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Christ the Smitten Rock
“And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? 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? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me. 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. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7)
How bitter that trial was that Israel experienced at Marah! Marah’s bitter waters mocked their parched lips. But sweet relief was near. The Lord showed Moses a tree, which he cast into the waters. As soon as he cast that tree into Marah’s bitter waters, the bitter was made sweet, and vexation was turned into joy. Painful as that trial was, it was but the prelude to more painful and more bitter trials to follow.
In Exodus 17, we find the congregation of the Lord in Rephidim. They are in the depths of the desert. There are no streams of water, no wells, no ponds, just dry, barren desert. They thirst and search for water; but their search is in vain. There is nothing before them but dry sand. As it was with Israel in the wilderness, so it is for God’s elect in this world. — Troubles die only to live again.
This is the common experience of Zion’s pilgrims. Darkness flees as the sun rises; but soon the darkness returns. Afflictions clear away; but they soon return, and return with greater heaviness. — Joseph escapes the pit, and then the dungeon binds him fast. — David, safe from Adullam’s cave, must seek a refuge in Engedi’s wilds. — Troops of lusts we thought had been long ago conquered by grace, with mustered force will assail us again when least expected. The weeds of evil, long ago, plucked up, rear their noxious heads over and over again. — Satan lays Abraham low in Egypt, and shoots an arrow from the same shaft in Gerar. You can be certain that the ebbing tide will roll in again tomorrow.
We must never dream of undisturbed rest in this world. Until we drop this flesh forever, we must live in this world in a ceaseless cycle of sorrow and temptation. But we must not despise the trials of divine providence, by which our heavenly Father teaches his children to trust him, by which our blessed Savior weans us of this world, by which he graciously endears himself to us. The chastening rod in our Father’s hand has a teaching voice. — “The LORD’S voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” (Micah 6:9). Spirt of God, give me grace to hear the rod.
It is by these trials that both the hidden vileness of our hearts and the vast riches of our Savior’s grace are made known to us. Is that not obvious here in Exodus 17? The hard murmurings of the chosen people betray the terrible bias of the human heart to that which is evil. Yet, against the black backdrop of Israel’s sin, the bright light of God’s goodness shines brightly and we see the golden glories of the Lord.
The people chide, and tempt their God. Moses seeks the open refuge of a mercy-seat. How precious is this spot! A gracious answer soon allays all fears, and soon supplies all need.
“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.” (vv. 5-6)
Moses did just as he was told; and as the leaders looked on, water gushed out. Let us draw near in reverence. The ground upon which we stand is holy ground. That Rock is Christ. That gash is his wounded side. Those streams are his abundant grace.
The Spirit of God declares plainly in 1st Corinthians 10:11 – “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples (types): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Be sure you get this. — It is impossible to understand the covenants, the promises, the worship, or the events of the Old Testament until you see their spiritual significance and spiritual fulfillment in Christ.
The children of Israel enjoyed many great blessings from God, which were typical of the blessings we receive in Christ. Having been delivered from the bondage of Egypt by the blood of the paschal lamb, which was a type of our redemption by Christ, the whole nation of Israel began a pilgrimage through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, the promised place of rest. Their journey through the wilderness to Canaan was a picture of the believer’s life in this world. This world is a wilderness. We are strangers and pilgrims in it, just passing through this land, pressing onward toward heaven, the promised land of rest in glory. Here we live by faith. We are fed, clothed, refreshed, and protected in our pilgrimage by the hand of God. Read 1st Corinthians 10:1-4. There the Apostle Paul, writing by divine inspiration, shows us some of the blessings the typical people enjoyed in their pilgrimage.
“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.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
At the beginning of the journey, they were all baptized (vv. 1-2). They were all fed with bread from heaven (v. 3). The manna that fell from heaven was, of course, a picture of Christ, the Bread of Life (John 6:31-58). And they were all refreshed with the same spiritual drink (v. 4). God gave them water from the Rock which Moses had smitten, just at the time when they were about to die of thirst. That water was to them the water of life, which represents the Holy Spirit, the Water of Life, that we who believe receive from Christ.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, 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. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)” (John 7:37-39)
Then Paul plainly tells us, “that Rock was Christ.” That Rock which was smitten by Moses, from which the life-giving water gushed out to save the children of Israel, was a typical picture, representation, and symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, the smitten Lamb of God from whom, in whom, with whom, and by whom we have eternal life. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Rock of Salvation, smitten by God, out of whom the Living Water of Life flows to perishing sinners.
