Hukkat–The Song of the Well

Then Israel sang this song:
“Spring up, O well! –sing to it!—
well that the leaders dug,
that the nobles of the people delved,
with the scepter, with the staff.”   (Num. 21:17-18)

“Then Israel sang this song . . . .”  The same words that introduce the Song of the Sea introduce this “Song of the Well.” Both songs date to the earliest phase of biblical poetry, both start with an exhortation in the imperative, and both involve water in some form. Other than that, they are quite different. The imperative in the hymnic Song of the Sea enjoins Israel to praise God for the deliverance of the nation; the Sea symbolizes the power and threat of the nether world. But water is no threat here, but a necessity for survival.   And there is no summons to praise God; rather, the imperative in this incantation is addressed to the well itself, as if the assembled tribes (note the absence of named leaders like Moses and Miriam) could sing the water into bubbling up to the surface.

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