The Smitten Rock
By Christmas Evans (1766 – 1838)
“For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4).
In this chapter the apostle solemnly cautions his brethren against apostasy, and consequent shipwreck of their spiritual privileges. His admonitions are educed from important events in the history of the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the land of Canaan. He speaks of the march of the twelve tribes out of the scene, of their bondage, under the uplifted banner of God; of their baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, when Jehovah gloriously displayed His power in preserving their lives between the watery ramparts which shut them in like the solid walls of the sepulchre, while the cloud rested upon them through the deep night, like the marble covering of the tomb; of their safe emerging on the other side of the flood, a type of the resurrection, leaving Pharaoh and his host to sleep in the waters till the morning of the last day, when they shall rise without their chariots and their horses; of their miraculous supply in the wilderness, with bread from Heaven, and water from the smitten rock, which he calls spiritual meat and spiritual drink, because of their typical reference to the sacrificial death of Christ, which is the spiritual life of the world; and of their subsequent ingratitude and forgetfulness of God, notwithstanding these great deliverances and mercies, their murmurings, idolatries, fornications, and tempting of Christ, for which they were destroyed by the plague, slain by fiery serpents, smitten by the angel of the Lord, and fell to the number of three and twenty thousand in one day. “Now all these things,” he adds, “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:11). Thus he opens the graves of ancient sinners, and brings before his brethren the carcasses of those “who fell in the wilderness;” brings them into our solemn assemblies, and hangs them up over the pulpit, the baptistry, and the communion-table, terrible warnings against departing from the living God; even as the censers of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were beaten up, and made a covering for the altar, for a perpetual sign and memorial to Israel, to keep them from the sin of those men, that they might not share their fate.
In speaking of the smitten rock, which the apostle authorizes us to regard as a type of Christ, we shall consider: First, Its smiting by Moses; and Secondly, The consequent flowing of the waters.
I. The smitten rock was a type of Christ. Messiah is the “Rock of Ages” to His church. He is the foundation of her hope, sure and steadfast, and her protection in times of danger and of dread. The armor and the prowess of Egypt constituted no rock like this rock. Edom, and Moab, and Philistia, and the seven nations of Canaan, had their gods and their heroes; but their rock was not able to shelter them from the wrath of Jehovah, when it came upon them like a tempest of hail. The gods that made not the heavens are far off in the day of trouble; but the God of Israel is “nigh at hand,” and His arm is strong to deliver. He is the rock that stood firm and immovable, for the defense of His people, amid the ragings of the Red Sea. Messiah is the man, who is predicted as “a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; . . . as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2). He can shield, not only from the scorching sun and the scathing simoom of the desert; but also from the fiery torments of remorse, and the ruinous judgments of Heaven. Our Lord is a rock, also, on account of the blessings which flow from Him, for the refreshment of His Israel; as “the droppings of honey from the rock,” as “springs of water in a dry place;” as “living streams in the desert,” and “rivers from the mountains of Lebanon.”
There are two accounts of the smiting of the rock; one in the seventeenth chapter of Exodus, and the other in the twentieth chapter of Numbers. From a comparison of these two accounts, it appears that the rock was smitten at two different times; the first, as is supposed, about a year after the egress from Egypt, and the other about a year before the entrance into Canaan; making an intervening period of about thirty-eight years. The war with Amalek succeeded the first; the embassy to Edom followed the second. At the first, Miriam was alive; just before the second is the record of her death.
It seems that the people murmured bitterly against Moses, spoke of their superior fare in Egypt, and accused him of bringing them out into the wilderness to kill them with thirst. This is ever the spirit of backsliding. Those who are under its influence are apt to complain of the burdens imposed upon them by their religion, and the injuries occasioned to them by their brethren; and to speak uncharitably of their spiritual leaders, instead of crying to God for help. To ask, “Is the Lord among us?” (Exodus 17:7) when His Word and His works, indicating either His pleasure or displeasure, testify that He is, is tempting God, with dreadful presumption.
