When to Strike the Rock
"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38)
"Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us, or not?" (Exodus 17:6-7)
"Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink." (Numbers 20:8)
There is so much here that there is no way that I can begin to unpack what I am starting to see. But what really grabbed my attention today was the strong link between these verses and how they identify the source of this water that flows.
When I first saw the phrase from his innermost being, I sensed something exciting was hiding in those words. But not until today did I begin to make the connection more clearly with the stories from the life of Moses. In addition, I am now seeing some intriguing possibilities about the difference between the two events in the life of Moses relating to receiving water from the rock in the wilderness. Paul pointed out that the rock in the wilderness actually represented Christ Himself. ...They were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)
With that insight I can see more in connection to having Christ living in my innermost being as a necessity for experiencing the outflow of living water that Jesus talked about here in John 7. But I am intrigued by the two ways that God had Moses relate to the rock and how that might be instructive for me today in how I may need to relate to Christ to experience something similar in my life.
We are quite familiar with the tragic mistake that Moses made the second time he approached the rock to provide water for the thirsty people. Instead of following God's clear instructions and only speaking to the rock, he allowed his growing resentment from the people's constant complaining to overcome him with irritation and he struck the rock in anger. God still provided water for the people in spite of Moses' public disobedience, but the consequences for Moses were extremely painful as he was compelled to relinquish the most cherished dream of his life, leading his people into the promised land. God stated clearly that because Moses had misrepresented God before the people (by getting angry instead of presenting God to them as compassionate and patient with them despite all their murmurings), Moses would forfeit the honor of leading them and that role would pass on to another.
However, in this context I am wondering how this might apply to our own lives. In our journey of coming to know Christ for ourselves, is it possible that there may be a time early in our experience when it may be necessary or therapeutic for us to 'strike the rock' so to speak to first receive the living water to quench our thirst and begin to connect with God more closely. After that our healing can grow us up to come to be able to see God so differently that we realize that we no longer need to strike Him to meet our needs but enter into a more intimate relationship of love and trust where we only need to speak to Him as a friend and trust Him no matter how offensive we have been to Him in the past.
I see a potential parallel between these two methods of receiving water to the transition in our experience from living in an external relationship with God into entering a more genuine inner, heart-based relationship of trust and love and inner peace no matter what is going on externally. That is not to say that starting with an external religion will result in an internal connection with God. Unfortunately that route is all too often explored with little result – I know, I spent most of my life attempting to do that. But since most of us generally start from that mindset, God takes us where we are while drawing us to desire something better, something more genuine, something more satisfying that will bring us into closeness with the Source of life which our heart truly longs for at its deepest level.
It has often been taught that these two symbols of getting water from the rock were given by God to illustrate part of this very idea. In the Old Testament era the external forms of religion generally involved a great deal of physical symbols and activities representing internal truths and realities that were not yet fully understood until Jesus would come to reveal the true nature of the kingdom. When Jesus presented Himself to this earth as the real rock, the true source of living water, and sinners struck Him in their raging resentment against His picture of the Father, it became much more clear what the true nature of His kingdom was supposed to look like. After that, those with a new understanding of the real truth about God as revealed in Jesus would need only speak to God to enjoy refreshing waters of life; they no longer needed to employ all the external forms of symbolic religion and the complicated systems of worship that had been in place up to that point.
But I wonder if this still may have valid application to our own journey in coming to know God personally. Is it possible that there may be a period in our lives where we may need to unleash our own anger and resentment against God directly as symbolized by the striking of the rock the first time to release our own deep pain by delivering it directly at Him? I sense that part of our problems in feeling so stuck much of the time emotionally and spiritually may be because we are still afraid of offending a sensitive, easily irritated God by getting totally honest with Him about how we feel inside. Yet I have heard a number of compelling stories of people who have chosen to unleash their inner rage on God directly even while fearing they would certainly be severely punished for doing so, only to discover to their amazement that God responded by pouring into their heart refreshing streams of life and hope and even joy – the very things they least expected after their outburst.
Of course there is always the danger of making a similar mistake as that of Moses the second time around. And it is true that once we have entered into deeper intimacy with God by releasing our inner rage and pain on Him we need to be very careful how we represent Him before others. But on a very personal level I am beginning to suspect that we may be still so afraid of God that we often refrain from taking even the first step of being totally honest with Him and in doing so we may be hampering our own growth process of coming to know God for ourselves in our innermost being.
In addition to these thoughts, I also notice that all of this is directly connected to the most common lie in the human heart, that of doubting whether God really cares about me or not. The reason the Israelites in the desert complained so much was because they refused to trust God when things got bad in their lives. And the same is still very true today. Jesus exposed this problem when He talked so much about our need for belief in Him. This belief He spoke of is at the deepest level of my heart, the belief based on my picture of God and how He really feels about me.
It is of little use to deceive myself into thinking I believe in God while exhibiting all the symptoms of unbelief when things get tight for me. But trials tend to expose my true belief system and God allows those trials to come to show me what is really inside under all the veneer of professed belief in my external religion. When the money is short, the friends turn against me; my reputation is slandered or I am mistreated – it is then that my real opinions about God begin to surface and I can see more clearly what I really think about how He feels about me.
When I choose to count it all joy when trials come instead of complaining about them, it will be because I am choosing to get more real with Jesus about what is inside and allowing Him to use those trials as opportunities to heal me of lies that keep me from trusting Him more fully. As those lies are replaced with truth about God deep in my heart, I can experience the joy of no longer being triggered by similar events from the outside while the peace of God reigns in my heart producing life-giving water for others to drink. God can then become my rock of security as well as my rock of provision for all of my needs.