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1 Corinthians 10:4

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Spiritual drink - By the βρωμα πνευματικον spiritual meat, and πομα πνευματικον, spiritual drink, the apostle certainly means both meat and drink, which were furnished to the Israelitish assembly miraculously, as well as typically: and he appears to borrow his expression from the Jews themselves, who expressly say רוחני הלז הלחם hallechem hallaz ruchani, that bread was spiritual, and היו רוחניים מיים meyim ruchainiyim haiu, the waters were spiritual. Alschech in legem. fol. 238, to which opinion the apostle seems particularly to refer. See Schoettgen.

The spiritual rock that followed them - There is some difficulty in this verse. How could the rock follow them? It does not appear that the rock ever moved from the place where Moses struck it. But to solve this difficulty, it is said that rock here is put, by metonymy, for the water of the rock; and that this water did follow them through the wilderness. This is more likely; but we have not direct proof of it. The ancient Jews, however, were of this opinion, and state that the streams followed them in all their journeyings, up the mountains, down the valleys, etc., etc.; and that when they came to encamp, the waters formed themselves into cisterns and pools; and that the rulers of the people guided them, by their staves, in rivulets to the different tribes and families. And this is the sense they give to Numbers 21:17; : Spring up, O well, etc. See the places in Schoettgen.

Others contend, that by the rock following them we are to understand their having carried of its waters with them on their journeyings. This we know is a common custom in these deserts to the present day; and that the Greek verb ακολουθεω, to follow, has this sense, Bishop Pearce has amply proved in his note on this place. The Jews suppose that the rock itself went with the Israelites, and was present with them in their thirty-eight stations, for only so many are mentioned. See Alschech in legem. fol. 236. And see Schoettgen.

Now, though of all the senses already given that of Bishop Pearce is the best, yet it does appear that the apostle does not speak about the rock itself, but of Him whom it represented; namely, Christ: this was the Rock that followed them, and ministered to them; and this view of the subject is rendered more probable by what is said 1 Corinthians 10:9, that they tempted Christ, and were destroyed by serpents. The same rock is in the vale of Rephidim to the present day; and it bears aboriginal marks of the water that flowed from it in the fissures that appear on its sides. It is one block of fine granite, about seven yards long, five broad, and - high. A fragment of this typical rock now lies before me, brought by a relative of my own, who broke it off, and did not let it pass into any hand till he placed it in mine. See the note on Exodus 17:6.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And did all drink the same spiritual drink - The idea here is essentially the same as in the previous verse, that they had been highly favored of God, and enjoyed tokens of the divine care and guardianship. That was manifested in the miraculous supply of water in the desert, thus showing that they were under the divine protection, and were objects of the divine favor. There can be no doubt that by “spiritual drink” here, the apostle refers to the water that was made to gush from the rock that was smitten by Moses. Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11. Why this is called “spiritual” has been a subject on which there has been much difference of opinion. It cannot be because there was anything special in the nature of the water, for it was evidently real water, suited to allay their thirst. There is no evidence, as many have supposed, that there was a reference in this to the drink used in the Lord‘s Supper. But it must mean that it was bestowed in a miraculous and supernatural manner; and the word “spiritual” must be used in the sense of supernatural, or that which is immediately given by God. Spiritual blessings thus stand opposed to natural and temporal blessings, and the former denote those which are immediately given by God as an evidence of the divine favor. That the Jews used the word “spiritual” in this manner is evident from the writings of the Rabbis. Thus, they called the manna “spiritual food” (Yade Mose in Shemor Rabba fol. 109. 3); and their sacrifices they called “spiritual bread” (Tzeror Hammer, fol. 93. 2). - Gill. The drink, therefore, here referred to was that bestowed in a supernatural manner and as a proof of the divine favor.

For they drank of that spiritual Rock - Of the waters which flowed from that Rock. The Rock here is called “spiritual,” not from anything special in the nature of the rock, but because it was the source to them of supernatural mercies, and became thus the emblem and demonstration of the divine favor, and of spiritual mercies conferred upon them by God.

That followed them - Margin. “Went with” ἀκολουθούσης akolouthousēsThis evidently cannot mean that the rock itself literally followed them, any more than that they literally drank the rock, for one is as expressly affirmed, if it is taken literally, as the other. But as when it is said they “drank of the rock,” it must mean that they drank of the water that flowed from the rock; so when it is said that the “rock followed” or accompanied them, it must mean that the water that flowed from the rock accompanied them. This figure of speech is common everywhere. Thus, the Saviour said 1 Corinthians 11:25, “This cup is the new testament,” that is, the wine in this cup represents my blood, etc.; and Paul says 1 Corinthians 11:25, 1 Corinthians 11:27, “whosoever shall drink this cup of the Lord unworthily,” that is, the wine in the cup, etc., and “as often as ye drink this cup,” etc., that is, the wine contained in the cup. It would be absurd to suppose that the rock that was smitten by Moses literally followed them in the wilderness; and there is not the slightest evidence in the Old Testament that it did. Water was twice brought out of a rock to supply the needs of the children of Israel. Once at Mount Horeb, as recorded in Exodus 17:6, in the wilderness of Sin, in the first year of their departure from Egypt. The second time water was brought from a rock about the time of the death of Miriam at Kadesh, and probably in the 40th year of their departure from Egypt, Numbers 20:1. It was to the former of these occasions that the apostle evidently refers. In regard to this we may observe:

(1) That there must have been furnished a large quantity of water to have supplied the needs of more than two million people.

