Their leaders are desperate. Here’s the thing, crying out… begging for life’s essentials is never, and should never be seen as “poor leadership.” It’s what people do when the question is life or death. It’s what the best leaders do when those they lead cannot cry out for themselves any longer.
It’s certainly what the Israelites did and its certainly what Moses did on their behalf. The question then becomes, how will those who hear the cries respond?
Israelites in the Wilderness
Just like last week, today’s text presents us with rich opportunities for thinking about who God is and how God responds to and provides for the people in a time of incredible anxiety and danger.
This is not the first time the Israelites have lacked for water. You may recall that only three days into their wilderness journey, they arrived at Marah and found the water too bitter to drink. They immediately complained to Moses, who called upon God who responded by providing a piece of wood, which, when thrown into the water made it drinkable (15:23-25a).
This is followed by their Manna exploration adventure we talked about last week. And then, is rather short order we get to Exodus 17, where the Israelites hit another bump in the road. For reasons we don’t know, they set up camp at Rephidim, a place where there is no water to drink. And like anyone deprived of water to drink, they begin complaining, but this time, the text tells us, their complaining is more intense than before because this time it includes quarreling. They say to Moses, “Give us water to drink” (17:2)… which causes Moses to accuse the people of testing Yahweh: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” (17:2).
That last question is a pretty good question I think, even though far too often we are scared to approach God in such a way. Here’s the thing, when forming new relationships, both sides are tested and the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites was only beginning. I know God had provided for them all along their wilderness journey, and I know how easy it is to sit here today and judge what appears to be their lack of understanding and believing, but to end the story in that place is highly unfair. There only frame of reference about how this God worked was being lived out in the real time of their daily lives, and so far, there had been some ups and some downs.
That doesn’t make them slow learners. That doesn’t mean they lack faith. It is not a sign that their faith is weak. There complaining about one of life’s essentials makes them human.
Perhaps this Exodus narrative is telling us a story about the relationship between the divine and human and how it is being worked out. There was the honeymoon immediately after God delivered them from physical enslavement, followed by some hard times where issues like trust and control surfaced and the relationship is tested.
One scholar says, “The people’s continuing doubt seems both to be about who is in charge (they still identify Moses as the one who brought them up out of Egypt, rather than Yahweh) and why they have been chosen. In Egypt, they were chosen by the Pharaoh for work (Exodus 1:11) and ultimately, for death (Exodus 1:16). They suspect that this is Moses’/God’s intention for them as well, for they wonder if they have been brought into the wilderness to die, to be killed, along with their children (their futures) and their livestock (their security).”
Their questions indicate that in their minds Yahweh has left Moses in charge and that Moses has become their new Pharaoh… someone to use them for labor and a way to gain glory. But unlike Pharaoh, each and every time they question, Moses turns to God and God delivers, and this time is no exception as God tells Moses to take the staff he used at the Nile River and to meet God on the rock at Horeb, from which water will flow when Moses strikes it with his staff.
Isn’t it interesting how in this story, God chooses to bring life out of what seems lifeless? God chooses water to flow from a rock… LIFE FROM THE LIFELESS! You see, whether coming out of Egypt or journeying through the wilderness, God will find ways to bring and sustain life in unexpected ways. The thing is, this isn’t all on God as this journey will require a certain amount of trust from the people, just like it did of the Israelites and Moses. This journey will require a willingness to put faith in a God who seems to go about the delivering of gifts in a different kind of way than expected.
What if all these tests Moses and God reference in Exodus are meant to teach people radical trust in a God who opposes hoarding, but is always present to respond to needs? What if the referencing of all these tests are meant to show us all the ways God has acted to make life flow from places of death? What if we saw their doubts and their quarreling as calling God to action? I wonder if this story would remain only a story about the Israelites, or would it become a story about them and us… a story about the ever-growing relationship between Divinity and Humanity.
God seems to respond with creativity when the people loudly protest. Maybe by continuing to push for justice and grace and mercy… Maybe by continuing to protest loudly for the essentials that sustain life, the people are teaching us that follow how important it is that we continue to shape God’s character just as God works to shape ours. This mutual testing, this relationship building, happening in the wilderness produces a people with an incredible faith, as well as an incredible counter-cultural God.
Are You Thirsty?
For me, the vital nature of water was never as clear as it was over two years ago as I drove home from a long intense three-day seminary class on Church Worship. Hours earlier I received an urgent message from my sister letting me know that my Dad was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. It just so happened that another class I was taking during that summer school session required that I keep a journal and I want to read some of what I wrote.
July 21, 2015
… Ironically, last week I was under the impression that I was tired, but last week pales in comparison to my current state of affairs. As I left campus this past Saturday, July 18, 2015, following a three (3) day intensive study on Christian Worship, I drove straight to the emergency room of Annie Penn Hospital in Reidsville, North Carolina so that I could be present with my Dad who had been taken by ambulance earlier that morning. His trip in the ambulance was necessitated by his inability to eat, drink, walk and talk for the previous three (3) days.
Ironically, the severity of his dementia is not the reason he is lying in a hospital bed. Nor is the level of debilitation caused by his Parkinson’s disease. Neither are the number of times he has fallen (10 +) over the past week. He is here, and I am here with him, because of the lack of food and water.
This is why people who lack these essentials cry out, and when they can’t this is why those who love them should. Protest, quarrel if needed and never stop, especially when it comes to life’s essentials. Especially when it comes to justice, grace and mercy. In desperate times of need, this is what we are to do, and when we do it, we display the best attributes of history’s great leaders. When you are thirsty, when you feel abandoned, cry out, and may you know that when you cry out you are doing your part in continuing the shaping of the relationship between Divinity and Humanity.
 Erikson, Amy, workingpreacher.com Commentary