Lectionary Text for March 23, 2014
Old Testament Lesson
Water from the Rock
17 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” 
The account of the water from the rock is marked as a pivotal time in the leadership of Moses. In chapter 16 we read how the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron for not having any food. In verse three we hear the people of Israel say, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” God answers their grumbling with Manna from heaven and satisfies their needs. Then in chapter 17 they become thirsty and once again grumbled against Moses. Interestingly enough, after having been freed from Egypt and witnessed the miracle at the Red Sea and given food out of nothing, they still complain saying, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
Moses goes to God in prayer. His prayer is one of a broken and lost leader who knows that he cannot do this on his own. His cry, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me,” is a cry of desperation.
It is more than ironic that both Moses and the people would react the way that they do. The people, who have seen the wonders of God and still react as though God would not take care of them. Their grumbling is one that is had today when we think we know best and come to conclusions on our own. There notion that God has just brought them out to die is one that can almost be heard by the reader and even seen. The reader can picture the story of how God is going to leave the people to die, and Moses is going to return to Egypt and live in the palace once again. That this has been one giant carefully orchestrated plan to kill them people of Israel and bring Egypt into a money making war. Now, the gossip has spread like wild fire and Moses, the timid leader, is lost in knowing how to get the people to listen. His words of desperation are a clear reminder that Moses is not in charge, though he has grown a little too fond of his position. He asks, “What shall I do with this people?” as though he has the power of himself to do anything.
God gives Moses the task of bringing the people water by standing before the Rock of Horeb (this is not only the place where Moses will climb later and encounter God, but it becomes a place where God sends His mercy) and to strike the rock. Moses does and water, life giving water, flows.
We must book end this with what Moses does in Numbers 20. While here, God instructs Moses to strike the Rock, arguably to simultaneously give Moses the confidence that he is the chosen leader of these people and to lead as such, and to show the people both the power and providence of God as well that God has chosen Moses to be their leader. However, in Numbers 20, God has a different purpose. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.”  God instructs Moses to not hit the rock, but to simply tell it to spring forth water. Moses ignores this instruction and takes it upon himself to hit the rock twice. For this, Moses is given the punishment that he will not enter the Promised Land.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 17:1–7.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 16:3.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 17:3.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ex 17:4.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Nu 20:8.