Give us water
The account of Moses miraculously producing water in the desert by striking his rod on the rock of Horeb appears in Exodus 17 and again in Numbers 20. The accounts aren’t exactly the same, but both accounts seem to speak of the same event. Rather than treat each text differently, we will examine them as a single event, meshing the two accounts. The text in blue comes from Numbers 20:1-12. The text in red comes from Exodus 17:1-7.
Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month (from the wilderness of Sin): and the people abode in Kadesh; (and pitched in Rephidim) and Miriam died there, and was buried there.
2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.
2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?
3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
5 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.
6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.
And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.
7 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
8 Take the rod, wherewith thou smotest the river and gather thee of the elders of Israel; and Aaron thy brother, and go.
6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.
9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?
11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
12 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?
We notice that these two accounts differ as to the location of the event and some of the details. How could that be if Moses wrote both Exodus and Numbers? Well, we should realize that the first five books of Moses were written by scribes years after the events. (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 133, 307) This is a perfect example of two different scribes taking Moses’ records and including different details. This pattern, suggesting different scribal accounts, is repeated several times in Exodus and Numbers. If you wonder what it would be like to read Moses’ original writings, read Moses 1. Written in the first person, it is the only chapter in scripture which captures Moses’ firsthand account of his own experiences.
From this abbreviated account, we learn that Moses displeased God and was told he should not bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land. While this instance of the Lord punishing his prophet is not unique in scripture (see Jonah and 1 Ne. 16), it is heartbreaking to see after all Moses had suffered.
Exodus 17:1 the children of Israel… pitched in Rephidim
Rephidim is “the last station before Sinai (Ex. 19:2; Num. 33:14-15) and, to judge from v. 6, near Sinai/Horeb.” (The Jewish Study Bible, ed. by A Berlin & MZ Brettler [New York, Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2014], 133) Exodus 17 suggests this event happened within the first 2 years of their journeys, while the Numbers account suggests it occurred at a different time, near the end of the 40 years when Miriam dies, and at a different location called Kadesh.
Exodus 17:6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb
As the children of Israel travelled, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud to lead them” (Ex 13:21). In this instance, the Lord God tells Moses He will personally stand before them at the rock of Horeb! Invisible to the elders of Israel and the congregation, God was standing right there! It was the Rock of our Salvation that brought living water out of that desert rock—not Moses—not Aaron.
Spencer W. Kimball
Moses failed to realize that the recorder was turned on when he said to the continually complaining children of Israel, crying for the fleshpots of Egypt: "Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" He was reprimanded: "Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." (Num. 20:10, 12.)
Moses had integrity in great measure, but in that unguarded moment he had presumptuously taken credit for the Lord's miracle and was forbidden to enter the Promised Land. (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 243)
Neal A. Maxwell
The pronoun-problem "we" reflected a momentary confusion about causality. It also reflected Moses' understandable fatigue, weariness, and exasperation. (Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 114)
Neal A. Maxwell
Moses was described as the most meek man upon the face of the earth. (See Num. 12:3.) Yet Moses had a brief moment when he rashly declared, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10; italics added.) Even so, the Lord readied remarkable Moses for later service, including that atop the Mount of Transfiguration. (See Matt. 17:1–4.) (“Out of Obscurity,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 9–10)
Neal A. Maxwell
Even while we move along the prescribed path, success itself is dangerous unless it is managed by meekness. For instance, when with divine help we participate in giving crucial aid, perhaps causing the small equivalent of a little gushing of living water from the barren rocks, we, like Moses, need to be careful about causality by avoiding what might be called the pronoun problem (see Numbers 20:10). (Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 6)
Numbers 20:12 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly
When Moses had received this command from God, he came to the people, who waited for him, and looked upon him, for they saw already that he was coming apace from his eminence. As soon as he was come, he told them that God would deliver them from their present distress, and had granted them an unexpected favor; and informed them, that a river should run for their sakes out of the rock. But they were amazed at that hearing, supposing they were of necessity to cut the rock in pieces, now they were distressed by their thirst and by their journey; while Moses only smiting the rock with his rod, opened a passage, and out of it burst water, and that in great abundance, and very clear. But they were astonished at this wonderful effect; and, as it were, quenched their thirst by the very sight of it. So they drank this pleasant, this sweet water; and such it seemed to be, as might well be expected where God was the donor. They were also in admiration how Moses was honored by God; and they made grateful returns of sacrifices to God for his providence towards them. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 2:7)
What is the significance of this episode in the wilderness? Nephi explained to us the significance of the raising of the serpent of the wilderness (1 Ne. 17:41). What about this story?
