Water from a Rock

Exodus 17:1-7

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2016

We are studying the Book of Exodus.  It describes the departure of the Jews from Egypt.  God delivered them from their life of slavery.  They are heading to the Promised Land.  Before they get there, they spend some time in the wilderness.  Exodus only records the first year after leaving Egypt.  They spend thirty-nine more years in the wilderness.  If you want to learn about that, you have to read the book of Numbers (which sounds like a great book for anyone who loves math).

We come to Exodus 17 today.  Instead of covering the whole chapter, we will be looking at just the first seven verses.  We will be looking at two things in these verses.  First, we will look at the incredible miracle in this passage.  Some have called this the GREATEST miracle Moses ever performed.  Moses got water from a rock and not just a little water but enough for lot of people.

This was a miracle.  It was no problem for God to do this.  God is all-powerful.  He can split a river in half if He wants to.  He can turn a river into blood.  He can also turn a rock into a river.  We saw God do all of these things in Exodus.

Getting water from a rock is like getting blood from a turnip.  When we are thirsty, we do not go to a rock to get water.  Their thirst was quenched from a rock.  They got their bread from a cloud (manna) and now they got water from a rock.

Second, we will look at Jesus in these verses.  This section contains a very good picture of Jesus.  The Apostle Paul said that this rock was Christ (I Corinthians 10:4).  Anytime we read the Bible, we should look for Jesus and He is here right in this passage.  We have the gospel right in these verses.  It is an incredible picture.

Let’s begin by looking at the miracle.  There are three things I want to look at here in these verses.  We see God’s test of God, man’s test of man and God’s miraculous provision.  I want to look at all three of these things.[1]

God’s Test of Man 

This is review from some of the earlier chapters.  One of the things God did to the Hebrews in the wilderness is to test them.  It is one of the things he does to us as well.  He did this to everyone in the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve.  Most of us do not like tests.  They are painful.  They cause a lot of stress but they are necessary for them and they are necessary for us, so God gives us a life of tests.

When we go to heaven, there are many things we will not bring with us.  We will not bring our riches.  We will not bring our spiritual gifts.  We will not need to heal anybody in heaven.  There will be no need for teaching of preaching.  The Bible says that we will know even as we are known.  The only thing we will take is our character.  That is what God works on to develop on earth.

Notice how the chapter begins.  “All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink” (17:1 ESV)

This is very interesting.  God led the Jews right into Rephidim.  They went there on purpose.  They were in the will of God.  They were following his leading and there was no water to drink.  That is not a small problem.  If there is no water, you die in a matter of days.  What is the lesson here? You can be in the will of God and have problems, even serious problems.  You can have health problems.  You can have family problems.  You can have financial problems.

Sometimes God gives us the same test more than once.  The Jews went without water before.  We saw that in Exodus 15.  God tested them before and they failed the test, so he tested them again and gave them another opportunity to pass the test.  He may give us a similar test more than once as well.

Man’s Test of God 

Notice how the people responded to this trial.  They grumbled.  They murmured and they tested God.

Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”  But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”… And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (17:2-3, 7)

Testing God

Let’s read a few passages on testing God.  Deuteronomy 6:16 says “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (ESV).  Jesus quoted that passage to Satan when he tempted him.

Psalm 95:7-11 says, “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ Therefore I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest.” (ESV)

What do we learn from these passages?  Testing God is wrong.  We are told not to do it.  It makes God angry.  It is something that can put you under divine judgment.  God did not judge the Jews in Exodus 17 but He did later.  The question we need to ask ourselves is this:  How do we test God?

What does that mean?  There is some confusion about what this means. In the Bible, testing God means two things.  It has two elements

1) Testing God is doubting God in the face of overwhelming evidence

Exodus 17:7 says “they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (ESV)  It is a question asked by many people in the wilderness.  Something terrible happens in their life and they ask, “Where was God when this happened?” or “Does He even care what is going on?”  They went through a time without water and began to question God’s presence.

