#127. The water from the rock at Meribah happens before OR after Sinai? (Ex 17:2-7 vs Num 20:2-13)


As we saw with the quail stories (#125), so too with the story about drawing water from a rock at Meribah. In other words, Exodus 17:2-7 and Numbers 20:2-13 are doublets. And we might surmise as we did with the quail stories, that the redactor preserved both versions by placing one before Sinai and the other after Sinai.

Both versions of the story share identical themes: the people’s complaint that they are thirsty; their testing and contention; hitting the rock to bring forth water; Moses’ staff; and the mention of the name Meribah.

Despite these similarities there are some acute differences as well. In the Exodus account the event is said to happen at Horeb (Ex 17:6) and Moses is commanded to strike the rock so that the waters will gush forward. But the version in Numbers occurs at Kadesh (Num 20:1) and Moses is commanded to speak to the rock not strike it, which he does anyhow.

The latter account in Numbers 20 has been identified as part of the Priestly source. It uses exclusive P vocabulary and themes: “expire,” “congregation,” “community of Yahweh,” “Yahweh’s glory,” and the mention of the Tent of Meeting and its concern for holiness. Also in the Priestly tradition this story provides the reason for why Moses does not make it into the promised land. Although the passage is a bit vague, it seems to suggest that Moses is punished as it were for striking the rock rather than speaking to it as Yahweh commanded. At any case, Moses is now denied entry into the promised land. “Because you did not trust in me, to make me holy before the eyes of the children of Israel therefore you shall not bring this community to the land that I have given them” (Num 20:12).

We will see later on that the author of the book of Deuteronomy gives a completely different, and contradictory, reason for why Moses can’t enter the promised land.

One thought on “#127. The water from the rock at Meribah happens before OR after Sinai? (Ex 17:2-7 vs Num 20:2-13)

  1. As with the quail stories, there are Psalms about each version. The “good” version of Exodus 17 is found in Psalm 105:41, Psalm 78:14-15, and Psalm 114:7-8. The “bad” version of Numbers 20 is found in Psalms 106:32 and 95:8.
    It’s also interesting that even though Moses is told to strike the rock only in the Exodus-17 version, in both accounts he is told to take his staff (Exodus 17:5-6 and Numbers 20:7, 9)!

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