Christ the Water-giving Rock (II)

 Christ is risen!


This is the concluding post to Christ the Water-giving Rock.

In Exodus 17:1-7 and then again in Numbers 20:1-13, we encounter two stories the Israelites having escaped from Egypt finding themselves in a desert wasteland, totally thirsty and with no source of water to drink.  In both cases Moses is told to take his staff and strike a rock, and miraculously a fountain of water pours forth from the rock to satisfy a thirsty people.


The two different stories both call the waters which came forth “Meribah” which caused ancient Jewish interpreters of Scripture to assume that it was the same rock in both places that Moses struck.   In Jewish tradition (the Targum), the rock which was a well of life-giving water was following the Israelites on their desert sojourn. The Jewish Midrash (ancient commentary) on Numbers 21:16-18, specifically connects the rock with a well that was moving and following the Israelites.  The Targum allegorically interprets these same verses to claim that the digging of the well means digging into the Torah.  Additionally because of the similarity in the Hebrew words for “well” (as a place to get water) and expound (as in explaining) – in Hebrew the words are cognates – Jewish tradition connected well with Torah and with the expounding (explaining) of Torah.

“It is interesting to note that in bar. Avot  6:1 (note: ancient Jewish commentary on Scripture) the person who concerns himself with Torah is likened to a flowing well: ‘And they reveal to him the secret meanings of the Torah, and he is made as a well that ever gathers force, and like a stream that never ceases.’” (James Aageson, in HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 167)


The  Jews connected a flowing well to the person concerned with Torah, but Christ connects the flowing well to Himself. The wisdom of God and the Holy Sprit come to us from Christ.

Philo (d. ca 41AD), writing about the same time as St. Paul (d. ca 67AD), and accepting the Jewish tradition which equated Torah with Wisdom, writes about the rock which followed the Israelites in the desert exodus:  “Again Moses leads the song at the well, and this time his theme is not only the rout of the passions, but the strength invincible which can win the most beautiful of possessions, wisdom, which he likens to a well.  For wisdom lies deep below the surface and gives forth a sweet stream of true nobility for thirsty souls.”   (HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 167)

“We have now established that early in the development of this tradition a number of symbols have come together: the rock, well, Torah, digging the well, and wisdom.  In virtually all cases, the implication is clear: something life-giving – water, wisdom, Torah – flows to the people who need to be nourished and sustained.  … Torah, often identified with wisdom, signifies the means by which God gives life to the people, just as water from the rock gave them life in the wilderness.  Torah stands between God and the people, and it flows with life-giving nourishment.” (HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 168)


It should be quite obvious that in Christianity Christ takes the place of Torah, doing for us all that the Jews believed Torah did for them.

“The association of the rock with the well and the rock with Torah, the identification of wisdom with Torah, and the concept of spiritual drink all combine to form a symbolic constellation that makes possible Paul’s connection of the rock and Christ.  In the symbolic transformation of the tradition, he has simply substituted Christ for the rock, which as he already knew represented Torah.  … Christ as the source of spiritual drink has assumed in a figurative sense the role of Torah.  For Paul, the messianic Jew, Christ is the means by which God’s life-sustaining drink is given to the people. … As the wandering Hebrews drank from the rock that followed them in the wilderness, and as the Jews were nourished by the life-giving waters of Torah, so now, claims Paul, the people partake of the Eucharistic drink of Christ who is identified as the rock of the biblical story.”  (pp 168-169)


So in Orthodoxy the feasts of Mid-Pentecost and of Pentecost tie in theologically the Law/Torah with Christ who is the fulfillment and thus replacement of Torah.  Moses gave the Law, but with Christ comes the Holy Spirit.  Or as St John says in John 1:17 – “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”   And the Scripture readings of the Orthodox Church for these two Great Feasts have at their root and basis an interpretation of Scriptures rooted deeply in ancient Judaism.  Orthodoxy continues in an unbroken line proclaiming and liturgically celebrating the truth which God first made known through Torah, and which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

“The link between the rock and Christ – as it was between the rock, well, Torah, and wisdom – appears to be grounded in the notion of the wellspring through which God brings forth life to his people.  … we see the interplay between the biblical images (rock, well, water) and the shifting religious symbols that come to be identified with God’s sustaining power (Torah and Torah interpretation, wisdom, and Christ). …    This is what occurred in 1 Cor 10:4, as Paul has come to perceive Christ as the wellspring of heavenly nourishment.  In the Eucharist, the people of God drink from the wellspring, and  they share in the life-sustaining power of God, which was also poured out upon the people in the wilderness of ancient Sinai.”  (pp 169-170)


The hymns of the Church for the festal period of Pascha-Pentecost clearly follow the thinking of St Paul connecting Christ to Wisdom and to the miraculous rock of the Exodus story.  Christ’s tomb flows forth with the same spiritual drink that the rock provided Israel in the desert.  The Myrrhbearing women come to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning wondering who will move the rock away from the door of the tomb for them.  The rock has already been moved for it symbolically is like the traveling rock of Israel—its purpose is to slake those spiritually thirsting for God.  The huge stone is moved away from the tomb and so from the carved rock tomb springs forth living water. The living water we receive is the eternal life which flows from Christ’s tomb and the Holy Spirit whom Christ sends forth on the world.  When we embrace the Gospel of the resurrection, we are drinking the new vintage drink which springs forth from the tomb of Christ.

[See also my posts: Christ the Rock which is the Fountain of Life,  Christ the Rock Who Follows Us and Christ the Wisdom and Word of God]

Truly, He is risen!