Getting Water from the Rock


During its wilderness wandering, Israel got water from a rock on two separate occasions. The first time Israel got water from a rock was at the beginning of its journey. The second time Israel got water from a rock was near the end of its journey, nearly 40 years later.

This creates a lot of questions in my mind. Why are there two accounts of Israel getting water from a rock? What are the differences between the two accounts? What are we to learn from the differences between the two accounts? How do they speak of Jesus?


Perhaps the first thing we need to know to understand these two accounts is that the rock is a picture of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul says, “All drank from the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Paul is directly speaking to Israel’s time in the wilderness. He says everyone in the wilderness had the same spiritual drink. They all drank from the rock. Paul says that the rock followed them. So, we know that the rock in the first account is the same as the rock in the second account. Paul explicitly says that the rock was Jesus.


Paul has told us that we drink from the rock that is Jesus. So, what is the water from the rock that we drink?

The answer is in 1 Corinthians 12:13, which says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  The water we drink from Jesus, the rock, is the Holy Spirit.

In John 4, Jesus meets a woman at a well. He tells the woman that if she had asked him for a drink then he would have given her living water. Jesus says to her, “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.” Drinking from the water, the Holy Spirit, that Jesus gives is how we receive eternal life.

In John 7, Jesus is at the feast of tabernacles, which is a ultimately a picture of his second coming. John 7:37-39 says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘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.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

Like Paul, John specifically says that the water we drink from Jesus, the rock, is the Holy Spirit.

Further, I believe John’s account of Jesus at the feast of tabernacles is critical to understanding the two accounts of getting water from the rock. Notice John quotes Jesus as saying that the scripture has said out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water. It could be that Jesus is referencing three proverbs.

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” – Proverbs 10:11

“The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” – Proverbs 18:5

“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” – Proverbs 20:5

Keep these verses in mind when we look at the second time Israel gets water from the rock.


The first account of Israel getting water from the rock is found in Exodus 17:1-7. I believe this is a picture of Jesus’ first coming where we got water from his crucifixion, his being struck.

This account takes place sometime after the 15th day of the second month since Israel left Egypt. I haven’t worked out the dates, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this takes place very near the time of Pentecost, which was when the Holy Spirit was first poured out on those that believed in Jesus.

In Exodus 17, Israel has just left the wilderness of Sin, which was a place of pressing. Israel was now camped at Rephidim. The root word for Rephidim means to support or refresh. This pictures that the water that Israel will get from the rock in this account supports and refreshes them. But, the root word for Rephidim also means to spread out or to extend. When the Holy Spirit was first poured out in Acts 2, He was poured out on the 120 disciples who spoke to Jews from all over the world about the mighty works of God. These Jews from all over the world returned home spreading out the message of what God had done in and through Jesus.

Now, Israel found no water to drink in Rephidim. So, they quarreled with Moses. The people said “Give us water to drink.” Moses responds by asking why they are quarreling with him and testing God. So, the people thirsted and grumbled against Moses. They ask Moses why he brought them out of Egypt to kill them, their children, and their livestock with thirst.

This brings to my mind the crucifixion of Jesus. The Jews had been brought out of the city to Golgotha to see Jesus crucified. They are thirsty for their own kingdom, which they have not had since they were exiled into Babylon. They thought Jesus would be the king to restore the kingdom. But, now they have been brought out to watch their king die. They start quarreling with Jesus on the cross to come down and prove that he is God. In a sense, they were saying to Jesus, “Did you just bring us out here so we cold die of our thirst for the kingdom?”

Moses cries out to God, asking what he should. God tells Moses, “Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile.” The first time we see this staff is when Moses meets Jesus in the burning bush in Exodus 3 and 4. In Exodus 4, God tells Moses to take his staff and throw it on the ground. The staff turns into a serpent. The second time we see this staff is in Exodus 7. God tells Moses to meet Pharaoh at the Nile with the staff that he turned into a serpent. God tells Moses to strike the Nile with the staff and turn the water into blood. So, this staff became a serpent and turned water, or life, into blood, or death.

