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Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Wendy Wippel

The Emmaus Road makes me love Jesus.  Two reasons: 1) it paints a very human Messiah who can't pass up a (literally) once-in-a-lifetime chance to mess with His friends! 2) The Messiah Himself, barely resurrected, has a prophecy study with His followers. And what He told them every Bible scholar should know.

The group of Jesus' followers who were on their way to Emmaus were bewildered.  Their faith had been shaken by Jesus' trial and crucifixion.  They were mystified by His missing body.

They were, to put it mildly, "all shook up".

The passage (Luke 24:13-31) records that Jesus (His identity unknown to them) appears and gently chides them for their confusion, saying,

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!"

But then Luke says a really amazing thing.  He says that Jesus proceeded to sit the disciples down and, "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets" explains to them how everything in the Old Testament spoke of Him. 

The coming Messiah. 

And what that means is that, to really understand the Old Testament, you have to stick Jesus into the mix.  On every page.  If you don't, whatever you come up with as interpretation will be more man's thoughts than God's.  Jesus said it's all about Him. And that's "I" witness testimony.  As in the "I AM." 

Exhibit A: the story of the thirsty children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sin, particularly the account in Numbers 20.  The second time Moses got water out of the rock, in which Moses, asked to provide water for the wandering tribes by simply asking the rock to meet the children of Israel's needs, in contrast to an earlier episode in the same region, in which God told Moses to strike the rock. (Exodus 17:6), ignores God's instruction and strikes the rock again. 

Which had consequences.  Moses will now not be permitted to enter the promised land.

We get the following interpretation of that episode from Chabad, a Jewish site that interprets scripture from a Jewish perspective.  The author admits that this second incidence of Moses' hitting the rock--the second time-- is "one of the most mystifying episodes recounted in the Torah." 

The Chabad author has reasonable questions:

"Why didn't Moses -- G-d's most loyal servant -- follow simple instructions? … If striking the rock was so awful, why was it okay so many years earlier?  … Why did this seemingly minor offense have such severe consequences?"

He had this hypothesis:

"Moses is synonymous with miracles…Moses did not know how to deal with this world on its terms.  Instead, when he needed to accomplish a task he resorted to supernatural powers to do so.  He didn't convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites, he didn't even engage in conventional warfare; instead he used the miraculous powers at his disposal to utterly crush his opposition."

"He didn't talk to rocks to bring forth waters, he struck them into submission."

"While this is an exciting modus operandi, this wasn't how the land of Canaan was to be conquered.  This worked for the generation which left Egypt, a generation that subsisted on miracles for forty years.  But G‑d had a different plan in mind for this generation which was now poised to enter the Holy Land.  They weren't intended to miraculously obliterate their opposition, they were given the mandate to change the world by dealing with it on its terms.  They were supposed to enter the world, plow and reap its fields, and cajole the world to higher levels of spirituality and G‑dliness…. This was a task which Moses could not accomplish -- he was simply too great a spiritual giant.  This was a task for Joshua.  Moses' striking the rock wasn't the reason why he couldn't lead the Jews in to Canaan; it was a symptom of the reason."

Funny.  I have a somewhat different approach: think Emmaus Road and throw Jesus into the mix.

The rock in question was, in Exodus 17, smitten at God's command to bring forth water.  How can we throw Jesus into the mix?  For starters, rock is used with incredible consistency in the scriptures as a metaphor for the Lord.  Out of 235 total mentions of "rock" in  the Bible (NKJV), 49 of those references use "rock" metaphorically and every single one refers to God the Father or God the Son.  

(Interestingly, there are seven references in the relevant passages (Exodus 17 and Numbers 20) to the actual rock Moses struck, and seven additional references throughout scripture that remember the rock and the events that took place there.  But no doubt those groups of seven are just coincidence.)

