Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus in the Old Testament (Part 5)

Exodus 17:1-7

Teaching t20605


We are studying some of the amazing ways that the Old Testament predicted the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Let’s review briefly the two main categories of Old Testament Messianic prophecy: historical predictions and typological predictions (e.g., Gen.22 & Ex. 12).  This morning we will look at another typological prediction—both an event and an institution.  It is found in Ex. 17.  Before we read the event, let me briefly describe the setting:

Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea to deliver them from Pharaoh’s army.  He has begun to lead them through the Sinai desert on the way to the Promised Land.  On two different occasions, the people have complained about lack of water or food—and both times God (through Moses) has provided them with water and food.  Along with this provision, God reminded them that he was teaching them through these tests to trust him.  But instead of trusting God, they were testing him—accusing him of being unloving or impotent.

Read 17:1.  This is another test.  God has led them to Rephidim—but there is no water.  This is a life-threatening situation!  Will the Israelites connect the dots from their previous experiences and trust God to provide water?  Not so much...

The event

Read 17:2-4.  This is déjà vu all over again!  Only it’s worse than it looks.  The language hear makes it clear that the people are not just complaining—they are bringing legal charges against Moses and God!

“Quarreled” (riyb, root of “Meribah”) means to sue, to conduct a legal suit.  “Put to the test” (nassa, root of “Massah”) means to put someone on trial. 

Moses is not exaggerating in 17:4 when he says that the people are about to stone him.  They are charging God with criminal negligence, and they are demanding justice.  And since God is not available, they accuse his representative (Moses) and are arranging a formal execution!  This is why in 17:7 (read), Moses names this site “Meribah” and “Massah”—the place where God’s people put God and Moses on trial for their lives.

God, of course, understands that he is being put on trial.  He also understands that it is the people who are guilty—not him or Moses!  So he directs Moses to compose the “courtroom” (read 17:5,6a).  Moses is to bring some of the elders to represent the people in their complaint.  Moses is to bring his staff, which is the symbol of authority and judgment (e.g., RED SEA)—in other words, Moses is to act as the judge who inflicts God’s punishment on the guilty party.  The courtroom is to be a specific rock, and God will visibly appear there for the trial.

Think about how differently Moses and the elders would view this trial.  The elders would (wrongly) view themselves as witnesses for the prosecution and God as the defendant.  But Moses would (rightfully) view the elders as the defendants and God as the witness for the prosecution.  (I wonder if the elders, as they beheld the glory of God, remembered God’s track-record, and began to have second thoughts...)

Think about how this event illustrates fallen humanity’s relationship with God.  In spite of our sin and guilt, God not only continues to let us exist—he also provides our needs for us over and over again.  Yet forget/take for granted God’s mercy and provision, and we interpret every difficulty as an outrageous offense, as evidence that God is neither loving nor faithful.  We constantly put God on trial to condemn him, when in reality it is we who deserve to tried and condemned by God!

What God says next is absolutely stunning (read 17:6b).  Israel is guilty—but Moses’ rod is not raised against Israel!  Instead, God tells Moses to strike the rock on which God “stands!”  Think about how “backwards” this is:

Israel is guilty of rebellion—but God appears before Moses as the guilty party!

Israel deserves to be judged—but God takes the penalty that is due them!

After God bears the penalty though he is innocent, Israel receives abundant water though they are guilty!

(Show RAPHAEL’S painting and point out the elements)

What does this strange event mean?  Of course, it was significant for the original audience—the water God provided saved their lives.  The rest of the Old Testament recalls this event many times.1  But it had a far greater significance—it was prophetic type that foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, the salvation he would provide, and the way he would provide it.  Let’s turn from the type to its fulfillment...

The fulfillment

Not long after this event, God instituted a major annual festival called the Feast of Tabernacles/Shelters (Lev.23:33-43; Deut.16:13-16).  During this week-long festival, the Israelites were to celebrate God’s provision of another harvest (like a week-long Thanksgiving feast!).  They were also to remember God’s Exodus provision for their ancestors by constructing and living in foliage tents during this week.

The sad fact is that once they got into the Promised Land, they promptly forgot all about this festival.  Not until almost 1000 years later did they begin to observe this festival (Neh.8:14-18)!  Then they began to observe it in a beautiful way:

Every day for six days, the people would gather in the Temple precinct.  The priests poured water into a bowl on the altar to commemorate God’s provision of water from the rock at Meribah.

While the priests poured the water, the people anticipated the coming of the Messiah by reciting these words from Isaiah: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters...With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa.55:1; 12:3).2  They also recited Ps. 118, a messianic Psalm which says” “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  From the house of the Lord we bless you... The stone which the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (118:22-26).3

But on the last day of the feast, the water was not poured.  Instead, the people stood silently and contemplated the living water that the Messiah would one day bring.4 

It was on this last day of the feast, while the people were thus in silent contemplation, that Jesus spoke up in a loud voice to declare (read Jn.7:37-39).  Why did Jesus do this?  Not to interrupt the festival, but to announce that he had come to fulfill it!