It does not appear that Moses sinned the first time he smote the rock; but the second time, the servant of God was evidently off his guard, and the meekest of men “spake unadvisedly with his lips” (Psalm 106:33), on account of which, both he and Aaron were shut out of the promised land. His sin consisted in entering into a quarrel with the people, instead of asking God to quench their thirst. It appears that their chidings had provoked him to anger, and he had lost the spirit of sympathy for their sufferings, and his hard feelings stood like a thick wall between him and the miracle which God was about to work for His own glory and His people’s relief. Neither did He as God command him; for instead of simply speaking to the rock, as he was bidden, he smote it twice, with evident agitation of mind; and at the same time, bitterly reproached the people with their rebellion.
Every minister of the gospel is a “drawer of water,” to his congregation, from the “Spiritual Rock” which follows the church. He must be clothed with meekness from Heaven, or the provocations of the people will be apt to embitter his spirit. God would have us minister mercy. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle toward all men. . . In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they might recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (II Timothy 2:24-26). The smiting of the rock was intended to open it, that the water might flow. This prefigured the smiting of Christ, “the Rock of Ages,” and “the Shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:2). The shedding of the blood of lambs, and goats, and bullocks, for the space of four thousand years, faintly shadowed forth the sacrificial passion of our blessed Lord. Their groans and struggles under the slaughtering knife; the sound of the blood, falling into the golden basins, and poured into the flames upon the altar; the noise occasioned in cutting up the victim, and piling the pieces upon the fire; and the smoke and vapor ascending from the consuming sacrifice to Heaven; all, all, in their own way, foreshadowed the necessity of mangling the body and shedding the blood of Messiah, that pardoning mercy might have an open way to flow to sinners, like the water from the smitten rock; and the agonies of those slaughtered victims were an imperfect type of the agonies of the soul of Jesus, in the garden and on the cross.
The smiting of a flinty rock, for the purpose of obtaining water, was a scheme of the Divine Mind, whose ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts. It was certainly the last place to which Moses would have gone for water; and he might have expected the stroke to elicit sparks of fire, rather than cool refreshing streams. What eye had not seen and ear had not heard, either of men or of angels - what had not entered into the heart of any created being to conceive, terrestrial or celestial - was, that the smiting of the Shepherd should save the sheep; that the condemnation of the just should bring the unjust to God; that the making of Messiah a curse should secure infinite blessings to mankind; that the poverty of Jesus should enrich us, and His death raise us to life eternal. Consuming flames of Divine indignation might have been expected to flash upon the guilty world from every wound of the thorns, the nails and the spear, in the sacred person of Emmanuel, but, to the astonishment of men and angels, a tide of love and mercy ran freely from every bleeding vein, to wash away the guilt and pollution of human crimes, according to the determinate counsel and immutable promise of our God.
The rock must be smitten by a rod. Had Moses been left to choose his own instrument, he would probably have taken a hammer, or perhaps a lever; but God commands him to take the rod. The rock would not have yielded water to any other instrument than the rod that smote the waters of Egypt, and turned them into blood. This rod was an emblem of the sovereignty of God over Israel and is therefore exalted “the rod of God, which the Lord gave unto Moses” - as his deputy governor - “to lead Israel, and to work miracles before their eyes.” It was also a symbol of the royal law of Heaven; which, prior to the fall, was a rod of life; but afterward became a rod of iron, to break in pieces the offender - an angry serpent, to sting the transgressor with dreadful torments; and finally, when Christ endured the curse, and honored the violated mandate, by His death upon the tree, it was transformed again into a guiding and correcting rod. As the rock would have yielded water under no other stroke than that of “the rod of God” (Exodus 4:21), so the sufferings of Christ would have been ineffectual, had they not happened under the law of the Father, and according to the counsel of Infinite Wisdom. When Isaac was about to be offered up on mount Moriah, the wood, the fire, and the knife, must all come from his father’s house, and the dreadful deed must be done by his father’s hand. So Jesus must die in no ordinary or accidental way. He must not suffer Himself, to be slain by the sword of Herod, nor cast over the brow of the hill by the people. He must receive the mortal cup from no other hand than that of the Father. He must die the appointed death; at the appointed time; in the appointed place, without the camp; and in the appointed manner, by hanging on a tree. The wreath of thorns, the scarlet robe, the nails, the cross, the spear, and even the vinegar offered Him in His agony, were all according to His Father’s counsel. He knew the necessity and said – “Thy will be done!” The Shepherd of Israel would bow under no other stroke than that of the Lord of Hosts. A cradle, a cross, and a grave, all of His Father’s appointing must Jesus have, in order to open a fountain of living water to the world.
