Old Testament Study:

Exodus 17:1-7

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The Smitten Rock, pt. 2,

by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)


1And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. 2Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said unto them, “Why chide ye with me? Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?” 3And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, “What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me.” 5And the Lord said unto Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:1-7,AV)


[This study is continued from the previous issue.]


The first thing to be noted here in our type is that the rock was to be smitten. This, of course, speaks of the death of the Lord Jesus. It is striking to note the order of the typical teaching of Exodus 16 and 17. In the former we have that which speaks of the incarnation of Christ; in the latter, that which foreshadowed the crucifixion of Christ. Exodus 17 is supplementary to chapter 16. Christ must descend from Heaven to earth (as the manna did) if He was to become the Bread of life to His people; but He must be smitten by Divine judgment if He was to be the Water of life to them! Here is another reason for the opening “And.”

There are three details here which enable us to fix the interpretation of the smiting of the rock as a type of the death of the Lord Jesus. First, it was to be smitten by the rod of Moses. The “rod” in the hand of Moses had been the symbol of judgment. The first reference to it definitely determines that. When he cast it on to the ground it became a “serpent” (4:3) — reminder of the curse. With his rod the waters of the Nile were smitten and turned into blood (7:17), and so on. Second, only the “elders of Israel” witnessed the smiting of the rock. This emphasizes the governmental character of what was here foreshadowed. Third, Jehovah Himself stood upon the rock while it was smitten. “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb” (v. 6) — marvelous line in the picture was this. Putting these things together, what spiritual eye can fail to see here a portrayal of our Substitute being smitten by the rod of Divine justice, held in the hand of the Governor of the Universe. Doubtless that word in Isaiah 53:4-5 looks back to this very type — “Smitten of God.... by His stripes we are healed.” How solemn to behold that it was the people’s sin which led to the smiting of the rock!

Out from the smitten rock flowed the water. Beautiful type was this of the Holy Spirit — gift of the crucified, now glorified, Savior. May not this be one reason why the Holy Spirit is said to be “poured out” (Acts 2:18)? — speaking in the language of this very type. The gift of the Holy Spirit was consequent upon the crucifixion and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. This is clear from His own words from John 7:37-38: “Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now mark the interpretation which is given us in the very next verse: “But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”

The Holy Spirit has given us a supplementary word through the Psalmist which enhances the beauty of the picture found in Exodus 17. There we are told, “He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise to Abraham His servant” (105:41-42). It was because of His covenant to Abraham that God gave the water to Israel. So, too. we read of God promising to give eternal life to His elect “before the world began” (Titus 1:1-2), and this, on the basis of “the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13: 20).

First Corinthians 10, also supplements Exodus 17. In the historical narrative we read of Moses striking the rock in the presence of “the elders” of Israel, but nothing is there said about the people drinking of the streams of water that flowed from it. But in 1 Corinthians 10:4, we are told, “And did all drink the same spiritual drink.” This is an important word. It affirms, in type, that all of God’s people have received the Holy Spirit. There are some who deny this. There are those who teach that receiving the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace. This is a serious error. Just as all the children of Israel (God’s covenant people) drank of the water from the smitten rock. so in the anti-type, all of God’s children are made partakers of the Holy Spirit, gift of the ascended Christ — “And because ye are sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). There is no such thing as a believer in Christ who has not received the Holy Spirit: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of Him” (Romans 8:9).

Much of the blessedness of our type will pass unappreciated unless we note carefully the occasion when the stream of living water gushed from the smitten rock. It was not when Israel were bowed in worship before the Lord. it was not when they were praising Him for all His abundant mercies toward them. No such happy scene do the opening verses of Exodus 17 present to our view. The very reverse is what is there described. Israel were murmuring (v. 3); they were almost ready to stone God’s servant (v. 4); they were filled with unbelief, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (v. 7). The giving of the water, then, was God acting according to His marvelous grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. But, be it well noted, it was grace acting on a righteous basis. Not till the rock was smitten did the waters flow forth. And not till the Savior had been bruised by God was the Gospel of His grace sent forth to “every creature.” What, my reader, is the response of your heart to this amazing and rich mercy of God? Surely you say, out of deepest gratitude, “thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

This paper would not be complete were we to close without a brief word upon Numbers 20, where we again find Moses smiting the rock. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron, thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, and it shall give forth His water, and thou shall bring forth to them water out of the rock; so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink’” (vv. 7-8). What is recorded in Numbers 20 occurred forty years later than what has been before us in Exodus 17. Almost everything here is in sharp contrast. The rock in Exodus 17 foreshadowed Christ on the cross; the rock in Numbers 20 pictured Him on high. The Hebrew word for “rock” is not the same. The word used here in Numbers 20 means an elevated rock, pointing plainly to the Savior in His exaltation. Next, we notice that Moses was not now bidden to “strike” the rock, but simply to speak to it. In Exodus 17 the rock was smitten before the “elders” of Israel; here Moses was bidden to “gather the assembly together.” And while Jehovah bade him take a rod, it was not the rod used in Exodus 17. On the former occasion Moses was to use his own rod — “Thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river.” That was the rod of judgment. But here he was to take “The rod” (Numbers 20:8), namely, the rod of Aaron. This is clear from verse 9, “And Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He commanded him”, if we compare it with Numbers 17:10 — “And the Lord saith unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony” (viz., the Ark in the Holy of Holies), “to be kept for a token against the rebels.” This, then, was the priestly rod. Mark also how this aspect of truth was further emphasized in the type by the Lord bidding Moses, on this second occasion, to take Aaron along with him — Aaron is not referred to at the first smiting of the rock! The interpretation of the typical meaning of Numbers 20:8 is therefore abundantly clear. The rock must not be smitten a second time, for that would spoil the type. “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.” (Romans 6:9-10). “But now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself... So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26, 28). Streams of spiritual refreshment flow to us on the ground of accomplished redemption and in connection with Christ’s priestly ministry.

How solemn the sequel here. The servant of the Lord failed — there has been but one perfect “Servant” (Isaiah 42:1). The meekest man upon earth became angry at the repeated murmurings of Israel. He addressed the covenant people of God as “Ye rebels.” He asked them. “Must we fetch you water out of the rock?” He “smote the rock twice” — indicating the heat of his temper. And because of this God suffered him not to lead Israel into Canaan. He is very jealous of the types — more than one man was slain because his conduct marred them.

It is striking to note that though Moses smote the rock instead of speaking to it. nevertheless, the refreshing waters gushed forth from it. How this should warn us against the conclusion that a man’s methods must be right if the Lord is pleased to use him. Many there are who imagine that the methods used in service must be pleasing to God if His blessing attends them. But this incident shows plainly that it is not safe to argue thus. Moses’ methods were wrong; notwithstanding, God gave the blessing! But how this incident also manifests, once more, the wondrous grace of God. In spite of (not because of) Israel’s murmuring, and in spite of Moses’ failure, water was given to them, their every need was supplied. Truly, our God is the “God of all grace.” May the realization of this draw out our hearts in adoring worship, and may our lives rebound more and more unto His glory.











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