And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah. The former signifies "temptation", and the latter “contention". The reason for the names follows: "because of the chiding of the children of Israel” was the reason why it was called Meribah. There, the Israelites chided and contended with Moses. Because they tempted the Lord, it had the former name of Massah: saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” It was as if they were saying, “If we perish through thirst, the Lord is not among us, nor takes any care of us; nor was it he that brought us out of Egypt, but Moses; nor is he in the pillar of cloud and fire, as is said; but if he works a miracle, and gives us water, for us, our children, and cattle, then it will appear he is among us”. Thus they tempted the Lord. Remember before this, the Israelites had full proof, by the plagues in Egypt and by many miracles, that God was among them.
The children of Israel journeyed according to the commandment of the Lord, and were led by the pillar of cloud and fire. Yet, when they came to a place where there was no water for them to drink, they doubted. In our lives, we may be in the way of duty, yet may meet with troubles, which Providence brings us into, for the trial of our faith and that God may be glorified in our relief. The Israelites began to question whether God was with them or not. This was tempting God, which signifies distrust of him after they had received such proofs of his power and goodness.
Moses mildly answered them. It is folly to answer passion with passion; that makes bad worse. God graciously appeared to help them. How wonderful the patience and forbearance of God toward provoking sinners! That he might show his power as well as his pity, and make it a miracle of mercy, he gave them water out of a rock. God can open fountains for us where we least expect them. Those who, in this wilderness, keep to God's way, may trust him to provide for them.
Also, let this direct us to depend on Christ's grace. The apostle says, that Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:4, “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” How did the rock picture Christ? While the curse of God might justly have been executed upon our guilty souls, behold the Son of God is smitten for us. Let us ask and receive. There was a constant, abundant supply of this water. Numerous as believers are, the supply of the Spirit of Christ is enough for all.
The water flowed from the rock in streams to refresh the wilderness, and attended them on their way towards Canaan. This water flows from Christ, through the ordinances, in the barren wilderness of this world, to refresh our souls, until we come to glory. A new name was given to the place, in remembrance, not of the mercy of their supply, but of the sin of their murmuring: Massah, Temptation, because they tempted God; Meribah, Strife, because they chided with Moses.