On to Elim PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Sunday, 20 March 2011 20:00

Israel’s redemption is all about water. They pass through the sea; they are given water to drink; they come to an oasis with springs. Yahweh blows on the sea, the sea splits in two, and Israel walks through on dry ground, while the pursuing Egyptians are drowned. Then Israel goes into the wilderness, where the only water they can find is the bitter water of Marah (Ex. 15:22-26). Moses turns the water sweet by throwing a tree into it.  In place of brackish water, Yahweh waters His people from the rivers of paradise, with its fruitful trees by rivers of water. Nunquam sine aqua Christus, as Tertullian said.

It all looks familiar to Moses. Eighty years before he passed through the death waters of the Nile River to safety. Forty years before, he fled from Pharaoh and came to a well in Midian, where he fought off the shepherds to draw water for seven women, including his future bride (Ex. 2:15-17). Now he does it all for Israel, as he leads them through the sea and then gives the Bride of Yahweh sweet water in the wilderness.

In this case, though, it’s not the end of the sequence. Israel passes through the tumultuous sea and survives, and they drink what Paul calls “spiritual drink.” They drink down the Spirit. But all that is only preparation for the third water moment of the exodus. Israel moves on from Marah until she arrives at Elim (Exodus 12:27).

Superficially, Elim looks like another oasis, another place for Israel to find water and food in the howling waste. But the numbers are crucial. Twelve tribes pass through the sea, and twelve tribes drink from waters of Marah. Then Israel arrives at an oasis with twelve springs. Just as Moses passed through the water and then provided water, so Israel crosses the water and drinks spiritual drink so that Israel can become a water source.  Israel becomes a Mosaic people: She is redeemed by water so that she can give water. Israel becomes Aquarius.

Moses provided water to the seven daughters of the Midianite Jethro. Having passed through the bloody waters of the Nile, he gave refreshment to Gentiles. So does Israel: The twelve tribes are symbolized by twelve springs, which feed seventy palm trees, the number of the nations (Gen. 10).

This is the climax of Israel’s baptism: She passes out of Egypt and drinks spiritual drink, so that she can become springs of water for the life of the world. She passes through the waters and drinks the waters to become the Abrahamic people through whom the families of the earth will be blessed. She isn’t finished with water when she drinks; she is finished when she gives drink.

Getting the whole sequence is crucial. Israel doesn’t pass through the sea straight to Elim. She doesn’t become a spring right after she passes through the Sea. First she has to “detour” past Marah, and there she is prepared to be a water-source. Twelve tribes can become twelve springs only if they have hungered and thirsted in the wilderness. Twelve tribes become twelve springs only when they have tasted the bitter water, and only when they have learned that Yahweh turns the bitter sweet.

What happened to Moses and Israel happens also to the baptized. Jesus the greater Moses passes through baptism into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and He takes us there. For us, baptism is a water-passage out of Egypt into the wilderness of testing and temptation. In that wilderness is bitter water, and we aren’t prepared for ministry until we have endured a water test. In affliction and not otherwise, we learn (as all the church fathers realized) that bitter water turns sweet when mixed with the tree of the cross.

When we have passed through the water, and when we have been disciplined in the wilderness, we are prepared to be something more than recipients of water. As our Lord is a Rock in the wilderness to refresh us, so He makes us rocks dripping honey. From our belly, as Jesus says, spring rivers of living water. We become the springs of Elim, but we can only get to Elim by passing through Marah.

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