The water from the rock of Meribah

The journey of the Exodus that we continue to read at Morning Prayer (Numbers 20: 1-13) brings us today to Meribah, and the strife between the people who poured out their frustration on Moses and Aaron, and Moses, in turn, declaring his irritation by striking the rock with his staff, though God had commanded him to simply speak to it.  This was all about water.  The people needed water and complained to Moses and Aaron, along their usual moaning lines, looking back on Egypt with rose-coloured spectacles, remembering what they had had in abundance, but suppressing their less desirable memories.

So water was to be brought from the rock at Meribah, miraculously, for the Israelites.  Moses was to speak to the rock and water would gush forth, and instead he gave it a jolly good thwack, twice for good measure, with his staff.  The water came alright, but God was not pleased with Moses, and declared that he would not have the joy of leading the people into the Promised Land.

Irritation can make us act out of character, and we can be annoyed with ourselves afterwards.  Some of us are better at controlling ourselves than others!  On the day in March 2012 that Helen and I, and our party, went to visit a possible location for the site of Meribah in Sinai, I recall it was very warm (well, it was to us), and none of us on the coach were on top form, even though we had air conditioning, and all the water we wanted.  But we were tired, having not slept very well the night before.  The coach got a puncture, and, whilst we could still travel (at 20 kph) our driver had steam coming out of his ears as we tried to reach somewhere to change the wheel.

After some time we arrived at some sort of commercial garage/motel in the middle of the desert and, seeking shade, we stretched our legs.  Eventually, new wheel in place, we boarded the coach and started on our way.  It was at this point that we held our breath (and firmly onto the edges of our seats) as the driver took out his frustration on the coach.  I recorded in my diary that night that (and I could see this because we were in the front seat) the needle on the speedometer was, literally, at the top of the dial.  It could not physically have moved any further. We had a long way to go, including into and out of Israel briefly (and that’s another story) before arriving in Jordan for our visit to Petra, and to an amazing hotel that had been created out of a small collection of, very closely built, ancient stone houses - each room had originally been a house and they were interconnected by lovely shady paths.  Calm fell on the desert.

My diary continued thus: “The evening meal was much to our pilgrims’ delight - pleasure exuded from each member, not least those testing the local wine on arrival.  Helen was delighted. Our room was palatial, but in a rustic/polished way: exposed stonework half the room, plaster nicely white-painted the other half, tasteful with wall hangings - the lights, oil lamps - yet with a flat-screen TV and English electrical sockets - a bathroom in which everything seemed to work, a wooden door with rustic catch, and a little courtyard, perfectly clean with newly swept and watered look - geraniums and other Mediterranean flowers.”

I wouldn’t have remembered any of that, had I not written it down at the time.  But I did remember the chaos of the flat tyre; the heat of the day, and the irritation of an hour and a half waiting at the border crossing.  I wonder what we shall filter out of our memories when we move on from these extraordinary days we are passing through at the moment?

John Mann