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Strike the Rock and Water Will Come Out to Drink Exodus 17.6

Strike the Rock and Water Will Come Out to Drink (Exodus 17:6)

God told Moes, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it to drink” (Exodus 17:6) Read on to learn about this wonderful type of Christ. This is Part II. Here is Part I.

Baptism and Communion with Christ

The word baptize means immersed. Think of how we say people are immersed in their thoughts or immersed in their work. Sometimes when Scripture uses the word baptize it communicates immersion, but with something or someone. For example, the Greek word for baptized is used in Matthew 3:11 and Acts 1:5 to refer to people being baptized (or immersed or having unity) with the Holy Spirit. Mark 10:39 is about being baptized (or immersed) in trials. When people are suffering, we say they are experiencing a baptism by fire.

First Corinthians 10:2 says Israel was “baptized into Moses…in the sea.” This figuratively took place when Israel crossed the Red Sea. It might seem odd to compare crossing the Red Sea with baptism because the Israelites stayed dry, but it isn’t physical (water) baptism: it’s spiritual baptism. Notice it doesn’t say they were “baptized into the sea.” It says they were “baptized into Moses.” This is about their spiritual immersion and unity with Moses in the wilderness. Paul uses the same words Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27 to say we “were baptized into Christ.” Like Israel was baptized into Moses, we are baptized into Christ. Like Israel experienced spiritual immersion and unity with Israel in the wilderness, we experience spiritual immersion and unity with Christ in the church.

Along with baptism, the other ordinance is communion, which these words look forward to: “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.” The idea isn’t that Christ physically nourished Israel in the wilderness: He wasn’t physically in the manna or the water. Instead, Israel was spiritually nourished by Christ in the wilderness, like we’re spiritually nourished by Christ in the church. As we discussed in the previous chapter, Jesus is also our spiritual food. He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

A Firm Foundation

The Greek word for a small rock formation is lithos. But the Greek word in 1 Corinthians 10:4 is petra, referring to a massive rock formation, conveying the strong foundation Jesus provides. Jesus himself, along with many New Testament verses, use this metaphor: “On this rock (petra) I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (petra). And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (petra)” (Matthew 7:24-25). Like Christ was the spiritual Rock for Israel in the wilderness, He’s the spiritual Rock for us in the church: “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 2:20).

Probably thinking back to Jesus’ statement to him in Matthew 16:18, Peter used three different Old Testament verses employing the metaphor in 1 Peter 2:6-7:

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16). So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm 118:22, also quoted by Paul in Acts 4:11) and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

Isaiah 8:14

David wrote, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1). Singing to a rock doesn’t make sense, unless we understand the rock is Christ, our salvation.

Producing Living Water

Physical water is important. We recognize there’s no life without it, but there’s also a sense in which it doesn’t really keep you alive. You drink water throughout your life, but you still end up dying. This reveals—not the strength —but weakness of water. Jesus said He could provide water that would give people eternal life.

After Moses struck the rock, it produced water that satisfied the people’s physical thirst, looking forward to Christ providing living water that satisfies our spiritual thirst. The physical water from the rock that kept people live temporarily looked forward to the living water from Christ that keeps people live eternally. Consider these two accounts in John’s Gospel that beautifully reveal this.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well while she looked for physical water: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus used the Samaritan woman’s need for physical water to sustain her briefly life to illustrate the greater need she had for the living water he offered that could provide her with the eternal life: “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The Feast of Tabernacles

The second account occurred at the Feast of Tabernacles, which looked back on Israel’s time in the wilderness. The people celebrated the feast by living in tents for seven days. During the first six days the priest would go to the pool of Siloam, gather water into a golden pitcher, and then travel back to the temple. This recalled the miraculous water produced from the rock in the wilderness. As the procession came to the Water Gate on the south side of the inner temple court, there were three trumpet blasts to mark the joy of the occasion and the people recited Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Although they had no idea how much this looked to to Christ, he was about to let them know.

At the temple, while people looked on, the priests marched around the altar with the water container while the temple choir sang the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). The water was offered to God at the time of the morning sacrifice. On the eighth, and last day of the feast, no water was poured out, symbolizing the way the water ceased when Israel left the wilderness and entered Promised Land. John 7:37-38 records, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus revealed that the rock in the wilderness prefigured him. As the rock provided water that satisfied the Israelites physically, Jesus provides living water that satisfies us spiritually.

Struck Once for Sin

God chose to be “struck” in the people’s place. He told Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” But just as the rock was only to be struck once, Christ was only to be struck once for our sins:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many…Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.

1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 9:28, 10:11-12

Under the Old Testament Law, sacrifices needed to be repeatedly offered revealing their inherent weakness. In contrast, the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice is shown in that it only needed to be made once. When Moses struck the rock the first time it foreshadowed Jesus’s death that would take place once. When Moses struck the rock the second time he ruined a beautiful type of Christ.

