As we look at the scriptures we find that God gives many pictures in order to describe Himself. He uses the characteristics of simple objects to help us understand some of His qualities. Many times in the scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament, we read that God is a rock. What an encouragement this is, when all around is shifting and uncertain - we, as Christians, have a solid base for everything. God is a rock, solid, unshifting, permanent.
I suggest 5 different ways that God, God in the Old Testament or the Lord Jesus Christ in the New is referred to as a rock. Undoubtedly there are other aspects of this topic which we will not be covering here.
In common English we might refer to a large stone or boulder as 'a rock'; it is not that sort of rock we're referring to. Our English translations use the word 'stone' rather than 'rock' for this. We do find in Scripture the Lord Jesus a stone also; then we have a smaller object, maybe a boulder, but often a smaller stone.
- A stumbling stone: a stone over which people trip. This refers to the Jews particularly, they expected their Messiah to come as a liberating king, not a humble servant, and so they stumbled over Him. [Matt 21:44 ]
- A crushing stone that will fall from a great height and destroy- emphasizing the suddenness and surprise of the judgment awaiting those who reject Him. [Matt 21:44]
- The chief corner stone: perhaps we could say a stone which holds the walls of the building together. [Matt 21:42 / Mk 12:10 / Luke 20:17 / Ps 118:22 / Is 28:16 / Eph 2:20 / 1 Pet 2:6,7]
- The stone cut without hands: this stone grows to fill the whole world. [Dan 2:31] This looks to the future when Christ will return to the earth and rule Himself.
In these and other aspects we see the Lord Jesus as a stone, a moveable object, but it God and the Lord Jesus as a Rock, an immovable object, that we will talk about- in 5 different aspects. We will take 2 aspects of God as a rock from the Old Testament and 3 of the Lord Jesus as a Rock from the New (2 of these refer directly back to the Old Testament).
1. A rock of offence [Is 8:14 ; Rom 9:33 ; 1 Pet 2:8]
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. (1 Pet 2:7-8).
"A rock of offense" appears twice in the New Testament and is a quotation from Isaiah 8:14. "A rock of offense" is always with "a stone of stumbling"- that we have just mentioned when talking about the Lord Jesus as a stone; it is always "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense". These references point to Israel 's attitude to the Lord; His own human people found Him a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
"A rock of offense". An 'offense' is something that is a hindrance to others. We automatically think of hindrance as being something negative, but it doesn't have to be. The hindrance, the offense, may be because we are unwilling to accept the truth. And that's the case here. The Jews would not accept the Lord Jesus for who He was- they expected their Messiah to come with power and majesty, set them free from the Romans and rule, they did not expect Him as the humble lowly man they saw in Jesus. By His ways and words the Lord Jesus condemned the Jews, particularly the Jewish leaders, showing up that they had no real love for God but merely followers of tradition- having a form but no reality. They were offended by Him, so much so that they were utterly determined to get rid of Him. He was a rock of offense, an immovable object- He could not be flattered or bribed or threatened, He was immovable on God's principles; nothing would make Him modify His declaration of the truth and His condemnation of the religious rulers, and they were offended by the truth.
To draw a parallel for today, many people find God's truth and absolute standards a problem, they are offended by them. The truth regarding the person of the Lord Jesus, His divinity, His virgin birth, His bodily resurrection - these are a problem to many people's belief systems. The truth that adultery or homosexuality is wrong offends many. The Lord and His truth are a rock of offense to them.
So, to summarize, here we see the Lord Jesus as a consistent immovable teacher of the truth- condemning Jewish hypocrisy, thus becoming a rock of offense to them.
2. The smitten rock [1 Cor 10:1-6]
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted." (1 Cor 10:1-6).
This refers to the Israelites' escape from Egypt and the passage emphasizes the Lord's presence with them all. They were all "under the cloud and passed through the sea". As they fled from Egypt they had the cloud with them showing the Lord's presence, then they passed through the Red Sea with the waters on each side standing up "as a heap" (Ps 78:13). Paul takes the example of the Israelites here, and drawing a parallel with our era.
Firstly, they were under a cloud- the cloud of the Lord's presence with them.
Secondly, they passed through the sea, the Red Sea . Paul seems to be using this as a picture of baptism, a watery grave in which believers are immersed, and from which they are raised.
Thirdly, they ate spiritual food, Paul writes- emphasizing the supernatural origin of the manna (Ps 78:25) and the fact that it is given a spiritual meaning. As the Lord Jesus explains in John chapter 6 HE is the Bread of Life and only those who feed on Him have life (John 6:31,32).
