Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. These frequent words of my father when I was a boy come back to me as I ponder today’s Scripture. Today! Yes, today! Not tomorrow! Not sometime, but today is the day for God’s people to live in His rest. Today!
For the first six verses of today’s Psalm text the psalmist has been rallying worshippers to praise the Lord, “for He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture…” He speaks to his generation as well as to ours in covenant language drawn straight from the Exodus journey (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 29:12-13). He pledges that He is our God and we are His people. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the voice of God’s Spirit breaks in, interrupting, calling worshippers to listen to God: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” It is good for us to worship, but the heart of worship is listening to God, not hardening our hearts to Him.
In today’s text the Spirit of God reminds us how the Israelites had hardened their hearts in the wilderness at Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7) “quarrelling” with God and asking: “Is the LORD among us or not?” Just mere days after they had crossed the Red Sea, days after they had seen the Lord’s miraculous victory over Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, the people doubt God’s promise to guide and care for them. When they come to a place in the Wilderness where there is no water they accuse God of leading them into the desert to die (Exodus 17:3).
But the “quarrelling” (Hebrew: meribah) with God at the place of no water was not just one event, but rather manifested a long history of hearts hardened to God (Numbers 20, Psalm 81, Psalm 106). Doubting and quarreling with God’s provision characterized their 40 years in the Wilderness. Rather than living reliantly as the people of God’s “pasture”, they demanded that God provide on their terms. They hardened their hearts putting God to the “proof” even though they had already seen His “work”.
Throughout the centuries the people of God have often had hard hearts, not believing God’s promise to guide and provide. Even after seeing Jesus twice feed multitudes of 5,000 (Mark 6:31-44) and 4,000 (Mark 8:1-9) in a wilderness, His disciples still worry about not having bread. This prompts Jesus to ask them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? Do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)
O that we would remember, today! O that we would believe, today!
- Can you think of a ‘Meribah’ incident in your life when you quarreled with God or doubted His ways? Perhaps you want to talk with God about it now.
- What do you see as the relationship between hearts that go “astray”, and not considering God’s “ways”?
- Take a few moments to ponder the beginning of today’s text and to worship: “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand”.