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?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Ex 17:2-3
In the previous story the Israelites complained about their hunger. In this story they are complaining about their thirst. Last time I emphasized that the story was about their lack of obedience. We could say the same thing about this story as well, but I’d like to make it more interesting than that.
The people have a legitimate complaint. They are thirsty and have no source for water. If you read this without knowing who the hero is supposed to be, you might think Moses was a jerk for telling them to quit crying. Moses does not meet their need until he is forced to do so. In the story Moses performs another miracle by striking a rock and making water come out. Again God provides, but only after the people complain. I wonder if this is in any way connected to the reason God liberated the people from Egypt in the first place, “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.” Perhaps we are too harsh or simplistic in our reading when we paint the people as whiners. Maybe Moses actually messed this one up.
As I reread this passage I thought how many people react to changes in their diet much like the Israelites. Many people hear the arguments for a more sustainable food system and think, “Maybe the food system is bad, but are you bringing me out here to the farm or the market just to kill me?” It is a big change for a lot of people to live so differently from the culture around them.
I probably react sometimes like Moses to people who don’t “get it.” Why ask questions? Don’t you understand? Just think like me and you’ll be fine. Perhaps the broader Exodus narrative of crying out, liberation and then complaining in the wilderness has something to say about how much God cares about us. God hears the cries of oppression and pain and even though Moses was grumpy God also heard the complaining in the wilderness. So, next time someone isn’t quite up to par on your justice scale, maybe you should listen first.
p.s. I’m afraid the previous comments were rambling and incoherent. I pray that God uses it to bless you in some way in spite of me.