A Study of Exodus 17:5-6
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders 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 shalt 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.” (Exodus 17:5-6)
If the Lord Jesus is pleased to give you an understanding of these words found in the seventeenth chapter of Exodus, it may be that it will open up many other Old Testament passages of Scripture and connect them with New Testament teaching.
In 1st Corinthians Paul wrote “that rock
was Christ.” He is referring back to the story found in Exodus 17:5 and 6 where the LORD said unto Moses, “Go on before the people and take with thee of the elders of Israel and the rod wherewith thou smotest the sea. Take in thine hand and go. Behold, I will stand before thee upon the rock in Horeb and thou shalt smite the rock and there shall come water out of the rock that the people may drink.”
The people of Israel had been delivered from Egypt. God had graciously, mercifully, and miraculously, delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh. God had brought them through the Red Sea and God had fed them with the bread from heaven. Now they came to a certain place in the wilderness and they pitched their tents. This is what the Scripture says in verses 1 and 2 of Exodus 17; “there was no water there.”
The LORD God had certainly blessed these people. He had brought them out of Egypt. He led them through the Red Sea. He had fed them with bread from heaven. Instead of believing God and looking to God the people began to murmur against Moses and they said; “Give us water that we may drink…Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Exodus 17:2-3)
They threatened to stone Moses. Isn’t that incredible? It is amazing and unbelievable. These people who had seen the hand of God in so many ways, yet here they are murmuring and complaining and even threatening to stone Moses.
If we didn’t know something of the evil and the depravity of the human heart, this would be difficult to understand. It would be difficult to account for the ingratitude, unbelief, and greed of these people. Had not God freed them just a short time before that? They had been in slavery for 400 years. God had miraculously delivered them. Had not God shown them His power and His protection at the Red Sea, destroying the army of Pharaoh in delivering them? Had not God fed them and clothed them and now they are ready to stone Moses simply because there is no water to drink?
Oh the evil of the human heart! There is nothing that exceeds the evil of the human heart, the ingratitude, the sin and unbelief of the human heart, nothing! In fact, the prophet said; “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
If there is one thing we can learn from these people in the wilderness and that is the unbarring tendency of the human heart to doubt God, no matter what we have experienced in the past. No matter what we have received in the past, no matter the blessings and mercies from the hand of God; the smallest cloud of trouble is sufficient to hide from us the face of God. The smallest cloud of trouble; it doesn’t matter, all of the blessings of the past, God’s provisions, God’s protection, and God’s blessings. The smallest cloud is sufficient to hide from us the face of Almighty God. We had rather lean upon the cobweb of human resources, something we can see, something we can feel, and something we can touch. We had rather lean upon that which appeals to the senses than trust the everlasting arm of God Almighty. The evil heart of unbelief is always ready to depart from the living God. That is what Paul warned us about in Hebrews. He told us about these people, this nation of Israel in the wilderness. He said to the assembly; “take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)
Well, they came to this place and they pitched their tents. There was no water to drink. The old questions arose, the age-old questions, “what shall we eat, what shall we drink, and what shall we wear?”
Our Lord Jesus Christ said; “after all these things do the Gentiles seek” (Matthew 6:32), but true faith has a brief answer for all of these questions, “what shall we eat, what shall we drink, and what shall we wear?”
True faith has a brief answer for all of these questions, a confident, comprehensive answer, and that answer is God; “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
The heathen, said; “what shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear?” Our Lord Jesus said; “your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:32-33)
But the people murmured. They said, “Give us water that we may drink.” They threatened Moses and they doubted God. They were filled with unbelief and Moses turned to the LORD God and he said; “what shall I do?”
God told him, (listen now to the directions from God); our God says, “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and they rod wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thy hand, and go. 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, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:5-6)
Most people who teach the Bible or read the Bible leave all of that right there. They talk about the miracle of the rock giving forth water, the people drinking, but the question is; what makes this event so special? What is significant about this rock? God, very specifically and definitely, gave some directions to Moses and we shall see something as we continue in this study from the Scriptures about this rock where Moses violated the commandment of God.
