Yesterday I explored the notion of God’s provision of the manna in the wilderness as foreshadowing the first coming of Christ. My basis for this view rested upon these two scripture texts: Exodus 16:4-5, 14-15 and John 6:32-33, 49-51. In this post, I will present essentially the same argument with respect to the Exodus account of the water from the rock. The first text is the Old Testament passage, which will be followed by the New Testament one:
“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 17:6, ESV).
“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, ESV).
Before I delve into the text placed in bold, I want to lay out the context for both passages. In the Exodus account, the water from the rock occurs after the provision of the manna. By God’s command, the people of Israel left the Wilderness of Sin and camped at Rephidim (Ex. 17:1, ESV). The text does not specify how much time passed between God’s provision of the manna and the Israelites subsequent grumbling against God over the lack of water. What I want to highlight is that these men and women had witnessed the Lord send them bread from heaven. It was a miracle and an act of divine grace by God on their behalf. Instead of allowing God’s grace to transform their hearts, the people sunk into unbelief and grumbled against God while longing to return to Egypt (Ex. 17:2-3, ESV).
In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the tenth chapter serves as a key one for this young church. The Holy Spirit speaks through Paul over the rampant idolatry within their congregation. He reprimands them for mixing their pagan religious practices into the Lord’s Supper, which Paul describes as worshiping both demons and the Lord at the same time (1 Cor. 10:20-21, ESV). For Paul, the worship of the Corinthian believers revealed hearts divided toward Christ and each other; therefore, he explains to them that the importance of the Lord’s Supper is its display of unity between the believers and Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17, ESV). By divine revelation of the Holy Spirit, Paul illustrates to the Corinthian church how their idolatry separates them from God in the very same way as the Israelites of the Old Testament; consequently, the Corinthians are in danger of facing the same judgment (1 Cor. 10:8-10, ESV).
If the Apostle Paul had not lived to write the first letter to the Corinthians, the title of today’s post would be meaningless at best and heresy at its worst. On its face, the Exodus account appears to give no hint of Christ being present in the wilderness with the Israelites, let alone following them as a rock. It seems to be an account of God performing another miracle in the desert for his people: providing them water to drink in the desert. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul reveals to us in 1 Cor. 10:4 that the rock represented Christ in the Old Testament. He develops this further by informing the Corinthians that the Old Testament people of God participated with Christ and his offer of living water (this last point is my opinion).
Because the Holy Spirit through Paul equates the rock with Christ, there is a larger dimension at play with respect to redemptive history. Paul uses the Exodus text to warn the Corinthian church about rebelling against Christ in their mixed worship. This illustrates that they are going down the same ruinous path as the Israelites. History begins repeating itself in Corinth, and the sin is even greater because the Corinthian church has the fullness of God’s revelation. The Israelites experienced only a shadow of what was to come in the wilderness. Just as idolatry prevented the Old Testament people from entering the Promised Land, it threatens to bar the Corinthians from entering the kingdom, which is the ultimate fulfillment of the land of Canaan.
There is one more aspect of the Exodus account that needs to be drawn out. Moses strikes the rock according to the Lord’s command. What this represents is Christ’s death. According to Isaiah 53:10a, the prophet writes that “…it was the will of the Lord to crush [Christ].” Moses’ actions foreshadow Christ’s death on the cross, which had been ordained by the Father. When the soldier pierced the side of the Son, blood and water flowed out (John 19:34, ESV). The blood of the covenant pardons sins while the water of the Spirit brings new life in the redeemed (John 7:38, ESV). Basically, the Lord offers salvation in Christ to the Israelites at Rephidim. When they grumble against God, they are refusing to accept the Father’s offer of salvation. Their unbelief blinds them to the real work, the eternal redemptive work, that God desires to bring about in their lives.
In many ways, I behave no differently than the Israelites. Five years ago, I suffered the loss of two jobs and an automobile in eight months. This was my wilderness experience, and I began crying out to God for basic needs: a job and a car. When the days dragged on, when the prayers seemed to stack up to the ceiling, I wondered about the goodness of God. By the way, I had been a believer for more than a decade. I saw his goodness over and over again in my life and in the lives of my friends and family. Despite those facts, I railed against the Lord just like the Israelites.
At no point did I cross over into refusing to remain in covenant with God. This is one place where I differed from the Israelites. I knew where he had found me, and where I stood in the midst of this wilderness. Did I know where I was headed? I had no idea what our sovereign Lord had up his sleeves for yours truly. Despite the uncertain future, I kept hanging onto God’s promise in Isaiah 54:11, which states: “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires.”
Somehow I hoped against hope. I held onto that passage in Isaiah 54:11, which I felt led to read one night in the midst of crying out to my Lord. Through his word, he filled me with a fresh flow of living water. Life returned my dry and weary soul. This is what God had been offering to the Israelites with the water from the rock. He offered to them the hope of new life. He offered his one and only son. Has the Lord offered you living water in the desert? Do you desire living water from the spiritual rock, who is Christ?