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The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 4: The Rock from which Water Flowed
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The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 4: The Rock from which Water Flowed

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.

1.1The 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.

1.2The 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 land.


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 Sea.

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.


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.

3.1Strike 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 believers.

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.

3.2Speak 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”.

3.3The 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 land.

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.

(Jas 1:19–21)

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.

3.4Not 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 6:4–6).

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 again.

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Author: Shen Chuan Chen