God told Moses to take your rod and the elders with him. To go to this rock and he was to stand on this rock. Then smite it and water will come out of the rock sufficient for the people to be well satisfied.
What makes this rock so significant?
What makes it so special?
Why did God devote so much Scripture to this rock and to this particular episode here?
Well, Paul sums up the answer in four words in 1st Corinthians 10:4, “that Rock was Christ.”
Just as in Abel’s sacrifice, the blood which Abel put upon the altar, it was a picture of Christ.
Noah’s Ark is not just a ship made of wood which rescued some people from the flood, although it did, but that Ark is Christ.
In the Passover Lamb, that lamb slain is Christ (1st Corinthians 5:7).
There was the manna from heaven. Christ said, I am “the true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32); “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” (John 6:41); “I am the bread of life” (John 6:48) and “I am the living bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51).
The brazen serpent lifted up, the serpent which was made of brass in the likeness of those fiery serpents that had bitten the people; that serpent was a picture of Christ lifted up (John 3:14).
God shows this in all these things, especially in this rock. Paul says definitely; “that rock was Christ.” God chose in this Rock, the person, work, and power, of His beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord, our Saviour, our Redeemer. Christ said, “I am the bread of life”; “I am the water of life.” That rock was Christ.
There are six things from this passage of Scripture that are applicable to you and to me right now.
First of all: There is a need.
Just as in the case of Israel, there was a need. These people were in a wilderness. These people were in a dry land. These people were in a place where there was no water. The Scripture plainly says, “There was no water there;” no water to drink means no life.
Is this not our condition? You might say that we have plenty of water. I am talking about spiritual water. We are living in a dry and thirsty land just as David described in Psalm 63 when he said; “O God Thou art my God. Early will I seek thee. My soul thirsteth for thee. My flesh longeth for thee in this dry and thirsty land where no water is.”
On another occasion David said; “as the heart lantern after the water brooks, so panteth my soul for thee, O God.” (Psalm 42:1)
We are like Ezekiel’s bones; we are very many and we are very dry. It is a dry and thirsty land. It is a famine-infested land. We are bleached and have barren bones with no life. The human well is dry; there is no water there. You can go to human wisdom, human teaching, and human thoughts, and there is no water there. There is no spiritual water there. The religious well is dry. All you find in the religious well today is wildfire, enthusiasm, or the dust of tradition and doctrine. The philosophers well is dry. It is the same old rhetoric, the same old debates and the same old arguments. I ask in this dry and thirsty land; is there any spiritual water to be found? Is there any help? That is what Moses said, “what shall I do?”
This is a dry land in which there is no water; there is no source of water anywhere. Where can we find water to drink?
Second: Thank God, there is a rock.
God told to Moses to go to the rock; there is a rock. Our Lord said, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” (John 6:14)
There is a Rock and that Rock is Christ. For our God said to Moses; “I will stand before thee upon the rock.” That Rock is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the key to that type; here is the key to this picture. Here is the key to this picture of our Lord Jesus Christ; “I will stand before thee there upon the rock.”
“God was in Christ.” (2nd Corinthians 5:19). That is what the angel said to Joseph; “they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
You say, “That rock was Christ?” Why, in appearance it is only a rock, like so many other rocks. My friend; without eyes of faith you cannot see His glory. Without eyes of faith you cannot see the indwelling Christ in that man born of Mary.
Isaiah said, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. We hid as it were our faces from Him.” (Isaiah 53:2-3) They said, “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3); How can you be God; “being a man.” (John 10:33)
Look at the tabernacle, a tent like any other tent. If you had been far upon a mountain looking down on the camp of Israel and you had seen all of these tents made out of badger skin and that tabernacle in the middle of it, you would say; “well, that’s just another tent.” Oh my friend; God is in that tent.
