“You called in distress and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!” (Psalm 81:7 Amp.).
Having paused and calmly thought about it, the secret place of thunder could mean various things and might have referred to two possible events which speak of God thundering. According to Matthew Henry, this secret place of thunder was either the pillar of fire through which God looked down upon the Egyptians that dared to pursue Israel into the Red Sea, or it was the sound from atop Mount Sinai where the law was given and the threat of death spoken to any that might break through the thick darkness to gaze upon God.
Either way, thunder represents the voice of God; Syrian kings took monikers that ridiculously suggested that they too thundered like the Most High. William Cowper said, “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” Herein this line of Cowper’s is the key to understanding “the secret place of thunder.” We are TEMPORARILY a compound being—an affirmed new creation inner man clothed in a condemned old creation outer man. Thus we are rightly affrighted by the booming and wrath filled voice on the outside, yet we are calmed by a graceful and peaceful still small voice—whose import rings louder than thunder—on the inside. His SECRET is, indeed, with those who fear Him; they alone interpret the sound of thunder correctly, converting its trembling and fearful exterior elements into an interior calmness, trust, and faith.
His voice is always a test, and at Meribah, which has several meanings, God weighs our hearts in measure of discernment and obedience. One meaning, “waters of contradiction” seems the most illuminating; other meanings, “waters of strife” or “chiding,” only speak of different voices with different opinions, but the essence is this lack of unity or “contradiction.” In other words, the chiding or strife arises out of the voices of contradictory viewpoints.
God tests us here; His sheep hear His voice—will we? His sheep alone are able to make distinctions between the many voices of chatter; sheep alone are able to identify His true voice above so much bleating. Like as God tested Gideon’s army, incrementally whittling away those called but not chosen, so He is ever testing the mettle of His people, skimming away the dross of unbelief and removing the chaff of self-reliance. This is done in the caldron of contradicting interpretations, ideologies, and theologies. Do not be foolish but KNOW what the will of the Lord is; too many voices cause confusion and freezes initiative. God is narrowing us down to singularity of purpose based on the singularity of the sound of His voice and the proper interpretation thereof.