So the rock, obviously, represents Christ.  And the Exodus 17 passage, interestingly, says that it was struck in the sight of the elders of Israel (Exodus 17:6), as was Christ, (with their blessing).  Christ, also (like the rock) was struck at God's command:

"Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.  (Isaiah 53:4 NKJV)

And the water?  Let Scripture interpret itself:

"For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants.” (Isaiah 44:3)

Scripture defines water for the thirsty as the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit was poured out -- but only after Christ (the rock) was smitten:

"A little while longer and the world will see Me no more… These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things."  (John 14:19,25)

The prophecy by analogy was fulfilled.  Christ (the rock) was stricken at God's command (by the "Rod of God").  And water (or in the prophecy-by analogy, the spirit) pours out.  In that order.

So far, so good.

But then we come to the next incident, in Numbers 20.  The children of Israel return to the Wilderness of Sin, and again, there is no water.  So again, Moses goes, at God's command, to the rock.  To, again, procure water for the nation of Israel. 

But this time things are a little different.  This time God tells him not to strike the rock, just to speak to it. 

Why?  Because the rock had already been stricken! The Lamb of God had already been slain, had already taken away the sins of the world.  And it was that same Lamb of God who told one thirsty Samaritan woman that if she asked, He would give her the "living water" (John 4:10), living water that would become "a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

All she had to do was ask, and she would receive.  The rock didn't need to be smitten again.  God's instructions to Moses intended to preserve that prophetic analogy.

Moses messed it up.  That's why God levied such a strict penalty.

But wait a minute.  Can God's plans be thwarted?  God knows the end from the beginning.  What gives?  Could Moses really have messed up God's plans?

Of course not.  The prophetic analogy had to have been preserved.  And it was.  Why? Because the Lamb was stricken twice. 

The nation of Israel rejected their Messiah.  Hebrews gives us God's perspective on that, telling us that those of the nation of Israel that do not repent of "dead works" (i.e. the law, which had no power to redeem), those who fail to turn from dead works to the living Lord who fulfilled the law, "crucify again for themselves the Son of God".   (Hebrews 6:6)  When the people of Israel failed to appropriate the once-for all sacrifice for himself, they crucified Him again.  He was smitten twice.

And Jesus (prophetically) confims it:

"One shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." (Zechariah 13:6)

"Wounded" here is the Hebrew word "nakah" which appears 500 times in the Old Testament.  Of those, it is translated "wounded" three times.  It is translated "smitten" 348 times.

Jesus was "smitten" in the house of His friends.  A second time.

But wait.  There’s more.  The rock at Horeb is stricken both times.  Same rock.  But interestingly, the two accounts use two different words for that one rock.

When Moses first, obediently, strikes the rock, it is the Hebrew word "tsuwr", which pretty much means any kind of rock- a flat rock, a pebble, a block of stone.

When Moses strikes the rock a second time at Horeb, rejecting God's commands, the Hebrew word is used more specifically, for a crag or a cliff.  It's from a root word that means "lofty".  It describes, specifically, an "elevated rock". 

Which calls to mind John 3:13-15.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

It was the elevated "rock", the crucified Jesus, lifted up, that was rejected the second time, crucifying again -for themselves-the Son of God.

But the final difference between the two accounts tells the bigger story.  The second time Moses struck the rock (even though Moses went against God’s instruction), even more water flowed out than before.  The passage says that water poured out more abundantly than before, so that not only the people drank, but all the livestock as well.

And so it is with Christ, the Rock.  Isaiah records, interestingly, the emotional response of the human Jesus to His rejection.  Surely I spent my strength for nothing,  He says. But God lets Him know different. It was too small a thing for you to just restore Israel, God says.  I will also make you a light to the Gentiles.


It is interesting that when Jesus had that prophecy study with His followers on the road to Emmaus, they say that their hearts burned within them while He opened up the Scriptures.  That is what makes the Old Testament understandable.  Jesus.  Without Him it’s an unfinished story, with Israel still in the wilderness, and all of God’s promises still at arm’s length. 

Hence Chabad’s confusion.

But God keeps His promises, and the final chapter for Israel is yet to come. 

But come it certainly will.  And we already got to read the last page.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: A Coke and a Smile

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