Water From a Stone

num 22 - water out of the rockYou can’t get water from a stone … unless, of course, you’re Moses. In which case you can either shout at or strike a rock to get it to gush forth it’s juicy innards. Wait a minute … either? Yes, the story appears twice in the Old Testament (or the OT, as I like to call it). First in Exodus, and then later in Numbers. Did it actually happen twice? Or is it one of those pesky little story variations we critics like to call a doublet? Well, the stories are very similar, the place name is the same in both stories, the words of the Hebrews are very similar. It doesn’t much sound like two separate instances, but it does very much appear like a commonly told story altered to fit a particular factions agenda.

The Exodus version is credited to the E Source, thought to have originated in the northern kingdom, and it paints Moses in a very rosey light, with just the right amount of blush on the cheeks to give him that youthful appearance. The Numbers version is from the Priestly Source and shows Moses arrogantly disobeying the Lord for no real reason but to show off a bit with his trusty buck and a quarter quarter staff.

Version 1, in which Moses is told to strike the rock (Exodus 17:1-7):

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

The second version of the story in in Numbers 20, (the Priestly Source), and Moses is told to speak to the rock. It features both Moses and Aaron (the favorite of the Levites). They consult at the Tabernacle first (the Priestly Source is the only one to mention the tabernacle). Moses is told to speak to the rock, but he hits it as well, rising Yahweh’s anger.

Version 2, in which Moses is told to Speak to the Rock (Numbers 20:1-13)

And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation: and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people strove with Moses, and spake, saying, Would that we had died when our brethren died before Jehovah! “And why have ye brought the assembly of Jehovah into this wilderness, that we should die there, we and our beasts? And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.” And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tent of meeting, and fell upon their faces: and the glory of Jehovah appeared unto them. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their cattle drink. And Moses took the rod from before Jehovah, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; shall we bring you forth water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and smote the rock with his rod twice: and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. And Jehovah said unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed not in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them. These are the waters of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with Jehovah, and he was sanctified in them.

So, Moses if forever banned from the Holy Land which, to the Hebrews, was worse than getting kicked out of the coolest night club in the land. Luckily, he got a few battles under his belt before Joshua took over to “fit the battle” of Jericho.

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