Water from the Smitten Rock

Exodus 17:1-7

Our Experiencing Exodus comes to one of the most beautiful and prophetic pictures of salvation in the Bible. The background of this prophecy is painted in the colors of the desert—the brilliant rays of sun light up the canvas. Men, women, children and cattle fill the scene as they move towards a riverbed under the shadow of the cloud, which leads them. But no sparkling hues fill the wadi—it is dry! Off canvas— miles away—stands the Rock. The Israelites have reached the threshold of true religion—at the point where the thirsty soul’s hope rests solely upon the Rock in a dry and desolate land.

Here God impresses one’s imagination with the wonder of it all—with literal history as well as the pictorial illustration of deeper spiritual truth.

Israel is woefully imperfect. The things that happen to them in the desert are examples and warnings to Christians not to be like them. Like Israel, you might be experiencing the well-worn lesson of human frailty and divine forbearance.

Israel is stuck between promise and fulfillment. The desert is no longer simply a place but a state of mind. The desert has become a place where it is difficult to sort out perceptions and reality. It seems like a God-forsaken place, but it is not.

If we did not know something of the evil of our own hearts, we would be at a loss to account for Israel’s insensitivity to all the LORD’S goodness, faithfulness, and mighty acts. From Israel’s experiences, we learn, among many other things, the tendency of the heart to distrust God.

God’s leading does not always move directly from oases to oases. His interests do not always coincide with those of people. One instance of trust and obedience does not bring the people of God to a plateau where trust and obedience is no longer a consideration. Those on the way are always moving from one occasion of trust and obedience to another.

The more we show faithfulness in our relational experience with the LORD, the more natural that response becomes, and in most cases crisis cease to be a test of any consequence.

Miraculously fed each day with manna, the Israelites are called upon once more to exhibit their confidence in God. The CRISIS-TEST of thirst and no water to drink is repeated by the LORD. Will they trust in the LORD with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding? Will they in all their ways acknowledge him, so He can make their paths straight?

Chapters 16 and 17 of Exodus raise two questions that spring up within and around us every day—“What shall we eat?” and “What shall we drink?” We do not find the people raising the third question—“What shall we wear?” Israel’s clothes and sandals never showed wear during the forty years in the desert.

As we come to Chapter 17, we discover that THE FIVE-FOLD PATTERN OF THE EXODUS EXPERIENCE is repeated again: Journey, Need, Grumbling, Intercession and Deliverance. For the second time Israel would fail God’s test of thirst and no water. Exodus 17:1—

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

According to Numbers 33:12-14, the Israelites rested at two stops before they reached Rephidim—

They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah. They left Dophkah and camped at Alush. They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink.

Significantly, Israel was TRAVELING FROM PLACE TO PLACE AS THE LORD COMMANDED. The Hebrew translated COMMANDED literally reads AT THE MOUTH OF YAHWEH. God in His wisdom had directed His people to move from the Desert of Sin (where they hungered but afterwards were satisfied) to Rephidim (where they thirsted). Once again, God led them into a place of crisis to be tested.

The Desert of Sin ends with Rephidim. The sandstone ceases and is replaced with porphyry and granite.

REPHIDIM means “rests” or “stays” or “resting places” It is identified as the large Wadi Refayid in southwest Sinai. They had hope to find water, but the wadi was already dry. Without water, this stop on the journey would be no resting place. Ironically, the Israelites feared it would become their permanent resting place if they died of thirst.

A total breakdown of trust is manifested in Exodus 17:2—

So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

The congregation had thirsted before and God had met their needs, but, like people today, they forgot God’s goodness. After all, if they were in the place of God’s leading, it was His responsibility to take care of them.

Is it the fear of death or the painful delay of rescue, the discomfort and misery of their condition that makes these people contentious? These are symptoms, not the cause! Failure to TRUST the LORD is the root problem.

What does it mean to TEST GOD? Testing has to do with putting God to the proof—that is, seeking a way in which God can be coerced to act or show Himself. It is to set God up, to try to force God’s hand in order thereby to determine concretely whether God is present or not. The nature of Israel’s testing of God is revealed in Exodus 17:7—

Because they tested the LORD saying, “is the LORD among us or not.

In other words, if we are to believe that God is present, then God must show us in a concrete way by making water materialize. Testing God is to make one’s belief in Him contingent upon some demonstration. It is, in essence, an attempt to turn FAITH INTO SIGHT.

An especially clear instance of this occurred with Devil’s temptation of Jesus to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple. After all, if He jumped, God would not allow Him to fall to His death and everyone would recognize Him. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

This approach to God can be found among Christians, who say, “I will not take special precautions in the use of automobiles or guns or on dangerous ventures. God will take care of me. I will not take out insurance, God is my insurance policy.” Such attitudes set God up for a test, holding God hostage, determining just how God is to show His power. It places God in the role of servant, at the call of one in any difficulty.

Besides violating the holiness of God, it endangers the understanding of faith. It leads to such attitudes as God did not heal or protect you, because you did not have enough faith. If you had, God would have acted. This puts God to the test by demonstrating an inappropriate confidence that God will in fact intervene at the bidding of one who has faith.

