Speaking of the people of Israel in the wilderness, the apostle Paul tells us they “all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:3-4).
With regard to the rock, the apostle has two incidents in mind. The first is near the beginning of the wilderness journey. The people were thirsty. After a great salvation from bondage in Egypt and passing through the sea, the people asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:6). Was God really with His people? Yes. God commanded Moses, “‘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” (Exodus 17:5).
Toward the end of their journey, the people again grumbled because of thirst. God said to Moses, “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” (Numbers 20:8). After a long journey, Moses was exasperated. “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:11). We empathize with him. “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank” (Numbers 20:12).
Paul recalls these incidents, at the beginning and at the end of the forty year journey, for a purpose. It is as though the rock from which the people originally drank followed them through the desert. It was there at the beginning of the journey. It was there at the end of the journey.
Paul says, “the rock was Christ.” This is metaphorical language. Metaphors are implied comparisons. Metaphors, allegories, and symbols are analogous. Paul sees the rock as a symbol of the presence of the Lord with the people. Remember this challenge. “Is the Lord among us or not?” Remember too, Paul taught and we believe “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9).
The water was spiritual drink because its origin was heaven. The rock was a spiritual rock because the physical rock from which water sprang, symbolized the true rock, Jesus Christ. Our Lord makes the same connection. The Feast of Tabernacles remembered Israel’s wilderness journey. “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink’” (John 7:37).
Finally, Paul formally compares the wilderness experience of Israel with the life of the church in this world. “Now these things happened to them as an example [typically]” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Jesus Christ was with His people in the wilderness. This was God’s covenant promise. “I will make My dwelling among you,” and “I will also walk among you” (Leviticus 26:11-12).
Jesus Christ is with His church, in the wilderness of this world, today. This is particularly true when we gather for worship. Jesus Christ, our spiritual rock, is present to give us spiritual drink to sustain us in the journey of life. Unlike Israel, we should not ask, “Is the Lord among us?” He covenants with us to meet us and to feed us. We should gather in worship expecting to meet with Him and to be fed by Him.