What was the problem here?  There was abundance evidence of God’s presence among them.  They had the Ten Plagues which were clearly supernatural.  God even protected them during some of them.  He distinguished between the Jews and the Egyptians.

His presence was clear when they crossed the Red Sea.  God killed all of the Egyptian troops and saved the Hebrews.  His presence was clear every day with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  It was clear from the manna they received every day.  Every day, they received food from heaven.  These Jews were asking if God was among them right after they ate manna which came straight from heaven.

In Jesus’ day we saw the same thing.  Jesus performed miracle after miracle right before their very eyes and many of the Jewish leaders still did not believe.  It was not because of lack of evidence.  The evidence was overwhelming.  It was undeniable.  The first element involves doubt. We see that in Satan’s first temptation of Jesus.  Matthew 4:1).

Some today do not question God’s presence.  They question His very existence.  They ask, “Where is the evidence that God exists?” and the evidence is everywhere.  All they have to do is go outside and look around and they will see the evidence.  If people go to God and have genuine questions, He answers them.  Some atheists have come to faith that way.  That is different from questions that come from unbelief and skepticism.

2) Testing God is trying to force God to do something

Testing God starts with DOUBT but results in a DEMAND.  It is trying to force God to do something.  It makes us God and He has to do what we say and answer to us.  It is a challenge.  Here the Jews were saying, “If you are really up there, give us water to drink, do it NOW and then we will believe you.”

Here’s where the confusion comes in.  Not all testing God is wrong.  Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (ESV).

In that passage, God tells people to put him to the test.  When is it right to test God and when is it wrong?  God wants us to believe him.  He wants us to claim His promises.  It is not wrong to test God on His terms and ask Him to do what He said he would do.  It is wrong to test him on our terms.  It is one thing to test God IN FAITH.  In is another thing to test God IN UNBELIEF.

It is one thing to test God to do what he promised to do.  That is just taking God at His word.  It is another thing to try to force God to do something that He has NOT promised to do.  Satan told Jesus to jump off of a building and says that God will protect him.  We have no promise that if we jump off of a building, we will not get hurt.

God’s Miraculous Provision

And the Lord said to Moses, “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. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” (17:5-6)

This is interesting.  God tells Moses to strike the rock and water comes out.  It was an incredible miracle.  It was never repeated.  Nowhere else in the Bible do we see people getting water from a rock.

Skeptics say that this was not a real miracle.  They point out that you can get water from some types of rocks.  They are right.  Porous rocks can store water but they store a tiny amount.  They store a fraction of a percent of water.  This one rock had enough water for over two million people.  It is like getting enough water for the whole city of Chicago from one rock.

God not only provides for his people.  He gives us another incredible picture of Jesus in this miracle.  The whole Bible is about Jesus.

On Easter Sunday two men were taking a seven mile walk to Emmaus and were talking about the recent death of Jesus when a mysterious man appeared and began talking to them.  They were sad about the death of Jesus.  The man said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And BEGINNING WITH MOSES and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (24:25-27 ESV)

In fact, Jesus said “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me(John 6:46).

Jesus in Exodus 

We are not even halfway through the Book of Exodus and Jesus is all through this book.  Where have we see Jesus in Exodus?

1. We see Jesus in Moses

Both were deliverers.  Both deliverers were rejected by their own people at first.  Both were born when dictators ruled their country (Pharaoh, Herod).  Both had people who tried to kill them as soon as they were born.  Both hid in Egypt as children.  Both performed miracles.  Moses was the first person in the Bible to perform miracles and Jesus was a great miracle worker.  Both fasted for forty days.

Both were misunderstood and falsely accused.  The Jews accused Moses of trying to kill them in the wilderness.  They accused Jesus of being a blasphemer and Sabbath breaker.  Both had covenants associated with them.  There is the Old Covenant or Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant which we have in Jesus.