From Numbers 14:22, we learn that the people had tested God ten times, severely testing His patience. Instead of submitting to the TESTS God was conducting for them, Israel began to TEST the LORD! We always test the LORD when we distrust His goodness and providential care of us and grumble against Him and/or His leaders.

Man always seems come up with an excuse for his attitudes and actions. Israel is not exception. Exodus 17:3—

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

For the third time in four complaints, the grumblers wonder whether Moses intends to kill them, stressing the children and the cattle this time.

Often when we reach some particularly hard place, when the streams of comfort are dried up, we blame ourselves, our friends, our brethren, the Devil. But the first thing to realize is every circumstance and situation where faith is tested, is, that the LORD Himself has brought us there! If this is the case, then it should not be difficult for us to trust Him to sustain us while we remain there. Using the desert experiences as examples, Paul makes this application in 1 Corinthians 10:13—

No temptation/trial/test has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted/tried/tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted/tried/tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

One of Moses’ most characteristic and praiseworthy traits was that He took his difficulties to the LORD when tested. He sounds like a parent in need of counseling in Exodus 17:4—

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

By turning to the LORD and asking for guidance, Moses illustrates what the trusting Christian does in the hour of trial. James 1:5 promises—

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Unfortunately, God’s people are prone to grumbling at the first hint of adversity no matter how abundant and spectacular may be the evidence of His power and presence.

In his exasperation, Moses pled, “What am I to do with these people?” THESE PEOPLE indicates an undertone of alienation and distance. They have become an angry mob ready to stone Moses. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses predicts that coming Prophet (Christ) will be like him—

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

In other words, the life and things that happen to Moses parallels Christ as a type. Let’s see the parallel here. We read in John 7:37—

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

Then we read in John 8:59—

At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Fulfilling the type, fifteen hundred years later, another angry mob of Israelites repeat the OT event. How ironic—Jesus is the One who is able to quench their spiritual thirst and save their souls, but the mob finally succeeds with their cries of “Crucify Him!” How woefully blind and depraved is mankind!

How ignorant and senseless people can be! They often act like brute beasts. In this dry and barren desert, Moses is the one who is able to intercede on behalf of the people with the LORD to obtain water for the quenching their physical thirst. Blinded by unbelief and anger, they would rather stone Moses, the one who could save their lives.

Yet, each grumbling brings a fresh display of GOD’S AMAZING GRACE. Exodus 17:5-6—

The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Because God is not a Judge, but a Father to Israel, the grumblings of His people do not prevent Him from showing them steadfast-loving-kindness, even though they do not deserve it. That’s GRACE!

The LORD quickly responds to Moses’ prayer. He does not advise Moses, however, what to do with the complaining people. Instead, He gives directions on how to find water.

With some of the elders as witness, Moses is to take his trusty staff and go father down the dry wadi to HOREB. There, where the cloud stands, the Shekinah Glory of God’s own presence and ever-present source of power, Moses is to STRIKE THE ROCK as he had struck the Nile River with his staff!

Striking the Nile signaled an interruption of Egypt’s water supply, whereas the striking the Rock would commence the flow of life-giving waters for Israel. Striking was judgment for the Egypt, but deliverance for Israel. To kill and to make alive are the functions of the LORD, who declares in Deuteronomy 32:39—

See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.

Asap tells how God provided water in the desert for two and one-half million people in Psalm 78:15-16, 20—

He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas; he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers . . . When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly.

Moses and the elders had made their way down the wadi to the foot of Mt. Sinai while the people remained at Rephidim. The water from the Rock at Horeb flowed down to the wadi to the people. Hence, only the elders witnessed this wonderful miracle. The nation of Israel would have to believe their eyewitness report of the life-giving miracle performed by Moses.

And such would be the case, with the resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It would be Christ’s disciples who would explain the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

HOREB means DESERT or DESOLATION. It is an alternate name for MT. SINAI. This anticipates the events at Mt. Sinai when the Law is given. The giving of WATER and LAW are linked. Obedience to the Law in the midst of desert brings order into chaos. The gift of the water of life comes from the same source as the gift of the Law.

Rephidim (Resting Place) is given new names at the end of Exodus 17:6—

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

MASSAH means TESTING and MERIBAH means QUARRELING. These names stand as memorial of the deep-seated unbelief in the human heart.

In a year or less, the Israelites had witnessed ten plagues, the Fiery-Cloud, the opening and shutting of the Red Sea, the miraculous sweetening of the bitter water, and sending of quail and manna from heaven, yet their real question came down to this: IS THE LORD AMONG US OR NOT?

That question marks the unbelief of the Jews in Jesus’ day. They were given more than amble proof of Christ’s person that He was IMMANUEL—GOD WITH US—by His miracles of healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes, and raising the dead. Yet, we read in Matthew 12:38-41—

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

Privilege is one thing—acceptance is quite another! And it shall be more tolerable at last for Sodom and Gomorrah than for nations, churches, and people, who were content to resemble soil that drinks in the rain that comes upon it, and yet remain unfruitful.

