WILDERNESS: Hardness of Holiness of Heart


Exodus 17:4-7 (NIV)

4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”


Is anyone thirsty?

The wilderness is a place where physical thirst points to the thirst of the soul. Things were not connecting for the Israelites. Despite extraordinary demonstrations of God’s miraculous favor, not only did they have no faith, they wanted to go back to their former life. Rachel Coleman asked a piercing question in the always stirring conversation in our Daily Text Facebook group: “How can their imagination work well enough to conjure up a convincing picture of a lovely past that never existed, but not well enough to embrace audacious hope for their God-directed future and bold confidence in God’s present, attentive care?”

This encounter at Meribah proved to be a tipping point in the wrong direction for the Israelites as far as God was concerned. Years hence, the Psalmist penned their haunting epitaph as a warning for all souls in every successive generation:

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
8 “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
(Psalm 95:7-10)

Despite the extraordinary miracle of water coming from the rock, the entire occasion is remembered quite differently. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

We should be calling the place River Rock or Rock Water or Six Flags over Moses. Instead, we call the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarreling unbelief of the people, even in the face of the unbelievable acts of God.

“Is the Lord among us or not?”

This is not the sign of unbelief but rather of ambivalence. Ambivalence is the terminal cancer of the soul—hardness of heart. God can work with unbelief. Ambivalence is another story. Ambivalence is the willful disposition to be neither convinced nor unconvinced in the face of God’s faithfulness. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Ambivalence creeps in, especially into the hearts of men, through a subtle form of stoicism—a super reasonable, impenetrably invulnerable, spirit of resignation.

Hardship in the wilderness will do one of two things in our lives. It will infuse character into our souls or wear callouses onto them; holiness or hardness. The difference comes in our response. The Psalmist shows us the way in the preceding verses.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
(Psalm 95:1-2)

The invitation is to sing. I find myself singing one of my favorite older new songs these days, Blessed Be Your Name, by Matt Redman. (Listen here.)

“Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name”

The invitation is to sing. I want to encourage you to take every opportunity you can, alone or with other people, to worship the Lord. Kneel in your home and sing and shout. Worship is the antidote to ambivalence. It is more than an invitation. It is a command. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts . . .” v.8

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
(Psalm 95:6-7)

“Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name”

And the beautiful thing about singing is you don’t have to be a singer to do it. Just make a joyful noise. Our worship becomes a lightning rod for his presence.


Father, reveal to me the deeper wisdom of your will and ways in the wilderness. Thank you for this invitation to sing out our songs to you; to bow down in worship. Ferret out the creeping ambivalence that would harden my heart. Cut away the callouses and restore in me the Spirit of holiness. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.


With the loss of corporate worship together these days, have you lost your song? Will you sing out to the Lord today? And men, am I right about the “subtle form of stoicism—a super reasonable, impenetrably invulnerable, spirit of resignation?” Are you ready to sing that away?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt