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Gleanings In Exodus

24. The Smitten Rock


Exodus 17

"And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin" (v. 1). Mark that this chapter opens with the word "And," connecting it with the one preceding. So, too, chapter 16 begins with "And," linking it on to the closing verses of 15. "And" is a little word, but we often miss that which is of much importance and value through failing to weigh it carefully. There is nothing trivial in God’s Word, and each word and syllable has its own meaning and worth. At the close of Exodus 15 (v. 23) Israel came to Marah, and they could not drink of the waters there because they were bitter. At once we find the people murmuring against Moses, saying. "What shall we drink?" (v. 24). Sad, sad was this, after all that the Lord had done for them. Moses cried unto God, and in long-suffering grace He at once came to the relief of the people. The Lord showed him a tree, which when cast into the bitter waters, at once sweetened them. After this experience they reached Elim, where were twelve wells of water. There Exodus 15 closes.

Exodus 16 opens with "And." Why? To connect with what has just preceded. But for what purpose? To show us the in-excusableness and to emphasize the enormity of the conduct of Israel immediate following; as well as to magnify the marvelous patience and infinite mercy of Him who bore so graciously with them. Israel had now entered the wilderness, the Wilderness of Sin, and it furnished no food for them. How, then, do they meet this test of faith? After their recent experience at Marah, one would suppose they promptly and confidently turned unto their Divine Benefactor and looked to Him for their daily bread. But instead of doing this we read, once more, "The whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron" (16:3), and not only so, they "spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" (Ps. 78:19). Yet, notwithstanding their petulency and unbelief, the Lord again came to their relief and rained down bread from Heaven. The remainder of the chapter is occupied with details concerning the manna.

Now, once more, the chapter before us for our present study, begins with "And." The opening verse presents to us a scene very similar to that which is found at the beginning of the previous chapter. Israel are once again face to face with a trial of faith. Their dependency upon God is tested. This time it is not lack of food, but absence of water. How this illustrates the fact that the path of faith is a path of trial. Those who are led by God must expect to encounter that which is displeasing to the flesh, and also a constant and real testing of faith itself. God’s design is to wean us from everything down here, to bring us to the place where we have no reliance upon material and human resources, to cast us completely upon Himself. O how slow, how painfully slow we are to learn this lesson! How miserably and how repeatedly we fail! How long-suffering the Lord is with us. It is this which the introductory "And" is designed to point. Here in Exodus 17 it is but a tragic repetition of what it signifies at the beginning of chapter 16.

"And there was no water for the people to drink." What of that? This presented no difficulty to Him who could part the sea asunder and then make its waves return and overwhelm their enemies. It was no harder for Jehovah to provide water than it was for Him to supply them with food. Was not He their Shepherd? If so, shall they want? Moreover, had not the Lord Himself led Israel to Rephidim? Yes, for we are here expressly told, "The children of Israel journeyed according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephedim." He knew there was no water there, and yet He directed them to this very place! Well for us to remember this. Ofttimes when we reach some particularly hard place, when the streams of creature-comfort are dried up, we blame ourselves, our friends, our brethren, or the Devil perhaps. But the first thing to realize in every circumstance and situation where faith is tested, is, that the Lord Himself has brought us there! If this be apprehended, it will not be so difficult for us to trust Him to sustain us while we remain there.

"Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink" (v. 2). The word "chide" signifies that the people expostulated with Moses in an angry manner for bringing them hither, reproaching and condemning him as the cause of their trouble. When they said to him, "Give us water that we may drink," it was either that they petulantly demanded he should give what God only could provide, signifying that he was under obligations to do so, seeing that he was the one who had brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness; or, because they had seen him work so many wonders, they concluded it was in his power to miraculously obtain water for them, and hence, insisted that he now do this.

"And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?" (v. 2). Moses at once reminded the Israelites that in criticizing him they arraigned the Lord. The word "tempt" in this verse seems to signify try or test. They tried His patience, by once more chiding His servant. They called into question both His goodness and faithfulness. Moses was their appointed leader, God’s representative to the people; and therefore to murmur against him was to murmur against the Lord Himself.

"And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (v. 3). As their thirst increased they grew more impatient and enraged, and threw out their invectives against Moses. "Had Israel been transported from Egypt to Canaan they would not have made such sad exhibitions of what the human heart is, and, as a consequence, they would not have proved such admirable ensamples or types for us: but their forty years’ wandering in the desert furnish us with a volume of warning, admonition, and instruction, fruitful beyond conception. From it we learn, amongst many other things, the unvarying tendency of the heart to distrust God. Anything, in short, for it but God. It would rather lean upon a cobweb of human resources than upon the arm of an omnipotent, all-wise, and infinitely gracious God; and the smallest cloud is more than sufficient to hide from its view the light of His blessed countenance. Well, therefore, may it be termed ‘an evil heart of unbelief.’ which will ever show itself ready to ‘depart from the living God’" (C.H.M.).

