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Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 17:1-7

Background to the Book of Exodus: Historical Situation: (History within the text)
The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.

Literary Comments: The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.

PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:
To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 17:1-7
This is part of the account of the wanderings of Israel following the Exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15:22-18:27), taken up again in Numbers 10ff.). It describes several experiences of the Israelites as they headed toward Sinai, and the making of the Covenant (Exod 19) which marks the transition the people had to experience as they moved from their life in Egypt to the very different conditions as wanderers heading to the "promised land".

Exod 15:22-18:27 gives accounts of three experiences that are presented as "tests" of Yahweh's care and provision for the people in the face of need in the wilderness. The first of these is the need for drinkable water (15:22-27) in which, at Yahweh's instigation, Moses made bitter water into sweet. Second, there is a longer account of the provision of food when God sent quails and manna to feed the people in the wilderness of Sinai (16:1-36) and finally another case of lack of water in the wilderness and God's provision through Moses (17:1-7). Each of these accounts makes a point about the people's need to trust Yahweh which is emphasised more sharply in the last episode (Exod 17:1-17), as we shall see below. The second section deals with the defeat of the Amalekites in battle through Moses' use of the "staff of God" as the sign that God was with the people as they fought (17:8-16), and the visit to Moses by his father-in law, Jethro, who returned to Moses his wife and sons (18:1-27). Two things may be noticed in the latter part; first, in response to Moses' recital of what God had done for Israel in bringing Israel out of Egypt and through the hardships they had encountered, Jethro made a liturgical response with doxology and offering (vv.8-12), thus giving a model of "testimony and response" (Brueggemann: NIB). Then, Jethro advises Moses on a structure for his task of judging the people (vv13-24). This section provides a lead into and introduction to the account of the Covenant at Sinai where they received the ten commnandments through Moses and declared their obdience to God (Exod 19-24).

Insights/Message of Exodus 17:1-7
Literary structure:  The passage begins with a descriptive statement about the place reached in the wilderness journey - Rephidim, a place with no water (v.1). We then have a quarrel or dispute (ryb) between the people and Moses in which Moses is blamed for the lack of water by the people. They charge him with bringing them away from Egypt to perish in the wilderness (vv2-3). Moses’ response is to appeal to God – “What I am to do with them?” (v.4) which results in a “wonder story” in which God provides water from a rock that Moses struck with his staff (v. 5-6) and naming of the place Massah (test) and Meribah (dispute) because there Israel disputed and tested God (Brueggemann: ). The play on these words in the Hebrew make it very pointed when reading from the original language. The use of dialogue in this section moves the story along and involves the audience/reader in the threefold action which takes place between the people, Moses and God.

Childs identifies this structure as a characteristic of the Wilderness Traditions in which the people murmur against Moses; he intercedes with God and the need is met. (Childs:2558ff, 307). The “dispute” in this passage emphasizes the people’s lack of trust in Moses and, therefore, in God and, as such, gives added point to those in chaps 15 and 16. The people have yet to learn to trust the God who brought them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and provided for them in their new situation.

Message: Coming at this point in the wilderness wandering account, this story make two points. First, God is to be trusted, even in the most difficult circumstances. The stories in chaps 15, 16 and 17 show that this is so and they confirm what Israel had experienced in the Exodus and at the Red Sea. This is an important build up as the account approaches the Covenant at Sinai.

Second, all of these stories show that God is faithful and the promises of God are to be accepted at face value. God Delivers. This is not to prejudge how God’s promises will be fulfilled, but our experience assures us that they will be. The faithful God is to be trusted.

The murmuring of the people displays a very human trait by which the people appear ungrateful for their rescue by God from slavery. They have forgotten very rapidly their past circumstances. Even Moses becomes anxious by the ferociousness of their attack against him and is afraid for his life. One can see this trait in many places in the world in which an opressive regime is overthrown and people expect the new circumstances to provide immediate relief. Often this dosn't occur straight away and people can turn against the new leaders.

The testimony that we see here in Exodus is also to be seen in the lives of God’s people of the past and of today. We may look to them for reassurance on this. We can also look to our own experience as we consider where and how God has met us, shared our joys and our sorrows and, helped us through difficult times. As we look beyond spectacular intervention we see that God was with us - God is with us.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: John 4:5-52, there are only echoes in this scripture to the Old Testament and no direct quotes or allusions.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 17:1-7

Because there is quite a bit of dialogue the story could be told using the Dramatised Bible which helps to bring the story alive. It would be usful to say a few words about the fact this is the third story in the murmuring of the people.
Resources: Commentaries:

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989
Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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