Meditations On The Messiah - Messaih The Rock

by Ray Hawkins


Is God a petty tyrant? Does He become vindictive at a whim? If something is beyond His wishes, does He explode? On a superficial level we could be forgiven for thinking these things when we read what God did to Moses as recorded in Numbers 20.

It has been a long hard day for Moses as he tried to handle the second generation of escapees from Egyptian bondage. Among other problems the failure of their water supply caused a real furore. This made the community of wanderers question yet again the wisdom of God in delivering them from the land of grief and what they remembered as the place of food.

Once again Moses and Aaron went to the Lord and sought His wisdom and grace. Once again the water issue was to be resolved from the resources of God -- in a rock. Yet the outcome of the event was fatal for Moses. He was prevented from entering the Promised Land because he smote the rock instead of speaking to it as God instructed him.

It may have been a slight oversight on his part, caused by anger and frustration; it may have been an act of arrogance; but did "the punishment fit the crime"?

By a merely superficial reading of that section of Scripture we could construct a picture of God as being harsh and unreasonable. So we need to search out some other facets of the Word of God to see why Moses received such a harsh verdict.

Unless we realize the symbolism or typology inherent in the rock episode, God might be dimished in our estimation.

The rock in the wilderness has to be seen as a shadow both of the Eternal and His Messiah. Moses was well aware of this implication for he wrote about it in his great psalm that he rehearsed before the first generation (Deuteronomy 32:1-4):

"Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;

Hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

Let my teaching fall like rain

And my words descend like dew,

Like showers on new grass,

Like abundant rain on tender plants.

I will proclaim the Name of the Lord.

O praise the greatness of our God!

He is the Rock, His works are perfect,

And all His ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

Upright and just is He!"

Moses proclaims the Name of Jehovah and speaks of Him as the Rock. Here is an awesome insight into the Name and Nature of the Eternal. He is the Rock! How appropriate the imagery becomes when we recall the situation and experience undergirding the title.

From the plains and desert of Egypt had come the redeemed of the Lord. They had come into the realm of mountains and precipices for the first time. There at the base of Mount Sinai they had witnessed the manifestation of the God of the Covenant on the mountain top. We have a graphic account of the events that took place that were to imprint themselves on the collective mind of the nation for ever (Exodus 19). Here the Lord is known in thunder, lightning, deep darkness and in association with the Rock.

The encounter of Moses with God IN the rock for the forty days would have further enhanced that concept in his mind. Moses knew the depth of meaning locked in the term 'rock'. There is a sense of security, even of eternity, by comparison with the shifting sands through which the nation had travelled.

But why was Moses denied entrance to the Land of Promise?

To understand that we will need to jump the centuries to Isaiah's time and then in that knowledge return to the time of Moses. Isaiah seems to have been captivated by the concept of God the Rock. The prophet uses the term on a number of occasions, some not as clearly spelt out in some English translations. God is called the Rock of Ages (26:4) and the Rock of Israel (30:29). He is compared with other gods: "Is there a god (eloah) beside Me? Yes, there is no Rock" (44:8) -- all these occasions the word tzur , rock, being the word employed in the Hebrew.

And we remember the psalmist and king, David, who not only echoed the words of Moses but who also knew the Lord personally. Some of his psalms abound with the thought of God as refuge, fortress, strength and security, often wrung out of his experiences during his life. In a sense the cave at Adullam is but a physical expression of that overshadowing protection that God had for His servant.

"The Lord is myRock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my Rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my Saviour ..." (II Samuel 22:2,3). "The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Saviour!" (II Samuel 22:47). Also Psalm 18:2, 31:3, 42:9 and 71:3.

It can be appreciated by this quick jump across the centuries that the concept of God being the Rock went deep. It helps us to understand more fully what was being foreshadowed in the incident of Moses; confrontation with the rock in the wilderness.

The first occasion of his being instructed by God to provide water for the people (Exodus 17) occurred when the first generation suffered severe thirst at Rephidim. A strong and concerted murmuring against Moses whelmed up through the people as once again bodily comfort requirements suppressed spiritual aspirations. Rebellion was in the air. Moses cried to the Lord and the Lord said, "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 by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink."

Moses did.

The water flowed.

Unfortunately for that generation they failed to capitalize on the grace of God. Unbelief continued to rob them of the power to prevail, and so that generation was excluded from entering the Promised Land. Forty years later their children faced a similar trial, which is where we began.

Moses and Aaron this time went to the door of the Tabernacle and waited upon the Lord. Then came the directions: "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink" (Numbers 20:8).

This time Moses was simply to speak to the rock.

But something took place which revealed Moses' weariness with his people, and also suggests that God could not let a Type or Shadow be defiled. "Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, 'Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?' Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

"But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust in Me enough to honour Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them'" (Numbers 20:10,11).

Moses smote the rock -- twice. In that he had not only disobeyed but he had 'wounded' the smitten rock a second time. The rock graciously supplied water, but udgement was also inflicted. God in fact turned Moses into a type, a shadow, of those who know the redemptive goodness of God and who want to exploit it for personal gain, but defile it by personal rejection. Their loss is total.

In Scripture we notice that the promised Messiah was to be smitten. "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 53:4).

He was to be smitten once for the redemption of people such as you and me. Then would follow a gracious invitation: "Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isaiah 55:1).

Here is an affinity with the Lord and His Messiah. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to believe that the rock imagery in Exodus and Numbers is in fact referring to the Messiah. We can see from the Scriptures how close God and His Servant are intertwined; when God smote the Servant He was smiting Himself! He has done it once. He will not let it happen again.

God has made for us in the Messiah our Adullam cave. This could never have been if there had been no smiting -- there can be no refuge if there is cleft in the rock. By faith we come unto the Eternal and meet Him in that cave carved out by and in the Messiah. Here we may have the water of life that eternally satisfies.

The Lord's offer stiff stands. He invites us to come to that Rock which is higher than us: "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song" (Psalm 95:1,2).