Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers . . . did drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
Daily Israel arose from its sleep to gaze upon the bread from heaven which in the morning light covered the floor of the desert. It was a beautiful sight, glistening all white under the rising sun. They gathered of it until they had plenty to eat. They ate of it until they were satisfied. The taste of it was sweet, giving the people much joy. It reminded them again and again of the great and all-comprehensive power of Israel’s God. To those who were spiritual in Israel, the truth which tile manna brought was even richer. Eating of it to nourish their bodies, they were reminded every time again that in God also they must find the nourishment for their souls. His grace had to uphold their spiritual life. They were being told “that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3). In the dim outline of Old Testament shadow, they saw the promise of the living bread which was yet to come from heaven so that if any man would eat of it, he would live forever. To those who had eyes to see, the mamma of the wilderness testified of the promise of the gospel.
But there were others. They saw in the manna nothing more than a form of food that was pleasant to the taste and satisfying to the body. For a time they too marveled at the daily replenishment of this wonderful food, but before long they began to take it completely for granted. They became tired of the constant repetition of manna. They ate of it only because there was nothing different, but the pleasure of eating was departed. There was a rift in the camp of Israel, and constantly it was growing deeper.
Every day they were being led deeper into the wilderness by the cloud of Jehovah, and once more the difficulty that preceded their arrival at Marah began to reappear. Their water bags were becoming empty, and they found no springs or fountains upon the way to refill them. Again the tension of fear and disappointment began to build. What good was their daily supply of manna without water to drink? Carefully what water they had was meted out; but no one received enough to quite satisfy. Every mile along which they were led appeared to be drier than the one before. Why did they have to travel such a dismal route? They needed fresh supplies of water if they were to live. Why was it not supplied? More and more bitter their thoughts became until at last in anger they turned again to Moses. “Give us water that we may drink,” they angrily demanded.
In this the children of Israel revealed an evil that is often typical of sin. The people were rebelling against God. They were dissatisfied with the way in which the Lord was leading them. In their hearts they were thinking that they could have found a better route. It would have been better to take a shorter way with an abundant supply of food and water, they thought. The road upon which they traveled now was foolish and ill advised. But at the same time they lacked the honesty to acknowledge that they were questioning the wisdom of God. Instead they would lay the blame at the feet of another mere man. The fact that Moses did nothing more than to follow the cloud of Jehovah, they would ignore. The fact that he led them as he did by direct instruction from God, they would forget. They would speak to Moses as though he were the responsible party. In that way the wickedness of their rebellion did not appear quite so evident. This Moses pointed out when he answered, “Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?”
Well might the people have stopped at this. It was a grievous error to become guilty of tempting the Lord their God. They made themselves worthy of being destroyed even as the Egyptians were. But the angry minds of the Israelites were much too heated to stop at this. It made them even more angry to think that in the present situation they should be accused of sin. With accusing voices and threatening gestures, they answered Moses, “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?”
Gradually Moses was learning how deep the roots of sin were still implanted in the nation of Israel. He could lead them in the way that the Lord had ordained, but he could not make them willing to follow. He could admonish them for their rebellion, but he could not make them repent. He could speak to them the truth, but he could not give them ears that would hear and hearts that would believe. Rather it was becoming ever more evident that many were offended by the Word of God. They wanted nothing more than the things of this earth. When these things were supplied, they were satisfied and would even put on the appearance of thankfulness. But when the Word of God came to them without the material things they wanted, it made them angry and rebellious. They would not place their trust in God alone, and the very suggestion that they should do so was offensive. Each time the murmuring of the people was becoming more violent. They were even beginning to threaten his life. Overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness, he cried unto the Lord in prayer, “What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.” With God he found a calm but firm answer. Obediently Moses set himself to obey.
First Moses gathered together the elders of the people. They were the leaders of the nation. Many of them were the most outspoken in the repeated murmurings of the wilderness journey. Now they stood before Moses and there was tension in the air. Antagonism was dividing the nation which before had been so closely united. They looked upon each other as enemies.
With firm authority Moses began to lead the men out of the camp toward the wilderness. Within the minds and hearts of the elders a feeling of uneasiness began to stir. They had defied the living God, and the bearing of Moses told them that the time of reckoning was drawing near. The uncertainty of sin began to trouble them within. But a few weeks before at Marah the Word of God had come to them saying, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Now, as they walked behind Moses, their memories echoed these words again and again. In their murmuring and rebellion, they had refused to keep the commandments of Jehovah and His statutes; they had rejected the voice of the Lord, and what would their end now be? Looking ahead they saw in the hand of Moses that rod which had come to symbolize his God-appointed office. This was the rod that had brought the plagues and diseases of the Egyptians upon them. It was that rod, indeed, which had opened up the Red Sea for Israel’s deliverance; but that same rod had closed the sea again to the destruction of the wicked. It was a rod of judgment. Now, they had made themselves guilty. Would it turn upon them?
On into the wilderness they went until they saw before them a great rock cliff of towering granite. In its shadow they stood, and how small it made them feel. In pride they had thought themselves great, but the feeling melted before the elevated rock that God had made. They had thought themselves strong, but before the vast, immovableness of the granite cliffs the feeling could not endure. In number they were many, but here they seemed as nothing. And then lifting up their eyes, they saw the cloud. It stood before them and the rock. It was the cloud of Jehovah radiating with purity and righteousness from above, and it was as though the rock and the cloud were merged into one. The holy brilliance of the cloud seemed to cover the face of the rock; and the vast immovableness of the rock belonged also to the cloud. The people stood small and insignificant in the presence of Jehovah God.
There was fear in their hearts when they turned again to look at Moses. And then they trembled, for he had lifted up above his head the rod given him by Jehovah. They had sinned. Now they had to admit it. What right did they have to question the way of the Lord? What right did they have to doubt that He was able and willing to fulfill His promises and supply their every need? What right did they have to murmur and complain when things did not go as they wanted? And yet they had done it over and over again. Now the time of judgment had come. There was the cloud glimmering with the holy glory of God. There was the cliff of rock typifying His immovableness. There was the rod which before their eyes had brought down judgments on countless wicked before. What was their end to be? Would fire and brimstone be called down from on high repeating the judgment of Sodom? Would the rock fall upon them and grind them to powder? Would they be cast into hell?
Through the stillness of the desert air sounded the weight of a heavy stroke. Moses had brought down the rod once and again on the rock. Punishment was being meted out, but not on them, on the rock, on the rock where the cloud of Jehovah stood, on the rock where the Angel of Jehovah was. The punishment of their sins was being laid on the Angel of God.
And that was not all. As the astonished people watched, there burst forth from the foot of the rock a stream of water, clear, cool, and pure. It brought refreshment to their dry and thirsty lips. It was the proof that God could and would provide the needs of Israel.
It was a beautiful scene to behold as the people gathered to drink of the waters that poured mysteriously forth from the rock. But there was also a tinge of sadness, for the division in the camp had become more deep.
There were those who drank of the water and found nothing more in it than refreshment for their burning lips. When they left the waters they would forget them. They would be ready to murmur again.
But there were also the others who drank the water with a sense of spiritual reverence. They could not forget the way in which it was brought forth. They remembered how unworthy they were. They remembered that they had sinned. They remembered that they had been worthy of judgment. They remembered that their judgment had been laid upon the Angel of Jehovah that stood on the rock, and then the waters came forth. It was as though they heard already the voice of the prophet many ages away saying, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” As they stooped to drink of the waters, the glorious refreshment of the waters of life poured in to quicken their souls. Through faith they drank of the spiritual Rock which was Christ.