Friday, July 28, 2017

Water and Faith

I have been trying to get a handle on the symbolic meaning of water in the Bible.  It is a huge topic.  I have only begun to scratch the surface, but here is one insight that I have gleaned.

Listening to a teaching on Aleph called Miriam and the Waters of Strife really spoke to me.  If you are premium members of this wonderful site for Hebrew teaching, look it up.  I will summarize some of the points that came together for me.

It seems that Miriam (sister of Aaron and Moses) was a model for faith.  She is called a prophetess!  Why?  Apparently, she had prophesied that her brother would save the Hebrew people!  When he was cast adrift by his mother on the river Nile, who remained nearby to watch?  Miriam!

Why is this significant?

Would you have been able to watch the demise of your 3 month old brother?  It seemed inevitable he would die.  He’d either perish by accident in the Nile, or the army of Pharaoh’s men would find him and deliberately toss him into the Nile with the same result: death by drowning. But Miriam was convinced her prophesy was correct, and although she couldn’t foresee how it would all come about, she had to watch to see what would happen next!

It had been commanded by Pharaoh that all male infants (even Egyptian ones! see footnote) should be drowned in the Nile to avoid the fulfillment of a prophesy that said an infant, born around the same time as Moses, would grow up to end Pharaoh’s reign.  The astrologers who made this prediction did not know if the child would be an Egyptian or Hebrew, so all male infants were condemned. [This is a familiar story that is echoed by Herod, but I digress]

We all know the ‘rest of the story,’ but as it happens, no one when these events transpired did.

That Pharaoh’s daughter would rescue and adopt the Hebrew child was a miracle!  It seems unlikely that the daughter of the King would risk his wrath by countermanding his express decree!  But, she did.  And because Miriam stood and watched, she was there to offer to find a suitable wet-nurse (conveniently his own mother!) to care for the child for Pharaoh’s daughter!

So, maybe the astrologers were onto something.  When they could not predict if the man who would kill Pharaoh was a Hebrew or an Egyptian, they were correct!  Moses grew up in the palace of the Pharaoh while his birth made him a Hebrew!  Wild, isn’t it?
Ok.  So what has all this to do with water?

The first connection is Miriam is there to watch the miracle of Moses being ‘drawn from the water’ (the meaning of his name) and rescue him by helping Pharaoh’s daughter.

Later on, after the exciting saga of the 10 plagues and the Hebrews spared from the death of the first born of man and animals by performing the first Passover sacrifice, they fled into the desert, loaded down with Egyptian treasure as if they had won a great victory!

Of course, this should have been the end and they lived happily ever after, right?  It so happens that Pharaoh changes his mind about letting them go and pursues them with all the chariots and men of war!

The Israelites were funneled into a dry river bed (identified in recent years as the Wadi Watir) and were unable to turn back (because the Egyptian army was there) and could not climb to the right or left because it was steep impassable terrain.  They had no choice but to forge ahead until they arrived on the bank of the Reed Sea (Gulf of Aqaba), usually translated as the Red Sea. 

Again, because we know the end of the story, some of the suspense is missing from the narrative.  Everyone has seen Cecil B. DeMille’s astonishing story of the Ten Commandments and the special effects that part the ‘Red Sea’ so the Israelites could cross to the other side.   We see the horrible aftermath (for the Egyptians) when they were drowned by that same sea when it returns to its normal condition.  Enemies vanquished, Israel saved, just in the nick of time! 

The significant thing to this event is how Moses dealt with the people before YHVH split the sea. 

The Hebrews were in a panic!  The situation is futile!  All is lost!  What choices are left?  They could die, be killed, surrender or cry out to YHVH…but Moses tells them to cease every one of those pursuits! 

He tells them, “Stand and Watch what YHVH will do.”   It’s an echo of Miriam!  It demonstrated faith that Father would indeed do something beyond what they could see themselves.  Something none of them could have even imagined!

Ironic, isn’t it?  Pharaoh condemned all the male children to death by drowning, and YHVH saved the Hebrews and drowned Pharaoh and his army instead.  The little child who was drawn out of the reeds of the Nile actually did fulfill the prediction of the Egyptian astrologers!  He grew up and Pharaoh, in fact, did die!  It was full-circle.  The child drawn from the reeds of the Nile led  his entire nation out of the Reed Sea!

When the Hebrews reached the other side and their enemies were vanquished, they sang loud songs of praise to YHVH!  But WAIT!  Miriam did something extraordinary!  She sang her own song of thanksgiving, the song of the sea!  She proclaimed that her faith in YHVH was justified! 

Once they reach the desert though, things start to get difficult!  Just one day later they are relieved to find an oasis of water…but it is BITTER!  Moses seeks advice from Father, and is instructed to throw a branch into the water and it became sweet!  Hurrah!  They are saved from thirst.

Then, there is another water crisis!  Most people will die of thirst after 3 days without water, so that was the situation.  It had been three days, and the people thirsted and sought Moses’ help.  He was instructed to strike a rock with his staff and water poured out.  Enough for several million: people and their flocks!

