Water and the Wilderness

Wadi al-Hasa in Western Jordan, in Old Testament times known as Wadi Zered. Photo by Einat Klein of TravelLab.com.

I am proud to declare that I am the originator of what is probably the most obscure and impenetrable metaphor in the history of English literature. I wish it wasn’t so obscure, but it pretty much had to be what it is. In order to put it into context, I will first need to partly run through the allegorical themes of water and the wilderness that meander through the novel I Am Not Gog. The two themes meet most intimately in Joshua’s poem in the Country Park. The wilderness allegory draws on the forty years the Biblical Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. There were forty-two places visited by the Isrealites after their escape from Egypt. These are known as ‘stations of the Exodus’. Egypt’s capital city of the time, Rameses, is counted as one of them – the starting point, you might say. Joshua’s poem refers to three stations where water plays a significant role. There are four other such places associated with water in the novel, which I will come to, but let’s start with Joshua’s stations because they resonate together. They are: Marah, Rephidim, and Kadesh. I’ll tackle this as briefly as I can. Marah was very soon after their escape. The pool there was stagnant and undrinkable. Moses was told by God to throw a particular tree into it and it was miraculously rendered ‘sweet’ and fresh. Later on, they came to Rephidim, which was dry as a bone. Moses was instructed by God to strike the rock twice with his miraculous wooden staff and a fresh spring miraculously began to flow from the rock. Later still, they arrived at Kadesh and that was also completely dry. God told Moses to just speak over the rocks to bring forth a fresh spring, but Moses, probably in mind of the previous miracle at similarly arid Rephidim, disobeyed and struck the rock with his staff again. Water flowed, but this disobedience is why Moses was himself barred from entering into the Promised Land. These occasions are full of Christian symbolism. The tree and the staff both stand for the cross on which Christ, the Rock, was crucified. The water symbolises the Holy Spirit. The crucifixion is historic. It happened once and for all and can’t keep happening (we can’t keep 'striking the rock'), so we have now moved, with the Holy Spirit, into a relationship of prayer with God and He will ‘give us what we need on the road to freedom,’ as Joshua of the novel puts it. That’s his poem summarised, now let’s deal with the other four stations involving water, ending with the most obscure metaphor of all time. The station of Elim was soon after Marah, but as water is manifested differently there, I deal with it separately in Joshua’s Last Poem in the book’s back matter. The two poems emerged out of one process of development exploring the theme, and, superfluous to the story, it seemed right to retain it in the back matter rather than not at all. The water at Elim was pre-existing in a ready-to-use state in the twelve wells for the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve tribes of Israel are ultimately represented by the twelve good fruits mentioned in the book of Revelation, their host ‘Tree of Life’ straddling the ‘River of the Water of Life’. So, humanity's journey to freedom started at the Exodus and will end in the new creation.

The Israelites’ crossing of the ‘Red’ Sea through separated waters is represented by Lydia following Joshua across the reed-lined brook in the Country Park. This is because the Hebraic Yum Suph was mistranslated and Suph actually means ‘Reeds’, so they actually crossed the Sea of Reeds, not the Red Sea. No Egyptians drowned when Lydia made her rather more low-key crossing. The grand Humber Estuary in the novel represents the River Jordan, and that’s probably the most obvious and straightforward of these metaphors. Now let’s get to the impossibly obscure one. The much-overlooked crossing of the Wadi Zered, as ordained by God in Deut 2:13, is not counted as a station of the Exodus, but it is a pivotal moment used to measure off the thirty-eight preceding years of wilderness wandering since leaving Kadesh Barnea. From this point on, they are no longer just wandering, they have purpose and have set their sights on the Promised Land, heading to the Plains of Moab alongside the Jordan, opposite the Plains of Jericho.

The Hebraic word for Wadi here is variously translated ‘Brook’ or ‘Valley’. A wadi is a valley with a brook that is sometimes dry for part of the year. Zered means ‘Osier’, which is willow. Therefore, I named the restaurant in England (based on the real Steel's Cornerhouse), where Lydia reconciles with Joshua and thus decides on her direction toward her own emancipation, Willow Brook Fish & Chip Restaurant. Yes, this is as obscure as it could possibly be, and not even a professor of Old Testament hermeneutics would twig what it represented without me telling them like this, but it is consistent and meaningful, at least. The valley and its brook in western Jordan are now known as Wadi al-Hasa. The above photograph of it is the work and property of Einat Klein of TravelLab, who kindly gave me permission to use it for this blog. They operate tours there and throughout the Middle East and Africa. There are more, fascinating, beautiful, and evocative photographs of the Wadi al-Hasa to view on their website at InTheTravelLab.com.


This is a repository of insights about the novel I Am Not Gog (and future work). There will be new insights every month or so until we have a full library and nothing is left unexplored. If you came here to find out more about the allegory of the novel, start by clicking HERE.

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I Am Not Gog. A novel by Matthew James Hunt.