The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 4: The Rock from which
A Bible Study Series based on “The Christ in the Book of
Numbers” by Shen Chuan Chen
After the Israelites departed from
Egypt and entered the arid and inhospitable environment of the wilderness, the
matter of finding water became an immediate and recurring concern.
Exodus 15:22–26 records their
first experience of a water shortage in the Wilderness of Shur. Having endured
three days of thirst after crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites came to the
waters of Marah, which were found to be bitter and undrinkable. At this point,
tempers flared and the people complained against Moses. After he cried out for
help, God instructed him to cut down a tree and cast it into the waters.
Miraculously, the waters turned sweet.
Rock at Rephidim
The second incident is recorded in
Exodus 17:1–7. After leaving the Wilderness of Sin, the Israelites arrived in
Rephidim where they contended again with Moses. However, this time, the people
felt so angry and desperate, they were ready to stone their leader (Ex 17:4).
At this point, God told Moses to strike the rock to make it issue water.
Rock at Meribah
Now, after more than thirty years
had passed, history appeared to repeat itself. The people came to the
Wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh (Num 20:1), where Miriam died and was
buried. When the congregation found they had no water to drink, they gathered
against an ageing Moses and Aaron to vent their anger. The complaints were
reminiscent of the early days: the unfairness of apparently being forced to
leave Egypt and being left to perish in the wilderness—a place devoid of grain,
figs, vines, pomegranates and water (Num 20:3–5; cf. 11:1–5).
As the situation worsened, God told
Moses, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together.
Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you
shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation
and their animals” (Num 20:8).
At this point, Moses disobeyed
God’s command. Still raw from the people’s attack, he railed against them and
struck the rock twice with his rod (Num 20:7–13). By God’s mercy, the rock
yielded water, but it did not mean that all was well. On the contrary, God
determined that Moses and Aaron had sinned against Him and needed to be
punished. The outcome was severe: God forbade them from entering the promised
From a human perspective, God’s
punishment seems disproportionate and even cruel. We are mindful that Moses had
been a constant and faithful servant over the years, taking care of God’s
household. Besides, both he and Aaron had to endure continual provocation from
their brethren. Was it really fair, then, that God placed the blame solely upon
their shoulders and did not even give them a chance to present their case?
However, when we view the incident from God’s perspective, we realize the
seriousness of Moses and Aaron’s sin: as leaders, they failed to believe in
God’s word and to honor Him before the Israelites (Num 20:12). For that reason
God could not overlook the matter.
Furthermore, from an allegorical
perspective, Moses and Aaron represented the two aspects of the Old Testament
order: the Law and the priestly system, respectively. It is noteworthy that
both men stopped short of entering Canaan, the land of rest prepared by God
(Josh 22:4). In the New Testament Scripture, we learn the significance behind
this point, which is that no one could be made perfect or saved through
obedience to the Law, including the offering of sacrifices (Acts 13:39; Heb
10:1). It was only through the guidance of the next generation’s leader,
Joshua—a type of Christ—that one could enter into God’s rest.
Finally, there is another
teaching, which we will expound later in this chapter, namely that the rock in
the wilderness typifies Christ (1 Cor 10:4). For this reason, Moses should
never have struck the rock a second time at Meribah, for this would signify the
re-crucifixion of Christ (Heb 6:6).
The apostle Paul was greatly
gifted in interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. In his epistle to the
church in Corinth, (1 Cor 10:1–4), Paul pointed out that the Israelites had
been “under the cloud”—that is, led by the pillar of cloud throughout their
journey, and they had “passed through the sea”—meaning they had crossed the Red
These events prefigured the grace
for Christians in the New Testament era, namely their right to receive water
baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Just as the chosen people were
baptized into Moses, so Christians would be baptized into Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Paul explained that, in a spiritual sense, the Rock that followed
the Israelites and from which water flowed was Jesus. Just as the Rock issued
water for the people to drink in the wilderness, so Christ would shed His
precious blood for the salvation of mankind.
ROCK IN THE WILDERNESS
We can imagine that God, through
His mighty power, could have provided His people with water in any way He
wished, perhaps by commanding water to appear from the ground. Yet, His will
was for Moses to strike the rock at Rephidim and to issue a command at Meribah.
This aspect of God’s plan reveals an important prefiguration concerning Christ
and also gives us a number of teachings.
the Rock at Rephidim
The wilderness in which the
Israelites sojourned was a challenging and inhospitable place. Yet, it was in
such an environment that God chose to manifest His power, glory and
sovereignty. Indeed, not long after leaving Egypt, when the people camped at
Rephidim, God told Moses to strike the rock so that it would give water (Ex
17:1–7). Whilst there were other rocks in the wilderness, only this rock at
Horeb (Ex 17:6) provided life-giving water because Moses obeyed God’s command.
For Christians, this event is
significant because the Bible explains that the rock in the wilderness is
Christ (1 Cor 10:4). Just as water flowed from the rock when it was struck, so
a fountain opened up from the body of Christ when He was pierced (Jn 19:34).
