In 1 Cor. 10:4 the Apostle Paul again shows his concern that the people might be disqualified as overcomers, if they should follow Moses’ example.
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.
The apostle was referencing the two occasions in which the people received water when Moses struck the rock that followed them out of Egypt. On both occasions, the water was “spiritual drink,” although it is plain that to the Israelites it was physical water. Nonetheless, that water represented the word of God, by which all are cleansed, for Paul says in Eph. 5:26,
26 that He might sanctify her [the church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.
To drink “spiritual drink,” then, is to receive the water from the wells of salvation that Jesus offered in John 7:37. It is the same “living water” that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:13, 14. Such water, once received, becomes an endless fount of life flowing out from the inside, which alone can satisfy the inner thirst for the knowledge of God.
Water also depicted the cleansing of baptism and the Holy Spirit working within us to cleanse our hearts and to bless others as well.
Strike the Rock
The water that the Israelites drank was not the problem. The problem was the manner in which they were given this water. Moses was told to strike the rock on the first occasion in Exodus 17:6, where we read,
6 “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
Moses was obedient on this occasion, and the people were given water to drink. Striking the rock signified the death of Christ, for, as Paul says, “the rock was Christ.” Moses’ actions prophesied of the death of Jesus on the cross, which released the “spiritual drink” for us all. This incident took place just before Israel arrived at Mount Horeb to receive the law.
Speak to the Rock
On the next occasion, about forty years later (shortly after the death of Miriam), the people again ran out of water, and God told Moses to “speak to the rock.” Num. 20:7-12 tells the story,
7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” 9 So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and the water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
Jesus did not need to be struck again, for He died “once for all” (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27). To send a message that He must be struck again is to say that He must return to the earth to die again for sin—as if His death on the cross was insufficient.
Worse yet, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice” on that second occasion. This sent an Old Covenant message to the people, as if to tell them that sacrifice must be repeated continually. Heb. 10:1-4 refutes this, saying,
1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
By striking the rock twice, Moses did not “sanctify” Christ. His message was that Christ’s sacrifice was ineffective and needed to be repeated daily or yearly. It put Christ on par with animal sacrifices and left the people under the Old Covenant. This is what disqualified Moses from leading Israel into the Promised Land.
Old Covenant Beliefs in a New Covenant Time
Jesus came the first time as a second Moses to redeem and deliver the people from the house of bondage—that is, from their bondage to “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:23, 25). In Paul’s way of thinking, sin was personified as a lawgiver and was the equivalent to Pharaoh.
But in Christ’s second appearance, whose purpose is to lead us into the Kingdom, He comes as Joshua. Joshua was commissioned in Deut. 31:23, shortly after establishing the New Covenant—that is, the oath which God made with all people (Deut. 29:12-15). Moses was disqualified as a lesson for us. It is a simple lesson, though perhaps startling. Experiencing Passover (striking the rock) and preaching the word of the cross itself is important to bring us out of “Egypt,” but it is insufficient to bring us into the Promised Land.
The church in the wilderness were all justified by faith in the blood of the lamb when they came out of Egypt, but hardly any of them endured to the end. They died in the wilderness, because they did not have sufficient faith to enter the Promised Land. They had their own measure of Passover faith, but most of them failed at Mount Horeb to achieve Pentecostal faith, and so when it came time to enter the Kingdom, they fell short of Tabernacles faith. Hence, they believed the evil report of the ten spies (Num. 14:3, 4) instead of the good report of the two spies.
Hebrews 3:19 comments on this story, telling us,
19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief (apistia, “lack of faith”).
There is more than one level of faith in Scripture. Paul says that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17). In other words, our Passover faith must increase through Pentecost in order to attain to the level of Tabernacles faith. Jesus’ disciples knew something of this, so they asked Jesus to do something to increase their faith (Luke 17:5).
So what is Tabernacles faith? Simply stated, Tabernacles faith is bound up in the New Covenant, under which we all must enter the Promised Land under Joshua. However, Moses struck the rock again at the end of forty years in the wilderness, as if he found it necessary to lay again the old foundations of faith in Christ. But see what Heb. 6:1, 2 says,
1 Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings [baptismos], and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal [aionian] judgment.
