Water from the Rock: Exodus 17:1-7
This morning we had enjoyable discussion at St. Paul’s of the week’s lectionary readings from Exodus 17 and Psalm 95, the people’s testing of God at Rephidim (renamed Massah, “testing,” Exod 17:7).
To “test” God (Exod 17:2) is to reduce God to a co-pilot, a life-assistant who provides and assists on one’s own terms. That’s not the God of this passage. This God is about “testing” God’s people, leading them on a wilderness journey in which they lay aside their control needs and nurture a new spiritual imagination, a new vision of God’s cosmic prerogative.
That’s why in v. 6 God sends Moses 15 miles ahead to Mount Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God, the archetypal “cosmic mountain.” God will not simply crack open a small, localized gush of water for Israel. No, God will reveal God’s self atop the cosmic mountain, the source of life and the fount of all the great rivers watering the earth. Such an event, on the scale of the Red Sea Parting (v. 5), should be enough to provoke within us an entirely new spiritual imagination.
Above, reconstructed path of the exodus journey, with inset showing the site of Rephidim (Exod 17:1) if located at the Wadi Feiran Oasis north of Mount Serbal.
Above, note the 10 to 20 mile journey that Moses and the elders had to take from Rephidim to the cosmic mountain, Jebel Musa, Mount Horeb/Sinai (indicated by arrows). The “water from the rock” was a 15-mile wide event! The inset shows an image from Mari, 18th cent. BCE, illustrating God’s cosmic mountain as the source of earth’s great rivers.
Above: a before and after illustration. Top image: Mount Sinai/Horeb as a banal, quotidian reality. Bottom image: A vision of Horeb as the archetypal “cosmic mountain,” source of earth’s great rivers.
Above: the inset again illustrates the cosmic mountain archetype. Note how the great rivers of earth flow from the deity, Ea-Enki.