THERE IS NO DOUBT AS TO THE TYPICAL MEANING of the Rock in Horeb of Exodus 17. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 is not saying that the rock was literally Christ, but as the Lord Himself said concerning the bread ‘this is my body’, so the apostle clearly indicates that the rock was an intended symbol of Christ.
The picture before us in Exodus 17 is one God ordained as revealing more of Christ. As we look at verse 1 of Exodus 17 we discover that the children of Israel came to Rephidim ‘according to the commandment of the Lord’. It was not self-will that brought them there, and this heightens our astonishment that ‘there was no water for the people to drink’. Had God made a mistake? Let us face the fact that we do not understand a God who works like this. He knew there was no water there, but that was His appointed place for His people at that moment. Our human reasoning would cause us to ask, if God intended to bring His people into the land He had promised to give them, why could He not do it without trouble and heartache? Paul was led by the Spirit of God in Romans 11. 33 to say ‘How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out’. Today, as we read these scriptures we learn more of the mysterious ways of God in grace – things that we possibly could not have understood if this record was not there. One thing we certainly learn – God makes no mistakes and ‘he worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’, Eph. 1.11.
Verse 2 shows us the reaction of the people to the situation. How sad that their minds did not go back to what their God had already done for them in the land of Egypt – the plagues that gradually loosened Pharaoh’s grip; the deliverance on the night of the Passover; the parting of the waters to enable them to cross over on dry land; the healing of the waters at Marah; the giving of the manna, food from heaven. Surely, with such a history behind them they could not doubt their God. But ‘the people did chide with Moses’, and he described their action as tempting (or testing) the Lord. Tempting God indicates a complete lack of trust. Christians tempt God today by behaviour which constitutes a direct challenge to Him to prove the truth of His words, and the goodness and truth of His ways. God views this very seriously – see Num. 14. 22; Psa. 78. 18, 41; 95. 9, 106. 14. If we really trusted God, signs would not be needed. This attitude of the people at Meribah was long remembered, and was referred to by Moses forty years later in Deuteronomy 6. 16.
Verse 3 emphasises the unreasonable attitude of the people. How it must have grieved God’s loving heart to see their unwillingness to really trust Him. Sadly this attitude persisted through Israel’s history, as is seen by the challenging words recorded in Malachi 1, at the end of the Old Testament. The words they uttered were almost unbelievable. After a plain statement by God in verse 2, ‘I have loved you’, we hear them saying ‘wherein hast thou loved us?’ It is interesting that DR. CAMPBELL MORGAN points out that the full force of the words of God in verse 2 is, ‘I have loved you, I do love you, and I will love you’. The unchanging one being challenged by His wayward, forgetful people! ‘O for grace to love Him more’. There was only One competent to handle the situation. Moses, at his wits’ end, turns to the Lord. The people were so desperate, willing to stone him, but it is difficult to see how this would have solved their problem. We must forgive Moses for his language in speaking to God about the matter’ What shall I do with this people?’ Even as he uttered the words he must have realized his total inability to do anything at all – he must leave all in the Lord’s hands.
Verses 5-6 are the vital verses in this chapter, and we must concentrate a little upon them. It would seem from verse 5 that Moses and some of the elders left the camp, and as they were at Horeb, the Mount of God, they were on rising ground and went part of the way up the mountain so that the waters that God was going to give them could flow down to the camp where the people were going to remain for quite a long period. Deuteronomy 9. 21 speaks of ‘the brook that descended out of the mount’. At God’s instruction Moses took the rod with which he had smitten the river in Egypt, causing the water to be changed to blood; a rod that was associated with judgement. It is important to notice that this rod was not used upon the sinning people. This rod was going to play a vital part in the producing of water, so essential for the maintenance of life. It may possibly be regarded as strange that judgment should be involved in this transaction. Could not God have spoken the word of power that would cause the water to flow? We may wonder what thoughts filled the heart of Moses when he heard God speaking to him, ‘Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb: and thou shalt smite the rock and there shall come water out of it’. When they arrived at the place, as Moses gazed at the rock he knew that God was there upon the rock, but He was not visible to the eyes of Moses or to the elders with him. Was it with a trembling hand that he raised his rod and smote the rock? Was he smiting God as he did so? He could not know. But the vital point is that God identified Himself with the rock.
We would think again of the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, ‘that rock was Christ’, and as we ponder these words and try to picture the scene we begin to realize the deeper meaning of what is so simply recorded. In the picture in Exodus 17 the rod of judgment is raised and falls. In this we see Moses as a type of God, who alone can use the rod of judgment, and accepting this truth, we have the astounding revelation that God is seen smiting Christ – deity is smiting deity. The hymn writer tried to express this tremendous truth when he wrote ‘Jehovah lifted up His rod, O Christ it fell on thee’. Later in Israel’s history God was going to speak through the psalmists and emphasize that it was His hand (not the hand of Moses) that smote the rock. Psalm 78. 15-16, ‘He (God) clave the rocks in the wilderness … he brought streams also out of the rock’. Psalm 114. 7-8, ‘The God of
Jacob which turned the rock into a standing water’. Psalm 105. 41, ‘He opened the rock and the waters gushed out’. Yes, it was God at work. At what point in history was this type fulfilled? We turn to Matthew 27. 45-46 and we read the solemn words, ‘Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice … My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?’ During those three dread hours of darkness God made His soul an offering for sin, 18a. 53. 10, and according to Isaiah 53. 4, He was ‘stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted’. The rod of judgment fell.
In Exodus 17 God was looking on to this, but also was showing the blessing to men that was going to follow, not only life, but the living water of the ever present Holy Spirit. Peter takes up the theme on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2. 33, ‘Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear’. He had previously declared, verse 23, that the Lord Jesus had been delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God to crucifixion, and that this was followed by glorious resurrection. So the living water flowed. In anticipation of the cross, we read in John 7.37-38, ‘Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (innermost being) shall flow rivers of living water’. This was referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the explanatory note by John in verse 39 makes clear. John indicates that the Holy Spirit (already described as ‘living water’) could not be given until Jesus was glorified. This involved the cross – the smiting of the Rock by the Father – so that the true water of life might flow. The fulfilment is seen on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came (because Jesus had been glorified) and indwell each believer who was there at that time, and completed the birth of the church of God. This experience was continued down the centuries as individuals have trusted the Saviour and the Holy Spirit has come and united them to God’s church, 1 Cor. 12. 13.
It is important to notice, however, that as the Lord Jesus spoke of the living water He visualized that the water, having been given, would continue to flow out of the individual for the refreshment and blessing of others. This is God’s ideal - ‘channels only’. Alas, how often we find a blockage to the flow. The Holy Spirit is there, for having come He will never leave us, John 14. 16, but something hinders the outflow. The fact of Jesus always being recognized as glorified guarantees the continual flow. It is when He ceases to be Lord in the life that the flow is hindered. As we think back over what has been written, of God’s wondrous plan for dealing with human need, and as we accept the truth that when we trusted Christ as Saviour and Lord the Holy Spirit took up His abiding place within us so that others might be refreshed, may we consider the solemn language of 1 Corinthians 10. 4-5, ‘they all drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ … but with many of them God was not well pleased.’ The writer tells of the fate that befell those who despised God’s ways in spite of their privileges. He then warns of the sad possibility of those who have received the Holy Spirit, who were in consequence saved by grace, acting in ways that would grieve God, and prevent the outflow to others. Paul closes with the much needed admonition, verse 12, ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’ .
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou cans’t use us
Every day and every hour.
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