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Learning from history

Moses named the place Massah—“the place of testing”—and Meribah—“the place of arguing”—because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord going to take care of us or not?” — Exodus 17:7

Young people are rarely interested in history. Their past holds little interest and their future beckons alluringly.

Older people show more interest in the subject. Their beckoning future is shorter than their fading past, so their interest in history is easily explained.

But young people should realize that the lessons of history are designed to save them from mistakes in the future. As George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This is certainly true from a biblical perspective. Take, for instance, the incident at Massah and Meribah.

Water was in short supply, so the Israelites understandably were panicking. As usual, they vented their frustration on long-suffering Moses, who, once again, turned to the Lord for a solution, which the Lord immediately provided through a miraculous intervention. The Lord told Moses, “Strike the rock, and water will come pouring out” (Exodus 17:6). He did, and it did!

But by this time the Lord’s patience was wearing thin. The redeemed people were “testing the Lord” (17:2). As a result of their habitual grumbling, distrusting, arguing, and defying the Lord, they eventually forfeited the right to enter the Land of Promise. Instead of enjoying the life they were intended to enjoy because of the Lord’s bounty, they died in despair in the wilderness.

David, the psalm writer, using this incident from Israel’s history, found it necessary to remind his contemporaries, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:8).

Without apology, he drew a profound lesson from Israel’s past. He explained that in the same way the wilderness travelers rebelled against the Lord and perished in the wilderness, the people of his day were “hardening their hearts” and facing the same consequences. So he exhorted them with anguish, “Oh, that you would listen to his voice today!” (95:7).

More than a thousand years later, the writer to the Hebrews picked up on the incident, applied David’s exhortation, and warned first-century Christians, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).

The lesson from history is simply this: Don’t take God for granted. Don’t abuse His grace. Don’t test His patience. Those who do so may discover His wrath. And that would mean, as the Lord said, “they will never enter my place of rest” (3:11).

That’s a relevant statement, whether or not you’re interested in history! For if there’s one thing people hope for, it’s that they’ll eventually rest in peace.

For further study: Exodus 17:1-7

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.