Strike or speak?
Moses was in a difficult situation. The obstinate and angry Hebrews surrounding him were complaining about having no water to quench their thirsty throats. Faced with the seemingly impossible dilemma of providing water for such a great multitude with no water source in sight, Moses cried out to God for help and was told to strike a nearby rock. He did so and water gushed forth for the parched crowd.
Now flash forward to a not-so-later time (in Numbers 20), when Moses experienced a strangely similar situation. Again, people were angry and thirsty. Again, Moses called out to God for help. Again, God spoke to Moses and gave him a solution. But here is where the story twists; God commanded Moses not to strike the rock, but speak to it. This second time, Moses only needed to speak to the rock to receive the clear, crisp, thirst-quenching liquid.
But Moses did not simply speak to the rock. Instead, likely recalling his earlier encounter, he called the people around him rebels and, in a show of force, he struck the rock with his staff. Water gushed forth, but God rebuked Moses by saying that his act of disobedience and unbelief disqualified him from entering the Promised Land! Moses, after patiently leading Israel, pleading for them before God and being called the “most humble man in all of Israel,” was suddenly and shockingly denied entrance to the final destination of their 40-year journey. This begs the question: Why was striking the rock a second time such a problem?
The seriousness of Moses’ error becomes clear when Paul, in his first-known letter to the Corinthian believers, states, “Our fathers … drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). This makes even more sense as we recall that Jesus stood up boldly at a Jewish festival and said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37).
God’s instructions to Moses in the wilderness foreshadowed what would ultimately happen through his own Son Jesus. When God wanted to draw that living water from Jesus the first time, what did he do to His beloved Son? God struck him. In the same manner, on the cross, God the Father struck the Rock called Jesus with his just and powerful wrath. But today, how do you and I receive clear, crisp, living water from Jesus to quench our thirsty souls? By faith, we speak to the Rock who is Jesus. “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10)
In his disobedience, Moses marred the picture God was giving His people about how He would wonderfully refresh them with living water. First the Father struck our sin that Jesus bore on the cross and paid the full penalty for that sin. Then, by faith, we are called to speak to Jesus and seek forgiveness which opens a floodgate of living water in the lives of parched and desperate souls. It is this Rock — struck by the Father, and spoken to by us — that gives us the living water of eternal life. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Pastor John Stone