First, I want you to see that the Rock itself is a clear type of the Lord Jesus Christ. “The Rock” is a title frequently given to the Lord Jesus, by which he identifies himself, and by which his people honor and worship him. In his song of praise to God Moses lamented the fact that Israel “forsook God who made him and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deuteronomy 32:15). David also sang praises to the Rock, saying, “The Lord is my Rock, and my Fortress, and my Delieverer: The God who is my Rock; in him will I trust: he is my Shield, and the Horn of my salvation, my High Tower, and my Refuge, my Savior; thou savest me from violence” (2 Samuel 22:2-3). The Psalmist admonishes us to sing to God our Rock. — “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1). And the prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of Christ in these words: “A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as a river of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great Rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). Then, while he was upon the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of himself and said, “Upon this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Rock is a type of Christ, our God and Savior. It symbolizes him beautifully.
The rock is a symbol of strength and stability. Bildad said to Job, “Shall the rock be removed out of his place?” (Job 18:4). This is a source of great joy and peace to the believing heart: The Rock upon which we are built cannot be shaken. The stormy floods of trials may come, and the chilling winds of temptation may beat violently against us, but the house that is built upon the Rock will stand (Matthew 7:25). Christ is our mighty Rock, strong and stable.
The rock is a mass of might. The billows beat against it in vain. The raging storm never disturbs its rest. It is fixed. There it stands. All the changing ages find it still unchanged. That Rock is Christ our God and Savior.
Another characteristic of the rock is durability. The rocks will outlast the storms of time. Waters will not wash them away. Mighty winds will not remove them from their foundations. Many a ship has been broken to pieces upon a rock, but the rock stands unchanged. Christ is our Rock, the unchanged, unchangeable, immutable, durable One (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). Christ is the mighty Rock. Either you will be built upon him or you will be destroyed by him.
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore, say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:42-44)
Strong and durable is our Rock, Christ Jesus. Mark his decrees. Eternal love arranged salvation’s scheme. The hand of sovereign grace drew the wise record of his wondrous kingdom. This chart of history was drawn, framed, and fixed forever by his omnipotent hand, in his omniscient mind, by his all-wise decree. To blind reason, chance may appear to rule, and man’s wild will may appear to hold the helm. But all things serve the counsels of his will. The falling sparrow and the tottering throne, the fading leaf and the declining empire, obey his fixed resolve. His purpose cannot be moved. He is a Rock.
The rock is also a symbol of elevation and exaltation. The mighty rock towers high above man. It is a landmark and symbol throughout that part of the country where it is situated. Some rocks are so high and steep that they cannot be scaled. Christ is our high, elevated, exalted Rock. His throne is in the heavens, where he is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. — “The name of the Lord is a high tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). Flee to this Rock, fall on him, hide in him, and you will find safety from the wrath of God, the assaults of men, the temptations of Satan, and the trials of life.
Remember, child of God, God is our Rock, and the high God our Redeemer (Psalm 61:1-4; 62:1-2; 78:35). The Rock is near. It is your one support, your only refuge. Be wise, and lay your every sin on him. The weight, indeed, would weigh down worlds. But he can bear all. He can bear all away.
Be wise, and cast your every care on him. Cares come rapidly and threaten to overwhelm. But let them waft you to the mercy-seat, where Christ waits to be gracious. In faith and prayer, roll them all on him. They cannot over-burden him. He is the Rock.
Second, I want you to see the typical significance of Moses being commanded of God to smite the Rock. In Exodus 17 the Holy Spirit gives us this vivid, typical picture of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. The children of Israel had journeyed from the wilderness of Sin and pitched their tents in Rephidim. Again, they murmured against God, because there was no water in that place. They refused to believe God in spite of all that he had done. They, like us, were ever prone to unbelief, ever doubting God, ever walking by sight and not by faith. Let us be warned. God killed them for their unbelief.