You look at this rock and you say, “That’s only a rock;” but this Rock was Christ. God was in this Rock.
You look at the man Jesus of Nazareth and you might say, “He’s only a man.” I know, but God is in that man. God said, “Moses you go to the rock; I will stand on that rock.” “I will be in that rock. No other rock around here has the presence of God. I will be in that rock.”
Do you see that?
There are two things; now remember, first, there is a need. It is a dry land and it is a thirsty land where no water is. You will not find any. The human well is dry. The religious well is dry. The philosopher’s well is dry. Human wisdom is dry. Everything is dry. But, there is a Rock and that is God’s Rock. That is God’s appointed, God’s selected, and God’s anointed Rock. God said, “I will stand before the there upon the rock.”
Do you see what I am saying?
Third: The Rock was smitten.
God said, “Moses; take thy rod, werewith thou smotest the river, and thou shalt smite the rock.” There was a rock, there was a need, and there was a rock but still no water. The rock has to be smitten. Moses could have walked around the rock. He could have measured the rock. He could have talked about the rock. He could have pointed to the rock. He could have made slide-pictures of the rock and showed them everywhere, but there was still no water. That rock must be smitten. God said, “smite the rock.” My friends; “that Rock was Christ.”
Moses’ rod represents the Law.
Moses’ rod represents justice.
Moses’ rod represents the wrath of God.
Our rock, the Lord Jesus Christ, must be smitten of God and afflicted. Jesus Christ, that Rock, in this dry and thirsty land was born of Mary. If He had lived on this earth, He could have never saved anybody. There would have been no refreshing water. There would have been no living water from Him. Just as the rock in the wilderness, our Lord Jesus Christ must be smitten. The Scripture says, “Smitten of God and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4) You see Him scourged. You see Him crowned with thorns. You see Him taken to Golgotha’s Hill and nailed to a cross. You see the spear and the hand of the soldier pierce His side, and from that smitten side, comes blood and water. There is blood to atone and water to cleanse. You can get as technical as you want to. You can get as liberal as you want to. You can get whatever you want to but the message is clear:
“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
The Rock must be smitten.
This is a picture that God gave in the Old Testament of the person and work of Christ, of the redemptive work of Christ.
Israel is a picture of the true congregation, the body of Christ, the elect of God, the bride of Christ. Israel is the congregation in the wilderness. If you want to find out what God is doing, find out what God has done.
If you want to find out what God is going to do; find out what God has done.
“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore he sons if Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)
“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
That Rock was Christ. It couldn’t be clearer. Do you have an interest in Christ? You can read the story of the Rock and Paul said, “That Rock was Christ,” four words. That Rock that followed them was Christ. The need was there. The Rock was there but it must be smitten. It was smitten and out came the water.
Fourth: That Rock was smitten for a purpose.
That rock was smitten for a purpose; it was not to show off God’s power. It was not to show off God’s might or strength. That rock was smitten to give water to a thirsty people, a helpless people, an impotent people, and a people who were dying of thirst. That is why the rock was smitten; it was smitten for that purpose. There is no need to apologize for Israel. There is no need to dress them up; they were a guilty, greedy, murmuring, sinful, rebellious, people. That is all they were; they weren’t anything else.
So are we. “There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Roman’s 3:11-12) We are just like Israel.
We are a race of murmurers, rebels and unbelievers, or whatever you want to say about us. “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Roman’s 5:8)
There is a well of water, and a Rock smitten of God. Our Lord Jesus died for a purpose. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all accreditation, that Christ Jesus came into the world…” not to just be an example and not just to show the goodness of God. “…to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1st Timothy 1:15)
He was smitten that from Him might flow the water of life. He was smitten that from Him might flow the cleansing flood. He was smitten that from Him we might receive the mercy of God.