He was the One who appeared on the rock at Meribah.  Paul makes this explicit in 1Cor.10:4 (read).  Just as Jesus appeared as the “Angel of the Lord” to spare Isaac and point to the substitute who would die in Isaac’s place (Gen. 22:12), so he appeared at the rock as the “Angel of the Lord” to point to the way God would ultimately save his people.

He is the One who stood in our place, bearing our guilt, and took the judgment we deserve.  Quote Isa.53:5,6.  The rock was smitten only once (and it was wrong for Moses to strike it twice – see Num.20:11) because Jesus need die only once to pay for all of our sins (Heb.7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:10).

He is the One who was smitten so that we can receive God’s Spirit, who will abundantly fill us with spiritual life that will quench our spiritual thirst with his love (Rom.5:5), and give us the resources to share this abundance with others.

The invitation/condition

The only condition at Meribah was that the people had to come to the rock and drink the water to live.  In the same way, Jesus says that the only condition is that we come to him and drink.  What does it look like to respond to this invitation?  Jesus says that we come and drink by “believing in me” (7:38).  But what does it look like to “believe in Jesus?”  It means to personally entrust yourself to Jesus in the following ways:

“I entrust myself to you as the only promised Messiah.”  When Jesus spoke these words, he was publicly proclaiming to be the one and only unique Messiah who was predicted by hundreds of Old Testament messianic prophecies (like this one).  To believe that Jesus is one of many ways to God is to completely twist the Old Testament’s teaching about Messiah and Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God (Jn.14:6).  If you don’t believe Jesus is who he claims to be, just reject him.  But if you are ready to entrust yourself to him for who he claims to be, he is ready!

“I entrust myself to you as the only One who can quench my spiritual thirst.”  Jesus alone claimed to be able to quench your soul’s thirst for security, significance, and acceptance.  You can’t come to Jesus to use him as an optional part of your spiritual “cocktail”—you must be willing to come to him as the sole and sufficient source of spiritual life (Jn.6:35).

“I entrust myself to you, depending only on your death for me.”  You can’t come to Jesus on the basis of your own moral record.  You have to be willing to come acknowledging that you are like the Israelites (guilty of rebellion; deserving of God’s judgment), that Jesus was judged in your place, and that he received the judgment that you deserve.  You have to admit that your righteousness is not sufficient, but you can rejoice that your sin does not disqualify you!

Have you ever believed in Jesus in this way?  I’m not asking you if you ever recited a creed, or went through a confirmation class, or became a church member, or prayed a prayer out of peer pressure or to get Jesus to give you what you want.  I’m asking if you have ever personally entrusted yourself to the real Jesus in this way.  If you haven’t, you should entrust yourself to him today...

We have to come to Jesus and drink initially (above) to receive the Holy Spirit.  That’s a one-time, permanent decision that never needs to be re-enacted.  If you have entrusted yourself to Jesus, you have his permanent forgiveness and the Holy Spirit resides permanently in you.  But the verb tense in 7:37 is present-continuous—“keep on coming and keep on drinking.”  So those who belong to Jesus are to continue to ask Jesus to fill you with God’s Spirit.  Just as the Israelites, after being saved from death by the initial drink, needed to keep coming and drinking, so do we with Jesus.  Paul makes this same point in Eph.5:18 (read).

If you become an alcoholic, you drink regularly.  Drinking becomes your favorite pastime—you look forward to drinking, and you drink at every opportunity.  If possible, you drink before work, during work, and after work.  And the more regularly you drink, the more you are controlled and ruined by alcohol (PERSONALITY; LYING; HIDING; SELFISH; etc.).

Instead, we need to become regular drinkers of God’s Spirit by regularly coming to Jesus.  It’s so easy—easier than drinking alcohol because there’s always a full supply, and because the supply is free (Jesus paid for it with his blood).  You just need to turn to him and tell him that you want to be filled again with his love so that you can give his love to others.  Don’t waste time apologizing for how long it’s been since you drank last or for what happened while you weren’t drinking.  And don’t ask and then try to sense if you feel filled—just ask and believe that he has answered your request, and move forward to give his love to someone. 

Do you “drink” regularly?  Do you drink before work, during work, on your way home, at home, etc.?  Do you know what would happen if the majority of us began to drink like this?  God would fill our hearts with his love, and we wouldn’t waste time and energy trying to get love and stimulation from other things.  And God would fill us with the motivation to give his love to other people.  And other people would see that Jesus is alive and come to him—and a spiritual chain-reaction would start and change the world!  Do you want this?  Are you drinking regularly?

1 See Num.20:1-13; Deut.8:15; Neh.9:15; Ps.78:15; 105:41; 114:8.

2 Philip W. Comfort & Wendall C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994), p.122.

3 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p.420.

4 Francis Schaeffer says that the water was poured out only on the last day of the feast.  He refers to non-biblical sources for this information, but does not name them.  See Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982), Volume 3, pp. 150,151.