Rephidim and the Split Rock of Horeb in Saudi Arabia

By: Jennifer Bartlett

Rephidim and the Split Rock of Horeb in Saudi Arabia
Split Rock of Horeb in Saudi Arabia

Thirsty. Parched, even. God had brought the Israelites safely through the Red Sea after delivering them from slavery in Egypt. He had provided pure, clean water for them at the Springs of Elim, and He miraculously provided Manna for them to eat as they journeyed toward Mount Sinai and beyond, but then, they “camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink” (Exodus 17:1). And the multitudes were ready to kill Moses. Until he split the rock and water came gushing out of it.

What is Manna?

Manna is the Hebrew word meaning, “What is it?” It’s somewhat equivalent to our English, Whatchamacallit, because there just wasn’t a word for the miraculous food that God provided for the Israelites during their Wilderness Wanderings. We read about manna in Exodus 16:14-35. Verses 14 and 31 (ESV) describe it this way: “And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground…It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”

According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible[1], “Attempts have been made to link manna with substances discovered by modern travelers in Sinai and Arabia. In early summer (June, July) the tamarisk tree in these regions exudes a sweet-tasting liquid, produced as the result of the activity of a tiny insect. This liquid falls to the ground where it forms small grains which disappear when the sun gets hot.” This phenomenon doesn’t negate the miraculous nature of God’s provision, but it may have been the means He used to provide for His people during their long journey through the wilderness.

Why did Moses name the rock at Horeb “Massah and Meribah?”

We read in Exodus 17:6-7 that God said to Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”

God said that He would stand on the rock at Horeb, and He instructed Moses to strike the rock so that water would come out of it. This milestone in Israel’s history is cited again and again throughout the scriptures. One such passage is Isaiah 48:21, which says, “He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.”

Where is the Split Rock Located?

Although scholars are (ahem) divided on just where Rephidim is and where this took place, one good candidate for the location is a towering Split Rock, not far from Jebel al Lawz, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. The fact that Moses named this location Massah seems to suggest that the Israelites were demanding a sign, just as the Pharisees later demanded that Jesus should show them a sign, a demand that Jesus responded to by calling them “an evil and adulterous generation.”(Matthew 12:39) The Israelites certainly seemed to get what they were asking for!

Amelekite Confrontation with Israelites

Although Meribah seems to refer to the strife between the people and Moses, the Israelites had a much bigger problem coming their way: Amalekites.

Amalek was the grandson of Jacob’s brother, Esau. Hundreds of years before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Esau had married some of the women native to Canaan, to the vexation of his mother (Genesis 27:46), and the Amalekites were thorns in Israel’s side for centuries afterward, beginning at Rephidim:

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. … So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. (Exodus 17:8–13.)

Paul Uses Rephidim as Evidence for Christ

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth about these very events, with an admonition to learn from them:

They (the Israelites) were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1 Co 10:4–6)

God Gives Discipline and Grace

It certainly was not wrong for the Israelites to want water at Rephidim. Their attitude was the problem. They wanted God to prove Himself to them, even though He had already shown them amazing miracles in Egypt and through the Red Sea. He gave them what they asked for, but they got more than they bargained for! Amalekites for centuries to come!

However, the greatest lesson we can learn from these events is that God saved His people with water from a rock, and through an intercessor with outstretched hands (with a man on either side of him, just as Aaron and Hur stood on either side of Moses’ outstretched arms): object lessons to show His people the Living Water from Christ the Rock, whose body was broken for us, and whose outstretched arms on the cross demonstrated the greatest love anyone could ever know.

Can you imagine yourself standing before the massive Split Rock at Horeb? We are blessed to offer tours of this majestic location that has been relatively untouched for thousands of years! View our upcoming Saudi Arabia tours and choose the adventure that’s just right for you!

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Manna,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1392.

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