The rock must be smitten in a public manner, in the sight of the sun, and before all the elders of Israel, that God might be sanctified in the eyes of His people. This was intended to foreshadow the publicity of the death of Christ, which took place during one of the great public festivals of the Jews, in the presence of nearly the whole nation, and on the hill Calvary; and to denote the proclamation of Christ crucified throughout the world, as the true propitiation and object of faith, to be looked upon by Jews and Gentiles, to the softening of the heart, and the flowing of repentant tears, according to the prophecy. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and mourn for him, as one mourneth for an only son.” The Spirit of grace directs the eyes of men to the cross, upon which the prophet Isaiah, with transcendent sublimity of language, describes the Savior as passing from Calvary to the grave, from the grave to the empyrean, and thence back again to earth, crying - “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and beside me there is no Savior!”
The rock must be smitten in the presence of God. “Behold, I will stand before thee there on the rock in Horeb” (Exodus 17:6). He stood upon the rock in Horeb, though invisible, in the glory of His loving-kindness and His power, to guide the hand of His servant Moses, and open a source of timely succour to His perishing people. But when the curse fell upon the sinner’s Substitute and Surety, then God stood forth before the world upon the rock of Calvary, and the darkened heavens, the trembling earth, and the opening sepulchres, as if all the machinery of nature had been suddenly disordered and disorganized - stood forth in the plentitude of His power, His wisdom, His justice, His mercy, and His truth, to prosper the work of man’s redemption, and open a channel through which the river of life might flow out to a famishing race. On Calvary still He stands, with the cup of salvation in His hand, and streams of living water rolling at His feet, and cries - “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1).
According to the command of God, the rock was to be smitten but once. Once smitten, it needed only be spoken to; and, though it was more than thirty years afterwards, it would yield forth its water. But Moses, provoked to anger by the murmurings and complainings of the people, transcended the Divine injunction, and though he had once smitten the rock, smote it again; yea, when he should have spoken to it only, smote it twice with his rod. This was his sin, for which God would not permit him to enter the promised land. Christ has been once smitten, and woe to those who smite Him again! He has once offered Himself a sacrifice, and once entered into the holy place, having finished His work of atonement, and made an end of sin, and superseded the sacrifices of the law. Henceforth, ye Jews, relinquish your burnt-offerings, your meat-offerings, your drink-offerings, your peace-offerings; and trust no longer in beasts, and birds, and flour, and oil; but in “the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” Crucify Him afresh no more, O ye backsliders; for “there remaineth no other sacrifice for sin!” Smite Him not again, lest He swear unto you His wrath, as unto Moses, that ye shall not enter into His rest!
II. Having spoken of the smiting, let us now look at the result, the flowing of the waters; a timely mercy to “the many thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:36), on the point of perishing in the desert; shadowing forth a far greater mercy, the flowing of living waters from the “spiritual Rock” (I Corinthians 10:4), which is Christ. In the death of our redeemer, we see three infinite depths moved for the relief of human misery; the love of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the energy of the Holy Spirit. These are the depths of wonder whence arise the rivers of salvation.
The waters flowed in the presence of the whole assembly. The agent was invisible, but His work was manifest.
The river flowed in great abundance, filling the whole camp, and supplying all the people. Notwithstanding the immense number, and the greatness of their thirst, there was enough for each and for all. The streams run in every direction to meet the sufferers, and their ripping murmur seemed to say - “open thy mouth, and I will fill it.” Look to the cross! See there the gracious fountain opened, and streams of pardoning and purifying mercy flowing down the rock of Calvary, sweeping over the mount of Olives, and cleaving it asunder, to make a channel for the living waters to go out over the whole world, that God may be glorified among the Gentiles, and all the ends of the earth may see His salvation!