"And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me" (v. 14). It is beautiful to see that Moses made no reply to the cruel reproaches which were cast upon him. Like that Blessed One whom he in so many respects typified, "When He was reviled. He reviled not again; when He suffered. He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23). This is what we see Moses doing here. Instead of returning an angry and bitter rejoinder to those who falsely accused him, he sought the Lord. Blessed example for us. This was ever his refuge in times of trouble (cf. 15:25 etc.). The fact that we are told Moses "cried unto the Lord" indicates the earnestness and vehemence of his prayer. "What shall I do?" expressed a consciousness of his own inability to cope with the situation, and also showed his confidence that the Lord would come to his and their relief. How often should we be spared much sorrowful regret later, if, instead of replying on the spur of the moment to those who malign us, we first sought the Lord and asked, "What shall I do?"

"And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the ciders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shall smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel"(vv. 5, 6). his brings before us one of the many Old Testament types of the Lord Jesus, one for which we have New Testament authority for regarding it as such. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 we read, "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: And that Rock was Christ."

The "Rock" is one of the titles of Jehovah, found frequently on the pages of the O.T. In his "song," Moses laments that Israel forsook God and "lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation" (Deut. 32:15). In his song, we also hear the sweet singer of Israel saying, "The Lord is my Rock, and my Fortress, and my Deliverer" (2 Sam. 22:2). The Psalmist bids us make a "joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation" (95:1). While the prophet Isaiah tells us "And a Man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a Great Rock in a weary land" (32:2). In the N.T. we get that memorable and precious word, "Upon this Rock (pointing to Himself, not referring to Peter’s confession) I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18).

The first thing that impresses one when we see a rock is its strength and stability, a characteristic noted in Scripture in the question of Bildad to Job, "Shall the rock be removed out of his place?" (Job. 18:4). This is a most comforting thought to the believer. The Rock upon which he is built cannot be shaken: the floods may come, and the winds may beat upon it, but it will "stand" (Matthew 7:25).

Another prominent characteristic of rocks is their durability. They outlast the storms of time. Waters will not wash them away, nor winds remove them, from their foundations. Many a vessel has been dashed to pieces on a rock, but the rock stands unchanged; and it is a deeply solemn thought that those who are not built upon The Rock, will be shattered by it—"And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken," said Christ, pointing to Himself, "but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:24).

A third feature that may be mentioned about a rock is its elevation. It towers high above man and is a landmark throughout that part of the country where it is situated. Some rocks are so high and so steep that they cannot be scaled. Each of these characteristics find their application to and realization in the Lord Jesus. He is the strong and powerful One—"The mighty God" (Isa. 9:6). He is the durable One—"the Same yesterday and today and forever." He is the elevated One, exalted to the Throne of Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

The first thing to be noted here in our type is that the rock was to be smitten. This, of course, speaks of the death of the Lord Jesus. It is striking to note the order of the typical teaching of Exodus 16 and 17. In the former we have that which speaks of the incarnation of Christ; in the latter, that which foreshadowed the crucifixion of Christ. Exodus 17 is supplementary to chapter 16. Christ must descend from Heaven to earth (as the manna did) if He was to become the Bread of life to His people; but He must be smitten by Divine judgment if He was to be the Water of life to them! Here is another reason for the opening "And."

There are three details here which enable us to fix the interpretation of the smiting of the rock as a type of the death of the Lord Jesus. First, it was to be smitten by the rod of Moses. The "rod" in the hand of Moses had been the symbol of judgment. The first reference to it definitely determines that. When he cast it on to the ground it became a "serpent" (4:3)—reminder of the curse. With his rod the waters of the Nile were smitten and turned into blood (7:17), and so on. Second, only the "elders of Israel" witnessed the smiting of the rock. This emphasizes the governmental character of what was here foreshadowed. Third, Jehovah Himself stood upon the rock while it was smitten. "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb" (v. 6)—marvelous line in the picture was this. Putting these things together what spiritual eye can fail to see here a portrayal of our Substitute being smitten by the rod of Divine justice, held in the hand of the Governor of the Universe. Doubtless that word in Isaiah 53:4, 5 looks back to this very type—"Smitten of God . . . by His stripes we are healed." How solemn to behold that it was the people’s sin which led to the smiting of the rock!

Out from the smitten rock flowed the water. Beautiful type was this of the Holy Spirit—gift of the crucified, now glorified, Savior. May not this be one reason why the Holy Spirit is said to be "poured out" (Acts 2:18)?—speaking in the language of this very type. The gift of the Holy Spirit was consequent upon the crucifixion and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. This is clear from His own words from 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 shall flow rivers of living water." Now mark the interpretation which is given us in the very next verse: "But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified."