Back in Exodus 17, God tells Moses that he will stand on the rock at Horeb. Horeb means to dry up, to be dried or to lay in ruins or lay waste. Speaking of Jesus on the cross, John 19:28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was no finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.'” Jesus was the dry rock on the cross. The Father was there with him until Jesus yielded up his spirit and truly became the dry place.

Then Gold told Moses to take the staff that became a serpent and turned the water of the Nile into blood, the staff of death and strike the rock so that water will come out of it for the people to drink. Moses did exactly this in the sight of the elders of Israel. John 19:34 says, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” Jesus, the rock, was struck and water came out for the people to drink. Matthew 27:41 says that the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders mocked Jesus when he was on the cross. Just as Moses struck the rock in front of the elders of Israel, Jesus was struck in front of the elders of his day to give the people water to drink.

Moses called the name of that place Massah, which means testing, and Meribah, which means quarreling. It was at the cross that Israel quarreled with Jesus. It was at the cross that Israel tested Jesus’ love for them. They dared him to prove to them that he was God by coming down from the cross. But, his love for them was too strong.

Notice that in the gospel of John the first time Jesus mentions drinking of the spiritual water, the living water, that he gives is found in John 4. This is the chapter where Jesus meets the Samaritan, a Gentile, woman at the well. this story is about Jesus meeting his Gentile bride, the church.

Not coincidentally, Jesus’ first giving of spiritual water in John 4 occurs near the time of the Passover. Just after his encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus is speaking with the disciples about the spiritual harvest. But, he compares the spiritual harvest to the natural harvest. In John 4:35, Jesus says, “There are yet four months, then the harvest comes. Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Jesus is telling the disciples that it is four months until the physical harvest, but the spiritual harvest is right now. Four months until the physical harvest puts Jesus’ first giving of spiritual water right about the time of the Passover.

Therefore, the first instance of Israel getting water from the rock by striking it is a picture of Jesus, the rock, giving us the Holy Spirit, the water, to drink when his side was pierced on the cross.


The second account of getting water from a rock is found in Numbers 20:1-13. I believe this is a picture of Jesus’ second coming where we get water from the rock and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

We are told that Israel came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month and the people stayed in Kadesh. The first month is the time of the Passover, the month of Jesus’ crucifixion. However, Israel did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah at his first coming.

I am not definitive on the following. But, for Israel, Jesus’ second coming will be his first coming to them. Could this be why this getting water from the rock is associated with the first month? I think this ties in with the living water Jesus speaks of in John 7.

As I mentioned above, John 7 is connected with the feast of tabernacles. This is the time of Jesus’ second coming. Therefore, I think this second getting water from the rock is tied to Jesus’ second coming. I think the details of the second account in Numbers 20 will help show this.

Zin likely means thorn or barb in Hebrew. Numbers 33:55 says, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.” Even though Jesus has come, we still have barbs, or planks, in our eyes and thorns in our sides. But, at his second coming, all thorns, all sin, will be taken away.

Interestingly, Job 5:5 says, “The hungry eat his harvest, and he takes it even out of thorns, and the thirsty pant after his wealth.” The hungry are getting their food in the wilderness of thorns. But, the thirsty pant for the true wealth, the true riches, of Jesus, which is the full outpouring of the knowledge of the God as we and the earth are completely filled with the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus comes a second time, these barbs and thorns will be taken away and we will drink fully of the Spirit. Indeed, we will dwell in Kadesh, which means to be holy, to be set apart from common use – just like Israel dwelt in Kadesh in the second account of getting water from the rock.

Unlike the first getting of water from the rock, in this second account the people assembled themselves together. Zechariah 12 and 14 prophesies about a future time when all the nations gather against Israel. Psalm 2 talks about the nations raging and plotting a vain thing against the Lord and his Anointed. I think this might be the picture we are seeing here as the whole congregation gather against Moses.

So, the people quarrel with Moses, wishing that they had died with their brothers before the Lord. The congregation was speaking of the men of war more than 20 years old that died in the wilderness, failing to reach the promised land. The congregation asks Moses, “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here?” This congregation wasn’t like the first. They called themselves the people of the Lord.

