How about this one: God says, “I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (Psalm 81:7) vs. at Meribah…[the Israelites] tested the LORD (Exodus 17:7)?
Whenever we see a possible contradiction, remember this: Context is king. We have to look at these two accounts in their proper context.
In the Exodus account, the Israelites have just been delivered out of slavery in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. The pursing Egyptian army tried to follow them, but the waters closed back over them and they drowned. Three days later we find the Israelites grumbling over a lack of drinkable water, which God miraculously supplies. A month after that they are complaining about their food supply, which God miraculously supplies. And right on the heels of that they are again complaining about not having water to drink, which God miraculously supplies (see Exodus 15-17).
It is after this second miraculous supply of water that we read that phrase we are considering: the Israelites tested God. The Hebrew word for “tested” is nasa which equates to, “Oh yeah? Prove it!” or “I’ll believe it when I see it!” or as The Message paraphrase puts it, “Is God here with us, or not?”
In Psalm 81, God Himself is speaking in vv. 6-16, so He is the One who claims, “I tested them at Meribah.” The Hebrew word for “tested” in this instance is bahan. This means to investigate closely, to spot and bring out the impurities in fine metals. God not only makes the claim, “I tested them,” but He is also the One who tells us to Selah—pause and calmly consider.
Consider what? After the first instance of grumbling about water in Exodus 15, we read, “There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there He tested them. He said, ‘If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians’” (Exodus 15:25-26).
Notice the words decree, law, and commands. Asaph says something similar in Psalm 81:4, “This is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob. He established it as a statute for Joseph when He went out against Egypt.”
God is talking about laws before the Ten Commandments are given. What is the law He desires to be obeyed above all else? In a word: Listen.
- If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes (Exodus 15:25).
- I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah. Hear, O My people, and I will warn you—if you would but listen to Me, O Israel! (Psalm 81:7-8)
God brings us to these moments of tests to see how we will respond. He doesn’t need to know, but we need to know how we will respond. When we find ourselves wringing our hands, or grumbling, or saying, “Is God here with us, or not?”, what does that tell us about our own heart? He wants us to be wholly His, so He has to bring out the impurities. That same word bahan is used when God speaks this word: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).
Asaph uses the Hebrew word for “listen” five times in Psalm 81. This word means listening with an attitude to obey. In order for us to hear God’s voice, we have to listen with an attitude toward obedience. This is not, “Oh yeah? I’ll believe it when I see it!” but “Oh yeah! I will obey it so I will see it!”
As I pondered this, the Holy Spirit dropped these questions on my heart which I encourage you to ponder as well:
- God is always speaking to me. Am I making quiet time to listen to His voice?
- God sometimes has to discipline me. Am I open to His purifying?
- God has wise counsel for me. Am I obeying it?
- God knows the best path for me. Am I walking in it?
- God wants to subdue my enemies. Am I asking Him to do it?
- God has abundant blessings for me. Am I listening to obey?
God will only speak a new word to me when I have obeyed His previous word to me.
When I am in distress, I need to train myself to Selah so that I can say, “God has brought me to this test, what do I need to learn? Am I listening to God’s voice with an attitude to obey?”
May our heart’s posture always be, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening and ready to obey whatever You speak to me.”
If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access the full list by clicking here.