I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Exodus 17:1-7
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for 3rd Sunday in Lent
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1. The Desert of Sin: Don’t we all begin our journeys from this desert? Sin most certainly is a desert without an oasis.
2. While the quarreling is not documented, how is the demand for water so unreasonable and testing of God? Is it not similar to “Give us our daily bread”?
3. Have we not seen similar circumstances when a person is rescued at great expense revived by medical technology only to linger for months or years? Don’t we also question God’s wisdom in rescuing these people only to let them die a more difficult death?
4. How would this story be different if the people had cried out to the LORD directly?
5. Bringing in the elders may help shift Israel’s focus away from Moses as the intercessor of the people.
6. God does provide our daily bread and water!
7. Or perhaps: ‘Why would the LORD allow this to happen if he really cares for us?’
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- The similarity with Ex 15:22-26 of grumbling, thirst, and a miracle suggest that this episode marks the end of a larger segment.
- Preceded by the episode of the first giving of quail and manna.
- Followed by an equally short passage about the battle with the Amalekites in which Israel wins only while Moses holds up his hands. Here God battles with Israel.
- This is followed by Moses sitting in judgment and Jethro’s advice to establish gradations of judicatories (very Presbyterian!). This is another way of showing God among Israel.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- Exodus recounts Israel’s learning to become a nation. Thus this passage recounts part of the struggles or recognizing God’s presence among them.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
Ex 15:22-26 follows this type scene, but here the LORD through Moses sweetens the bitter waters of Marah.
Num 20:1-13 is similar scene to Ex 17, but Moses is told to speak to the rock and instead strikes it twice and takes personal credit for bringing water out of the rock. As a result, the LORD denies Moses the privilege of leading Israel into the promised land.
Deut 8:15, Neh 9:15, Ps 78, 105, 114, Isa 32:2, and 48:21 recall the mercy of the LORD in bringing water from a rock to assuage the thirst of the people.
Ekek 47:1-2 — Water comes from under the temple in Ezekiel’s vision.
John 19:34 — Water gushes forth from Jesus’ side after being pierced by a spear.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
The people have only seen the miracles come from the hand of Moses, so they complain against him and not petition God directly. They have also not come to understand the purpose of their journey in the wilderness beyond their present struggles.
Moses is caught in the middle; the people grumble at Moses and the LORD leads Moses step by step. Moses asks how to lead the people, so he won’t be stoned, and the LORD says follow me.
The LORD is more patient in this scene than in the preceding scenes in which the LORD sought to test Israel.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- When in trouble pray to the LORD directly who is concerned for our daily needs, water and bread, and who has gone on before us to prepare what we need.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- There is a conflict in the people’s understanding of whom they are following: is it Moses or the LORD. The stated conflict of water brings this to the surface, as does other conflicts in the Church. Perhaps as the ordination of homosexuals surfaces a conflict of desiring sinless leaders for the Church.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Where is the LORD among us NOW?! Why don’t we see any miracles NOW?!
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Walter Bruggemann (New Interpreter’s Bible): “[While Pharaoh could not give life,] Yahweh’s capacity [is] to give life where there is none, to give bread from heaven and water from rock[. These] are examples of “creatio ex nihilo, God’s capacity to form a people out of ‘no people’.” (NIB v.I, p. 805)
Bruggemann (p. 817) notes that when Moses accuses Israel of testing Yahweh, he has effectively equated his leadership with God’s. Perhaps that is why Israel is ready to stone him; a person cannot be God.
Bruggemann contrasts the two exchanges between Moses and the people: In the second exchange, verses 3&4, Moses calls on Yahweh opening the opportunity for life giving change.
In commenting on the naming of the waters, Bruggemann concludes that the narrator focuses the story on the unfaithfulness of Israel. While God’s power to create and sustain life is not a question for the narrator, what is significant is that at this time and this place Israel questions God’s sovereignty.
Under “Reflections”, Bruggemann posits two uses of the passage: 1. The misappropriation of salvific powers by television commercials which parallel this story line; problem, need, intervention, resolution (If you buy this product your life will be happy). 2. Verse 7 invites a utilitarian interpretation (if one is faithful then God will take care of them), but Job 42:1-6 indicates the answer is otherwise.