Exodus 17 deals spiritually with the most natural and most vital element needed to sustain life. We can go three weeks without food, but most of us cannot go four days without water. In this light, the importance of the truth drawn from this chapter is unequivocal. We have a great spiritual need. The essence of the gospel is that Christ, the central theme of the gospel, meets our overwhelming spiritual need, and then sustains us in our Christian lives.
From the time Moses was placed in a basket in the river to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt where the first two plagues featured water, and finally the crossing of the Red Sea itself, Israel had an acute knowledge of God’s power where water was concerned. God not only guided them to Rephidim (v1) but also knew there was no water there. God was testing Israel. Israel wandered for 38 years in the most inhospitable of environments, yet God had shown His faithfulness and sustaining hand in providing for them every day. It is sad to read that the children of Israel began to chide Moses (v2) and test God. It shows that even after their wanderings caused by unbelief, their rebellious spirit remained, and verse 7 reveals they even questioned whether the Lord was among them or not! Their minds turned back to the Nile River, a free-flowing river that, despite being surrounded to the east and west by desert, burst its banks each year, creating a fertile rich soil. (Today, 95% of Egypt’s population lives on about 5% of the land, all along the Nile).
God had – and has – the problem in hand! There might be panic in our lives, as there was with Israel, but we need to take comfort in the fact that there is no alarm in heaven, no matter what the difficulty in our lives. The rock, something that is not associated with a water source, is used to show Israel the greatness of God. The rock is for our learning as a type of Christ who is the substance.
Scripture gives us insight as to what we might learn from Exodus 17. Christ, in John 4:14, taught the Samaritan woman that in Him is a spiritual well that springs up into eternal life. When Christ was in the temple He exclaimed that for the one who believes in Him, rivers of living water shall flow from his heart (Joh 7:37-39). A rock or stone as a type of Christ is likewise seen throughout Scripture. He is prophesied as the chief cornerstone (Psa 118:22-23). Isaiah tells us, “Behold I lay a stone in Zion” (28:16). The Lord Jesus revealed to Peter and the other disciples that “upon this Rock I will build my church” (Mat 16:18). Christ is the source of living water and the foundation of our faith (the Rock).
The clearest reason why God used the rock in Exodus 17 is revealed in 1 Corinthians 10:4. Paul takes both types (water and rock) together, and teaches unequivocally that Christ, as the struck Rock, is our source of eternal life and living water to sustain us in our Christian life. Our response is to continually drink of this living water, and live fresh, vibrant Christian lives before God.