Israel has come to Rephidim. But, there is no water for them to drink there. So, Israel quarrels with Moses and says, “Give us water to drink.” Moses asks why they are quarreling with him and what are they testing God. Israel was thirsty and asked Moses why they brought them there to kill them with thirst. Moses asks God what he should do since the people are about to stone him. In Exodus 17:5, God told Moses, “Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
I think many Christians would identify this rock as Jesus. But, what exactly is going on here? What is the full picture of Jesus that God is giving us?
Since Israel was baptized in the Red Sea, they have been to some interesting places. First, they traveled through the wilderness of Shur. Shur means wall. They traveled three days, the period of time from death to life, but they found no water. This wilderness was a wall between death and life for them.
Israel eventually came to Marah, which means bitter or bitterness. Even they found water at Marah, they couldn’t drink it because it was bitter. The people complained against Moses, and Moses asked God what should they drink. The Lord showed Moses a tree, think the cross, the tree that Jesus became a curse on. Moses threw the tree in the water and the bitter water became sweet. Because of the tree, their bitter life became sweet.
From Marah, they came to Elim. Elim means trees, perhaps palm trees. At Elim, there were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees. The number 12 has several connotations throughout scripture, including God’s power and authority as well as the governmental foundation. I have written several times about the number 70 as it relates to all the nations of the earth that came from Noah’s sons and the people of God represented by Jacob’s sons. So, here we see all the people of God provided with God’s life (water) as their governmental foundation, power, or authority.
Israel left Elim and traveled through the wilderness of Sin. The name Sin is not the Hebrew word for sin. This name Sin means teeth, press, or sharp. The name has the idea of two front teeth. Again, Israel complained to Moses and Aaron. They said it would have been better that they had died in Egypt where they had meat pots and bread to the full. Instead, they had been brought here to die of hunger. God provided them quail for one evening, but the next morning they had manna from heaven, which God fed them with for the next 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness. It’s ironic that in the wilderness known as teeth that God provided Israel manna, which you wouldn’t need teeth to eat. God provided for their hunger. In John 6:35, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.”
Israel left the wilderness of Sin and came to Rephidim. Rephidim means to spread out or extend and to support or refresh. Israel camped at this place, the place of support or refreshment, but there was no water for the people to drink. They people said they were brought out here to die of thirst. So, in the previous place, the people complained that they would die of hunger, but God gave them manna. Manna was a type or picture of Jesus, the true bread from heaven, the bread of life. But, now the people are complaining that they will die of thirst.
But, this time Israel moves beyond complaining. Moses says they put God to the test. Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” This is the scripture Jesus quoted when Satan attacked him in the wilderness. In 1 Corinthians 10:9, Paul says, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by the serpents.” Clearly, we are not to put God to the test, to force him to prove himself to us. But, Israel did exactly this, even though had generously, miraculously, provided for them after each of their previous complaints.
Even though Israel put God to the test, God told Moses to give the people water by striking a rock with his staff. But, this is where things get interesting.
First, God tells Moses to use the staff that the struck the Nile with. The first time we see Moses with this staff is Exodus 4. Moses asks what he should do if the people don’t believe the Lord appeared to him. God tells Moses to take his staff and throw it on the ground. When Moses did this, the staff became a serpent. When Moses caught the serpent by the tail, it became a staff again. A few chapters later, Moses does the same thing in front of Pharaoh
But, the next thing Moses does with the staff is found in Exodus 7. In verse 15, God tells Moses to “take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent.” Then, in verse 17, God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn to blood.” So, this staff became a serpent and was used to strike the river that brought life to Egypt and turn it into blood.
Next, God tells Moses that he will stand before him on the rock at Horeb. And, Moses was to strike the rock with the staff. Moses was to use the staff that became a serpent to strike the rock. This is a picture of Jesus on the cross.
Notice that God was standing on the rock, but Moses was to strike the rock. What part of God would have been on the rock? God’s heel. What did Moses strike God’s heel with? The staff that became a serpent. As part of the curse in Genesis 3:15, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” When Moses struck the rock that God was standing on with the staff, it was a picture of the serpent, Satan, bruising the heel of Jesus on the cross.
The rock God was standing on was called Horeb. Horeb means to dry up, be dried, to be in ruins, to lay waste. When Jesus was struck by Satan on the cross, what did he say? John 19:28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.” Jesus is the rock at Horeb, that was dried up when he was struck on the cross.
When the rock was struck, water came out. On the cross, Jesus was pierced in his side. In other words, he was struck by a staff. And, that staff was the serpent, Satan. What happened when Jesus’ side was pierced? John 19:34 says, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” The first time Moses struck the Nile and out came blood. Now, Moses struck the rock and out came water. Moses, through whom the law was given, wielded the staff that became a serpent and when it was used to strike it brought forth blood and water. And, when Jesus was pierced by a spear on the cross at the hand of Satan out came blood and water.
But, recall John 6:35 above. I didn’t quote the whole verse. The complete verse says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
The Israelites said they were brought out of Egypt to die of hunger. And, God provided them manna from heaven. Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the bread of life, which if someone eats from that bread they will never hunger again.
The Israelites said they were brought out of Egypt to die of thirst. And, God provided them water from a dry rock. Jesus is the living water. In John 4:14, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Yes, most of us know that Jesus is the rock. But, this brief event in Exodus 17 reveals so much more than we initially think. This brief story of Moses striking the rock foreshadows so much of what happened to Jesus on the cross and the benefit that we received.
If we drink from that rock, then we will never thirst again.