21 July 2021Exodus 17:1-7
‘I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel (v6).
If you read yesterday’s verses and notes, today’s may have a ring of familiarity about them! As the people of Israel resume their wilderness trek from slavery to freedom, they are once again complaining – this time because of a lack of water. Indeed this time their complaints are stronger (perhaps understandably, given the fear that they, their children and their livestock may all die from thirst). They do not merely complain, they ‘quarrel’ with Moses and ‘test’ the Lord. This is not the first problem they have had with water (Exodus 15:22-25) nor will it be the last (Numbers 20:2-13).
Moses fears for his life and God directs him to a certain place, "the rock at Horeb". The name Horeb is possibly another designation for Sinai, which is to become such a significant place in the life and ministry of Moses; it is also named in Exodus 3:1 as the place where Moses first encountered God in the burning bush. Perhaps there is a deeper significance to this location, reminding Moses of his initial call and commissioning to bring his people out of slavery as well as looking ahead to a defining moment in the formation of the nation. Another reminder of the past comes in the shape of the staff he is to use – the same staff with which he struck the River Nile during the plagues that followed his request to Pharaoh to take the people away from Egypt (Exodus 7:17).
The instructions given in verse 6 are clear and Moses obeys them, bringing forth water for the people to drink. As often happens in stories from the Hebrew scriptures, the location where this takes place is renamed, as a reminder of what occurred – and perhaps also as a warning not to let it happen again [cf Genesis 28:19; 32:30]. The passage ends with Moses articulating what was possibly the worst aspect of the Israelites’ behaviour – they did not simply complain of thirst, their thirst led them to wonder whether God was really among them or not. Such a question indicates a more fundamental anxiety about the nature of their relationship with God and whether they could trust God to remain with them and not abandon them to their deaths in the wilderness. It forms a contrast with the clear words of the Lord to Moses in verse 6, "I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb".
- Which places in your life story have been places of revelation and encounter with God? Have you ever felt the need to revisit such places?
- Moses’ staff can be seen as a symbol of God’s activity through him; are there objects that you regard in such a way? What might be the benefits and the dangers of such symbols?
- Have there been times in your life – perhaps now in these days of pandemic – when you have wondered if God is still with you? Reflect on such times in the light of verse 6.