The resurrected Lord spoke to the Nephites, “Behold, I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you… Verily I say unto you, yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken have testified of me.” (3 Ne. 20: 23-24) Nephi declared, “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.” (2. Ne 11:4)
The running water from the rock of Horeb is a type for the living water which comes from the Rock of Christ. Of both in his mortal ministry, and his Second Coming, this incident is but a type, a foreshadowing, a schoolmaster. The first example is Jesus at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan woman:
Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink…
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. (What Jesus could have said: “If you only knew that I am the one who commanded Moses to bring forth water from the rock while thy fathers were in the wilderness, you would know that I can provide water in the desert. If you only knew that I am the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament!”)
The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? (What Jesus could have said: “Yea, I am greater than our father Jacob. I am greater than his father Isaac and his father Abraham. I am greater than Moses that first delivered the children of Israel. I am that prophet of whom he testified should come to save Israel again.”)
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. (John 4:5-15)
Many of the Mosaic types of Christ actually deal more with his Second Coming than his mortal ministry. In this case, there is a type in the living water which proceeds from the Jesus’ house, the temple of Jerusalem, from the threshold on the east:
Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar… behold, at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other.
Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. (Ezek. 47:1, 7-8)
Christ is the Rock that heals us. He provides the living waters to all people if they will but bend the knee to take a drink. His children are still called the sons and daughters of Abraham, the children of Israel. We still wander, each of us, in our own wilderness, suffering from thirst in the arid heat of mortality. If we exercise the faith needed, we may partake of His living waters which forever quench our thirst until they become in us “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Like Jeremiah, we cry:
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed… because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.
Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. (Jer. 17:13-14)
Exodus 17:7 is the Lord among us or not?
“Is the Lord among us? In our days we admit our hardness of heart and lack of faith and we do ask this question. We read this episode and wonder why such miracles seldom if ever happen today.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 958-959)
Boyd K. Packer
Who would dare to say that the day of miracles has ceased? Those things have not changed in 150 years (or 6050 years), not changed at all.
For the power and inspiration of the Almighty rests upon this people today as surely as it did in those days of beginning: “It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief.” (Moroni 7:37.)
The prophet Moroni taught that angelic messengers would accomplish their work, “by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts.” (Moroni 7:31-32.)
There has come, these last several years, a succession of announcements that show our day to be a day of intense revelation, equaled, perhaps, only in those days of beginning, 150 years ago.
But then, as now, the world did not believe. They say that ordinary men are not inspired; that there are no prophets, no Apostles; that angels do not minister unto men-not to ordinary men…
I feel compelled, on this one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Church, to certify to you that I know that the day of miracles has not ceased. I know that angels minister unto men." (That All May Be Edified, pp. 149-151)
Dallin H. Oaks
The purely intellectual approach to religion rejects modern miracles and suspects any religious verity that cannot be proven by the methods of science. At the opposite extreme are the superstitious, those who reject the possibility of knowing God by any means, scientific or religious. Science considers itself the master of signs. Superstition shows itself the servant of signs.
True religion is neither intellectual nor superstitious. The true role of signs illustrates the middle ground of truth. Signs are not to prove religious truth, as some people believe the methods of science can do. Neither are signs a substitute for knowledge, as superstition would have it. The truth about God and his commandments for his children comes by faith and revelation from the Holy Ghost, a method unacceptable to superstition and unprovable by science. Then, when faith is gained and exercised, signs follow those who believe. (The Lord's Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 100)
Exodus 17:8-16 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel
The name of the Hebrews began already to be every where renowned, and rumors about them ran abroad. This made the inhabitants of those countries to be in no small fear. Accordingly they sent ambassadors to one another, and exhorted one another to defend themselves, and to endeavor to destroy these men. Those that induced the rest to do so, were such as inhabited Gobolitis and Petra. They were called Amalekites, and were the most warlike of the nations that lived thereabout; and whose kings exhorted one another, and their neighbors, to go to this war against the Hebrews; telling them that an army of strangers, and such a one as had run away from slavery under the Egyptians, lay in wait to ruin them… they resolved to attack the Hebrews in battle.
