Old Testament Exodus Between a Rock and a Hard Heart

Between a Rock and a Hard Heart

There we were enjoying a lovely hike the other week, as Sarah and I celebrated our anniversary. We did some research and decided not to go on the hike that reviewers said, “is not clearly marked.” We were feeling like we could take on a challenge without the children. So we decided to start with this light to moderate hike. As we begun it was clearly signed as we followed the path that we had discussed as we looked at the sign at the entrance way. However, it all took a turn when we took a wrong turn. We came to a literal fork in the road, I am not sure who decided or if we were in agreement. Normally, I am to blame. We went right. However, it went wrong. We realized shortly after that we had taken the mountain biking trail and not the hiking trail. Determined and with sunlight on our side we continued knowing we would find our way out and eventually piecing the markers we had a good sense of where we would eventually come out and make it out safely. We were quiet unified about who was to blame though, the Government. It was not our fault, we went straight to the top. The lack of signs was the issue and we are not responsible for signs. The hike was a success in the end and we got to see more than we expected. However, we often do this in our lives. Our children are quick to point the finger at their siblings. We are quick to find out someone else to blame, and even if it is our fault we blame the situation or circumstance.  I was tired or hungry. You provoked me. In the grander things in life we love to be able to blame the greater powers, upper management, government, and sometimes even God. Job and his friends wrestled with this, as Job cried out that one day he hopes to be able to present his case to God. That is what we see in this passage the question of who is to blame and who is going to pay?

The People’s Challenge: Testing God’s Provision

This passage starts with the movement from one scene to another. That the people depart the Wilderness of sin in which God had provided for them Manna and meat to eat and also showed forth the blessing of the day of the Sabbath. They move to a place called Rephidim, which means a resting place. But what we soon notice is that this place is not a place of refreshment as the people had first anticipated, we see conflict arise. Now on first glance we see this conflict is that there is not water at Rephidim. Which we would be correct but once more we need to be reminded that these tests in the wilderness are not about physical ability but spiritual humility. The people had seen God provide for them Manna from the heavens and meat to eat. They had seen God conquer the Egyptian army throwing them into the sea. They had also seen God heal the bitter water at Marah. This is a great challenge, for at Marah the problem was not that there was no water but the water was bitter. Here at Rephidim though there is no water. However, the problem is the lack of water the problem is the hard hearts of the People of God. As the Psalmist writes it is here at Rephidim, which has its name changed to Meribah (more on this later) that the people hardened their hearts (Ps 95:8). The problem of the hard heart is nothing new, we have seen it before with Pharaoh in Egypt. But again, the hard heart creates a bigger problem. They grumble and complain. Now we often will see these reactions and feel sympathetic, “of course they would grumble and complain they are in the desert with no water, thirsty children and livestock. The children are whining, “Mommy, Dathan took the last bit of manna.” The cows are bellowing. Coffee wasn’t discovered yet and even if it was there was no way to brew it because there was no water. Of, course they are grumbling and complaining.” However, we need to note that this is not merely voicing some minor disagreement. The word translated ‘quarreled’ here is a strong word used of contention such as the battle of the wells that Isaac had with the herdsmen in Genesis 26, so much striving that Isaac had to find or dig different wells. One commentator also points out that this intensifies with the stark demand of the people of God demanding “give us water to drink!” The verb form uses here is the imperative often what we would call the command form. The conflict of no water is rising and growing, and is found at the height as Moses explains this striving is not against Moses but against God.

This is where the real conflict is found not about water, not about Moses, not about the grumbling, but here the people of God are testing God. What should be a test of their dependance upon God has turned into a questioning of God and his character. Several commentators point out that this becomes a court room in which the people of God are placing God in the dock. The famous image that was used by CS Lewis to explain, “The ancient man approached God as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”[1] Lewis was right and wrong, he is right that the modern man seeks to place himself in the judges seat while he questions God. But he is wrong about the ancient man, because we see this not only in recent years, but here in this passage, in the book of Job. The people have witnessed great things that God has done and yet they are testing him. They are putting him on trial. Again we see this in their second response as Moses questions them they turn it back on Moses and explain that God has brought them out here so that everybody would die. More so we the the conflict coming to the pinnacle when the people get ready to stone Moses. In their mind they are already dead. To stone someone was the highest level of judgement that could be inflicted on someone through the law. Specify, murder which is spelled out in Genesis 9, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:5–6). The people of God have cast their verdict, and they believe Moses is guilty of murder.