The Holy Spirit has given us a supplementary word through the Psalmist which enhances the beauty of the picture found in Exodus 17. There we are told, "He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise (to) Abraham His servant" (105:41, 42). It was because of His covenant to Abraham that God gave the water to Israel. So, too. we read of God promising to give eternal life to His elect "before the world began" (Titus 1:1, 2), and this, on the basis of "the everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13: 20).

1 Corinthians 10, also supplements Exodus 17. In the historical narrative we read of Moses striking the rock in the presence of "the elders" of Israel, but nothing is there said about the people drinking of the streams of water that flowed from it. But in 1 Corinthians 10:4, we are told, "And did all drink the same spiritual drink." This is an important word. It affirms, in type, that all of God’s people have received the Holy Spirit. There are some who deny this. There are those who teach that receiving the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace. This is a serious error. Just as all the children of Israel (God’s covenant people) drank of the water from the smitten rock. so in the anti-type, all of God’s children are made partakers of the Holy Spirit, gift of the ascended Christ—"And because ye are sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). There is no such thing as a believer in Christ who has not received the Holy Spirit: "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of Him" (Rom. 8:9).

Much of the blessedness of our type will pass unappreciated unless we note carefully the occasion when the stream of living water gushed from the smitten rock. It was not when Israel were bowed in worship before the Lord. it was not when they were praising Him for all His abundant mercies toward them. No such happy scene do the opening verses of Exodus 17 present to our view. The very reverse is what is there described. Israel were murmuring (v. 3); they were almost ready to stone God’s servant (v. 4); they were filled with unbelief, saying, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" (v. 7). The giving of the water, then, was God acting according to His marvelous grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. But, be it well noted, it was grace acting on a righteous basis. Not till the rock was smitten did the waters flow forth. And not till the Savior had been bruised by God was the Gospel of His grace sent forth to "every creature." What, my reader, is the response of your heart to this amazing and rich mercy of God? Surely you say, out of deepest gratitude, "thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift" (2 Cor. 9:15).

This chapter would not be complete were we to close without a brief word upon Numbers 20, where we again find Moses smiting the rock. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron, thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, and it shall give forth His water, and thou shall bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink" (vv. 7, 8).

What is recorded in Numbers 20 occurred forty years later than what has been before us in Exodus 17. Almost everything here is in sharp contrast. The rock in Exodus 17 foreshadowed Christ on the cross; the rock in Numbers 20 pictured Him on high. The Hebrew word for "rock" is not the same. The word used here in Numbers 20 means an elevated rock, pointing plainly to the Savior in His exaltation. Next, we notice that Moses was not now bidden to "strike" the rock, but simply to speak to it. In Exodus 17 the rock was smitten before the "elders" of Israel; here Moses was bidden to "gather the assembly together." And while Jehovah bade him take a rod, it was not the rod used in Exodus 17. On the former occasion Moses was to use his own rod—"Thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river." That was the rod of judgment. But here he was to take "The rod" (Num. 20:8), namely, the rod of Aaron. This is clear from verse 9, "And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He commanded him" if we compare it with Numbers 17:10—"And the Lord saith unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony (viz., the Ark in the Holy of Holies), to he kept for a token against the rebels." This, then, was the priestly rod. Mark also how this aspect of truth was further emphasized in the type by the Lord bidding Moses, on this second occasion, to take Aaron along with him—Aaron is not referred to at the first smiting of the rock!

The interpretation of the typical meaning of Numbers 20:8 is therefore abundantly clear. The rock must not be smitten a second time, for that would spoil the type. "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God" (Rom. 6:9, 10). "But now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself... So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:26, 28). Streams of spiritual refreshment flow to us on the ground of accomplished redemption and in connection with Christ’s priestly ministry.

How solemn the sequel here. The servant of the Lord failed—there has been but one perfect "Servant" (Isa. 42:1). The meekest man upon earth became angry at the repeated murmurings of Israel. He addressed the covenant people of God as "Ye rebels." He asked them. "Must we fetch you water out of the rock?" He "smote the rock twice"—indicating the heat of his temper. And because of this God suffered him not to lead Israel into Canaan. He is very jealous of the types—more than one man was slain because his conduct marred them.

It is striking to note that though Moses smote the rock instead of speaking to it. nevertheless, the refreshing waters gushed forth from it. How this should warn us against the conclusion that a man’s methods must be right if the Lord is pleased to use him. Many there are who imagine that the methods used in service must be pleasing to God if His blessing attends them. But this incident shows plainly that it is not safe to argue thus. Moses’ methods were wrong; notwithstanding, God gave the blessing! But how this incident also manifests, once more, the wondrous grace of God. In spite of (not because of) Israel’s murmuring, and in spite of Moses’ failure, water was given to them, their every need was supplied. Truly, our God is the "God of all grace." May the realization of this draw out our hearts in adoring worship, and may our lives rebound more and more unto His glory.


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