Tag Archives: Exodus

Fast from Complaining

Many people choose to fast during the Season of Lent, the “40 days” between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. But instead of giving up candy, red meat, or … this Lent I am working on fasting from complaining, from discouragement, from overspending, from judging others, from anger and hatred, and from resentment and bitterness. But instead of merely turning away from these vices, I am focusing on virtues I want to enhance: appreciating blessings, recognizing opportunities, investing in people, identifying my strengths, loving enemies, and forgiving others.

In the 17th chapter of Exodus, the people quarrel with Moses and test the LORD, complaining that Moses has led them out of Egypt and into the desert to die of thirst. Modern advertising takes advantage of human thirst for things that might provide salvation. Rarely will an ad show the benefits of a particular product over its competitors. Instead advertisements portray a lifestyle we might seek imply that if we buy their product, we will have the lifestyle we seek.

God answered their grumblings telling Moses to strike a particular rock with the staff he had used to part the Red Sea. This staff is symbolic of past times when God had answered their cries and blessed them with freedom from slavery in Egypt, with escape from Pharaoh’s army, and with Manna and quails to eat.

Poussin, Nicolas - Moses Striking Water from the Rock - 1649
Poussin, Nicolas – Moses Striking Water from the Rock – 1649

God continues to bless us every day. To fast from complaining we need to focus on the God’s blessings so we might see beyond shortages that generate complaints, to name those slivers of joy we experience each day that will help us through times of trouble and to tell others of our God-sightings to help our neighbors recognize that God is with us each and every day.

When have you experienced God’s blessing this week?


“Even the machines benefit from a day off,” a farmer told me at the first congregation I had served.

English: The Sabbath Rest
The Sabbath Rest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While sabbath keeping, stopping all unnecessary work for 24 hours, has a religious origin, do we benefit as a society from having a day when most people can enjoy a long dinner with friends and family?

Three or four times a day we walk our dog. Frequently we merely circle the block, but usually once day we walk a mile or two waving and pausing the chat with our neighbors on adjacent streets.  If we had a day when most people would be home, who would you get to know? How might his improve your security?

As a pastor, I get to spend significant time reading and reflecting about what I read. Studies show that people who read one or more book a month earn more and are better prepared when faced with stressful situations and keep their cognitive abilities longer. If you had a day to sit and read then talk with friends and neighbors about what you read, how might this enrich your life?

Such a day would need some prior planning: Gas stations, stores, and restaurants might be closed. Not due to secular law, but due to lack of customers; customers concerned about clerks enjoying a day with their friends and family. Such a day can only exist in the ideal for even Israel during their sojourn through the desert lacked faith to set aside their work for a day (c.f. Exodus 16).

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
— Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)


March 27th: “Where is God NOW?”

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.