The incident of the water from the rock ocurred during the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to the promised land. They had come into the wilderness to meet with their God and it was there that the Lord tested their faithfulness. He had promised to supply their every need, yet they doubted his word and so failed the test. In this they "put the Lord to the test" ("put Him to the proof").
v1. The details of the journey to Rephidim are found in Num.33:1-49. Rephidim is possibly Wadi Refadyid, or Wadi Feiran in Southern Sinai.
v2. Finding no water, the people grumble and demand water from Moses. "Why do you complain to me ("grumble" better than "quarrel")?" The people demonstrate a lack of faith in the Lord who promised to provide for their journey. In this way they fail the Lord's test and so try the Lord's commitment to them.
v3. So, the people grumble about their conditions; how much nicer it would be back in Egypt.
v4. With the people against him, Moses turns to the Lord for help. Note how he addresses his countryman; they are "these people." There is a strong sense of frustration in his words.
v5. Moses is told by the Lord to go ahead of the people and make sure he carries the staff he used to divide the Red Sea.
v6. Moses is told to strike the rock with his staff. The Lord promised to be present and to bring water out of the rock. The rock seems to be a particular rock at Mount Horeb. By "Mount Horeb" the writer probably means a particular peak in the mountain range in which Mount Sinai is situated ("the rock in Horeb"). Moses takes God at his word and so strikes the rock and is rewarded with a flow of water. So, the Lord keeps his word, even for a rebellious people.
v7. Moses names the place "Massah", a place of testing (the testing, or proving, of Israel by Yahweh) and "Meribah", a place of rebellion (the testing, or proving, of Yahweh by Israel). Israel fails on both counts.
While Israel was in the wilderness, the Lord promised that he would sustain them; Manna from heaven and fresh flowing water would always be theirs. This was God's promise to Israel, and he never failed to keep it.
God's provision for Israel in the journey is a tangible illustration of His promise of spiritual provision for believers today. We who journey to glory know that we "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers in heavenly places." We also know that Christ's "kingdom is not of this world", so God's provision is not the tangible elements of food and water, not the prosperity gospel of health, wealth and happiness.
God's promise of sustaining fresh-flowing life-giving water, is the promise of "living water" offered by Jesus to the woman of Samaria, Jn.4:1-42. It is the water spoken of by Ezekiel in his prophecy - a water flowing from the sanctuary of the temple and giving life to a parched people nation, Ezk.17:1-12. In the simplest of terms the water is the Spirit - "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive", Jn.7:37-39.
Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them always, Matt.28:20. So, the life-giving indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ is with us today, available to enrich, strengthen, renew, and teach, Jn.16:5-16. Like Israel of old we must rely on this promise, draw on the abundance of the Spirit's blessing. Yet, like Israel we can be easily diverted, fail and so put God to the test. We can easily doubt the promise of his intimate presence through life's journey.
When writing to the Corinthians Paul reminds them that Israel "drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. However, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did", 1Cor.10:4-6. For Paul, the water from the rock is a type (a theological representation of a more substantial spiritual truth) of Christ's spiritual sustenance for his people today. If God is willing to abandon his historic people when they failed to rely on his sovereign grace, will he not treat us similarly, 1Cor.10:11-12. "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall."
1. "God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow." If the Lord physically sustained Israel in the wilderness, will he not physically sustain us? If not, why not?
2. If "the rock was Christ", what is the water? By what authority can we rely on the sustenance of this "water"?
3. Consider the testing and grumbling of Israel. Read 1Cor.10:1-13. Try to apply the four warnings in v7-10. In what way does each test our faith?