These proceedings of the people of those countries occasioned perplexity and trouble to Moses, who expected no such warlike preparations. And when these nations were ready to fight, and the multitude of the Hebrews were obliged to try the fortune of war, they were in a mighty disorder, and in want of all necessaries, and yet were to make war with men who were thoroughly well prepared for it. Then therefore it was that Moses began to encourage them, and to exhort them to have a good heart, and rely on God's assistance…
So Moses sorted all that were fit for war into different troops, and set Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, over them; one that was of great courage, and patient to undergo labors; of great abilities to understand, and to speak what was proper; and very serious in the worship of God; and indeed made like another Moses, a teacher of piety towards God. He also appointed a small party of the armed men to be near the water, and to take care of the children, and the women, and of the entire camp. So that whole night they prepared themselves for the battle; they took their weapons, if any of them had such as were well made, and attended to their commanders as ready to rush forth to the battle as soon as Moses should give the word of command. Moses also kept awake, teaching Joshua after what manner he should order his camp. But when the day began, Moses called for Joshua again, and exhorted him to approve himself in deeds such a one as a his reputation made men expect from him; and to gain glory by the present expedition, in the opinion of those under him, for his exploits in this battle. He also gave a particular exhortation to the principal men of the Hebrews, and encouraged the whole army as it stood armed before him. And when he had thus animated the army, both by his words and works, and prepared every thing, he retired to a mountain, and committed the army to God and to Joshua.
So the armies joined battle; and it came to a close fight, hand to hand, both sides showing great alacrity, and encouraging one another. And indeed while Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven the Hebrews were too hard for the Amalekites: but Moses not being able to sustain his hands thus stretched out, (for as often as he let down his hands, so often were his own people worsted,) he bade his brother Aaron, and Hur their sister Miriam's husband, to stand on each side of him, and take hold of his hands, and not permit his weariness to prevent it, but to assist him in the extension of his hands. When this was done, the Hebrews conquered the Amalekites by main force; and indeed they had all perished, unless the approach of the night had obliged the Hebrews to desist from killing any more. So our forefathers obtained a most signal and most seasonable victory; for they not only overcame those that fought against them, but terrified also the neighboring nations…
On the next day, Moses stripped the dead bodies of their enemies, and gathered together the armor of those that were fled, and gave rewards to such as had signalized themselves in the action; and highly commended Joshua, their general, who was attested to by all the army, on account of the great actions he had done. Nor was any one of the Hebrews slain (see also Num 31:49; Alma 56:56); but the slain of the enemy's army were too many to be enumerated. So Moses offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, and built an altar, which he named The Lord the Conqueror. He also foretold that the Amalekites should utterly be destroyed; and that hereafter none of them should remain, because they fought against the Hebrews, and this when they were in the wilderness, and in their distress also. Moreover, he refreshed the army with feasting. And thus did they fight this first battle with those that ventured to oppose them, after they were gone out of Egypt. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, 2:7)
Exodus 17:11-12 Moses’ hands were heavy… and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands
Ezra Taft Benson
My beloved brethren and sisters, I wish to testify to you that the Lord Jesus Christ stands at the head of His church—even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are His earthly stewards—we hold His priesthood, administer His ordinances, preach His gospel, and build up His kingdom.
I have not words to express my gratitude to God, the Father of our spirits, to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Ghost, the Testator.
I wish to convey my appreciation to all those who raised their hands in a covenant to the Lord to sustain me. I have felt the expression of your hearts and your commitment to the Lord as your hands pointed heavenward.
I am reminded how Moses up on the hill raised his arms for the victory of the armies of Israel. As long as his arms were raised, Israel prevailed, but when they dropped from weariness, then the enemy prevailed. And so Aaron and Hur “stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side,” and Israel was victorious. (Ex. 17:12.) So will we be victorious as we hold up the arms of the Lord’s anointed servants…
I am grateful for the strong counselors whom the Lord has provided me—President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson. Both have been prepared by the Lord for the labor they are performing. Each has been and is now a great blessing to the kingdom of God, and I thank Him for them. (“A Sacred Responsibility,” Ensign, May 1986, 77)
Boyd K. Packer
The wicked who now oppose the work of the Lord, while different from, are no less terrible than the plundering Amalekites. The sustaining of the prophet is still an essential ongoing part of the safety of this people. Should age and infirmity cause his hands to grow heavy, they are held up by his counselors at his side. Both are prophets, seers, and revelators, as is each member of the Quorum of the Twelve. (“The Shield of Faith,” Ensign, May 1995, 8)
The men that God has placed in our midst let us sustain like the two counselors of Moses, Aaron and Hur, who held up the hand of Moses. Ex. 17:12 Let us honor that word that comes from the Prophet of God. He holds the keys of the kingdom. He is the true successor of Joseph, and he will have power over the nation, either in life or in death: it is immaterial to him. When brother Brigham goes and joins with Joseph, it will be said, “Oh, we are one, just as we always were; and here come his Counselors: they are one, and they increase the strength and power of the Priesthood beyond the veil.” It is for us to uphold these men in every condition. (Journal of Discourses, 6:156)