Lectionary Year A
September 29, 2002
Exodus 17:1-7

IV: Broader Context


We find in Reginald H. Fuller’s Preaching the New Lectionary, “This lesson is clearly chosen to fit with the gospel (John 4). The Johannine Christ promises the woman of Samaria that he will give her the water of life. In the dry climate of Palestine, water is an obvious symbol of salvation, and the allusion is not far below the surface in this Johannine discourse. In I Cor 10 Paul uses the episode of the rock from Ex 17, etc., as a type of the Christian sacraments . . . It is worth noting that the letter to the Hebrews takes up the theme of Psalm 95 (reference to Meribah and Massah) and uses it as a basis for an exhortation to the Jewish Christians at Rome (?) (Heb 3:7-4:11). They had been Christians for more than a generation. The first flush of their enthusiasm had worn off, and they were finding life wearisome. The author of Hebrews compares their situation to that of the children of Israel in the wilderness, who were finding the going tough and getting tired.” The New Testament calls on Elders to help deal with such questions as of God’s presence. We recall I Timothy 5:17, James 5:14 and I Peter 5:1.


In ancient Judaism, water was important for physical survival in the wilderness and at home, wherever and whenever that was. The questions of putting God to the test and of wondering about the divine presence are addressed in Numbers 11:20 and 14:14 and 22 and Deuteronomy 6:16 and I Kings 10:1 and Psalm 45:9 and 78:18ff and Isaiah 7:12.

As with last week’s exegesis, we note that when the Hellenists get on the scene of the Biblical times, we expect them to hear this story, too, and find it intriguing. They will appreciate its portraying God as dynamic rather than merely static. The Pseudapigraphical Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers of the second and third centuries C. E. recognize God as the One who “poured forth water out of a jagged rock”. A certain reference to our text. Hellenists will value God’s failing to pass judgement on the complainers among the Israelites. They will admire God’s generous providence. They might question the lack of logic in God’s reported behavior, but probably question it only slightly if at all. They will cherish the story’s differentiation between spiritual ideas and concrete matter, i.e., the rock and water from it. The open-ended question in the last verse might capture their attention. Philosophers like questions, especially of mysteries revealing God’s dynamic power.

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