The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the second book of the Torah, Exodus. The text is the account of the water that comes from the rock to quench the thirst of the Israelite people. This is a familiar account, but it contains several interesting nuances to be examined. Contextually, the people have crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the waters have swallowed down the Egyptians. They have been saved by the LORD from their enemies in this miraculous event. Immediately, the people come to some bitter waters and they complain—grumble and murmur—against Moses, who throws a piece of wood into the waters and makes them sweet. Then the people grumble and complain against Moses and Aaron because they are hungry for bread and the LORD sends them the bread from Heaven—manna—which lasts for forty years! Now, they are grumbling and quarreling with Moses because they are thirsty, and they are just arriving at Mount Horeb/Sinai. There is an obvious pattern emerging. This time the LORD instructs Moses to strike the rock with his staff so water will gush forth for the people, and it happens.

Certainly, the people of Israel are being stubborn, unfaithful and untrusting but one may wonder if this issue is a deeper one. Are they afraid? The last verse of this pericope names the place as Massah and Meribah, because of the grumbling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” This last phrase could be telling us how the Israelites are afraid the LORD may not be with them and they want proof of His presence. It may not so much be they are thirsty, rather that they cannot see, or do not recognize the presence of the LORD as they journey into this strange and dangerous wilderness. They are afraid and so they “act out.”

It is also important to take note of the New Testament reference of this rock in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In I Corinthians 10:14 we hear of how the people of Israel were all baptized in the Red Sea and they ate of the same spiritual food (manna) and drank the same spiritual drink—they drank from the spiritual Rock which followed them through the wilderness journey… and the text identifies this Rock as Christ. This NT reference is made in the context of a warning against idolatry, because even though the people experienced all these amazing events together, many still fell prey to idolatry. A sobering thought!

17:1 וַיִּסְעוּ—לְמַסְעֵיהֶם (vai-yis-u ---- le-mas-ei-Hem) root: [sm (mas-sah) Qal: “to move; to journey; to depart; to march” These two taken together indicate a movement by stages.

17:2 וַיָּרֶב (vai-Ya-rev) root: ריב (reeb) Qal: “to quarrel; to strive”

עִמָּדִיI (im-ma-Di) “with me”

תְּנַסּוּן. (te-nas-Sun) root: נסה (naw-saw) Piel: “to tempt; to put someone to the test; to test”

17:3 וַיִּצְמָא (vai-yitz-Ma) root: צמא (tsaw-may) Qal: “to thirst; to be thirsty”

וַיָּלֶן (vai-Ya-len) root: לון (loon) Hiphil: “to murmur”

מִקְנַי (mik-Nai) “cattle; livestock; domesticated animals”

בַּצָּמָא; (batz-tza-Ma) “thirst”

17:4 וַיִּצְעַק (vai-yitz-Ak) root: צעק (tsaw-ak) Qal: “to shout; to cry out; to cry”

וּסְקָלֻנִי (u-se-ka-Lu-ni) root: סקל (saw-kal) Qal: “to stone; to stone to death”

17:5 עֲבֹר לִפְנֵי (a-Vor lif-Nei) “pass before the face of…” “cross over before the face of…”

מִזִּקְנֵי (miz-zik-Nei) “elders”

17:6 עֹמֵדo (o-Med) Qal, participle: “to stand”

הַצּוּר; (hatz-Tzur) “rock; cliff; rocky ground; rock wall”
*Note the location: “…the rock at Horeb…” They are either at Mount Horeb/Sinai or, they are in the region close to their destination.

17:7 רִיב (riv) “quarrel; strife”

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Exodus 17:1-7.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Exodus 17:1-7