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 command a certain "rock in Horeb," in God's name which causes a stream to flow from it, providing ample water for the people. He names the place Massah (meaning 'testing') and Meribah (meaning 'quarreling').(Exodus 17:1-7)
Afterwards, the Amalekites attack the Israelites encamped at Rephidim, but are defeated. The Israelites are led in the battle by Joshua, 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. He sits with his hands held up by Aaron and Hur until sunset, securing the Israelite victory.(Exodus 17:8-16)
In the Book of Numbers a similar event is described 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 YHVH is angry at Moses and Aaron is debated, although some sort of disobedience is evidently involved. One possibility is that the earliest version had YHVH 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 YHVH would stand before a mortal. A more orthodox view compares the two miracles of water from the rock with the revelation of God. First, God is revealed with Law (striking the rock), and secondly, God is revealed as Person (speaking to the rock). God's anger at Moses for not speaking to the rock on the second occasion, highlights that this is not the spiritual picture He wanted portrayed.
One proposal places Rephidim in the Wadi Feiran, near its junction with the Wadi esh-Sheikh. When they leave Rephidim, the Israelites advance into the Sinai Wilderness, possibly marching through the 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, which 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.
- Frank Moore Cross (2009). Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Harvard University Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-674-03008-4.
- 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.
- Exodus 19:1-2; Numbers 33:14-15
Desert of Sinai