Feasting with God #52
Striking the Rock of the Lord
Text: Numbers 20:10-13
10Then 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?” 11And 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. 12And 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.” 13These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.
This marks the moment when Moses himself lost the right to enter into the Promised Land. But what exactly happened?
Israel had been wandering a long time. Over and over and over again they grumbled and accused Moses of leading them astray. Even that great prophet had a limit to his patience, and now it was drawn quite thin. He’d had enough. God told him what to do in this instance: specifically, “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water” (Num. 20:8). But the spiritual leader of Israel was so emotionally worked up that, instead of speaking to the rock, ye shouted at the people: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” and he “struck the rock with his staff twice.”
A similar occasion happened some time previously. The people needed drink, and God commanded Moses to strike a rock (“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,” Exodus 17:6), out of which poured water for all the Israelites. Paul exposes the meaning of this rock: “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).
What Paul means is that this miraculous water-bearing rock was a sacrament—a holy thing given by God to grant his grace and holiness to the people. It reminds us of two New Testament sacraments: The first is the sacrament of water, the “washing of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5), baptism. Just as water poured out of a rock for the Israelites, bringing with it God’s grace, so when we were baptized, water poured over us and brought God’s grace upon us. The second is the sacrament which includes drinking, as Jesus said, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28). Just as the Israelites drank the liquid that came from the side of the rock (which was Christ), so we drink the blood that came from Jesus’ side on the cross in the Lord’s Supper.
When Jesus instituted his Supper, he gave it so that his disciples would take the blessings of his death: Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world and to bring forgiveness to all. He told his disciples, therefore, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). From that moment on, whenever the Supper was celebrated in the way Jesus instituted it, the very blood he shed on the cross and the very body born of Mary was present, with the forgiveness and grace he earned. Just like Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). In short, Jesus instituted his Supper and sealed it with the violent action of his death, and thereafter all that was needed to receive the same blessings are the words to accompany the materials.
This is what Moses should have understood regarding the rock in the wilderness. That rock foreshadowed the blessings that would come from Christ Jesus. Therefore when it was first given to the people, it was accompanied by the violent action of the staff striking its side. But the second time, God wanted his people to know that he had already provided for them, and hereafter his providence was accompanied only by the words. This principle was recorded later by Moses: “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).
But Moses sought to impress the people, to wow them, to shock them into obedience, so he resacrificed the rock, deciding that God’s words weren’t enough. He asked the people, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” as though it were an act that he, their spiritual leader, were to perform, not an act that God performed through him.
This occasion was something God intended as an act of grace, for although the people were rebellious and quarreling, he wished to provide for them. Moses, as spiritual leader, ought to have performed the duty of dimply enacting God’s wishes for the people. Instead, he took it upon himself to add to it. Let this never be so among us. Instead, let us take God at his word, and realize that his Word is powerful. Specifically, his Word is powerful to save: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
Lord, lead us ever to trust in you, and never in our own works. Even though our patience may be running thin, even though we may wish to see action and immediate answer to our prayers, guide us to see that the power of salvation we receive is from you and your Word. Lead us to see this Word for the great blessing that it is, and give us thankful hearts that appreciate this gift; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.