Questions From Readers
● In what way did the Israelites in the wilderness “drink from the spiritual rock-mass that followed them,” as stated at 1 Corinthians 10:4?—I. M., U.S.A.
The apostle Paul commented about the provisions God made for the Israelites after they left Egypt, saying: “All ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they used to drink from the spiritual rock-mass that followed them, and that rock-mass meant the Christ.”—1 Cor. 10:3, 4.
It seems that the apostle had two meanings in mind here, the first literal and the second spiritual.
In view of his preceding comments about passing through the Red Sea, it is apparent that Paul was alluding to the literal food and drink that God provided miraculously for the Israelites in the wilderness. Jehovah supplied manna on a regular basis for them. Since this literal food was produced miraculously or through Jehovah’s spirit, it might be termed “spiritual food.”
Similarly, God through his spirit provided drink for them. Shortly after leaving Egypt the people lacked water. At God’s direction Moses took his rod and struck a rock, producing water for the some two million Israelites as well as for their animals. (Ex. 17:5-7) Near the end of their forty-year trek Moses again struck a rock and water gushed forth for that huge congregation.—Num. 20:1-11.
How did they drink in a literal way from a “rock-mass that followed them”? While the rock Moses initially struck did not roll along after them for all those years, the fact is that they had divinely provided water from a rock-mass on at least two occasions, one near the beginning and one near the end of the forty years. So the literal water might be said to have followed them in that sense. Or, when the water was provided in such enormous amounts, it might have been somewhat of a river that “followed” them or went along with them, kept up with them, in that they could drink from it for a while as they journeyed.
But how is this suggestive of a way that those Israelites back there partook of spiritual provisions that followed or went along with them? The Israelites were expecting the “seed” promised to Abraham, Shiloh who was to come. (Gen. 22:18; 49:10) The sacrifices and ceremonies connected with their sins and their need for forgiveness pointed to the Messiah, the antitypical “rock-mass.” As Paul wrote in other places: “The Law has a shadow of the good things to come,” and, “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” (Heb. 10:1; Gal. 3:24) So, along with providing literal food and drink for the Israelites, God provided spiritual sustenance which followed them or went along with them through the wilderness. The spiritual things relating to the Messiah could sustain their hope and spiritual life.
When Jesus did come as the Messiah, there flowed out from him spiritual waters of life and provisions far more valuable than those literal things given the Hebrews. Jesus said: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He that puts faith in me, just as the Scripture has said, ‘Out from his inmost part streams of living water will flow.’” (John 7:37, 38) Many Israelites who drank from the rock-mass in the wilderness did not even enter into life in the Promised Land. But to the later Jews who did not stumble over Jesus as the “rock-mass of offense,” Christ gave spiritual waters that became “a fountain of water bubbling up to impart everlasting life.”—Rom. 9:32, 33; John 4:14, 15.