Today, I want to talk about typology. By studying types, your understanding of the Old Testament can be greatly enriched, and your appreciation of God's handiwork throughout the scope of human history can be increased. In typology, we look for symbols of Christ in the Old Testament, foreshadowing the Messiah who is to come. In our Old Testament passage today, we have two such images of Jesus.
First, there's the rock that brings forth water, in Numbers 20:
2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, 7 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8 “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.
10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.
Paul identifies the rock with Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 10, He says:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
This interpretation of an Old Testament event gives new meaning to what happened there in the desert. God was providing physical water for a thirsty nation in a miraculous way. But more than that, He was creating a picture of the Messiah. Previously (Exodus 17:6), when the people had thirsted, God had brought water from the rock at Rephidim. Now at Meribah, they are in a similar situation. Now if the rock is (or at least represents) Christ, then the striking of the rock at Meribah represents Jesus' suffering so that out of him could flow a river of life to us. But now that Jesus has been crucified once and for all, the sinner needs only speak to Him to gain salvation. Jesus doesn't have to be crucified over and over for our sins (as some say He undergoes in the mystical realm). His one-time suffering was for all, and now we have an Advocate and a Counselor with whom we can speak. When Moses struck the rock in direct violation of God's instructions, he violate the typology that God was trying to set up. He also said, "Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" By this, Moses was identifying himself as a miracle-worker, rather than giving glory to God alone for the supernatural provision. He took credit for something that God was doing...and it would prove to be Moses' undoing.
The second place we see typology employed in this Old Testament passage is in Numbers 21:
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Jesus would later identify Himself with this story, saying, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15)."
So, in the book of Numbers, these were very real serpents that were biting and killing people, and Moses constructed a very real bronze snake that brought them healing. At the same time, this event prefigures the crucifixion of Christ. Why would Jesus be represented by a serpent? Because He took our sins upon Himself, and even became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), that we might be saved. Anyone who looks to him with the eyes of faith, and asks for healing from the bite of sin, will be saved.
Later, King Hezekiah would destroy this artifact because it had become an idol that the people worshiped and made offerings to (2 Kings 18:4). Today, many people idolize religious symbols like crosses and crucifixes. I knew a church that idolized its original, centuries-old communion set and gave it such honor that it became an impediment, rather than an assistance, in worship. We have to be careful that our religious symbols do not become gods themselves, but that they help us worship the One True Living God better.
What a joy it is to uncover the Old Testament treasures that point to the Messiah! As you read these old stories, be mindful of their significance today. Remember that the Old Testament as well as the New Testament are gifts to us from God, so that we can know Him better. Enjoy God's Word as through your Bible you discover Jesus again and again!
All scriptures are taken from the ESV.