Testing in the Wilderness - Water from the Rock (Exodus 17)

Date: 3/19/2017
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Topic: Wilderness
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The Larger Structure of Exodus 14-17
A.     Defeat of Egypt (ch. 14)
        Memorial Song (15:1-21)
    B.     Water Provided (15:22-27): Bride tested
        C. Bread Provided (ch. 16): Sabbath theme (center)
    B'.     Water Provided (17:1-7): Lord tested
A'. Defeat of Amalek (17:8-13)
        Memorials (17:14-16)

The Structure of Exodus 17:2-7
A.     Quarreling and grumbling (vv. 2-4)
    B.     Take elders (5a)
        C.     Use staff that struck the Nile (5b)
            D. The Shekinah on the Rock at Sinai (6a)
        C'. Use staff to strike the rock (6b)
    B'. In sight of the elders (6c)
A'.     Named the place of "Testing" and "Quarreling" (7) (JBJ, Ex.)

The Setting of this Testing - Zooming into the context of Exodus 17, we should remember that Egypt has been defeated by the judgment at the Red Sea, using the instrument of Moses’ staff of judgment (ch. 14). Very quickly after this amazing and foundational demonstration of Yahweh’s deliverance and love for Israel, they grumble about the bitter water at Marah (15:23ff). But, the Lord heals the water (15:25) and instructs the people, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God … for I, the LORD, am your healer” (15:26). Did they learn faith? No, once again the people grumbled and the LORD provides Manna (16:2ff) in order that He “may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction” (16:4). But they continually fail the test, in episode after episode, in this case in violating the Sabbath by gathering Manna (16:28ff). This brings us to Exodus 17. Israel has another opportunity to express faith in Yahweh or fear in their apparent circumstances.

The Striking of the Rock - They have come to “Rephidim” which means “plain.” Once again they begin grumbling, demanding water; but this time the grumbling is even augmented by “quarreling.” The people grumbled before (15:24; 16:2, 7–8), now they are both grumbling and quarreling which is the people testing God. Thus, Massah means “testing” and Maribah means “quarrel or contention.” Like Passover, the deliverance that Yahweh will provide involves deeply significant symbolism of redemption. Moses is asked to take the elders and walk through the people. Notice the emphasis on the elders doing this (5a, 6b). What is the scene here? Is this an instructional setting? Are the elders to be informed? Is this a parade? No, this is a court room. This is for judgment. God told Moses to take his staff of judgment and strike His presence (shekinah), a similar phenomenon as the pillar of fire. And Moses is to strike the Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). Why was this necessary to gain water from the Rock?

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more