What is the significance of Meribah in the Bible?Meribah means "quarrel, provocation, strife, or litigation" in Hebrew. In the Bible, it was the name given to two places where the Israelites quarreled with God about their need for water in the desert.
The first location was a rock at the foot of Mount Horeb (also called Mount Sinai) in an area known as Rephidim shortly after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea during their escape from slavery in Egypt. This account is recorded in Exodus 17:1–7. The Israelites camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Fearing they would die of thirst, they accused Moses of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them in the desert. Moses asked, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" (Exodus 17:2). Then he turned to God and said, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me" (Exodus 17:4). God then commanded Moses to take some of the elders with him and go to the rock at Horeb and strike the rock with his staff. When Moses obeyed, potable water gushed forth. Moses then "called the name of the place Massah [meaning testing] and Meribah [meaning quarreling], 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 17:7).
The other location by this name is closer to the Promised Land of Canaan in the southwestern Negev Desert; it is also called Meribah Kadesh because it is near Kadesh Barnea. Kadesh Barnea was the chief site of encampment for the Israelites during their forty years of wandering. Numbers 20:1–13 records another account, later in their forty years, where the Israelites needed water and doubted God's provision. It reads, "They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, "…Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink" (Numbers 20:2–5). Moses and Aaron turned to the LORD and He instructed them to speak to a rock in front of all the people and promised, "So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle" (Numbers 20:8). Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it twice with his staff (Numbers 20:11). God did bring forth water from the rock, but He punished Moses and Aaron for not trusting Him enough to follow His instructions. God said, "Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them" (Numbers 20:12). The account concludes, "These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy" (Numbers 20:13).
This second location of Meribah Kadesh is referenced in other passages in the Bible. God confirmed in Deuteronomy 32:51 that Moses was being prohibited from entering the Promised Land due to his behavior there. In Psalm 81:7 God states, "I tested you at the waters of Meribah." The psalmist in Psalm 106:32 recalls, "They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account." Later in Ezekiel, Meribah Kadesh is listed as the future southern boundary of the millennial kingdom (Ezekiel 47:19; 48:28). The earlier Meribah is also mentioned by the psalmist in Psalm 95:8 when he warns readers, "Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness."
Both Meribahs are locations remembered for the Israelites' lack of trust in the Lord. It is interesting to note, however, that God did provide water in both places. The Israelites' faithlessness had no effect on God's faithfulness to provide for His people. Second Timothy 2:13 teaches that even "if we are faithless, he remains faithful." The miracle of water at both Meribahs is an example of that truth. Because God can be trusted, we should heed the guidance of the author of Hebrews who wrote, "do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years" (Hebrews 3:8–9). May our hearts be softened and filled with faith in God's faithfulness to provide.
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