(2) it is expressly stated Deuteronomy 9:21), that “the brook נחל nachalstream, torrent, or river, see Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4, Joshua 15:47; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 24:7) descended out of the mount,” and was evidently a stream of considerable size.

(3) mount Horeb was higher than the adjacent country, and the water that thus gushed from the rock, instead of collecting into a pool and becoming stagnant, would flow off in the direction of the sea.

(4) the sea to which it would naturally flow would be the Red Sea, in the direction of the Eastern or Elanitic branch of that sea.

(5) the Israelites would doubtless, in their journeyings, be influenced by the natural direction of the water, or would not wander far from it, as it was daily needful for the supply of their needs.

(6) at the end of thirty-seven years we find the Israelites at Ezion-geber, a seaport on the eastern branch of the Red Sea, where the waters probably flowed into the sea; Numbers 33:36. In the 40th year of their departure from Egypt, they left this place to go into Canaan by the country of Edom, and were immediately in distress again by the lack of water. It is thus probable that the water from the rock continued to flow, and that it constituted a stream, or river; that it was near their camp all the time until they came to Ezion-geber; and that thus, together with the daily supply of manna, it was a proof of the protection of God, and an emblem of their dependence. If it be said that there is now no such stream to be found there, it is to be observed that it is represented as miraculous, and that it would be just as reasonable to look for the daily descent of manna there in quantities sufficient to supply more than two million people, as to expect to find the gushing and running river of water. The only question is, whether God can work a miracle, and whether there is evidence that he has done it. This is not the place to examine that question. But the evidence is as strong that he performed this miracle as that he gave the manna, and neither of them is inconsistent with the power, the wisdom, or the benevolence of God.

And that Rock was Christ - This cannot be intended to be understood literally, for it was not literally true. The rock from which the water flowed was evidently an ordinary rock, a part of Mount Horeb; and all that this can mean is, that that rock, with the stream of water thus gushing from it, was a representation of the Messiah. The word was is thus often used to denote similarity or representation, and is not to be taken literally. Thus, in the institution of the Lord‘s Supper, the Saviour says of the bread, “This is my body,” that is, it represents my body. Thus, also of the cup, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” that is, it represents my blood, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. Thus, the gushing fountain of water might be regarded as a representation of the Messiah, and of the blessings which result from him. The apostle does not say that the Israelites knew that this was designed to be a representation of the Messiah, and of the blessings which flow from him, though there is nothing improbable in the supposition that they so understood and regarded it, since all their institutions were probably regarded as typical. But he evidently does mean to say that the rock was a vivid and affecting representation of the Messiah; that the Jews did partake of the mercies that flow from him; and that even in the desert they were under his care, and had in fact among them a vivid representation of him in some sense corresponding with the emblematic representation of the same favors which the Corinthian and other Christians had in the Lord‘s Supper. This representation of the Messiah, perhaps, was understood by Paul to consist in the following things:

(1) Christians, like the children of Israel, are passing through the world as pilgrims, and to them that world is a wilderness - a desert.

(2) they need continued supplies, as the Israelites did, in their journey. The world, like that wilderness, does not meet their necessities, or supply their needs.

(3) that rock was a striking representation of the fulness of the Messiah, of the abundant grace which he imparts to his people.

(4) it was an illustration of their continued and constant dependence on him for the daily supply of their needs. It should be observed that many expositors understand this literally. Bloomfield translates it: “and they were supplied with drink from the spiritual Rock which followed them, even Christ.” So Rosenmuller, Calvin, Glass, etc. In defense of this interpretation, it is said, that the Messiah is often called “a rock” in the Scriptures; that the Jews believe that the “angel of Jehovah” who who attended them (Exodus 3:2, and other places) was the Messiah; and that the design of the apostle was, to show that this “attending Rock,” the Messiah, was the source of all their blessings, and particularly of the water that gushed from the rock. But the interpretation suggested above seems to me to be most natural. The design of the apostle is apparent. It is to show to the Corinthians, who relied so much on their privileges, and felt themselves so secure, that the Jews had the very same privileges - had the highest tokens of the divine favor and protection, were under the guidance and grace of God, and were partakers constantly of that which adumbrated or typified the Messiah, in a manner as real, and in a form as much suited to keep up the remembrance of their dependence, as even the bread and wine in the Lord‘s Supper.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
To dissuade the Corinthians from communion with idolaters, and security in any sinful course, the apostle sets before them the example of the Jewish nation of old. They were, by a miracle, led through the Red Sea, where the pursuing Egyptians were drowned. It was to them a typical baptism. The manna on which they fed was a type of Christ crucified, the Bread which came down from heaven, which whoso eateth shall live for ever. Christ is the Rock on which the Christian church is built; and of the streams that issue therefrom, all believers drink, and are refreshed. It typified the sacred influences of the Holy Spirit, as given to believers through Christ. But let none presume upon their great privileges, or profession of the truth; these will not secure heavenly happiness.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 454

