Exodus Day Forty
August 25, 2020, 4:00 AM

Living Water
Exodus 17:6

“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.”

As the people draw nearer to the slopes of Sinai in chapter seventeen, they come to a place named Rephidim. On Sunday, we spoke of the battle with the Amalekites there. Today, we back up to what took place there just before that battle. Unfortunately, same song, same routine: The people quarreled with Moses; the people grumbled. They were thirsty. No water in the middle of a barren wilderness. Egypt always seemed to look better when the going got tough. Even though God demonstrated his provision for them many times over, they still challenged the Lord to prove it, once again. Memories must run short in the desert. This place will, in hindsight, become known by the names Massah and Meribah, which means “quarreling” and “tested” (17:7).

God instructs Moses to pass through the people, with the elders who perhaps were the bringers of the complaint. This was no small gesture, since the people were on the verge of stoning Moses! He takes the staff of God that he used to touch the Nile, the “instrument that once cursed the waters and polluted the entire kingdom of Egypt, will now bring forth life in the desert.” (Abiding Presence, p.132). He strikes the Rock, and water flows from the Rock!

Most interesting. Most interesting. An ungrateful, testy people, receiving unmerited Water from the hand of God, the God who they said wasn't there. Water in the desert is living water. Without it, no life. God generously, abundantly gives it. He was there.

Another noticeable detail. We do not know the location of Rephidim, where this took place, but we get the sense that it is near to their destination of Sinai. The reason being the Rock which Moses is commanded to strike is called “Horeb” -- which is used interchangeably throughout Exodus to Deuteronomy with “Sinai” and “the mountain of God.” That mountain must be within eye-shot to Rephidim.

This water, essentially, will flow to the people from Mount Sinai! Mark Scarlata, in his insightful theological explorations of Exodus, paints this picture of the miracle: “The association of Sinai with the divine provision of water at Massah and Meribah is critical for the narrative as it draws together the symbols  of Law and life that flow from YHWH [God], the fountain of living water. The sustaining power of water is like the sustaining power of Torah [i.e. Genesis thru Deuteronomy] (Ps. 1:1-3); and becomes representative in later Jewish literature of the covenant at Sinai. Bread and water give life to the body, but in Israel’s sacred history they become elements that prefigure Torah which gives life to the heart, mind and spirit.” (The Abiding Presence, A Theological Commentary on Exodus, SCM Press, 2018, p.131). With the water from the Rock, God is giving his people a preview of what they are about to experience when they get to Sinai. As the Law, the Word of the LORD will come down from Sinai; so Living Water flows down from the same Rock.

Not only  is it a vision of what God has in store for them at Sinai, but it also looks much further into the corridors of time when all shall be restored, and God, all in all. The imagery of living water and rivers of life grows thick throughout the Old and New Testaments with this anticipation. At the end of Ezekiel’s vision, he sees the final Temple, which is the City of God, the New Jerusalem. He describes it with similar imagery to here: God “brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east… This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah [southern Judean desert], and enters the [Dead Sea]; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezek. 47:1, 8-12).

The prophet Joel (3:17-18) has a similar vision of that provision: “In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley.”

Zechariah 13:1, as well: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech. 13:1)

Isaiah, too (44:3-4): “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.”

However, before that final fulfillment, God gave us a living, tangible, in-the-flesh down payment on this Living Water to come: Jesus. He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Later, this thought is expanded, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). Yet still, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:37-38).

By the time we get to the end of the Revelation, it has all come together: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1-2).

And to think, this flood of prophetic, salvific imagery began to flow from a torrent of water gushing from a Rock on the mountain of God— in response to ingratitude! God is gracious! In thinking of that provision, and seeing the correspondence to Jesus, isn't interesting that for us, instead of a rock being struck in the desert to bring a flowing of living water, the Savior is struck on the Cross to bring Living Water to the nations.

I can’t close this blog entry without noting that the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10 will also make the identification of God’s provision in the wilderness even more clear to us. He writes of that wilderness generation, they “all [were] under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4).

May the Lord quench your thirst, and deepest longings, this day.


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