First Corinthians 10:4 says, “The spiritual rock that followed them was Christ.” What does this mean? Read on to learn about this beautiful type of Christ. This is Part I. Here is Part II.
Table of Contents
Throughout my life water has been so available to me that it never seemed that valuable. There was only one time it seemed to dramatically increase in significance. After my senior year of high school, during the summer, prior to going to college, I worked as a wilderness firefighter. This is when I learned I didn’t want to be a wilderness firefighter! When they trained us they couldn’t stress water’s importance strongly enough. They told it was more important than our tools, tent, food and even the other firefighters with us, because it was something we needed to stay alive. There was an unwritten rule that we could ask for help, borrow food and tools from people, but we could never ask people for any of their water.
We went to our first fire in Los Angeles. The temperature was over 100°. We were traveling up and down mountains wearing helmets and boots while carrying our backpacks and tools. It was hot and exhausting. That was the moment water seemed much more valuable. For years after that I never viewed water the same.
Let’s think about water’s value and what it’s like being in the wilderness without any to understand the Israelites’ situation when they were in the wilderness without any water:
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone him me.”Exodus 17:1-7
Complaining Instead of Asking (Exodus 17:1-7)
Exodus 12:37 says there were 600,000 men, which means there were anywhere from three to four million people. The need for water for a group this size would have been an immense problem. There was nothing wrong with the people asking for water but there was a problem in the way they asked—they “quarreled with Moses” and demanded: “Give us water to drink.” Although the Israelites probably thought they only contended with Moses, he responded that they tested God; they were like children trying their parents’ patience.
Despite Moses’s warning, they persisted, going so far as to bring the outrageous accusation that God was trying to murder them: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” After everything Moses did for them—such as being used by to God deliver them from their bondage, perform numerous miracles including unleashing the plagues, part the Red Sea, and provide miraculous food from heaven—unbelievably they were ready to stone him. At a loss, Moses turned to God:
And the Lord said to Moses, “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. 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.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.Exodus 17:5-6
To encourage Moses and give him confidence, God had him take the rod he used to perform previous miracles: turning the rod into a serpent and the waters of Egypt into blood, bringing hail and locusts, and parting the Red Sea (Exodus 4:4, 7:20, 9:3, 10:13, 14:16). Ironically, it would be this same rod that would get Moses in trouble forty years later.
When Moses parted the Red Sea, he held the rod over a body of water and it became dry. Now almost the opposite happened: he would strike a rock in a dry desert, and water would come out of it to drink.
This was completely testable. Moses would walk before the people, strike the rock, and water would come for, or it wouldn’t leaving him looking foolish in front of an already hostile nation that wanted to kill him. Moses trusted God, went before the people, and the LORD provided. Psalm 105:41 recounts what happened: “He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river.” The people had plenty to drink and water their flocks. Likely the water from the rock became a steady source.
Had the people not behaved so horribly, God would have provided the water in a context of blessing and the names for the place would have been positive. Instead, we read, “He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:7). The names mean testing and quarreling to describe what happened and rebuke Israel for their faithlessness.
A New Generation Sounds Like the Old (Numbers 20:1-13)
The rock is not mentioned again until approximately forty years later when the new generation of Israelites made their second attempt at entering Canaan. In Numbers 13 and 14, the twelve spies returned after spending forty days examining the land. They shared their report with the nation, that while the land was as wonderful as God said, it was also filled with enemies. Ten of the spies said Israel couldn’t defeat the enemies, but Joshua and Caleb said God would give them victory. Tragically, the people believed the ten spies, instead of leaving God; therefore, God said they couldn’t enter. What was about to be a wonderful blessing for them in the future, ended up being a moment of historic discipline. Israel was forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years—one year for each day the spies were in the land (Numbers 14:34). The generation of unbelief would die, but their children, whom they accused God of trying to murder, would enter the land (Numbers 14:3 cf. Numbers 14:31). It is these children—the new generation—in the following verses:
The people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.
Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.Numbers 20:1-13
Moses’ sister, Miriam’s death, is significant because it shows that nobody was above the decree that the old generation would not inherit the Promised Land. Soon, Moses will find out that even he is not above God’s judgment.
