One night after I had gone to bed early, the phone rang, and when my son picked up he heard a woman weeping on the other end. She was crying so hard she could not find her voice, but fortunately my son gently said the right thing.
“You want to talk to my mom, don’t you?”
She muttered a feeble, “Yes.”
And, then my son woke me up to talk and pray with my sweet friend.
Who do you call in the middle of the night when you need prayer? Do you have someone you can call who is willing to lose sleep, and comfort you, someone who feels like a rock of stability in the middle of your challenging circumstances?
That night I was the one she called, but many times I reach out in tears seeking a solid friend to pray and encourage me, because sorrow is unexplainably common.
One of the most precious pictures of Jesus foreshadowed in the Old Testament is the Rock. The early church was fascinated with examples of where they saw Christ hidden in the Old Testament. Paul identifies this Rock portrait in 2 Cor. 10:1-4 when speaking about the desert trek the Israelites made from Egypt.
"I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ." ESV
In Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” ESV
Jesus knew the Psalmist was referring to him. Jesus is the stone the builders rejected and his once-for-all sacrifice is the sure footing we now stand on in prayer. Through Jesus, God was going to reconcile the world to himself.
In our next Rock passages God uses a contentious struggle between Moses and the Israelites to reveal the power of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Look at Exodus 17:2-7.
"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?” So Moses cried to the Lord? “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you 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.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel." ESV
Dehydration is a serious problem for people who try hiking in the desert. If you have never felt the pounding headaches or muscle cramps of dehydration, you might not fully understand what these people experienced and why they felt justified in their grumbling. Mercifully, God did understand and even though they complained, God provided water when Moses struck the rock.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be the last time they ran out of water on their desert journey. In Numbers 20:2-12 we have our second story of dehydration.
"Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates and there is no water to drink. Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. " ESV
God wanted the Rock portrait to illustrate Jesus’ one-time sacrifice. Compare these two Old Testament stories with Jesus’ sacrifice. In the Exodus passage while Moses was alone with the elders, he was told to strike the rock and water would gush forth. He was not to strike the rock in front of the entire congregation. Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night and was brought alone before the Sanhedrin, the body of the Jewish elders. It was in a secret trial they beat him and condemned him to die because they feared the crowds who had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem.
In the Numbers passage Moses was supposed to speak to the Rock in front of the entire congregation and water would flow. By speaking instead of striking the Rock this second event in Israel’s history was to prophetically point to the power of Jesus’ one-time sacrifice. Now, in our prayers we need only to speak to the Rock of our salvation. God answers us based on Jesus’ one-time crucifixion.
Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land when he willfully destroyed the picture of grace God wanted embedded in the Exodus. Without understanding that God wanted to foreshadow Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice in Israel’s history, these two desert stories are difficult to interpret. Blinded by leadership fatigue Moses felt he had a right to preempt God’s intentions.
With this Rock metaphor, we learn the value God places on his eternal plans.
Hebrews 9:24-26, 28 reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice was a one-time sacrifice.
"For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
… so Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. ESV
Jesus’ sacrifice happened once. This is the solid rock on which we stand in prayer. We don’t come in our own righteousness and try to negotiate with the Almighty. When God commanded Moses to speak to the rock it was to show how we come to God in prayer, through the power of Jesus’ blood sacrifice. Our prayers find merit because we belong to Jesus and his merit has been imparted to us.
1) Why is it hard for us to know the significance of obedience?
2) How does the Rock portrait shatter your understanding of God?