READING Exodus 17:1-7
Leaders sometimes receive sharp criticism from the people they serve. Exodus 17:2 says, “The people quarreled with Moses.” “Quarreled” denotes strong opposition and verbal attacks. It is even defined as “verbal combat” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p 845).
Verbal assaults on leaders often arise out of people’s needs or perceived needs. The need may be legitimate, like water in this case, or the complaints may be driven by selfish desire.
There is certainly a time to express concern to leaders. But the manner in which people do it is important. In this case, it is evident the Israelites were not trusting God. They blamed Moses for leading them to a barren place rather than believing that the God who delivered them from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea could also provide them with water to drink.
Moses responded by turning to God. People’s harsh demands push leaders to rely on God for help. The word “cried” in verse 4 means to call out for help in great distress. Spiritual leaders do this often!
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary observes, “One of Moses’ most characteristic and praiseworthy traits was that he took his difficulties to the Lord (Exodus 15:25; 32:30; 33:12-16; Numbers 11:2; 12:13; 14:13-19.)”
His request here included an element of self-preservation. “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me” (v 4). Now I would be concerned for my safety too. *But we do have to be careful of being overly concerned with how people’s verbal attacks affect us. It’s easy for leaders to take it personally when they feel the sting of people’s displeasure. It helps to realize people don’t necessarily feel personal animosity toward us. We are the objects of their intensity, but ultimately they need to develop trust in God and graciousness when communicating with others.
Father, I tend to take people’s complaints and objections personally. Please help me keep in mind that they may have a good point to make. If they’re communicating in a sinful way or if their words arise from a selfish heart, help them to grow.
Then there are those who are just harsh. You know who they are. Help me respond as graciously as possible. Give me wisdom to address sin when needed. Vindicate my leadership if you wish. Ultimately I entrust myself, my ministry, and these people to you.
*My interview with Scott Owen includes helpful insights on responding to criticism.