The “elementary teaching” is certainly important as a foundation of faith, but if we continue “laying again a foundation” of these elementary principles, we will never “press on to maturity.” Those who wish to hear only about Jesus’ death and resurrection, faith toward God, baptism, and the judgments of God are not yet qualified to be overcomers.
On a practical note, of course, since we must teach new believers as well as long-time believers, we must often lay those foundational principles, but all are expected to “press on to maturity.”
What is spiritual maturity? It has many elements, but Hebrews 6 speaks of it in terms of biblical teaching and understanding truth. If we must go back and lay again the basic truths that we learned as new believers, then, as Hebrew 6 goes on to tell us, we find ourselves stuck in Old Covenant thinking. Such people “crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb. 6:6).
In other words, we end up striking the rock again and again, metaphorically speaking. The book of Hebrews was concerned about those believers who were unable to break free of their Old Covenant mindset, those who were unable to immigrate from the Old to the New Covenant. (A Hebrew is an immigrant.)
For this reason, if a believer falls back into Old Covenant thinking, he cannot rest in the forgiveness of sin, since he treats Jesus’ sacrifice as just another animal sacrifice that must be repeated continually. He continues to crucify Jesus again and again to find some relief. As an example, Catholics repeat “the sacrifice of the mass” over and over again, thus crucifying Christ continually in the attempt to be forgiven of sin.
This is Old Covenant thinking. But what does the New Covenant tell us? 1 John 5:13 says,
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal [aionian] life.
Those who claim that they cannot know that they are saved until after they die are those who have been drinking the water that was given to Israel when Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20. In fact, they were not given proper teaching about the water from the first time Moses struck the rock in Exodus 17. Hence, they remained under the Old Covenant, even if they were being told that this was the New Covenant.
The Second Work of Christ
The two incidents speak of the first and second work of Christ, seeing that they occurred forty years apart. The timing suggests that forty Jubilees (40 x 49 years) separate the two works of Christ, and that the church has been in the wilderness until the present time.
The two doves to cleanse mortals (“lepers”) in Leviticus 14 shows that the first dove was to be killed, but the second was to be set free in the open field. The two goats to cleanse sinners in Leviticus 16 shows that the first goat was to be killed, but the second was to be set free in the wilderness. The first dove and goat speak of Christ’s death, even as the first time Moses struck the rock also speaks of Christ’s death on the cross.
What would have happened if the priest had killed the second dove or the second goat as well? Would this not have violated the types and shadows, teaching us of things regarding the second work of Christ?
In the story of Jonah, his first call led him to the belly of the whale (Jonah 1:17) as a type of Christ in His first work (Matt. 12:40). But his second call was a preaching work, for he was called as a living man to preach the gospel to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1, 2).
Believers who have never gone beyond the elementary teaching of the cross can hardly be expected to fulfill this commission. In fact, when the world repents, like Jonah himself, most of the believers will be angry at God for saving His enemies (Jonah 4:4, 9). Why? Because they still retain the Old Covenant mindset without realizing it. They have not been taught the truly good news of the gospel that Christ died, not only for our sins, but “also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Many Christians cannot accept this truth, because they still believe that it is each man’s own vow to God that saves them. In other words, they have been taught that an Old Covenant vow of obedience is the path of salvation. But because no man can keep his vow perfectly, salvation cannot come by such good intentions. Only the vow of God has ever saved anyone.
We must move from our vow in Exodus 19:8 to God’s vow in Deut. 29:12, 13. If we remain under Old Covenant salvation methods, we will continue to crucify Christ again and again, hoping that one day it will take effect and make us righteous. Yet such thinking will disqualify us as quickly as it disqualified Moses when he struck the rock in Numbers 20. Our salvation is not based upon the promises of men but the promises of God.
This is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 10:4, when he mentioned the “spiritual drink” that the church in the wilderness drank.