Now, as we talk about the water flowing from the rock at Meribah, we have to admit: God didn't need Moses to strike the rock at all.
God being God, He could have just let water come flowing out of the rock. He didn't need to make a production of it. He didn't need to make a scene. He could have, in His goodness, heard His people grumbling, had compassion on them for their thirst, and sent water pouring out of that rock to satisfy them. Moses is completely unnecessary in this whole equation.
The question then arises: Was God just testing Moses, then? Was God just using this as an opportunity to see what Moses would do?
It's a troubling question, as it gets us into all kinds of sticky theology.
Does God give us completely unnecessary opportunities to fail? Does God set us up with the possibility to sin? Perhaps even more difficult - if God knows everything that's going to happen, if He can judge our hearts and know what we're going to do in any given situation, then did God want Moses to fail at Meribah? Was God conspiring to keep Moses out of the Promised Land?
Like I said, it gets us into all kinds of sticky theology.
And this sticky theology leads us into great difficulty as we try to live out our own faith. It's hard for us to trust a God who might be setting us up to fail. It's hard for us to put our hope in a God who leads a man all the way to the very edge of the Promised Land, just to keep him out of it. How can we do anything with confident assurance if we are not certain that it's not just some kind of cruel test that God has for us?
And how can we continue to love a God who we believe has, or even might, set us up to fail?
That's why it's so important to understand what really happened at Meribah. That's why we have to look closely at the story and figure out what's really going on here. It's why we have to take time to step away for just a second from the whole Moses angle and remember that no matter what Moses did and what happened next, God brought water out of that rock for the people.
God was true to His promises. God was faithful to His people. God was good, and as we wrestle with what that means in the example of Moses in this story, we cannot forget that. Rather, it has to be the truth that grounds all of our other inquiry.
In a story in which God is good, in which God shows Himself as good and affirms Himself as good, what are we supposed to make of Moses?
The answer, tomorrow.