All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to 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 the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, ESV)
Leaders must not take on themselves the responsibility and weight of doing what only God himself can do. Nevertheless, the people we lead will put that weight on us and it may endanger our influence with them and even our lives.
The right thing to do as a leader is to go to God for help. His leadership of us is always one step ahead, so we don’t know the plan He has and must come to Him for direction. When we do He stands in front of us and becomes our shield through which the effronteries of effete followers cannot penetrate.
Followers must not, of course, put undue weight on their leaders. Followers bear a responsibility before God to recognize that a leader is a tool in God’s hand to help the group go forward, not God him or herself. When we grumble against the leader we have lost sight of that fact.
How could the people not have known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Yahweh was among them? Their insistence on blaming Moses and on expecting him to be their rescue is bizarre. Apparently they fear Yahweh enough that they don’t want to directly blame Him, but the effect is the same. We may not always have the same assurance that they did that Moses was only doing what God told him to do. We don’t have the cloud of smoke and fire that lifts up and moves when it is time to move, that goes and stands over the rock where water pours out. But we may be guilty of a kind of practical atheism when we choose to act as if the only reason we are where we are and our leaders are leading us where we are is as if all this just happened by human endeavor.
But Yahweh gives yet another proof that He is among them when He stands over the rock at Horeb (Mt. Sinai, where the burning bush appeared) and has Moses strike it to produce water, enough water to supply a million or more people and their livestock. Why strike it? It is as if Moses is striking Yahweh, who stands above the rock in the pillar of cloud. Paul says this rock was Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4), who at his first coming was struck as well, crucified for our sins. Yahweh is picturing and foreshadowing how He will provide deliverance for all mankind when Messiah comes. Are you recognizing God’s presence in your midst? Do not live in your own Massah and Meribah (testing and quarreling).