Divine Judgment: Consequences of Hardened Hearts

The Lord gives Moses’ instructions in verse 5, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.” Moses is given three instructions from the Lord, and each is very telling. The first is to pass on before the people, this shows the public nature of the trial. The Second is that he was to take the elders with him. Elders were that of representatives from all tribes and nations called to witness what God would do. These would have been the very elders that we read about in Exodus 3:16-22 who were sent to stand before Pharaoh and told of the great and wonderful things that God would do. Elders would also be known for their judging abilities as they sat by the gates and rendered verdicts on cases. The third and final thing is most striking (see what I did there). Moses was to take his staff, now we are told what this staff was to be used for, particularly every time this staff has been used it has been used in connection to judgement or salvation; salvation as he struck the Red Sea and the water parted. Or Judgement as he struck the Nile and the water turned to blood. Specifically, Moses wants to remind us as the readers that this is the Rod used for judgement. We have the people who have hard hearts, like Pharaoh. We also have the elders who stood before Pharaoh and witnessed the signs and wonders and now they were about to witness another event, but more specifically judgment was coming.

Christ’s Redemption: Transforming Judgment into Mercy

This is where the story gets interesting, mainly because we see that as the people were seeking to stone Moses with rocks, and the people’s hearts are hard as stone, it is through this rock we see God’s judgment strike and mercy pour out. If we were to merely read this we would be astonished at the miracle of water coming out of a dry rock, but we are even more amazed because Paul tells us something very interesting in 1 Corinthians 10 he explains something is very special about this rock. Paul explains, “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them (1 Cor 10:4). Other parts of the Bible we are told this is a flinty rock, but Paul says this is a spiritual rock. Now what makes this rock spiritual? It brings forth spiritual drink (1 Cor 10:3). Paul explains that this Rock was Christ. Now we can understand why Paul said this rock followed them. A strange image of a rock trying to hide as Aaron says to Moses, “I think we are being followed.” Now we can understand that this Rock was spiritual, that this Rock was Christ.

Again, here in the Old Testament we see the glorious shadow of Christ. The people deserve judgment and yet judgement falls on another, it is not the people who are struck but the rock. This gets to the real test that the people were placing God under trial, “Is the LORD among us or not?” The heart of their hardened hearts was they did not believe that God’s presence was with them. Oh, how wrong they were. Not only was God among them but he was the one that took the wrath and punishment of God. In the times past the staff used as judgement, water turned to blood, water covering the army of Pharaoh. But now because the rock has been struck now instead of waters of death, they see waters of life. This water that came from the rock was no small trickle, but an abundant supply Psalm 78:15-16 and 105:41 express that is was like a river. Isaiah 48:21 explains that water gushed out of the rock. Not only is God among them but Christ bore the punishment for them.

We see that Christ shows us that God is among us as we know when Isaiah expresses that Jesus is God among us, Emmanuel. That Isaiah latter writes that Christ was stricken for us (Is 53:4-5). Not only is the spiritual rock, but Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:3 that there is spiritual water, that they drink from. That Christ is not only the rock that was struck but the water which gushes out and satisfies the thirst of his people. Jesus is the water of life as John records the encounter of the woman of the well and Jesus told her that “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:14). This then becomes the great image that traces its way through the whole entire Bible, the image of the rock and water. That God becomes the Rock of Salvation, but also the water of satisfaction. We must not stop merely at verse four in 1 Corinthians because we need to be reminded that these things happened so that we might persevere, endure, and remain pure. We must think about these things and see they are written for our own instruction, that we might be able to drink the spiritual drink and see the spiritual rock. This is perfectly summarized by the famous hymn “Rock of Ages” by Augustus M. Toplady:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure;

Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands

Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to Thee for dress;

Helpless, look to Thee for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,

When mine eyes shall close in death,

When I soar to worlds unknown,

See Thee on Thy judgment throne,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee.

[1] Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 452.

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