Numbers 20 – Comments on Comments


            Charles Haddon Spurgeon

     on Exodus 17 and Numbers 20


Charles Haddon Spurgeon, probably the single most popular preacher in Victorian

England, exemplifies this kind of Bible interpretation in its most complex, detailed form.

When the Baptist Spurgeon delivers a sermon on that same text that Melvill cited from

1 Corinthians 10:4 in contrast with Exodus 17 and Numbers 20, he manages to uncover

a series of complex parallels, all of which reveal how elaborately God uses the Old

Testament to teach us our need of Christ. Spurgeon begins his reading by making

the general claim that both the rock in Horeb and that smitten thirty-seven years

afterwards in Kadesh "were most eminent types of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ,

who, being smitten, gives forth water for the refreshing of his people, and who

follows them all the desert through with his refreshing floods." Next, after

reading aloud relevant passages from Exodus to provide the scriptural context for the

first time the rock was struck, this famous Evangelical begins his detailed analysis by

arguing that the very names of the rocks Moses struck in themselves bear a

typological significance. Thus, this first rock is called both "Horeb," which means

"barrenness," and "Rephidim," which means "beds of rest," and both titles, says Spurgeon,

refer to Christ Himself, who was obviously a bed of rest. Christ was also "a rock

in a barren and a dry land." Citing the prophecy of Isaiah that the Messiah would "be a

"root out of a dry ground"," the preacher urges that Christ similarly arose as an

unexpected source of sustenance in a most unlikely place, for he "came out of a family

which, although once royal, was then almost extinct. His father and mother were but

common people, of the tradesman class" (2.314), and to many of his contemporaries it

seemed impossible that the Messiah could spring from such origins.

Having urged the prefigurative significance of the rock’s two names, the preacher then begins to draw out the major parallels between the type and antitype, the first of which is that “this rock, like our Saviour, GAVE FORTH NO WATER TILL IT WAS SMITTEN. Our Lord Jesus was no Saviour except as He was smitten; for He could not save man unless by His death” (2.315). Making a particularly Evangelical emphasis, Spurgeon adds: “It is not Christ who is my salvation, unless I put it with his cross; it is Christ on Calvary who redeems my soul.... The rock yields no water until it is smitten, and so the Saviour yields no salvation until he is slain” (2.315).

Second, the rock must be struck in a particular manner: "It must be SMITTEN WITH THE ROD OF THE LAWGIVER, or else no water will come forth. So our Saviour Jesus Christ was smitten with the sword of the lawgiver on earth, and by the rod of his great Father, the lawgiver in Heaven" (2.316). In making this point, Spurgeon places great emphasis upon the characteristic double vision produced by typological symbolism. According to him, "it is true that the Roman nailed him to the tree; it is true the Jew dragged him to death; but it is equally true that it was his Father who did it all. It is a great fact that man  slew the Saviour, but it is a great fact that God slew him too" (2.316).

Third, it was also necessary that the rock be struck publicly, for the Crucifixion which fulfills this event took place in the presence of both Jew and Gentile, men rich and poor, wise and ignorant. righteous and sinful. "In fact. being near the time of the passover. there were gathered together Greeks, Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia. Persons out of all nations, standing as representatives of the whole earth, saw the Saviour die, even as the elders stood as the representatives of all the tribes of Israel" (2.318).

Fourth, "this rock, which was smitten, and thus represented the humanity of our Saviour offered up for our sins, had DIVINITY ABOVE IT; for you will notice in the 6th verse, "Behold I will stand before thee upon the rock in Horeb." Although it was a barren rock and so represented Christ's condition of dishonor; although it was a smitten rock, and so represented his suffering humanity, yet over that rock the bright light of the Shecinah shone. God, with outstretched wings of cherubim, stood over the rock, and the people saw him; there was a manifestation of the deity upon Horeb. And so at Calvary" (2.318).

Fifth, another reason the rock prefigures Jesus is that "WHEN SMITTEN THE WATER DID GUSH FORTH most freely, sufficient for all the children of Israel" (2.319). Having introduced this crucial idea that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to save all men at all times Spurgeon emotionally addresses his congregation: "Christ smitten, my beloved, gives out water for all thirsty souls, affording enough for every child of Israel. Christ smitten gives forth a stream which does not flow to-day, nor to-morrow, but which flows forever" (2.319). In a characteristic Evangelical manner Spurgeon then attempts to place his listeners within the events of Old Testament history by using types as if they apply directly to the lives of all w ho hear him. If God's children, says Spurgeon, "arc brought to the wilderness of Zin, or the realms of Kadesh, Christ shall follow them the efficacy of his blood, the light of his grace, the power of his gospel, shall attend them in all the ten thousand wanderings however tortuous may be their paths, however winding the track in which the cloudy pillar shall lead them" (2.319). Next, after he has thus striven to move the members of his congregation from their everyday reality into the greater reality of God's Gospel scheme of redemption, Spurgeon addresses his Saviour in such a way as to demonstrate to his listeners — who "overhear" this fervent prayer and confession — that he himself has been saved by having found himself within the world in which Moses strikes the rock:

O! blessed Jesus, thou art indeed a sweet antitype of the rock. Once my thirsty soul clamored for something to satisfy its wants; I hungered and I thirsted for righteousness; l looked to the heavens, but they were as brass, for an angry God seemed frowning on me; l looked to the earth, but it was as arid sand, and my good works failed me.... But well I remember when my thirsty soul fainted within me, and God said, "Come hither, sinner, I will show thee where thou mayest drink," and he showed me Christ on his cross, with his side pierced and his hands nailed. l thought I heard the expiring death shriek, "It is finished," and when I heard it, lo! I saw a stream of water, at which I slaked my burning thirst.... Had I not beheld that mighty stream flowing there, l had never washed away my thirst.... You see, then, beloved, that this rock is a type of Christ personally, it is a type of him dying, smitten for our sins. (2.319-20)

Spurgeon, who fervently believes that the Old Testament types can permit the prepared worshipper to experience the presence of Christ in both his own life and that of ancient believers, thus draws upon his own conversion as he moves from a merely explanatory to a dramatic, meditative mode. Evangelical preachers frequently recreated the scenes of Christ's passion and death because they believed it essential for their listeners to participate imaginatively in the mysteries of the atonement and thus bring it home to themselves. Spurgeon's procedure here reminds us that, having once become proficient at reading types with a spiritual or double vision, the preacher and believer did not require a specific Gospel event itself as the occasion for such a transcendental excursion. An Old Testament prefiguration, which God had ordained to lead men to Christ, could also prompt such powerful imaginative experience.

Spurgeon uses this emotional meditation to prepare for his next major point, which is that the second rock, the rock in Kadesh, prefigures the Church of Christ and hence all of those in his present audience. This famous preacher, who elsewhere confesses that he "loves to be textual," opens his explanation by reading the passage in Numbers 20:1-13 which relates that Moses, while carried away by anger at his rebellious, ungrateful, unbelieving people, sins by striking the rock to bring forth water instead of praying as God had instructed him to do. According to Spurgeon, this second himself, the Man-God, smitten for us; the second rock is Christ the church, Christ the head and all its members together, and out of the church, and out of the church only, must always flow all that the world requires" (2.32)

Once again, he claims a prefigurative significance for the names recorded in the Old Testament account of this event. Kadesh, for instance, signifies "holiness," and that is "just w here Christ mystically dwells. We can tell Christ's church by its being separated from the world." Furthermore, this rock was in the wilderness of Zin, "which means "a buckler" and "a coldness," and in fact the church of God stands in "a double position" — "in coldness and indifference with regard to the world, and it stands also secure, as in a buckler, with regard to its blessed God" (2.32)

From the fact that God had instructed Moses to speak to, rather than smite, the rock, Spurgeon deduces that "it is God's revealed will that Christ mystically should bless the world by speaking" (2.323). According to this Evangelical preacher, in other words, it is God's will that the Church and its individual members should spread God's blessings by preaching the Gospel. In contrast, High Churchmen who characteristically wished to emphasize the importance of the sacraments, might be more likely to interpret the stricken rock as a type of communion.

From the fact that Moses sinfully smote the rock, Spurgeon deduces "another significant parallel" between type and antitype namely, that just as Moses wrongfully struck the rock, so also "the wicked men of this world have smitten Christ again in his church they have persecuted God's people." Furthermore, "although the smiting was a sinful act, THE WATER CAME FORTH, to show by persecution the church has been made a blessing to the world.... The smiting of God's gospel rock, the church, has scattered drops of precious water to lands where else it would never have flowed" (2.323) . The immediate relevance of this last point to each believer is that by suffering on behalf of Christ, by suffering while attempting to preach His word, one imitates Christ. [Compare Keble's High Church approach.]Turning again to his own experience, as he had previously while setting forth the meaning of the rock in Horeb, Spurgeon relates how delighted he had been to realize that the rock in Kadesh, "although smitten wrongly, was SMITTEN WITH THE ROD OF THE LAWGIVER, for this fact means that "If I suffer for Christ, my sufferings are the sufferings of Christ; and although they are occasioned by man as the second cause, yet they do really spring from God" (2.325).

Having thus far guided us through the complex web of meanings that appear when one looks closely at a type, Spurgeon next points out that Moses was punished for his disobedience as have all been and will be who thus persecute God's church. In the course of explaining the typological meaning of these two smitten rocks, the preacher has related them to Old Testament prophecies, pointed out how even names and places bear unexpected significance, drawn upon his personal spiritual experience, and used a visual, meditative prose at times to show his listeners how they are to find Christ in their Old Testaments. He has done so in Evangelical fashion to emphasize Evangelical doctrines: the need to preach the Gospel, the terrible beauty of Christ's sacrifice, the centrality of this event to human history, the inevitability of suffering for Christ, and the crucial fact that God arranged sacred history as a semiotic or signifying system which the spiritual eye can read.