1For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
In Exodus 17, very early in the Exodus from Egypt, the people of God complained because they did not have water. This is not unreasonable. They were in a desert. Without water they would die very soon. God instructed Moses to strike a rock. Water came forth, and the people drank. Later in their wandering, in Numbers 20, the same thing happened. The people were thirsty, Moses prayed, and God gave them water from the stricken rock.
The Jewish rabbis read all the Torah with great intensity, and they noticed something here. In Numbers it says that Moses struck “the” rock, not “a” rock. What can this mean? The events take place in places far apart from each other. You and I probably assumed that Moses simply struck any available rock both times. But the rabbis would not allow for such sloppy language. The “the” in Numbers must be significant. Their answer was that clearly it was the same rock mentioned in Exodus 17. The rock must have followed them in the wilderness for the purposes of meeting just such a need. After all, what if it had been a sandy place with no rocks to strike? God provided the stone for Moses to strike.
I tell you about this because Paul the Apostle used to be Saul of Tarsus, who had studied under Gamaliel the Rabbi. He used Gamaliel’s explanation of the rock in verse 4 of our reading. But the Apostle did something with it. The rock that followed them in the desert is Jesus. Paul seems to see Jesus everywhere in his Old Testament. The whole of it, even these strange stories which are hard to understand are given for our instruction. They all tell us something about Jesus. St. Augustine once likened these odd passages to a wrinkle in a garment. They kept us interested, occupied the mind, and prevented boredom for the intelligent reader.
The Rock follows you too. He showed up in your baptism, you abide in Him and He in you. He has never left you in this life’s wanderings. Even when you thought you did not see Him or when life was good and you forgot all about Him. The Rock followed you.