Oddly enough, we don’t hear that there is a water problem in the desert for the next forty years!  YHVH provided the Israelites with water and food (manna)!

Now comes the puzzle.  The topic sentence for the final water crisis is that Miriam died!  No mention is made that there was any mourning for her, but this report of her death immediately proceeds another water crisis!  This is the third time they have had an issue with needing water!

[According to ancient sages, the perpetual well that provided water for the Israelites in the desert was called Miriam’s Well.  Just let that sink in a minute.  Why would it be called Miriam’s Well?  Is that because it dried up when she died?  Although I don’t think it is called Miriam’s well in the Torah itself, I have no reason to doubt this account.  The Aleph Beta teaching (Miriam and the Waters of Strife) explains this in amazing terms that I will not repeat here.  Suffice to say that the Hebrew language provides ample proof!]

Now the event that is astonishing!  Moses again seeks advice from YHVH and is instructed to take his staff and ‘Speak to the Rock.’  Instead of asking politely, Moses has a bit of a melt-down.  Was he angry?  Overwhelmed?  Grief-stricken over Miriam’s death?  The text doesn’t really tell us why he loses his cool, but he makes this astonishing statement, “Hear now, you Rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Then, instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it!  Twice!

What’s the big deal about that?  It worked last time!  Water flowed, everyone was happy! 

Everyone except YHVH!

It so happens that Moses really blew it when he didn’t speak to the rock.  Father was so put out with him that he told him he would not be able to enter the promised land with the rest of the Hebrews. 

That just seems harsh!  Not only has his ticket to the Promised Land just been rescinded, Father won’t even let him discuss it!

 [Num 20:12 ] And Jehovah said to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring in this congregation to the land which I have given to them.

Well, I am glad He cleared that up!

Wait, what?  Not speaking to the rock didn’t demonstrate faith in YHVH?  It didn’t sanctify Him before the sons of Israel?  That’s why Moses couldn’t go into the land? 

Not only was he disappointed not to do the one thing he really wanted and expected, he couldn’t even petition for a hearing!  After everything he did in the past!  Didn’t he challenge Pharaoh?  Didn’t he lead everyone in the desert?  Didn’t he spend several trips up and down Mt. Sinai without food or water, just to deliver the Words to the Hebrews?  Didn’t he offer to die in their place when they sinned with the Golden Calf?  What?  Hitting the Rock was the worst thing!? I thought he was YHVH’s ‘favorite’ guy!?

I will leave you to ponder why this was the fate of Moses and direct you instead to the nugget of truth we see when we connect these events with Miriam.  Miriam had faith.  She had so much faith that she believed YHVH would do something beyond what she could see or imagine.  Moses demonstrated that faith when he told the Hebrews to stand and watch.  [Big Surprise!  The Sea parted and the Israelites crossed on dry land!  Who could have ever imagined that?]

Is that the clue?  By striking the rock, Moses forgot to just stand and watch.  He did not allow the Father to demonstrate that everything we have, including water in the desert, comes from Him. 

He is the Doer of the impossible.  When we look with our own eyes, we cannot see the miracle that He can perform.  We limit Him and we don’t fully trust Him!  When we rely on our eyes or our actions instead of trusting, we demonstrate a lack of faith.  Faith that was a type and shadow of Miriam.

Now for a real-life current example of faith in the face of ‘certain’ death.

I have a friend who was diagnosed with what was (according to the doctor’s and catastrophic test markers) certainly cancer.  We were all concerned for her.  We all prayed for her.  And through it all she smiled.  She was absolutely at peace with the situation.  We all thought the worst!  The doctor’s and tests proclaimed the worst!  But she remained calm and even stated that she looked forward to seeing what GOD was going to do!  She was ‘excited for the journey ahead.’

And guess what?  Surgery found no cancer.  Her test numbers went from catastrophic to normal.  Her doctors were thunderstruck! 

Was it a miracle?  I believe so.  But, the thing that is amazing is that my friend believed that Father would do something beyond what any of us could have imagined or thought! 

She is my real-life example of Miriam.  She stood and watched.

Footnote: From transcript of Miriam and the Waters of Strife (Fohrman)
"Another interesting Midrash about Pharaoh at the time; if you look carefully it says that Pharaoh's initial plan is to have the midwives surreptitiously kill the baby boys when they're born. When that doesn't work he says; Vayetzav Paraoh l'kol amo leimor kol ha'ben hayilod ha'yeorah tashlichuhu - ALL baby children from Jews shall you throw in the water and the daughters you should allow to live. The Midrash says; Kol - and by the way, it doesn't mention here Jews, it says; Kol ha'ben hayilod - any male child, period, you shall throw in the water. The Midrash says that on that day Pharaoh had decreed that all male children - Egyptian or Jewish - be thrown into the Nile. Why? Because his astrologers once again, the Sages say, had told him that the day had come when the child that was going to save the Jews would be born, but we cannot tell you whether he is an Egyptian or a Jew. We don't know. "

Exo 1:22  And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.

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