Unmet Expectations

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [Moses] named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?””

Exodus 17:1-4;7 NASB

Wadi

               My wife pointed something out to me a while back.  She noted that when someone asks how long I was in the Navy I never just say “4 years.”  Instead I tell them “3 years, 11 months, and 22 days.”  It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know that there was something about my experience in the Navy that I didn’t like.  Now, I’m not military bashing; I appreciate our service men and woman and I’m proud to have served.  I just didn’t want to make a career out of the Navy because it wasn’t what I thought it would be like.  All the recruiting posters said “Join the Navy see the world”… and then my boot camp instructor let me in on the secret: the world is 75% water! I saw the world alright! In the end my unmet expectations were too much to overcome and I decided to make my naval career a short one.

               Unmet expectations can have a huge impact in our lives, can’t they? The same was true for folks in the Bible as well.  In the book of Exodus, chapter 17 we find this story of the Israelites leaving Egypt heading for the Promised Land.  God was leading the Hebrew hoard “by stages” says the text, which probably means He lead them from watering hole to watering hole through the dry land, providing all they needed.  He was a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day; when the Lord moved the people followed and they soon grew to trust and count on the provision of the Lord.  And then they came to Rephidim.

               By all accounts the people expected that there would be water at Rephidim; the name of the place was the first clue.  Rephidim means “resting place” in Hebrew, and out in this kind of land any place called a place of rest would be expected to be a place of water.  Like we might expect to find food at Food Lion and a soft bed at a Holiday Inn they expected water in a resting place.  Beyond that the terrain itself indicated that there would be water at Rephidim.  The oasis was located in what is called today the Refayid Wadi.  A wadi for us Americans is what we might call an arroyo or a wash; a dry river bed that only carries water when there is a heavy rain.  It only rains in a desert once or twice a year and when it does it POURS! The run off flows through the wadi and where there are low places and dips the water will pool, leaving behind an oasis- a resting place: a Rephidim.  And above all of that, the Hebrews had been conditioned by this point to expect to have water wherever the Lord lead them.  But there was no water at Rephidim…

               The Israelites did not react very well to the disappointment… their unmet expectations created an immediate and particularly visceral reaction.  So great was their grief that according to the text they began to cry out “Is God with us or not?” Now as outsiders looking in we see all the reasons why that was a crazy thing for them to wonder right?  Had they forgotten about the Red Sea? Did they not see the massive cloud over their heads shading them from the sizzling desert sun?  Some of us might be tempted to look at this and wag our fingers and cluck at these “over dramatic and histrionic Hebrews.”  But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them… after all, who among us has never over-reacted in some situation when the bitterness of an unmet expectation has temporarily blinded us?  I know I have.  In my early years of ministry as a pastor it was hard at times when I realized that it wasn’t all I had expected.  I remember wrestling with the Lord at time crying out, “Lord where are you? People don’t respect me like I thought they would! I thought all my plans would work out better than this? I thought you were going to make me successful!”

               Maybe you’ve been there, too.  Maybe at some point you’ve said “Lord, I gave you my life and I’m following you- but this sickness is starting to make me wonder if You’re really on my side?”  Or, “Lord, you said you would provide but these bills are piling up? Are you there? Have you forgotten me?” Maybe you’ve watched a relationship crumble or a loved one die and it has left you in a pit of unmet expectations… And if so, then you can relate to what these Israelites were feeling.  And maybe you can even relate to them in how you handled the disappointment.  Unmet expectations can really mess things up in your life.  Cain slew his brother Able in a fit of unmet expectations.  David’s older brother Eliab became a bitter and angry man when God didn’t chosen him as he had expected.  When Jesus didn’t immediately form an army and defeat Rome after His triumphant entry into the city the Jews cried out “Crucify Him!” in a fit of unmet expectations.  Feelings of disappointment can very quickly become serious spiritual problems when not dealt with appropriately.

             moses rod In the situation there at Rephidim, Moses was the one who handled things the right way.  While the people busied themselves talking about God and what He hadn’t done, Moses hit his knees and talked TO God.  In verse 4 he asks a great question, perhaps the best question he could have asked: “What shall I do?” he says.  The moment Moses recognized a problem; the very moment the confusion hit, Moses took the issue to God.  Do you think God is so fragile that He can’t handle your questions? Do you think He would rather that you whined and complained, or even worse, pretended everything is ok? God can handle the cries of a confused heart.  David cried out in Psalm 22, “God, why have you forsaken me?” The Father didn’t wilt; David wasn’t immediately smitten with arm-pit lice and boils.  Talking to God in the midst of the disappointment is key.

               Next, Moses listened.  He cried out to the Lord and then he listened.  He didn’t take matters into his own hands (Cain!).  He didn’t throw a pity party (Eliab, I’m looking at you!).  He listened for what the Lord would say.  And I know what someone is saying right now, “That’s all good, but God doesn’t talk to me like He did to Moses!” Really? He speaks to me.  In the pages of His word He speaks to me. And that’s not just preacher-talk; this isn’t all some clever pastoral marketing scheme to get you to read your Bible more.  He really does speak to us today through scriptures.  Sometimes while I’m reading them and other time when He brings a passage to my remembrance at just the moment I need it.  He speaks to us.

               Finally, we must note the most crucial part of Moses’ plan for handling unmet expectations: He trusted.  Moses prayed, God spoke, and then Moses trusted the plan.  It’s seemed wild: go strike a rock with a stick.  But Moses trusted.  Friends, our God never says “Uh, oh” He never says “Whoops,” He never says, “Huh- didn’t see that coming.”  Nothing throws Him off- nothing surprises Him- nothing can cause Him to get up from the throne and pace the floorboards of heaven wringing His hands with worry. He has said, “I know the plans I have for you.”  Whatever you are going through; whatever disappointment you are facing; whatever empty water hole you’re staring at, you can believe that God knew about it before you did and you can trust that He has a plan to use it to grow you.

               So what happened at Rephidim? Did God get some bad intel from his scouts? Did google maps mis-mark the oasis?  No.  He knew there was no water there.  His plan all along was to show His power in the midst of an impossible situation.  And Israel almost missed it, and WOULD have missed it had not Moses been the one to rightly handle the unmet expectation.  What will you do the next time what you expect and what you get don’t line up? Will you talk about God or to God? Will be bitter and let Him make you better?

Won’t you pray this with me; “Father, help me in my disappointments both big and small to cry out to You and trust.  Lead me to the water of Your word in every moment of grief, and use these distresses to make me into the child You’ve called me to be. Amen.”


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