The priest had that morning performed the ceremony which commemorated the smiting of the rock in the wilderness. That rock was a symbol of Him who by His death would cause living streams of salvation to flow to all who are athirst. Christ's words were the water of life. There in the presence of the assembled multitude He set Himself apart to be smitten, that the water of life might flow to the world. In smiting Christ, Satan thought to destroy the Prince of life; but from the smitten rock there flowed living water. As Jesus thus spoke to the people, their hearts thrilled with a strange awe, and many were ready to exclaim, with the woman of Samaria, “Give me this water, that I thirst not.” John 4:15. DA 454.1

Jesus knew the wants of the soul. Pomp, riches, and honor cannot satisfy the heart. “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.” The rich, the poor, the high, the low, are alike welcome. He promises to relieve the burdened mind, to comfort the sorrowing, and to give hope to the despondent. Many of those who heard Jesus were mourners over disappointed hopes, many were nourishing a secret grief, many were seeking to satisfy their restless longing with the things of the world and the praise of men; but when all was gained, they found that they had toiled only to reach a broken cistern, from which they could not quench their thirst. Amid the glitter of the joyous scene they stood, dissatisfied and sad. That sudden cry, “If any man thirst,” startled them from their sorrowful meditation, and as they listened to the words that followed, their minds kindled with a new hope. The Holy Spirit presented the symbol before them until they saw in it the offer of the priceless gift of salvation. DA 454.2

The cry of Christ to the thirsty soul is still going forth, and it appeals to us with even greater power than to those who heard it in the temple on that last day of the feast. The fountain is open for all. The weary and exhausted ones are offered the refreshing draught of eternal life. Jesus is still crying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Revelation 22:17; John 4:14. DA 454.3

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 418

By his rash act Moses took away the force of the lesson that God purposed to teach. The rock, being a symbol of Christ, had been once smitten, as Christ was to be once offered. The second time it was needful only to speak to the rock, as we have only to ask for blessings in the name of Jesus. By the second smiting of the rock the significance of this beautiful figure of Christ was destroyed. PP 418.1

More than this, Moses and Aaron had assumed power that belongs only to God. The necessity for divine interposition made the occasion one of great solemnity, and the leaders of Israel should have improved it to impress the people with reverence for God and to strengthen their faith in His power and goodness. When they angrily cried, “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” they put themselves in God's place, as though the power lay with themselves, men possessing human frailties and passions. Wearied with the continual murmuring and rebellion of the people, Moses had lost sight of his Almighty Helper, and without the divine strength he had been left to mar his record by an exhibition of human weakness. The man who might have stood pure, firm, and unselfish to the close of his work had been overcome at last. God had been dishonored before the congregation of Israel, when He should have been magnified and exalted. PP 418.2

God did not on this occasion pronounce judgments upon those whose wicked course had so provoked Moses and Aaron. All the reproof fell upon the leaders. Those who stood as God's representatives had not honored Him . Moses and Aaron had felt themselves aggrieved, losing sight of the fact that the murmuring of the people was not against them but against God. It was by looking to themselves, appealing to their own sympathies, that they unconsciously fell into sin, and failed to set before the people their great guilt before God. PP 418.3

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Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 411

From the smitten rock in Horeb first flowed the living stream that refreshed Israel in the desert. During all their wanderings, wherever the need existed, they were supplied with water by a miracle of God's mercy. The water did not, however, continue to flow from Horeb. Wherever in their journeyings they wanted water, there from the clefts of the rock it gushed out beside their encampment. PP 411.1

It was Christ, by the power of His word, that caused the refreshing stream to flow for Israel. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:4. He was the source of all temporal as well as spiritual blessings. Christ, the true Rock, was with them in all their wanderings. “They thirsted not when He led them through the deserts: He caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; He clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.” “They ran in the dry places like a river.” Isaiah 48:21; Psalm 105:41. PP 411.2

The smitten rock was a figure of Christ, and through this symbol the most precious spiritual truths are taught. As the life-giving waters flowed from the smitten rock, so from Christ, “smitten of God,” “wounded for our transgressions,” “bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4, 5), the stream of salvation flows for a lost race. As the rock had been once smitten, so Christ was to be “once offered to bear the sins of many.” Hebrews 9:28. Our Saviour was not to be sacrificed a second time; and it is only necessary for those who seek the blessings of His grace to ask in the name of Jesus, pouring forth the heart's desire in penitential prayer. Such prayer will bring before the Lord of hosts the wounds of Jesus, and then will flow forth afresh the life-giving blood, symbolized by the flowing of the living water for Israel. PP 411.3

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