And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).
The situation in Corinth was dire. Paul knew that the brethren needed to understand the consequences of disobeying God, and he turned to the story of Israel’s exodus and wanderings in the desert to illustrate God’s reactions to sin. To make his point clear, Paul wrote of the exodus and the wanderings of Israel in Christian terms through allegory. In so doing, Paul presented a wonderful way to understand Israel’s exodus and wanderings in Christian terms, and also to understand our own walk with Christ in terms of Israel’s exodus and wanderings.
One such aspect of Israel’s wanderings is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 10:4: Israel drinking from the “spiritual rock.” This rock “followed” them, and the “Rock was Christ!” Paul provides much that requires spiritual insight and understanding!
Paul refers to the story found in Exodus 17:1-7 when Israel is in the wilderness. They have no water and demand drink from Moses. Moses asks why they quarrel with him and test God, and they continue to grumble, asking why they were brought out of Egypt to die of thirst in the wilderness. God tells Moses to strike the rock, and water came forth from it to drink. The place would be known as Massah and Meribah, the place where Israel tested God. Moses will later strike another rock to provide water for Israel, although he was commanded merely to speak to it (Numbers 20:2-12).
When we read of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness, we must not think of wildernesses with which we are familiar, with trees and birds and the like. The wildernesses in which Israel wandered were deserts, quite inhospitable, and on their own insufficient to sustain Israel’s numbers. While Israel wandered in the wilderness, they were entirely dependent on God for food and water; He always provided for them.
We may understand from Exodus 16:2-5 that manna, the food with which God sustained Israel, fell like dew from the heavens. The water in Exodus 17:1-7, however, comes from striking a rock, an object not normally known for retaining water. Why did God intend for Moses to provide water for Israel through a rock? And how does Moses’ striking the rock that provides water correlate with Christ’s being a rock? We must understand that the rock of water of Exodus 17:1-7 represents a type of which Jesus is the substance.
John recorded for us an interaction between Jesus and a woman of Samaria in John 4:4-26 that introduces us to the concept of “living water.” Jesus sits at a well and requests water from this woman of Samaria, and when she asks Him why He would make such a request from a Samaritan, He responds by indicating that if she knew who He really was, she would ask for and receive “living water” (John 4:4-10). In the following exchanges it becomes clear that Jesus speaks spiritually while the Samaritan woman thinks physically. She would love to no longer need to drink water and carry it home from the well: but Jesus is not speaking of physical water! He indicates that the water He offers becomes a spring that wells up within a man to eternal life (John 4:14). While the Samaritan woman ends up believing in Jesus as the Messiah, it is not clear whether she ever understands His meaning.
Jesus later proclaims a similar message in the Temple, crying out that those who thirst should come to Him for drink, and from him should flow rivers of living water in John 7:37-38. From this proclamation we may better understand what Jesus meant by “living water”. Jesus is the source of eternal life for all who believe in Him, and the “living water” represents the Word, the way of salvation, which Jesus manifested in the world (John 1:1, 14). God’s message of salvation and eternal life in the Son refreshes the believer who then has no need for refreshment from another.
The idea of Christ as a rock is presented in other Scriptures. Jesus represents the “chief cornerstone” that is rejected by builders but accepted by God, as prophesied in Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus also represents the foundation of the faith, as Paul establishes in 1 Corinthians 3:11; likewise, the confession that He is the Christ represents the rock upon which Christ builds His church (Matthew 16:18). We may see that the New Testament presents Jesus both as the source of “living water” and also as a Rock, the foundation of our faith.
We may gain understanding of Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 10:4 through conflating all the imagery described above. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as a Rock and as a source of living water, and the Old Testament speaks of Israel being sustained by water provided by God through the striking of a rock. Thanks to Paul’s blending of the two, we may understand Jesus as the Rock, struck to provide living water leading to eternal life for those who believe. Let us ever seek to drink living water from Christ the Lord, observing His commandments to the glory and honor of God the Father!
Ethan R. Longhenry