They even accused God of bringing them to this evil place. But, not only does God not lead us into evil, he doesn’t even lead us into temptation. In Matthew 6:13, Jesus tells us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And, James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

The congregation accused God of bringing them to a place without figs, vines, or pomegranates. However, God had them send spies into the promised land. From their trip into the promised land, the spies brought back exactly these three types of fruit. God had showed them the land he was giving them that had these fruits, but the congregation had rejected it.

So, Moses and Aaron went into the tent meeting to hear from God. God told Moses, “Take the staff.” This was not the same staff Moses used in Exodus 17 when he struck the rock to get water the first time. No, this was Aaron’s staff from Numbers 17:1-11.

In Numbers 16, the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron. So, God had Moses get a staff from each tribe, write their names on them, and put them in the tent of meeting before the testimony. The man whose staff sprouted is the one whom God would choose to lead. The next day, when Moses went into the tent of testimony, Aaron’s staff had budded. Aaron’s staff had put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. That sounds like us in John 15 when we, the branches, are connected to  Jesus, the vine. We produce fruit, more fruit, and much fruit. So, God told Moses to put Aaron’s staff back before the testimony as sign for the rebels.

The staff Moses used in the first getting of water from the rock was a staff that became a serpent and turned the Nile to blood. It was a staff of death. But, Aaron’s dry staff had produced. Aaron’s staff had gone from death to life. This was the staff Moses was to use the second time to get water from the rock.

Moses was to tell the rock to yield its water before the eyes of the congregation. God said this was how Moses was to get water out of the rock and give the congregation a drink. Instead of striking the rock, Moses was told to tell the rock to yield water. In verse 8, the Hebrew word for tell also means speak. And, there is a preposition missing in English that is present in the Hebrew. This preposition can mean for. So, the instruction given by God to Moses could be read that he was to speak for the rock. In a way, this makes more sense because we don’t tell Christ, the rock, what to do. But, we do speak for him, or on his behalf. We testify and prophesy about him. This is what all of the apostles and disciples did.

But, Moses disobeys God. First, he calls the people rebels. This was his how he felt, but it is not what God told him to say. We must remember that Moses is a picture of the law, and it is the law that condemns.

Moses disobeys a second time when he says “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Moses was not to bring water out of the rock. He was to speak for the rock, and the rock would yield its water to the people to drank. The giving of the water was the rock’s responsibility. And, it’s Jesus’ responsibility to give the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” Moses was nothing. The rock was the giver of the water. In effect, Moses, the law, was taking God’s glory. This is what the flesh always wants to do.

Then Moses disobeys a third time by striking the rock twice. I don’t think this means that Moses struck the rock two times right here. Rather, it means he struck the rock once back in Exodus 17 and a second time in Numbers 20. However, Romans 6:10 says, “For the death he [Jesus] died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” Also, Hebrews 7:27 says, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

The author of Hebrews speaks directly to Moses striking the rock, or crucifying Christ, a second time. Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” And, Hebrews 9:28 says, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Moses disobeyed repeatedly in Numbers 20. He didn’t believe the testimony of God. Therefore, Moses could not enter the promised land. God said, “Because you did not believe me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people Israel therefore you shall not bring them in.”

What is the testimony of God? In 1 John 5:11-12, John says, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the son of God does not have life.” See, Moses took the staff that was life and treated it like the staff that was death. God is life, but Moses didn’t believe the testimony about him and treated God as if he has death in him.

Even though Moses disobeyed, water came out of the rock abundantly. Moses is a picture of the law. The law through the flesh disobeys God at every turn. Moses tried to take matters into his own hands. So do we when we are under the law and walking in the flesh. Moses may have been more meek than any person on the face of the earth, but here we see his violence come out. All people apart from Christ are violent no matter how meek they appear.


The first getting of water from the rock was God’s down payment of his Spirit to us. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:22 that God “has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” And, Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire the possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

But, in the end, at his second coming, Jesus will get the victory. His life, his Spirit, will come forth abundantly. Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Perhaps the best statement about the water we will get from the rock the second time, Jesus at his second coming, is Paul’s in Ephesians 1:16-21.

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”


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