The Lord God told Moses to take his rod and smite the Rock, and from it the fountain of waters would be given. It is important to notice the connection between Exodus 16 and 17. In chapter 16 God sent manna from heaven. In chapter 17 God told Moses to smite the rock. The manna was a type of our Lord’s incarnation. The smitten rock was a picture of his crucifixion. The Lord Jesus Christ had to descend from heaven to earth, as the manna did, or he could not become the Bread of Life for his people. Then he had to be smitten in death by the rod of divine justice, or he could never have poured out the Water of Life upon us.
The Rock was smitten because of sin and for the sake of sinners. Israel murmured against God. They were ready to stone God’s servant. They refused to believe God’s Word, power, goodness, and faithfulness, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?” (v. 7). The rock was smitten for a rebellious, unbelieving people, a people who deserved no grace or favor from God. The parallel is clear — The Lord Jesus Christ was crucified because of sin, to put away sin (Hebrews 9:26; Romans 8:1-4). Had there been no sin, or had it been possible for sin to be put away by some other means, our Lord would not have been crucified. The Son of God was crucified for a rebellious, sinful people (Romans 5:6-10).
Christ came to save sinners. Christ died in the place of sinners. Christ shows mercy to sinners. If you want the Water of Life, come as a guilty, helpless sinner, and fall upon the smitten Savior.
The Rock was smitten by the rod of Moses. Moses’ rod was the symbol of God’s law, God’s justice, and God’s judgment. This is the rod which became a serpent, the sign of God’s curse. This is the rod which turned the Nile River into blood. This is the rod which delivered Israel across the Red Sea and drowned the armies of Pharaoh in the sea. The Lord Jesus Christ was smitten by the rod of God’s strict justice (Romans 3:24-26).
The water could not be given until the Rock was smitten. And God could not and would not save sinners, pouring upon us the Water of Life, until the sinner’s Substitute was smitten of God in justice. Moses must smite the Rock in all his full fury. Christ must be smitten by the law and justice of God in all the full fury of an angry God. The sinner’s Surety must satisfy God’s violated law, if the sinner is to go free. Therefore, when Christ was made sin for us, justice demanded his death. And now that Christ has been slain for sinners, it is a righteous and just thing for God to forgive sinners and open to us the Fountain of Life (Zechariah 13:1; 1 John 1:9).
The Rock was smitten by the will, decree, and purpose of God. God told Moses when to smite the Rock, where to smite the Rock, how to smite the Rock, and what the result of smiting the Rock would be. Even so, the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and slain for sinners by God himself, according to the will, purpose, and decree of God (Acts 2:23; Isaiah 53:10-12).
God set the time of his Son’s death (Romans 5:6). God ordained the means of his Son’s death (Galatians 3:13). God determined the place of his Son’s death. God himself brought to pass the death of his beloved Son. Christ voluntarily gave his life. God the Father slew his Son. God determined and secured the results of his Son’s death as the sinner’s Substitute. Nothing was left to chance.
Here is something even more astounding. — God himself was represented in the Rock. The Lord said to Moses, “I will stand before thee upon the Rock in Horeb; and thou shall smite the Rock” (v. 6). In smiting the Rock, Moses was smiting God himself. Never let it be forgotten that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Substitute, is himself God (Acts 20:28; 1 John 3:16). In order to redeem our souls, God was forsaken by God! God was wounded by God! God was slain by God!
“Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When God the mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.”
The rock was smitten for the benefit of a particular people. The rock was smitten specifically for the people of Israel, “that the people may drink” (v. 6). There was no water from this rock for the Amalikites, the Ammorites, or the Moabites. The rock was smitten for the Israelites. The water flowed out for the Israelites. And the Israelites were saved by the water.
Even so, the Lord Jesus Christ 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. God says, “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” And all of God’s elect receive the benefits of his death. Christ died particularly and only for his own elect. Christ effectually accomplished redemption for his elect, all his elect, and none but his elect.
The sufferings of the bleeding Lamb of God upon the cursed tree are the brightness and the glory of our Bible. The cross erects its heaven-high head throughout the Scriptures. A bruised God-man bleeds thereon. In his heart, the sword of justice is buried to its very hilt forever! Jehovah’s own fellow has exhausted Jehovah’s wrath.
Behold the clefts of the smitten Rock. They are made for sinners, to hide offenders from pursuing justice. Flee to them. Enter in. Hide yourself, your soul, your sins, in those deep wounds. Secreted there, you are safe, safe from all foes, safe for all ages. No curse can touch you. No wrath can find you. Satan cannot reach you. Guilt cannot ruin you. The pierced side is a God-wrought and a God-strong refuge.
