Water From The Rock

Water From The Rock


Exodus 17:1-7

Israel had spent over 400[i] years in Egypt. Initially life was good, but then we’re told[ii] that Joseph, his brothers and all that generation died. And as their descendant’s population quickly grew their Egyptian leaders came to be threatened by them, and pressed them into harsh, cruel slavery.

They began to dream of freedom.

We all know how Moses was then raised up to lead them out towards what was promised as a whole new life in a whole new land. In what came to be known as the Exodus, we’re told of how over half a million men, not counting women and children as well as others and all their sheep, goats and cattle came to be freed and set off towards their freedom[iii].

But we’re also told that it wasn’t long before their going got tough. They were in the Wilderness of Sin, now known as the Sinai Desert: brutally hot by day, cold by night – and the people began to complain: their unleavened bread and supplies were quickly consumed and they were left wandering without food, and especially without water.

And that’s where we pick up our reading for today:

WATER = LIFE! Not only in the very literal sense but in every sense. In an arid land scripture very effectively draws on the metaphor of ‘water’ to symbolize the life-giving-effect of our living into God’s Shalom-plan for our lives… In the OT: Ezekiel (47) speaks of the water that flows from the center of the temple and out into a parched and barren land, bringing life. Isaiah (41, 48) describes the effect of God’s promises blossoming in our lives.

Similarly, in the NT: We see Jesus developing that theme as he, e.g. later describes himself and the effect of his work in us as ‘Living water’ and that when we drink of him we will never thirst again… Remember that conversation that he has with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4?

And so I think I understand the use of water in our reading for today – representing LIFE! But I do find myself wondering why water specifically from ‘a rock’? What does ‘rock’ represent in scripture? Why not water from out of the sky or just out of the ground as a fountain? Of course we know that ‘rock’ is a positive symbol of strength and stability, and is often used positively in scripture to refer to God or to faithfulness. Is that what this is about?

Maybe…but it does seems to me that there is another way to understand this. Because it can also be understood negatively as this solid object depicting stubbornness and intransigence, a symbol of obstinate inflexibility… A rock is also understood to be quite dead! Life-less! Inertia! Lacking of potential! Or even worse, as the cause of trouble – you know, as in Christ’s parable of the Sower and the ‘rocky ground’ in which no sown seed could possibly survive. And so, we have Moses using his staff to strike the rock – the staff which elsewhere kind of represents his faith – remember in his interaction with Pharaoh using his staff to demonstrate his faith in God’s word: making the Nile turn to blood, to part the Red Sea. Now we see him using his staff and strike the rock in order to produce the life-giving water the people so needed!

Could the rock represent people? Us, often! You know, people who may have become so stuck in their stubborn and intransigent lack of faith that they may look outwardly OK but are inwardly trending towards becoming spiritual zombies? Solid in appearance but often inwardly quite dead? And are we being told that when the faith of Moses impacts us as those people, water flows?

What are so often the things that turn us to stone? Greek mythology describes Medusa as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed upon her face would become as rock. Some say that she warns how it’s when we have minds crammed full of all sorts of distraction: entangled thoughts slithering in and over and around one another – that we become immobilized, like stone! Is it minds crammed full of distracting & unprocessed thoughts that does that to us? How about ignorance? As a people who just don’t know who they are or why they are here, or how deeply worthy and precious they are… Is that what turns us to rock? How about awful life-experience – leaving us with debilitating, petrifying guilt! Bitterness! Cynical and deeply hurting!

We are surrounded by so many people and situations that may seem solid and together but who are actually just crying out for life-giving water to be released from within them! We – ourselves – often are those self-same people! May our reaching out in faith to others and having an impact on and in their lives – or their reaching out in faith to us and having an impact in and on our lives – be kind of like Moses’ staff hitting that otherwise dead rock! And as that happens, can we even begin to imagine what the resulting flow of life-giving water may represent…?

How are you relating to all this?

How have you been impacted by God’s grace encountering you with all the subtlety of a staff hitting a desert rock? 

How have you been used to touch others’ lives?

How has ‘Living Water’ been released over or from within you?

Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2020.
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[i] Exodus 12:40 says 430 years

[ii] Exodus 1:8ff

[iii] Exodus 12:37ff