The water flowed from the rock, not pumped by human labor, but drawn by the hand of God. It was the same power, that opened the springs of mercy upon the cross. It was the wisdom of God that devised the plan, and the mercy of God that furnished the victim. His was the truth and love that gave the promise by the prophet -- “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 13:1). His was the unchanging faithfulness that fulfilled it in his Son
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:5). Our salvation is wholly of God; and we have no other agency in the matter, than the mere acceptance of his proffered grace.
The water in twelve different channels; and, according to Dr. Pococke, of Scotland, who visited the place, the deep traces in the rock are visible to this day. But the twelve streams, one for each tribe, all issued from the same fountain, in the same rock. So the great salvation flowed out through the ministry of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and went abroad over all the earth. But the fountain is one. All the apostles preached the same Savior, and pointed to the same cross. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We must come to this spring, or perish.
The flowing of the waters was irresistible by human power. Who can close the fountain which God hath opened? Can Edom, or Moab, or Sihon, or Og, dam up the current which Jehovah hath drawn from the rock? Can Caiaphas, and all the Jews, aided by the Prince of this world - can all the powers of earth and hell combined - arrest the work of redemption, and dry up the fountain of mercy that Christ is opening on Calvary? As soon might they dry up the Atlantic, and stop the revolutions of the globe. It is written, and must be fulfilled. Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory - must be lifted up, and draw all men unto Him - and repentance and remission of sins must be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
The water flowing from the rock was like a river of life to the children of Israel. Who can describe the distress throughout the camp; and the appearance of the people, when they were invited to approach the flinty rock, instead of a fountain or a stream, to quench their thirst? What angry countenances were there, what bitter censures, and ungrateful murmurings, as Moses went up to the rock, with nothing in his hand but a rod! “Where is he going,” said they, “with that dry stick? What is he going to do to that rock? Does he mean to make fools of us all? Is it not enough that he has brought us into this wilderness to die of thirst? Will he mock us now by pretending to seek water in these sands, or open fountains in solid granite?” But see! he lifts the rod; he mites the rock; and lo, it bursts into a fountain; and twelve crystal streams roll down before the people! Hear the shout of joy ringing through the camp, and rolling back in tumultuous echoes from the crags and cliffs of Horeb! “Water! water! A miracle! a miracle! Glory to the God of Israel! Glory to His servant Moses!” It was a resurrection day upon the shadow of death. New life and joy are seen throughout the camp. The maidens are running with cups and pitchers, to the rock. They fill and drink; then fill again, and haste away to their respective tents, with water for the sick, the aged, and the little ones, joyfully exclaiming - “Drink, father! Drink, mother! Drink, children! Drink, all of you! Drink abundantly! Plenty of water now! Rivers flowing from the rock!” Now the oxen are coming, the asses, the camels, the sheep, and the goats - coming in crowds to quench their thirst, and plunging into the streams before them. And the feathered tribes are coming, the turtle-dove, the pigeon, the swallow, the sparrow, the raven, and the wren; while the croaking raven and the fierce-eyed eagle, scenting the water from afar, mingle with them around the rock.
Brethren, this is but a faint emblem of the joy of the church, in drinking the waters that descend from Calvary, the streams that gladden the city of our God. Go back to the day of Pentecost for an instance. O what a revolution of thought, and feeling, and character! What a change of countenance, and conscience, and heart! Three thousand men, that morning full of ignorance, and corruption, and guilt - idolaters, sensualists, blasphemers, persecutors - before night were perfectly transformed - the lions converted to lambs - the hard heart melted, the dead conscience quickened, and the whole man became a new creature in Christ Jesus! They thirsted, they found the “Spiritual rock,” tasted its living waters, and suddenly leaped into new life, like Lazarus from the inanition of the grave!
This is the blessing which follows the church through all her wanderings in the wilderness; accompanies her through the scorching desert of affliction, and the valley of the shadow of death; and when at last she shall come up out of great tribulation, her garments shall be found washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb; and the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead her to everlasting fountains, and she shall thirst no more!
[From Christopher Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, October 2013, pp. 181, 186-189. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More on Christmas Evans
Baptist History Homepage