“Speaking” to the Rock

After the rock had been struck the first time, the second time God told Moses, “Tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Numbers 20:8). The rock provided life-giving water simply by speaking to it. Similarly, after Jesus had been “struck’ for our sins, he provides life-giving water simply by speaking to him.

Think back to Jesus’ words to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Even though Jesus refers to Himself in the third Person (“asked him” instead of “asked me”), He’s saying, “If you knew who I am, what I’m offering, that I’m the only one who can give it to you and I’m standing here before you, you would’ve switched places with me and asked me for water.” Jesus wasn’t forcing living water down this woman’s throat, and he doesn’t force it down ours. He says, “There’s a gift from God. I’m here to give it to you, but you must speak to me.” As Peter and Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13).

Personal Application

Suffering Doesn’t Mean We Disobeyed

In Exodus 17:1 the words “according to the commandment of the LORD” show the nation of Israel was going where God wanted even though there was no water to drink. They were suffering, but they weren’t being punished and they weren’t outside God’s will. In fact, they were right where God wanted them to be, because He wanted to test them.

Sometimes we suffer and it is tempting to think we have done something wrong—we must be being punished and/or we must’ve stepped outside God’s will. Maybe we have, in which case it is discipline instead of a trial. But other times, like in Israel’s case, it is a tramp instead of discipline. We are not being punished and we are not outside God’s will. Instead, we might be right where God wants us to be, because he might be trying to test us and build character in our lives. Hopefully, we respond better to our test than Israel responded to theirs.

Asking the Right Way

Israel was right to want water, but it was wrong for them to go about it the way they did. They were angry, impatient, and demanding. God wanted to provide for them. He did not, despite their accusation, bring them out into the wilderness to murder them. All they needed to do was ask in a humble, patient way and they would have received. The fact is, God is so gracious they received asking in a sinful way! How much more if they asked in a godly way?

Similarly, we have needs, and God wants to provide for us, but how often do we ask in grumpy, complaining ways. Instead, we should bring our requests before God in humble, patient ways.

Pressing on

Even though Moses was fearful for his life (he said, “They are almost ready to stone me”), God told him he still needed to act: “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go” (Exodus 17:5). Moses couldn’t give up on Israel or resign his position.

When we’re discouraged, and even afraid, God still expects us to act. We can’t give up or resign our position, whether it’s being a father, mother, husband, wife, pastor, Sunday school teacher, and the list goes on.

Remembering God’s Past Provision

The people asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). After all God had done for Israel up to this point, how could they possibly ask this? They had seen God’s power in the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and the way he led and protected them in the cloud and pillar of fire. Yet the moment things became difficult they forgot God’s past provision.

Before we’re too hard on Israel, how many times has God provided for us and we have asked something similar: “God where are you? Have you abandoned me? Are you there or not?” We should take an honest evaluation of ourselves: if we were with Israel in the wilderness without any water to drink would we ask the same critical question as them? When things become difficult we have to maintain an elevated view of our lives. We must come up out of our current circumstances and remember the times God has been with us in the past and will continue to be with us in the future.

The Wilderness Isn’t Supposed to Be Pleasant

The new generation said regarding the wilderness, “It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink” (Numbers 20:5). This was a foolish criticism because they weren’t in the Promised Land yet. The wilderness wasn’t supposed to be a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates. It is as though they wanted the wilderness to provide like Canaan would, but if God allowed that to be the case they wouldn’t press into the land and receive their inheritance.

The wilderness, which we find ourselves in at times, is not supposed to be like the Promised Land (see chapter 10 about the rest we experience in Christ). We don’t want to spend any more time than necessary in the wilderness, wandering around, taking more trips around Sinai because we haven’t learned the lessons God has for us. Some people even, like the old generation, end up dying in the wilderness. We don’t want to be like them. God’s desire is that we learn whatever lessons He has for us and move out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land as soon as possible.

Those Who Have Been Given Much Must Be Careful

God didn’t let Moses into the Promised Land for a transgression that might not look that bad to us. Was God too harsh with him? Did his sin really warrant this punishment? Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Leaders are held to a higher level of accountability: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Moses’s accountability was immense. God’s judgment was not too severe.

Moses serves as a sobering example to all Christians, especially leaders, that sin can have long and painful consequences. He looks like many Christians who faithfully serve God throughout their lives but fall short of “entering” into all God has for them. The more we know the more God expects of us.

Prosperity Is Not Always a Sign of Obedience

Both accounts contain much sin—the people sinned in both accounts and Moses said in the second account. Yet in both accounts God still provided the water. God did not respond by judging them, because “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).

But there is a danger when God is gracious to us when we sin. We might associate his kindness with his approval. Even when things go well for people, it is not necessarily evidence of being obedient. These accounts should warn us against building our theology on circumstances and events instead of on Scripture. The fact that God meets a need or blesses a ministry is not proof that the people involved are necessarily obeying God. The real test of one’s actions is whether they agree with God’s Word.

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