This fountain became a source of renewal and life for believers. Consequently
the church has been redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus, and the
members are able to receive life when they partake of His blood through the
Holy Communion (1 Cor 11:25–26; Jn 6:53–56).
Although these truths were
prefigured in the time of Moses and Aaron, their meaning was hidden. It was not
until the New Testament that Jesus and the apostle Paul revealed them to the
During the forty-year wilderness
journey, God’s providential care was evident through the manna that descended
with the dew and the presence of the spiritual rock that accompanied the people
(1 Cor 10:4). Indeed, the chosen people did not lack any necessities, and their
lives were preserved. Unfortunately, they did not praise or give thanks to
God—their gratefulness seemed to have disappeared after the crossing of the Red
Sea (Ex 15:1–21). Instead, their hearts were often filled with discontentment.
to the Rock at Meribah
When the second and third
generation Israelites arrived at the Wilderness of Sin, the congregation
contended once again with the two leaders over lack of water. On this occasion,
God told Moses, “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly
together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water;
thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the
congregation and their animals” (Num 20:8).
However, Moses, being extremely
provoked by the people, lifted his rod and struck the rock twice. Immediately,
the Lord rebuked Moses and Aaron: “ ‘Because you did not believe Me, to hallow
Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this
congregation into the land which I have given them’ ” (Num 20:12). From these
words, we understand that failing to obey God’s command equates to “not
believing” and “not trusting [Him] enough to honor [Him] as holy”.
Wrath of God against Moses
What was the nature of Moses and
Aaron’s sin? The Bible indicates that they were guilty on a number of counts:
being arrogant (Num 20:10); striking the rock twice (Num 20:11); failing to
believe in the word of God (Num 20:12); rebelling against His command (Num
27:14); not hallowing Him (Num 20:12); and speaking rashly and angrily (Ps
106:32–33). Summing up, the sins fall into three categories: disbelieving God,
disrespecting Him and disobeying Him.
In light of this, Moses and Aaron
did not commit one small mistake; they committed three major ones. Bearing in
mind that God stopped one generation of Israelites from entering Canaan for
their acts of disbelief and disobedience (Num 14:20–37), we are left in no
doubt of His just nature. Therefore, even though Moses rendered forty years of
faithful stewardship and endured his brethren to the point of unsurpassed
humility (Num 12:3), God had no option but to punish him and Aaron for their
sins, however painful it was on both sides. God is impartial and will deal with
each person fairly, be it an ordinary believer or a gifted and trusted servant.
A psalmist in the Old Testament
looked back upon this historical incident and commented thus: “They angered Him
also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses on account of them;
because they rebelled against His Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his
lips” (Ps 106:32–33). He saw the failing of Moses as one of anger stemming from
provocation, a matter for which he had to pay a high price. The psalmist wrote
that “it went ill with Moses”, meaning that he was excluded from the promised
The moral teaching is that the
mistakes we make in our lives, such as errors of speech, have the potential to
cause irrevocable damage; therefore we must be careful. Elder James says:
Therefore, my beloved brethren,
let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of
man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all
filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted
word, which is able to save your souls.
The lesson from Meribah, that even
the greatest and most devout of God’s servants can exhibit moments of weakness,
serves a sober warning to us all.
to Strike the Rock Again
It was God’s will for Moses to
give a verbal command to the rock at Meribah. Unfortunately, Moses struck the
rock, thereby incurring the wrath of God. Another lesson is that salvation is
achieved through the one time sacrifice of Jesus. Since the rock represents
Christ (1 Cor 10:4) and striking the rock signifies His suffering—specifically,
His being nailed to the cross to fulfill salvation for mankind—we cannot expect
Christ to suffer a second time. For this reason, God did not instruct Moses to
strike the rock on the second occasion at Meribah.
Paul writes: “[K]nowing that
Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has
dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but
the life that He lives, He lives to God” (Rom 6:9–10). Peter says, “For Christ
also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to
God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Pet
3:18). The author of Hebrews also says, “By that will we have been sanctified
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). It
was God’s will to reveal these prefigurative meanings in the wilderness, but
Moses failed to do his part.
For Christians, the incident at
Meribah warns us not to continue in sin, because if we do, we put Christ to
shame and crucify Him a second time. Jesus died to remove our unrighteousness,
but this could only happen once. The author of Hebrews also warns that if those
who have tasted the heavenly gift fall away, they crucify Christ again (Heb
It would be tragic if, after
believing in the Savior and being washed clean from the filth of the world, we
fail to treasure His salvation grace. In such a case, our end would be worse
than our beginning (2 Pet 2:20). It is vital, then, that we do not
misunderstand that being saved through baptism into Christ equates to being
saved forever; we still have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling
(Phil 2:12). In addition, we must take care never to slacken in our faith (Rom
12:11; Heb 6:11–12), lest we forfeit our right to salvation.
Paul teaches us that Jesus is the
Rock from which water flows. We must therefore be careful not to be like Moses
and Aaron who uttered rash words and disobeyed God by striking the rock a
second time. After receiving the Lord’s salvation grace, we must live obedient
and godly lives and be diligent to serve Him, so that we do not crucify Him