Both were mediators.  Moses went up on Mount Sinai and got the Law and brought it to the people.  Jesus is our mediator. Both were loved and supported by someone named Miriam.  Moses older sister Miriam watched over him as a baby. Jesus’ mother was Mary (which in Hebrew is Miriam).  There are so many interesting similarities between Moses and Jesus.

2. We see Jesus in the burning bush

The One who spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush was called “I AM THAT I AM.”  In the NT, Jesus calls himself I AM.  He said, “Before Abraham was I AM” (John 8:58).  It is a clear a reference to Exodus 3:14.

3. We see Jesus in the Passover Lamb

God said that He would kill the firstborn male child in every house in Egypt.  The only thing that saved the Jews was the Passover Lamb.  It was not just any lamb.  It had to be a male lamb that was flawless.  A male lamb with defects would not have saved them.  The lamb was killed and its blood put on the doorpost of the houses.  Jesus is our Passover Lamb.  It is His blood that saves us from divine judgment.

4. We see Jesus in the bitter waters made sweet

The Jews could not find water in the wilderness.  They found water at Marah but it was bitter.  Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a tree and told him to put it in the water.  The solution to their problem was a piece of wood.  It is a solution to us as well.  It is a cross.  Jesus died on a tree.

5. We see Jesus in the manna

The Jews complained that they were hungry.  There was no food to eat in the wilderness, so God rained down bread from heaven on them every day.  The bread saved them.  Jesus says that He is the bread of life which also came down from heaven and that those who believe in him are saved.

6. We see Jesus in the water that came out of the rock

This was also a picture of Jesus.  Paul said that this rock was Christ.  How is this rock an incredible picture of Jesus?

Jesus the Rock 

1) God is on the rock

Notice Exodus 17:6.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb (ESV). God is standing on the rock.  He is identified with the rock.  In fact, many times in the Bible God is called a rock.

Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (ESV).  A rock is a picture of stability.  It is something that is strong and does not move.  Jesus told a story about a man who built his house on a rock (Matthew 7:24-27).

2) The rock has to be struck by Moses

The word “strike” is means a heavy blow, not a light tap.  It is nakah in Hebrew.  It is used in Exodus 21:18.  “When men quarrel and one STRIKES the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed” (ESV).  It is used in Exodus 21:26.   “When a man STRIKES the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye (ESV).

We see the same word in Genesis 32:11.  Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and ATTACK me, the mothers with the children (ESV). The KJV translates it “smite.”  It is the same word.  It is a violent word.

This rock was smitten.  Jesus was smitten.  Isaiah says he was “smitten and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).  The word “smitten” in Hebrew is the same word used in Exodus 17 (nakah).  Jesus was beaten, pierced and crucified.  He was smitten because of sins.  Manna was a picture of Jesus’ birth.  Water from a rock was a picture of Jesus’ death.

3) The rock bears the punishment for sin

Moses struck this rock with the same rod used in the Ten Plagues.  It is called “the rod of God” (KJV) here, as well as in Exodus 4:20. The rod or staff symbolizes the power of God.  It was also used in judgment.  It was the same rod used to judge the Nile.  God is struck with the rod of God.  He is standing on the rock.

This is a picture of substitution.  The people deserved judgment.  They were complaining and even testing God.  Moses doesn’t strike the rebels with the rod.  He strikes the rock.  He strikes God with the rod of judgment.  The judgment is not poured out on the people of God but on God himself.  This rock takes the judgment upon Himself for his people.

4) Water is made available for all who need it

Literal water came out of this rock and a lot of it, enough for two million people to drink.  It gushed out.  Millions of gallons came out in an area where there were no rivers.  Living water flows from Jesus.  He offers the water of life to people.  It is free.  It is available to all.
Jesus told the woman at the well that if she asked him, he would have given her living water (John 4:10). Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).



[1] This basic outline (which I modified slightly) comes from one of my former pastors.  It comes from William Hixson’s sermon on Exodus 17:1-7.

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