Water from the Rock
Third, from the smitten Rock water flowed out to Israel. The water is a picture of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the crucified Christ. Just as the water poured out of the rock, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon chosen sinners as the Spirit of Life from the crucified, risen, exalted Christ (John 7:37-38; Galatians 3:13-14).
The water flowed out of the rock in fulfillment of God’s covenant. — “He opened the Rock, and the waters gushed out: they ran in the dry places like a river. For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant” (Psalm 105:41-42). So it is that the Holy Spirit comes to God’s elect giving us eternal life in Christ, “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2). This is the fulfillment of God’s covenant. — “I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:27).
All the children of Israel drank the water that gushed out of the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4). Even so, all of God’s elect receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the new birth, all God’s elect receive the Spirit of God, the Water of Life (Galatians 4:6). — “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
This water gushed out of the Rock upon the children of Israel, just when they were ready to die of thirst. When they could find no other water to quench their thirst, God gave his people water to drink. That is the way our Lord works. Christ refreshes the souls of poor sinners who come to him, just when they are ready to perish, when they can find no help, comfort, or refreshing anywhere else. When a man is brought to the place that he sees that without Christ he must perish, when his soul begins to thirst for him, the water of Life will gush out from the wounded Christ to his poor soul.
That water which gushed out of the Rock could not be dried up. Benjamin Keach said, “The water out of the rock followed the children of Israel, through the wilderness, over all hills and valleys, unto Canaan. All the dryness of that dry and barren desert could not dry it up. So, the waters of life streaming from Christ, that sacred Rock, follow the true Israel of God, quite through the wilderness of this world, until they come to the heavenly Canaan. Yea, all the persecutions and temptations in the world cannot dry it up.”
Fourth, we must not leave this picture of Christ our smitten Rock, without briefly remembering the second striking of the rock. It is recorded in Numbers 20:7-13.
“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 shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so, thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 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. This is the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.”
This incident took place 40 years later. Everything here is a contrast to what happened in Exodus 17. In Exodus 17 the rock pictured Christ on the cross. Here the Rock pictures Christ exalted. The word used for “rock” in Numbers 20:8 means “an elevated rock.” In Exodus 17 Moses was told to strike the Rock. Here God tells him to speak to the Rock. In Exodus 17 Moses was told to use his own rod, the rod of judgment. Here God told him to take Aaron’s rod, the rod of blessing (Numbers 17:10). It seems obvious that the Holy Spirit tells us of this second striking of the rock to teach us three lessons.
1. Our Lord’s one sacrifice for sin is sufficient and effectual. The rock must not be smitten the second time, but only spoken to. It is written, “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” (Romans 6:9, 10). — “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. …Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26, 28). Christ made one sacrifice for sin. Our Lord’s one sacrifice for sin is all that God requires and all that God will accept for sin’s atonement. To offer God any other sacrifice, either in the place of Christ or in addition to Christ, is to make the blood of Christ of no effect.
2. God will slay anyone who brings any other sacrifice, just as he killed Moses for striking the Rock the second time. Christ’s one sacrifice is sufficient. All the streams of salvation flow to us as guilty sinners through the merits of accomplished redemption.
3. Sinners smitten by the rod of God, the host of God’s elect, having been crucified with Christ at Calvary, shall never be punished again for sin.
“Payment God cannot twice demand,
First, at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then, again, at mine!”
The rod of Moses, the rod of judgment was worn out on the back of Christ. Now, the great High Priest in heaven holds out the rod of Aaron, the rod of blessing. The only thing required to receive the Water of Life from the Smitten Rock is faith in Christ. And the word of faith, by which sinners speak to the Rock and obtain the Water of Life is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner.”
In giving the Water from the Rock, God acted in marvelous grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And it was grace acting in righteousness. Not until the Rock was smitten did the waters flow out to perishing men. Not until Christ, the Son of God was smitten of God could the grace of God flow out to sinners such as we are.
What is the response of your heart to this amazing, abundant grace of God? I am sure every believing heart must swell with gratitude for Christ, the Smitten Rock, and say, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” Come, come thirsty soul. Come, drink of the water of life freely. Drink often. Drink abundantly. And thirst no more.