A Piece of the Rock (Part Two)- Exodus 17:1-7

In our previous story, we saw Moses, in anger and frustration, strike a rock he was told to speak to, and for this God forbids him from entering the promised land. At first glance this may seem like an awfully harsh punishment for that offense, but we will now turn to another story involving Moses and a rock to see why the punishment is not so harsh after all. This story is found in Exodus chapter 17. This story takes place forty years prior to the story in Numbers 20, and involves the parents and grandparents of the Israelites in that incident. In verse 1, we find that the Israelites have come to a place in which there is no water, and they bring a legal charge (Hebrew riyb) against God, they are putting Him on trial and asking Him to defend himself against their charges against Him (verse 2), complaining about His care for them (verse 3). They are so angry they are ready to stone Moses, and Moses here (as in the other story) responds properly by crying out to God to find out what to do (verse 4). The Lord answers Moses (verse 5), and tells him to “walk on ahead of the people”. The word translated walk on ahead here literally means to “stand before”, and Moses is told to stand before all of Israel, and to take some of the elders of each tribe with him. He is also told to take the staff of judgment with him. God then tells Moses He will be there at the rock, and Moses is to strike the rock with the staff, and water will come forth from the rock. Moses does so, and water is provided for the people. So just what is going on here, and what does this story have to do with the other rock story in Numbers 20? We learn from the New Testament that all of the OT bears witness to Jesus Christ (John 5:39), and this story in particular does so, because Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 10, telling us that the rock here is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). So we will examine this story in light of the New Testament in order to see how it bears witness to Christ, and in doing so we will see why the punishment upon Moses was as “harsh” as it was. In this story Israel seeks to put God on trial, but in bringing the elders before Him, God is actually putting Israel on trial. By their complaining Israel is sinning and under God’s judgment (the reason He told Moses to bring the staff). Moses, as God’s representative, is to strike the rock with the staff to bring this judgment upon the people. It is here where we must turn to the symbolism in order to fully understand the story. Remember that the rock is Christ, and what we have here is Israel sinning and coming under the judgment of God, but Christ (the rock) here takes the judgment upon himself, in the presence of God, for Israel. The judgment which is due Israel for its sin falls upon Christ, and out of that judgment flow the waters that bring Israel life. As we can clearly see, all of this is a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do, taking the judgment of death which is ours upon himself and bringing us true life out of it. And we are now in a position to explain why the judgment upon Moses was so “harsh” 40 years later. When Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20, he was in effect enacting God’s judgment for sin upon Christ a second time, and Christ would only need to die once for sin, Moses was “crucifying Him all over again” (Hebrews 6:6). The judgment for sin is enacted here in Exodus 17, and God told Moses to speak to the rock in Numbers 20 because the waters of life would now come solely by God’s grace. Sin had been judged and paid for, and Moses striking of the rock is his trying to get God to treat Israel in judgment rather than in grace. Moses enacted judgment on the symbol of God’s grace to man, he symbolically brought the judgment of God due to human sin upon Christ a second time, when that judgment would only fall on Him once, and that would be enough. Moses here acts in place of God, judging Israel when God specifically told him not to (this is why Numbers 20:12 tells us Moses “did not honor Me (God) as holy”). Moses here (Numbers 20) actually commits the offense which he accused Israel of (rebellion), and he is punished by God in a manner fitting to the offense, he is banned from entering the earthly promised land due to his sin, but would not be banned from entering the eternal promised land, for that is entered only by God’s grace.

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