Sad to say the miracles, which met each need of the Israelites as it, arose failed to produce faith. Some claim they would believe in God if they would see a miracle! Scripture rarely supports that claim. In fact, miracles often become God’s indictments against people who refuse to believe in the light of overwhelming evidence.

As soon as unbelief and discontent estranged the Jews from Christ, He would not perform His miracles, nor do many mighty works among the unbelieving. Like Moses with the elders, Jesus performed miracles in the presence of His disciples instead of before unbelieving Israelites.

The smitten Rock is a type of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 10:4—

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Here we have the refreshing stream gushing from the smitten Rock—the water is a beautiful type of the Spirit given because of Christ’s accomplished sacrifice.

In Exodus 16, we have a type of Christ coming down from heaven to give life to the world. In Chapter 17, we have a type of the Holy Spirit being sent forth because of Christ’s finished work. Incarnation on Christmas followed by Sacrifice on Good Friday and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost are the prophecies prefigured in these two chapters.

THEY DRANK FROM THE SPIRITUAL ROCK THAT ACCOMPANIED THEM. But who could drink till the Rock was smitten? Israel might have gazed on that Rock and died of thirst while gazing, but until smitten by the staff, it could yield not refreshment. This is plain enough. Christ is Rock from which counsels of God’s Spirit of love, mercy and blessing flow to man.

The true Rock has been smitten and the refreshing stream has issued forth, so that thirsty souls may drink. Jesus said in John 4:14—

But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The streams of grace were designed to gush forth from the smitten Rock. It was when the Rock of Ages was cleft by the hand of the Heavenly Father that the floodgates of eternal love were thrown wide open, and perishing sinners invited to drink abundantly, drink deeply, and drink freely. God’s gift of salvation that includes forgiveness, righteousness and the Holy Spirit is the result of the Son’s accomplished work on the Cross.

As the MANNA was a type of Christ, the stream of living water gushing from the Smitten Rock typifies the Holy Spirit. Jesus used this type for the Holy Spirit in John 7:37-39—

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Water often typifies the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. Remember I said that WATER and LAW are linked at Horeb—Mt. Sinai. Historically, the giving of the Law at Sinai establishes the OLD COVENANT. Prophetically, the giving of water pictures the NEW COVENANT.

God is standing ON the Rock at Horeb. The NIV translates the preposition as BEFORE in Exodus 17:6. I think ON is better in light of Isaiah 53:4-5, which tells us who really smote the One that THE ROCK typifies—

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah’s words WE ARE HEALED remind us of the bitter water of Marah in Exodus 16:24-25—

So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood [a tree]. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

The bitter water made sweet by the tree foreshadowed what 1 Peter 2:24 declares about Christ—

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

At Marah, God revealed Himself as Yahweh-Rapha—“I am the LORD, who heals you.” With these two miraculous provisions of water for Israel, the LORD pictures our great salvation in Christ.

Christ the Rock was smitten with a piece of wood (on the tree) so that streams of living water (the Holy Spirit) could flow into our life so we might enjoy abundant life and live forever.

Chapters 16 and 17 of Exodus each begin with the Hebrew WAW CONSECUTIVE, translated “AND” in English. The events of the Chapters 15, 16 and 17 are connected. Passages like Nehemiah 9:15 maintain the link—

In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

The smitten Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit assure the Christian of possession of heaven!

Jesus reassures us in John 6:35—

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

And in Matthew 5:6—

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The other side of blessing is cursing. What will happen to Israel when they reject THE ROCK is predicted in Deuteronomy 32:15—

Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior.

JESHURUN means THE UPRIGHT ONE, which is ISRAEL. Moses figuratively predicts that Israel will reject THE ROCK who gives salvation after growing fat on affluence. The horrible outcome of rejection THE ROCK is described in the rest of Deuteronomy 32. Look at Deuteronomy 32:18-20—

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. “I will hide my face from them,” he said, “and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.

Who is THE ROCK Israel rejected? Jesus Christ! How do we know that? Well, Paul quotes part of verse 21 in Romans 10:19, tying Moses’ prediction to Israel’s rejection of Christ. Hebrews 10:30 quotes part of verses 35-36 as a warning against rejecting the Son of God. In addition, the curses of this chapter began to be literally fulfilled after Israel rejected Christ, when the Romans in A.D. 70 destroyed Jerusalem.

Last Sunday we saw that God’s purpose in the giving Manna was to teach Israel that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Jesus takes that fundamental truth of the manna and combines it with the Rock at the end of the Sermon on the Mount—

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Eat and Drink! Kick and Reject!—Live or do not live on every word that comes from His mouth!

The nation of Israel is living proof that one’s life will come crashing down when the Manna from Heaven and the Rock are rejected! The LORD laments over foolish Israel in Deuteronomy 32:28-29—

They are a nation without sense; there is no discernment in them. If only they were wise and would understand this and discern what their end will be!

Are you Wise or Foolish?

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