780 million people lack access. It is the leading cause of death worldwide, more than malaria, HIV/AIDS and casualties of war. If you ask any public health official they will plead with you, before sending money or medicine, before food or infrastructure, please, oh please, just send a glass of clean water.
Thousands of years earlier, the Israelites are past the point of pleading as they wander in the wilderness of sin. After putting God on trial and finding him guilty, they’re out for punishment, starting with a stoning of God’s liberator, Moses. So why then, after finally being set free, are they struggling?
Exodus 17:1-7 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 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?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
They didn’t know how to handle their freedom.
They didn’t trust God’s provision.
Your liberator is often thanked with hostility.
What are the Israelites struggling with? After centuries of picking up trash on the Emperor’s highway and scrubbing the pyramid’s toilets, the Israelites have become institutionalized, resigned to the submission of being a slave. While the Promised Land would be nice, there’s also something strangely comforting about the predictability of tyranny.
Because of the detergents of slavery, the solvents of bondage and the heavy metals of oppression, we’ve been slowly poisoning ourselves by drinking from contaminated wells. Yes, the dirty tap is always running in the internment camp but the only way to get the lead out is to stop gulping from Pharaoh’s faucet.
For all of us between Babylon and Canaan, it’s time, as Walter Bruggemann says, “to take a hard look at our broken cisterns where we have tried to store the Empire’s water supply.” If we are what we choose to drink, then the watering holes we gather our lives around have enormous spiritual and physical significance.
To be a Christian is to detox from everything that doesn’t come from the source, to rid ourselves of foreign dependence, to sojourn with a Savior who promises to pour out his life, pour our his death and pour out his resurrection for the world’s recommended daily intake of eight full glasses.
Booker T. Washington liked to tell the story about a ship, lost at sea in the Atlantic Ocean along the northern coast of South America. The sailors were dehydrated, parched under the ocean sun, struggling to survive until they spotted a friendly vessel. From their mast, the adrift vessel signaled, “Water, water. water.” The answer from the friendly vessel came back at once: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time, the signal: “Water, send us water!” And was answered again: “Cast down your bucket.” A third and fourth signal for water was again answered: “Cast down your bucket.” The captain, dried up and desperate, finally heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket. It came up full of clean and pure fresh water from the mouth of the Amazon River, which extends miles out into the ocean, untouched by the surrounding salt.
With bottling distributors in every town and fountains on every corner, it’s easy to remain thirsty despite being hydrated. So no matter which desert wilderness you find yourself in, cast down your bucket until it hits dry rock, believing that God is forever wanting to satiate you with living water.