"Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John vii.37).
"And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ" (I. Cor. x.4).
Twice was a rock smitten by Moses in the wilderness to supply the Israelites with water. The first was at Rephidim, in the wilderness of Sin, during the first year of their Exodus, before they came to Mount Sinai. The second was at Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, in the fortieth year of the Exodus. It is evident that the apostle refers to the first of these, though we can hardly think, with most commentators known to us, that he does so exclusively. The fact that the rock followed them, as a type of Christ, in their wilderness life, demands that it be from the beginning, rather than the end, of their journey. And the fact that many who drank of it fell in the wilderness, requires the same conclusion. But for reasons yet to appear, we think the two are considered as one. The miracle was in all respects the same in the second as in the first. There was the same dependence for life on the second as the first. There was the same necessity that the second rock or stream should follow them as there was of the first; for they were yet a long way from Canaan, with a waterless desert before them. We can, therefore, see no reason why the first should be a type of Christ and not the second.
Was it the stream or the rock which followed the Israelites? Paul says the rock. But commentators seem generally to agree that the "rock" is here put by metonymy for the water of the rock, Barnes says, "It would be absurd to suppose that the rock that was smitten by Moses literally followed them in the wilderness." Just why it is more "absurd" to suppose the rock followed them, than the stream from a stationary fountain at Horeb, we are wholly unable to see. Let us look at the facts and probabilities in the case.
We must keep in view the important fact, as mentioned in the last chapter, that these people were dependent on God. They had seen the mighty hand of God in their delivery, and now they were to be taught dependence on Him, as the only source of life. They had, therefore, to be sustained by miraculous food and miraculous drink. The country supplied neither food nor water. The miraculous supply of water was as great a necessity as that of bread. For two or three millions of people, with their flocks and herds, a large stream, even a small river, would be required. It is also true that their cattle had to have food, as well as themselves. Just how this was furnished, we are not told. Here is a large field for conjecture. It is generally held that the river continued to flow from a stationary source at Horeb, and that it irrigated the country in its following of the people, and thus caused vegetation for the flocks and herds. But in the fortieth year they are again found without water. Why was this? What had become of the river that had followed them from the first year, if it was the river, and not the rock, that followed them? On this point we can not refrain from quoting Macknight and Barnes, as examples of how learned commentators, led by a theory, sometimes drop their readers into a perfect abyss of darkness. Macknight says: "For as Wall observes, from Horeb, which was a high mountain, there may have been a descent to the sea; and the Israelites during the thirty-seven years of their journeying from Mount Sinai may have gone by those tracts of country in which the waters from Horeb could follow them, till in the thirty-ninth year of the Exodus they came to Ezion-gaber (Num. xxxiii.36), which was a part of the Red Sea a great way down the Arabian side, where it is supposed the waters from Horeb went into that sea." Barnes says: "Mount Horeb was higher than the adjacent country, and the water that thus gushed from the rock, instead of collecting into a pool and becoming stagnant, would flow off in the direction of the sea. The sea to which it would naturally flow would be the Red Sea. The Israelites doubtless, in their journeyings, would be influenced by the natural direction of the water, or would not wander far from it, as it was daily needful for the supply of their wants. At the end of thirty-seven years we find the Israelites at Ezion-gaber, a seaport on the eastern branch of the Red Sea, where the waters probably flowed into the sea (Num. xxxiii.36). In the fortieth year of their departure from Egypt, they left this place to go into Canaan, by the country of Edom, and were immediately in distress again by the want of water."
These comments involve several objectionable features. (1) The Israelites were guided in their course by the pillar of cloud and fire; not by the stream of water on its course to the sea. (2) Paul says the rock followed them; not that they followed the river. (3) We can not allow that when God sets out to work a miracle, He is defeated by natural causes. The idea that the river ran into the sea, and left the children of Israel without water, just because the situation would naturally lead to that result, is to let go the miracle and have God defeated, because the surroundings are not favorable! The idea that God could cause a river to flow from a flinty rock, and then have to leave it to seek its natural way to the sea, leaving His people destitute when the surface of the country would be in the way of its natural flow, is equaled only by admitting that God created the heavens and the earth, but could not give sight to the blind or call Lazarus out of the grave. We, therefore, repeat the question, If the river followed the people, what became of it when they came into the wilderness of Zin?
On the hypothesis that it was the rock which followed them, just as Paul says it was, there is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that for some cause, not given, God withheld the flow of water to chastise them for their wickedness, as He did in other ways, and make them realize their dependence. As favoring this idea, when they were destitute the second time, and cried unto Moses in their distress, God told him to gather the people together and speak unto the rock. Not only was there a suitable rock present for the second river of water, but it seemed to be a particular rock. Hence designated "the rock." Our conclusion is, therefore, that the two rocks were one; that it followed the Israelites during their entire journey to Canaan, supplying the people with the fresh out-gushings of its crystal stream. That rock was typical of Christ, and the blessings of Christ are never stale or stagnant, as the water from a fountain in Horeb would have been, after winding its sluggish way through the parched desert of Arabia.
"That rock was Christ." That is, it was a type of Him. All those transactions were typical. "Now these things happened unto them by way of types; and they were written for our admonition."
"A dry and thirsty land where no water is," well represents this world to one who has not an ever-present Saviour as the fountain of the water of life. As the Israelites would have perished without the crystal flow from the flinty rock, so perishes the world without Christ. There is no appetite more distressing than thirst. There is nothing more delightful than the cooling draught to the parched throat. Oh, to those who thus "thirst after righteousness," how delightful it is to be "filled"! "As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Only the thirsty can appreciate drink; so only those who first feel the need of a Saviour can experience the joy of salvation. Not only shall the thirsty soul be satisfied that drinks of the water of life, but it shall "become within him a well of water springing up unto eternal life." This refreshing and ever-present fountain of life flows for all. "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." To slake one's thirst at this fountain, is a foretaste of the river of life that flows from beneath the throne in the eternal city of God. Many who drank of the typical water of the wilderness, fell under the displeasure of God, and died short of the promised land. Hence we should be careful to live ever near to the water of life, that our thirsty souls may be continually supplied, and our strength renewed. Only by being constantly refreshed can we be saved from perishing in the wilderness and kept unto the land of God beyond.