You can stand out in the desert and you say, “Here’s water, here’s a rock, here’s water.” A fellow may say, “Well; I’m not thirsty.” You say, “Well, I’m not talking to you; I am talking to thirsty people.”
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” (Isaiah 55:1)
“Come unto me, all ya that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
He always addressed His invitation of water to thirsty people. Are you thirsty? The water is for the thirsty. Are you hungry? The bread is for the hungry.
“I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:6)
I am talking to those who thirst. This water flows freely for those who thirst. It is for a sinful people. Our Lord “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17) The righteous aren’t thirsty. It is sinner’s that are thirsty.
Fifth: That rock yielded pure water in sufficiency and in abundance.
This is important. There was a need. It couldn’t be met any other way than by the power of God and by the hand of God. God provided the rock but that rock must be smitten.
“God must be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26) That rock must be smitten. Christ Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) That Rock was smitten for a purpose, to give water, to give life, to give hope to a hopeless, helpless, people.
That rock yields pure water in sufficiency and great abundance for all who desire it. There was plenty for all who wanted to drink; it was free. There was no rationing of water.
Back in World War II there was a time where people had certain rationing programs for things such as fuel, sugar, and other such things. One had to have cards to buy what they needed. There was not an abundance, there was not a sufficient supply, so things were rationed. But the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient. The death of Jesus was efficacious. So much so that it is certain and sure to save all who come, and all for whom it was shed will come by the grace and mercy of God.
“He is able to save to the uttermost, them that come to God by Him.” (Hebrews 7:25)
There is no lack in the blood of Christ. There is no lack in the death of Christ. There is no lack in the sacrifice of Christ. All that you need is met in Him.
There was plenty of water.
Come on; everybody that is thirsty, drink, drink your fill.
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
The table is spread. Come just as you are. It is free no matter how sinful you are. The rock was smitten for thirsty people and Christ was smitten for sinners.
That water didn’t need anything to purify it; it was pure itself. It didn’t need any works of men to purify it. The Law cannot purify the water of life. It needed no purification. It didn’t require any work to pipe it to the people. People will say, “Well; the water is there and we are here but faith is the pipe, water baptism is the pipe, sacraments is the pipe, and church membership is the pipe.” These are false gospels (Galatians 1:8-9). God doesn’t need any pipes; the water is free. It is flowing free. It ran out in a wide stream. Anybody that wanted a drink, all they had to do was just drink.
His grace is sufficient. In Christ, we have “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1st Corinthians 1:30)
The fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in Him (Colossians 2:9) “and ye are complete in Him.” (Colossians 2:10) It is sufficient for all who desire it. There is no lack, there is no want, and there is no shortage in the power of Christ to save the chief of sinners. That is what Paul said; “He came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the chief.” (1st Timothy 1:15)
Sixth: The Scripture plainly declares; “that Rock followed them.”
That Rock was Christ and Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4, “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them:” The Lord Jesus Christ said of His people, (and all of this is a picture and type of our relationship with Him), “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5); “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20)
I am going to pitch my tent beside that Rock and that Rock will follow me “all the days of my life.” That is what David said in Psalm 23; “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalm 23:6)
Whenever, the people thirsted again. God told Moses, “Speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock.” (Numbers 20:8) Moses went out there to the rock and he got angry with the people. They were murmuring and complaining and he said, “Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10)
He drew back his staff and smote the rock. He smote it again and the water came out. The people drank. God spoke to Moses and said, “ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel.”
The first, God told Moses to smite the rock and he smote it and it gave forth water. This time God has said, “speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth to them water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock.” (Numbers 20:8) The rock did not have to be smitten again. But Moses smote it; “and the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” (Number 20:12).
What a joy to know that Christ never needs to be crucified again. He never needs to be smitten again. “For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
All we do is call on the name of the Lord Jesus. We do not crucify Him in the mass. We don’t crucify Him in the sacraments. We don’t put Him on the cross again; He has died, buried, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of God.
He said, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
That Rock was Christ!