God is said to be our Heavenly Father, providing all that we need just like any good earthly father tries to do for his children. We're going to take a closer look at that claim in this study of His chosen children, the Israelites.
At this point in the story, the Israelites just watched the drowning of the entire Egyptian army in the Red Sea. The Israelites are beginning their forty year journey in the desert, although they don't yet know that. They likely believe that they will be going directly to the Promised Land (Exodus 6:6-8).
Oddly, the Desert Makes Me Thirsty
Parents see to it that their children have the basic necessities until they can fully take care of themselves. Food, water, clothing, and shelter, among the basest of needs, are provided to their children as if they are a given. And they are a given, as long as the parents love the children and have the means to provide them with these essentials. As a child, you may have been sent to bed without dinner some night as a punishment for what you had done, but you were never subjected to being on the brink of starving to death so long as your parents had money for food.
At least, that's the way it's supposed to be. Providing for the needs of your children is the foundation of what is considered good parenting. Many differing philosophies exist for what is considered the best way to raise children, but providing for the basic needs of your children is inconvertible.
Per the Bible, God is our Father (Matthew 6:9). Or, depending on your interpretation of the policy of Election, God is the Father of everyone that is Saved (such as Matthew 15:13). We are told that God loves His children (John 3:16). We know by God's reported omnipotence, that God has the means to fulfill any need, and in fact He wants to meet His children's needs (Matthew 6:26). God should not only be a good father, He should be a perfect father (Matthew 5:48). So let's see how God acts like a perfect father to His children, His Chosen People.
In Exodus 15:22 we find that Moses led the Israelites from the Red Sea and into the Desert of Shur. They traveled in the desert for three days without finding water. Three days. In the desert. Without water.
The desert area where they wandered would have averaged about ~80°F (~27°C) for early April. Contrary to the popular myth that you will die if you go without for three days, the information I found suggests that a person in good health may expect to live up to about nine days at that temperature when resting in the shade. Some factors can be a detriment to survival without water, such as being physically active, being in the sun and/or wind, or eating salty or dry foods (which would have been a part of the typical diet of that time). These factors were likely working against the Israelites.
It is possible that nobody was literally dying of thirst at that point. However, significant dehydration would have been expected across the Israelites, plus all of their livestock. Signs of dehydration include reduction of body and mind efficiency, headaches, and irritability.
Getting back to God here, we find that He chose not to provide them with water for three days during their desert journey. And it wasn't until they complained to Moses that God provided it (Exodus 15:23-25). So, unlike your imperfect earthly father who likely anticipated your needs as a child and provided you with the essentials without you having to ask for it, God waits around for a complaint or request.
Pop Quiz: Which father better demonstrates love of their children and understanding of their needs: a) one that takes them on a trip stopping regularly to ensure that they get enough food an water for each day; or b) one that waits three days before providing such basic and essential resources, and only then after solicitation? Keep in mind, this Father has infinite resources, wisdom, and power at His disposal.
(Momentary Interjection: On the heals of providing drinkable water, God makes a seemingly empty threat or broken promise. In Exodus 15:26 we read how God promises not to plague the Israelites with the same diseases that He bestowed on the Egyptians so long as they obey God's Law. As we'll find out as we continue through the Bible, the Israelites had a lot of trouble keeping God's Law, yet He has not plagued the Israelites accordingly. Note also that they didn't have a choice of accepting this deal with God.)
Now you might think that this episode was enough to jog God's memory as to the need of His children for water. Sad to say, it wasn't. In Exodus 17:1-7 we see how God led the Israelites to through the Desert of Sin (not sin as in transgression against God, but quite possibly Sin as in the Semitic moon god). It doesn't say how long they were without water, but the Israelites became so thirsty that they thought their children and livestock may die and that they were wondering if God was still with them. (They were, no doubt, irritable from dehydration!) In a semi-famous Old Testament moment, God stands in front of Moses while he whacks the rock at Horeb with his staff, and water came out of the rock. Moses calls this place Meribah.
Some may argue that this was done so that the Israelites would learn to rely on God. I don't think you could rationally paint it that way. They were already 100% reliant on God at that time, because God was leading them to a destination which only God fully knew. Only God knew how long the journey would take, so the Israelites could not prepare accordingly and did not know what to expect. They either needed to take matters into their own hands or they needed to trust God to ensure their survival. Given that they were still following Moses, we know what option they had chosen at this point.
Unfortunately, God still doesn't learn that His creations need water. Much later in Numbers 20:1-13 (and yet incredibly similar to the Exodus 17:1-7 account) the Israelites complained again of having no water, resulting in Moses whacking a rock and naming the place Meribah (sound familiar?). When they complained one more time about lacking water and other things in Numbers 21:4-8, they reached God's tolerance limit. He sent snakes to kill some of them. Love, God.
Water is something that is best consumed every day for health, and in the short term is more essential than food. In fact, perhaps the Lord's Prayer should include “give us this day our daily bread and water”. Neglecting such a need is, well, negligent. If a parent withheld water from their children for three days in the desert today, we would call it child abuse. However, this is God's righteous example of being the perfect father.