Did a rock follow Israel in the desert and was that rock Jesus?
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(All quotations from the King James translation unless stated otherwise).
1 Corinthians 10:4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
Paul is speaking figuratively. The literal experience of Israel in the wilderness has a figurative or spiritual lesson for us. The gospel of a descendent in whom all would be blessed was first preached to Abraham in the promises made to him.
Galatians 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.
This promise was a covenant made with Abraham and formed the basis of the belief or faith of Abraham and those of his offspring who would believe and take hold of the faith of their father.
Galatians 3:7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
The promise of an eternal inheritance is centred on a promised Messiah.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
The promise of a special seed that would come formed the gospel which Israel were expected to understand. The promise had to be believed if they would profit from it.
Hebrews 4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
There were two specific instances where Israel’s relationship with the promised seed is acted out as a prophetic parable.
The first is at Rephidim shortly after Moses brought them out of Egypt.
Exodus 17:1 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? 3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? 4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 5 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
The second was at Kadesh in the 40th (final) year of the wilderness wandering.
Numbers 20:1 Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 2 And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? 5 And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink. 6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them. 7 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 12 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Water in scripture is used as a figure for the word of God.
Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
John 4:14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
At Rephidim Moses was instructed to smite the rock (Exodus 17:6) to produce the water which is prophetic of Israel smiting and killing their promised seed; the one whose life was the word of God manifested in the flesh. Only by his death could the water of life bring salvation.
At Kadesh Moses was instructed to speak to the rock (Numbers 20:7) intended to be prophetic of Israel’s supplication (Zechariah 12:10) to the promised seed at his future second coming. Moses through Israel’s provocation destroyed the figure by striking the rock instead of speaking to it and was refused permission to take Israel into the Promised Land. In doing so he established that the Mosaic Law cannot save.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4 is alluding to the supernatural provision of water from the rock and drawing a spiritual parallel of those among Israel who drank (had faith in the provision of) the promised seed who was to follow them in time (some 1400 years later).
It illustrates that justification has always been by faith in the promises given by the word of God and obedience to the gospel.
Hence the symbolic connection of belief and baptism:
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;
John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Ephesians 5:26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
It is by understanding and obeying the word of God that Israel and we are saved.
2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
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I hope this helps.