Exodus 17: 1-7
Moses Stikes Rock by Marc Chagall
“Strike the rock, and water will come out if it, so that the people may drink.”
We are sojourning in the Book of Exodus from the Hebrew Bible for a few weeks. Exodus is about two very formative stories of the people of Israel. In the first story in Exodus we hear about Moses parting the Red Sea and bringing the people of Israel out of the slavery and oppression of Egypt’s Pharaoh. The second story in the Book of Exodus is about their desert wanderings and the happenings on and around Mount Sinai where God gives to them the means for becoming a monotheistic, ethical society through the Ten Commandments.
But we are not there yet. We followed them out of Egypt into the blistering sun of the Sinai hungry for food. We heard their bitter complaints to Moses about being hungry and God gave them manna in spite of their complaining. It is no wonder now, that, after all that manna they are thirsty. Hear now our scripture from the 17th chapter of Exodus.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’
So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 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. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Perhaps that’s a question we all have uttered at least once in our lifetime. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Or it might sound like, ‘where are you God when I need you the most?’, or ‘God has abandoned me, left me here to fend for myself’, maybe it might even sound like, ‘God are you listening?...are you with me?’ We always want to know that God is among us guiding us and leading us but, you know, there are times when it feels as if God is silent and the more words that we manage to hurl at God the louder the silence becomes. We too wonder, ‘is the Lord among us or not’. It’s an age old question that especially lurks in the arid moments of our lives.
Wandering in the wilderness of Sin now made the people of Israel thirsty especially after all of that manna. They’re not long on memory here; they have already forgotten that God provided food for their hunger. Now the thirst. Makes sense. Roving in the desert would make anyone thirsty especially if you have no bottled water, no canteens, no convenient open all night, 7/11 oasis on the horizon. So the kevetching begins again. They complain bitterly to Moses; they thought it better to have stayed in Egypt as slaves although really, they didn’t like that either.
Moses was clearly exasperated. I’m sure God was too at this point. The people sound like broken records. Moses gets a little testy, ‘why do you quarrel with me and why do you test the Lord?’ He entreats the Lord for help, ‘what shall I do with these complainers, they are ready to stone me?’ His complaining, of course is just as loud as the people. He struggles too with the lack of sustenance and God’s silence and perhaps even his trust that God knows what the plan is.
But the Lord had compassion, or pity or both and tells Moses to pick up his staff, the same staff that parted the waters, Moses was not too long on memory either. Pick up your staff and take a few of the elders and go over to this rock of Horeb. I’ll be in front of you. I think we forget that amid the all of the complaining God is reassuring and says that the divine presence is right before them.
And God delivers through a rock of all things, water to quench their thirst and to soothe their weary souls. This has got to be the most unlikely place where you think they would find drink.
A rock! God delivers, God is to be trusted in the most difficult of circumstances. And, to top it off, God delivers through a very unlikely source. This is the miracle of God’s love that help and healing will come, that God has not abandoned us and that God has a playful and creative nature and will use the materials and peole at hand to provide for us. We see a lot of important things happened to the people of Israel in the desert and there are many good lessons for us.
When we utter the question, ‘where are you God’ we probably shouldn’t throw our hands up and walk away in disbelief. Because God always does deliver. It just may not be in a way that we recognize so quickly so be ready! A parched life, void of sustinance, has a way that can narrow our vision towards blindness. It just does. You begin to see the glass as half empty rather that half full.
When parched, creative possibility takes a nose dive far away from the quotidian patterns of life which renders us thirsting for answer, thirsting to be quenched, thirsting for God’s fulfillment, thirsting for water even if it comes from a rock. But we can’t let that happen!
Water from a rock! Imagine all of the possibilities that could exist for healing in your life if you could envision or accept the possibility that God could provide for you in the least likely places just like God did for the Israelites. All you have to do is to be open, live with your arms outstretched rather than crossed in front of you. Live with a colorful palette before you rather than solely a charcoal pencil.
It was Walter Brueggeman, theologian and scholar who said in his book “Finally Comes the Poet”, “Live always at the edge of creative possibility even in the face of serious prose”. Life always has enough serious prose, there is plenty of that to go around. Our challenge here, that we learn from this passage, is that life can also be lived envisioning an alternative way, a creative way, a water from a rock when you need it, sort of way. This, is of course, who Christ is too. In the face of our personal oppression living water springs out of a manger to save and to heal and to soothe our souls.
Moses Striking the Rock by He QiLife in the Spirit is to be open to the myriad of ways in which God can satisfy our hunger and satiate our thirst. If God can bring water from a rock, then surely God can do anything.
Rev. Suzanne Wagner