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Exodus 17:1–7

Exodus 17:1–7 (NASB95)

1Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

3But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

4So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.”

5Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

It’s always interesting to me when the anthologists who compiled the Torah choose to highlight otherwise minor details, because the context increases they’re significance. In this passage for instance, YHWH instructs Moses to use his staff to strike the rock at Horeb. But He doesn’t just say ‘take your staff’, He says ‘take your staff with which you struck the Nile, and strike this rock.’ And of course it’s the same staff; walking sticks tend to last a long time, so it makes sense that Moses hasn’t had to find a new one since leaving Egypt a few months ago. Normally that detail that he’s still using the same walking stick would be totally unremarkable, even considering the wild things God’s already accomplished through him while he was holding that stick. Really, the stick in and of itself is still rather unremarkable. What’s stunning isn’t the stick, but the utter reversal of outcomes from striking something with it.

In Egypt, by God’s command, Moses struck the Nile with his staff and the lifewater of Egypt turned to putrefying blood; a stark symbol of death. Here in the wilderness, itself a symbol of death in Hebrew literature, once more by God’s command Moses strikes with his staff, this time a barren rock in a dry wasteland, and new waters of life spring up.