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Water From the Rock | Exodus 17:1-7

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” 

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah[a] and Meribah[b] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

In this scripture we find ourselves in the middle of the journey the Israelites are making through the wilderness. God’s people have been brought out of slavery in Egypt, but they have not yet entered into the freedom of the Promised Land; they have not yet crossed into Jordan. 

It’s a wilderness trek. 

It is a story that presents rich opportunities for thinking about who God is and how God responded to and provided for human beings in a time of incredible anxiety and danger. It’s a story that presents us with opportunities to give voice to our deepest fears: Is God among us or not? And we have the opportunity of imagining the ways our God responds to us when we too thirst in the wilderness. 

This is not the first time the Israelites have lacked for water. 

The first time was told in Exodus Chapter 15. They had been in the wilderness for just three days, after crossing the Red Sea. When they arrived at Marah, they found the water there was undrinkable – Scripture says it was bitter. 

After the people complained, Moses called out to God and God provided a piece of wood, which, when thrown into the water made it sweet and potable. 

Then in Exodus Chapter 16, the people struggle to listen to God’s voice with regard to the gathering of manna, in particular to the command not to store it up (sounds a lot like our current cultural phenomenon of buying large quantities of toilet paper). Seems we’ve always had a propensity for hoarding. However, with Moses’ not-so-gentle guidance, the people of Israel figure it out. Moses could have been very helpful at Costco yesterday. 

In Exodus 17, it seems that the Israelites hit yet another bump in the road. They have camped at Rephidim, but there is no water to drink. And so the complaining and quarreling begins. 

“Moses! Give us water to drink.” 

“Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” 

I believe there may have been some other choice words exchanged that were either eliminated or not recorded in their entirety. 

But in any case, Moses goes back to God and desperately asks, “What shall I do with these people?” 

And God responds, “Take the staff you used at the Nile River and meet me on the rock at Horeb.”

I love God’s response here! God says “meet me.” God doesn’t say, “OK, I’ll provide.” God says, meet me, and THROUGH YOU life will emerge from something that appears lifeless. And when Moses strikes the rock, water flows from it. Because the Divine purpose is always about life, not death. 

But it does require a hefty measure of trust from human beings, a willingness, on our part, to put faith in a God who seems not to do things in the typical way. 

It requires us to trust the uncertainty. And life feels uncertain these days. There are canceled trips, concerts, sporting events, school exhibits, worship services, weddings, and more. Hour by hour, even minute by minute, decisions are being made that change the way we live and interact. 

We’ve been encouraged to wash our hands frequently and to socially distance ourselves from one another. And we don’t know how long this will last. I’ve been following friends in Asia and Europe, where some folks have been under quarantine for over 3 weeks with no end in sight. 

Uncertain times for sure. Times that produce fear, isolation and loneliness, panic buying. 

There are many who have fallen ill, and many who have died. 

I was so struck by the images coming out of Italy, an extremely hard hit region of the world. Images of people taking to their balconies to sing to one another; people opening their windows so that neighbors could hear their music being played.

And that’s exactly where I see water flowing from rocks. It’s how I understand human beings answering God’s call when God says, MEET ME! It’s in our capacity to be creative, to think differently, to open ourselves to those things we cannot yet see. 

Franciscan Friar and priest Richard Hendrick, said these words in a blog post:

Today we pray and we remember that:
Yes, there is fear. But there does not have to be hate.
Yes, there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes, there is panic buying. But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes, there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes, there is death. But there can always be a rebirth of love.

Beloveds, remember today and in the days to come, whatever they may bring, that God is not silent. God is all around us, in the gestures of love we receive, and in the gestures of love we give.

Just as we don’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, the Israelites knew not how long they would be in the wilderness. They had to learn to get comfortable with uncertainty. They had to learn to rely on one another. They had to trust God.

We have to learn to rely on one another. We have to trust God. For when we least expect it – water WILL flow from the rock.