This episode is described in the Book of Exodus. The Israelites under Moses have come from the wilderness of Sin. At Rephidim, they can find no water to drink, and angrily demand that Moses give them water. Moses, fearing they will stone him, calls on Yahweh for help and is told to strike a certain "rock in Horeb," which would cause a stream to flow from it, thus providing ample water for all of the people to drink. Moses names the place Massah (meaning 'testing') and Meribah (meaning 'quarreling').(Exodus 17:1-7)
Afterwards, the Amalekites attack the Israelites while encamped at Rephidim, but are defeated. The Israelites are led by Joshua in the battle, while Moses, Aaron and Hur watch from a nearby hill. Moses notices that when his arms are raised the Israelites gained the upper hand, but when they are down the Amalekites prevail. Moses sits with his hands held up by Aaron and Hur until sunset, securing the Israelite victory.(Exodus 17:8-16)
A similar episode is described in the Book of Numbers as taking place near Kadesh. In this version, Yahweh tells Moses to speak to the rock. Moses strikes it twice with his staff and water pours out. Yahweh then reproaches Moses and Aaron for their lack of trust in him and tells them that for this reason they will not see the Promised Land.(Numbers 20:1-7)
The reason why Yahweh is angry at Moses and Aaron is not clear, although some sort of disobedience is evidently involved. One possibility is that the earliest version had Yahweh standing on the rock before Moses, whose faith that he could strike it without hitting the Lord was being tested. According to this view, the Masoretic Text edits the account to remove any suggestion that Yahweh would stand before a mortal.
One proposal places Rephidim in the Wadi Feiran, near its junction with the Wadi esh-Sheikh. Leaving Rephidim, the Israelites advanced into the Sinai Wilderness (Exodus 19:1-2; Numbers 33:14-15), possibly marching through the two passes of the Wadi Solaf and the Wadi esh-Sheikh, which converge at the entrance to the er-Rahah plain (which would then be identified with the "Sinai Wilderness"), which is three kilometers long and about eight hundred metres wide. See also Meribah. Wadi Feiran was an oasis, and this would explain the battle with the Amalekites in terms of a struggle for control of water sources.
The name "Rephidim" (Hebrew: רְפִידִם) may mean supports.
- Mark McEntire, Struggling with God: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (Mercer University Press, 2008) page 102.
- Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker Academic, 2011) page 264.
- James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel in Sinai (Oxford University Press, 2005) page 169.
Desert of Sinai