As the Israelites made their way across the desert from Egypt to Canaan, they camped at Rephidim (Exodus 17: 1-7), which was a lousy place to camp (humanly speaking) because there was no water. The situation quickly became a full-blown crisis as the people quarreled with Moses and demanded that he provide water for them. But Moses knew he could not be their errand boy, meeting all their needs and demands. Still, the situation was desperate; death comes fairly quickly in a hot desert if there is no water to drink. Moses also realized that the people were sinking into a numbing spiritual crisis; he asked them, "Why do you test the Lord?" The water crisis was severe, but Israel's lack of trust in God was an even greater crisis.
For the moment, God seemed hidden to these people. And what are people to do when God seems hidden? God had shown himself plainly to these people during the plagues against Egypt. He made himself obvious to them when he parted the Red Sea and delivered them from Pharaoh's army. Why should Rephidim be any different? But at Rephidim, it appears that God has abandoned his people, and the people blame Moses. It's as though God went into hiding, no longer making himself obvious. It's God's hiddenness that the Israelites do not understand-"Js God among us or not?"
So, when God seems hidden and not obvious, who's to blame? Some would say the problem is with God; he should always show himself plainly, and make himself obvious so that humans can never doubt or question God. But if God were always plain and obvious, how would we ever grow in things like courage, patience, love, trust, faith, endurance, etc.? How are we to learn patience, for example, if we never experience anything that calls for patience? How will we learn to trust if we never encounter anything that calls for trust?
Of course, the hiddenness of God is more a problem of our own making than God's. Sometimes we're too busy looking out for our own interests to notice God. We're blind to his presence because we're not looking for him. Other times God seems hidden because we've trained ourselves to only recognize him if he comes to us in certain ways-in ways we have predetermined are acceptable. And so we miss God when he comes in ways we aren't looking for-like in Rephidim.
Sometimes God's hiddenness becomes a problem of our own making because we are overcome with our own troubles and worries. We become oblivious to God, even though there are signs of his love and faithfulness all around. lf we drop a heavy object on our toe, for example, it hurts! And even if it's a beautiful day outside, we don't see it because we are overwhelmed with our sore toe. That doesn't change the beauty of the day, however. And neither do the troubles and worries o life change God's presence with us. He may appear to be hidden, but it's only an appearance. God did not abandon the Israelites at Rephidim, and neither does he forsake us in the Rephidims of our own experience.
"The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Ps.46:11).
Phil Kanagy, pastor