God in the Dock
For me, seeing Christ in the Old Testament is intriguing, enlightening, and actually quite exciting. I love a good mystery and finding Jesus throughout the Scriptures is as thrilling as seeing a top tier mystery writer develop his story, giving clues and hints until it finally all comes together, and the reader can exclaim, “Yes! I see it now!” (As a really good resource on this, I recommend The Unfolding Mystery – Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by E. P. Clowney.)
Regarding our text from Exodus, Clowney states, “From early in the wilderness wanderings of Israel come the most vivid image of the triumph of God’s grace in his covenant with Israel.”
As the story unfolds in Exodus, God brings Israel from Egypt to a place in the Sinai Desert called Rephidim. They encamp there, but there is no water. This is an extremely serious situation in the Sinai Desert, and the people become extremely angry against Moses for leading them to a place where there is no water. In great anger, they come to him and lodge a complaint against him, essentially arguing that he should be put to death because of what he has done. An exasperated Moses, who has been faithfully following the Lord’s instructions, cries out to God saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” God tells Moses that their complaint is actually against him and not against Moses. By this point, God has delivered Israel through the miracles of the plagues for all of Egypt to see, he has parted the Red Sea so they could escape Pharaoh’s army, and he has led them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He has provided manna and quail for them in the wilderness, and yet they still do not trust him. The people grumble, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us….?”
God has every right to break forth in wrath upon this ungrateful and unbelieving nation, but instead he shows grace. Clowney notes that “what follows is one of the most amazing incidents in Scripture.” God tells Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:5-6).
This passage is remarkable in that Moses is to take his rod, the rod of judgment that was used to turn the Nile into blood, take with him the elders or leaders of the nation, and march out to a rock with God going before them. God himself will then stand before them on the rock and be judged. God is placing himself in the prisoner’s dock in a courtroom. Man always stands before God to be judged; it is never God standing before man, until now. Israel has lodged a complaint against God, and in Hebrew, complaint here essentially means a lawsuit. What should happen is that God should bring a complaint against them for their unbelief in the face of all that he has done for them, and they should die for their sin. But instead, he shows grace by standing in their place in the prisoner’s dock and receiving judgment for their sin. Moses strikes the rock where God stands with the rod of judgment, and life-giving water pours forth.
What an amazing picture of the sacrifice of Christ! Jesus was falsely accused by his own people. He was sinless yet brought to trial and placed in the prisoner’s dock. The leaders judged him as guilty because everything he did showed the glory of God and revealed their sin, and they hated him for doing that. They nailed him to a cross, and he willingly took the punishment for their sin. In grace, he stood in their place as God’s judgment for their sin was poured forth in all its force upon him.
To complete the picture of Rephidim, the Apostle John records, “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). I find it so interesting and wonderful that God provided a literal, physical conclusion to the amazing illustration that occurred in the Sinai Desert. Blood and water literally came out of Jesus, the Rock of our Salvation, as he was struck by God’s rod of judgment. Jesus said, “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14).
Brothers and sisters, drink up! May we always thirst for the life-giving water of Christ. How blessed we are to be granted insight into the great mystery of redemption through Christ as revealed in the Scriptures.
Prayer: Thank you Jesus for being the Rock of my Salvation. Thank you for taking my place before God and bearing the punishment for sin that I deserve. Thank you for opening my heart to see who you are and giving to me “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
In your precious name I pray, Amen.