The year isn’t given, but Numbers 33:38 states Aaron died on the fifth day of the fortieth year after the exodus from Egypt, so the new generation should enter the land soon. The event with the twelve spies approximately 40 years earlier took place at Kadesh where the Israelites find themselves again. In other words, the new generation is at the location where their parents rebelled. You would think that being at this location would remind the new generation about what happened with their parents and cause them to be on their best behavior.
Instead, the new generation also asked for water, but sounded like the grumbling, faithless previous generation, even going so far as to again accuse God of murder. As was typical with Moses, he humbly interceded on the people’s behalf. But sadly Moses’ humility and compassion didn’t last through the account and he pays for it dearly. Although he was told to take his rod like forty years earlier, he was only supposed to speak to rock this time. Instead, Moses spoke the people and struck the rock.
As the mediator, or man who stood between God and the people, Moses represented God. The people understood God through Moses. What Moses seemed like to the people is what God seemed like to the people. When Moses fell on his face and cried out to God, and God answered, God looked merciful. If Moses spoke to the rock God would have looked gracious and patient when water sprung for. But when Moses chastised the people on—when his humility and gentleness were replaced with a heart of anger he’d never shown before—his actions made God look angry and full of contempt.
A Heart-Breaking, but Necessary Judgment
The other (and perhaps bigger) mistake Moses made is contained in the word “we.” He made himself look like God’s partner, but Moses couldn’t bring water out of the rock any more than we could bring water out of the rock. Holy means separate, and instead of making God look separate, Moses made himself look equal with God; hence God saying Moses “did not…uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel.” Moses didn’t hallow God in the people’s eyes, so God hallowed himself. To reveal God didn’t need Moses, and to create the needed separation between Moses and himself, God said Moses would not be able to bring Israel into the Promised Land. The people had to see the infinite chasm that existed between the two of them, and that it was exclusively God will allow the nation to receive blessings such as water out of a rock and possession of the Promised Land.
Moses felt called to deliver his people since witnessing their suffering in Egypt over forty years earlier (Exodus 2:11-12 cf. Acts 7:25). He sacrificed all the glamour and comfort he experienced as part of the royal family to help his brethren:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.Hebrews 11:24-26
For forty years Moses committed his life to bringing his people into the Promised Land and now he finds out that his life’s work wouldn’t come to fruition. The account closes with these words, “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy” (Numbers 20:13). First, same name was used at the rebellion four decades earlier, relating the rebellions between the two generations. Second, Moses didn’t present God as holy before the people, so God showed himself holy.
The Spiritual Rock that Followed Them Was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
There has been so much sin: the people complaining in Exodus 17 and then again in Numbers 20 as well as Moses striking the rock in anger and claiming credit for God’s miracle. But “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28) and God God worked this out to reveal an amazing type of His Christ:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ ().1 Corinthians 10:1-4
This is primarily about Christ being with Israel from the time they left Egypt to when they entered the Promised Land. To interpret the verses correctly look at the repetition of the word spiritual. Jesus wasn’t with the Israelites physically, but he was with them spiritually.
God’s Glory in Christ
They “were all under the cloud,” which led them and never left them:
The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.Exodus 13:21-22
The way the cloud led the people and never left them looks to the way Christ, as the head of the church, leads us and never leaves us. Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The cloud revealed God’s glory and represented His presence with them:
- Exodus 16:10—As soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
- Exodus 24:16—The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
When the tabernacle was constructed Exodus 40:35 says, “Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” When the temple was constructed, the same thing happened: “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11).
The cloud revealed the glory of God and was the representation of His presence with them. It looked forward to the way God would truly reveal His glory and be present with His people at the Incarnation: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The glory was veiled during Christ’s earthly ministry: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. Backspace” (Isaiah 53:2). But the glory was revealed once when Jesus was transfigured: “Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him” (Luke 9:32).
Although we don’t see Christ’s glory now, he wants us to see it in the future. He prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). We will see Christ in all of his glory that was only hinted at through the cloud in the wilderness and in His earthly ministry: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).