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Praise in the desert

Psalm 95 invites us to travel over terrain which is familiar ground to even the casual reader of the psalms --- the path of praise.  The psalms and praise go together like peanut butter and jelly, popcorn and a movie, or a nap and a rainy day.  The psalmist calls attention to God as:

*      the rock of our salvation (v. 1),


*      the great king above all gods (v. 3),


*      our Maker (v. 6),


*      our Shepherd (v. 7).

In the case of the last one, while he never actually says the word “shepherd,” it’s obvious from his description of us as “the people of His pasture, the flock under His care,” (v. 7), that’s exactly what he has in mind.  And it’s on this note that the psalm takes a sharp turn.  The picture of God as our Shepherd calls to mind Israel and their time in the wilderness/desert and their failure to live under God’s care.  The writer mentions two names (Meribah and Massah), which had to do with one place. 

Both at the beginning (Exodus 17), and end of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 20), there were incidents at Meribah/Massah which typified their stubbornness and rebellion toward God.  The episodes were very much alike (both involved them grumbling about lack of provision, Moses, and water coming out of a rock).  But there were also with important differences (they were forty years apart, and Moses was to strike the rock on the first occasion and speak to it on the second). 

It seems to me that the writer imbeds these episodes to alert and instruct us in regard to the true, radical nature of praise.  Whatever else it is, praise is much more than saying sweet things about our Father.  Ultimate praise comes from our lives rather than just our lips.  And because this is so, the pinnacle of praise is reached when truth and trust are lived out under difficult (wilderness) conditions.

This is exactly where God’s chosen (Israel) failed.  Their problem involved both their hearing and their heart.  When there was no water at Meribah/Massah, they were unable to hear God’s voice or see His hand in their circumstances.  They quarreled and grumbled against Moses (Exodus 17:2-3), asking why he had brought them out to the desert to die.  They even questioned if the Lord was with them (17:7).  The same people who had witnessed the plagues, seen the Red Sea parted, drank sweet water that had once been bitter, and munched on manna from heaven, couldn’t work up enough trust to believe that God could see them through their time in the desert.  Forty years later (Numbers 20), they were no different.

If we are to celebrate God by living under His care, it means that we have to learn to trust Him in our deserts.  It means we must open up our hearts to allow God (as He will do at times), to choose our circumstances for us.  Even though they will be circumstances we would not choose for ourselves, they will not be circumstances beyond His sovereignty (for there is no such thing).  If we listen carefully, we will hear His voice reassuring us of this.  But we must listen.    

This is exactly what God’s chosen (Jesus) did.  He went into the wilderness and for forty days He lived off God’s word, refused to put His Father to the test, and brought glory and honor to Him by the way He lived.

That’s what praise in the desert looks like.     
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