Even after God led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage with mighty signs and wonders, they still doubted. They were just like so many of us — God’s kindnesses were promptly forgotten in the face of a new challenge or danger.
For the Israelites, the first test was thirst — real thirst, born of a hot desert environment — but there was no relief to be had. The people immediately assumed that God had abandoned them to die in the wilderness. As far as they were concerned, the exodus from slavery was already ancient history.
God had Moses strike a rock with his staff, resulting in an abundant flow of water. The crisis was over for the moment, but many more were on the horizon. A rock seems like an unlikely place to find water, but that was the point. God was the provider, not the rock.
Since God provided water for them on several occasions, a tradition arose that this same rock followed them through the wilderness. Paul even referred to this legend in 1 Corinthians 10, insisting that the faithful rock was Christ. There was nothing magical about the rock and it is doubtful that Christ made the wilderness journey in person.
In what sense, then, are both stories true? The water from the rock was given by a kind and compassionate God, always zealous for the good of His people. That compassionate divine presence did follow the people of God through the scorching wilderness, providing for them and protecting them from harm.
The Word has always been present in some form in our world and continues to be present wherever there is human need and suffering. God’s care for us might not be as dramatically visible as water flowing from a rock, but it is no less real and present, especially when we feel most vulnerable and alone.
Our tests occur often, but we are never alone or without a source of hope and strength. The very least we can do by way of gratitude is to avoid testing God by our own doubt and murmuring, for this is a form of unbelief that affects most at one time or another.
Paul joyfully proclaimed that hope does not disappoint us. How do we know this? God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. We also know that Christ died for us, even though we had done nothing to deserve it and were in fact still sinners. What greater love can there be?
When our minds and hearts fully comprehend this great mystery, fear and doubt will no longer have a foothold in our souls. Perfect love will always displace fear. Water played a crucial role in John’s account of Jesus’ ministry. Under the hot noonday sun, Jesus bantered with the Samaritan woman at the village well, all the while leading her towards recognition of his identity and faith. In a long dialogue, laden with levels of meaning, deep symbolism and irony, Jesus promised her water of another sort — living water — that would satisfy her thirst forever.
In John’s Gospel, “living water” was the master metaphor for the life-giving spirit of God. To those having faith in him, Jesus promised this living water would gush up in them for eternal life.
Once again, God made water flow where there was none, giving new life and hope. In answer to the woman’s query about the correct place for worshipping God, Jesus signalled that His arrival and the giving of the living water heralded a new way of experiencing and relating to God.
From now on, true worshippers would worship in spirit and truth, with no regard to location or sacred place. This meant that the living water would enable believers to experience God directly and personally. They could begin to live in a heaven-like manner while still on Earth. The rock no longer follows us around; it now resides within us.
There is a catch. We need to ask for the living water, open our minds and hearts to receive it and be willing to follow wherever it leads. It is not magic or a free pass, but a life-giving gift of love to those who truly believe.