When the Israelites thirsted in the desert, they were given water from the rock to drink (Exod 17). Who gave them that water? God, of course, the prophet Isaiah tells us: “They thirsted not when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he cleft the rock and the water gushed out” (Isa 48:21).
But perhaps it’s not quite so simple. When Moses told God about the Israelites’ complaint of thirst, the Lord replied: “Take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exod 17:5-6). It was Moses, then, who opened the rock so that water flowed forth, by the power given to him by the Lord. He was God’s instrument, and so truly both he and God performed this miracle.
And then we find elsewhere the strange assertion that Lady Wisdom—the personification of wisdom found in the books of Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach—was also somehow involved. “She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through the deep waters, but she drowned their enemies … Wisdom prospered their works by the hand of a holy prophet … when they thirsted they called upon you, and water was given them out of flinty rock” (Wis 10:18,11:1,4).
Saint Paul adds another intriguing dimension in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea … They drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:1,4). Christ, who is God and who is the Wisdom of God, opened the rock, and at the same time was the rock which was opened. All this and more will be fulfilled in Ezekiel’s vision of water flowing from the right side of the temple (Ezek 47), and in the water that flowed from the side of Christ (John 19).
I bring all these various passages into focus to call your attention to the depth and richness possessed by Sacred Scripture. At first glance, the water from the rock seems to be a fairly straightforward story about the Lord’s miraculous care for his chosen people. And it is that. But is also much more, as Scripture returns and reinterprets the story over and over again, each time discovering a new layer of meaning or a hidden prophetic utterance. These layers, which are never contradictory, are complex and multifaceted. To understand them, we ourselves have to return to Scripture again and again.
Most biblical stories and themes are the subject of similar reflection and interpretation within the Bible itself. That’s intimidating, as it’s not a simple task to grasp the meaning of the text, but it’s also profoundly enlivening. The more we taste scripture, the richer its taste becomes. It’s also the reason why Scripture is in itself never boring, as it lives and breathes and always speaks anew.
A surpassing depth of richness and vitality is waiting for you within the pages of Sacred Scripture. Take it, and read it again.
Photo by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts on flickr