Fourthly, they drank spiritual drink- drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ. Though the Israelites were given natural water, its supply was supernatural- Moses had to smite a rock.
A key point of the passage is that ALL the Israelites were involved in these spiritual blessings. They were all under the cloud, they all passed through the Sea. They all ate the manna and drank from the Rock- they all participated, yet God was not pleased with most of them and they could not enter the land- their bodies were scattered over the desert. One thing that Paul is teaching from this is that it is possible to be part of the Christian company, to feel the Lord's presence even, to be baptised, to enjoy the privileges of Breaking of Bread, yet not be saved. How very, very sad!
Anyway, we read that the Rock was Christ. Moses had to strike the Rock before there could be that wonderful flow of water- water that satisfied the thirst of everyone who drank. This tells us of the One who was smitten for us. In those familiar verses in Isaiah 53 we read that he was "smitten of God and afflicted". The Lord Jesus as the smitten Rock pictures His sufferings- particularly, those suffered on our behalf at God's hand.
And that wonderful flow of refreshing water came from the smitten rock. We can easily imagine how relieved the thirsty and hot Israelites were to be able to drink the cool refreshing water flowing from the rock.
The Lord Jesus speaks of rivers of living water in John chapter 7 (v38) and tells His audience that He spoke concerning the Spirit. The giving of the Holy Spirit was consequent on His death, resurrection and ascension. This incident with the Israelites surely pictures the smiting of the Lord Jesus, and the consequent and wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to us.
3. The foundation rock [Matt 16:13 -18]
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt 16:13-18).
The Lord Jesus has taken His disciples away from the hustle and bustle of Galilee, He had taken them far away from the religious hypocrisy of Jerusalem and Judea; they had gone to Caesarea Philippi. This town was at the very northern extremity of Israel . At Caesarea Philippi, an area of peace and solitude, He talks to the disciples about serious issues. This one is fundamental. Who is He?
He probes his disciples, He wants them to express their understanding of who He is, but first He asks them what others say about Him.
Well, who did others say He was? There was John the Baptist. Many had gone out to see John in the wilderness, with his strange garb and his prophetic message. And many had taken note of what he said, accepted the need for repentance and had been baptized by him. But John had given Herod some home truths, and Herod had taken John and executed him.
In fact, Jesus was teaching and baptizing before John died but it would seem that many people were unaware of this, and it had become quite a common belief among the people that John had been raised from the dead, that Jesus was John the Baptist.
Even Herod thought that Jesus might be John raised back to life (Matt 14:2). Strange, isn't it- Herod could believe that an amazing miracle could have taken place- Herod could believe that a man came back from the dead, (a man that he himself had killed, in fact), yet there was no change of heart on his part, no serious attempt to come to the One who had (he thought) been raised, who had received such power. Herod made no serious attempt to hear His message, and he certainly didn't believe in Him.
So who did people say that the Lord Jesus was? Some had said John the Baptist- and some said Elijah, the great prophet from 900 years before, who according to Malachi's prophecy (Mal 4:5) would be sent before the "coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord". They must have known that the Day of the Lord was a day of judgment, and perhaps those who said that the Lord Jesus was Elijah recognized that judgement was deserved and was on its way. But if only they had accepted Jesus for who He was, they would have seen that the Lord God in His mercy, rather than bringing the judgement of the Day of the Lord, was giving them his Son, their Messiah.
Some said that the Lord Jesus was Jeremiah- Jeremiah, who prophesied to them of their doom in the twilight years of their kingdom - and some said that He was, in general, one of the prophets. In each case- whether it be John or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the old prophets- people in their masses were willing to believe the incredible- that someone who had died (or in Elijah's case, who had been taken to heaven alive) had come back to live life here on earth again. One thing not suggested by the disciples was that people thought of Him as just an ordinary man- that was not a credible option. There was something amazingly special about this teacher called Jesus that the masses could only come to grips with by suggesting that He was a great and godly person from the past come back to life, even raised from the dead.
Abraham said in the account of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16), particularly in reference to the Jews, that should one rise from the dead they will not believe; this surely confirms what the Lord said- the masses of the people thought that Jesus WAS someone who had come back from the dead- they were amazed by Him, but they did not believe His message.
And then the Lord asks the disciples "but who do YOU say that I am?", and as usual, Peter is in there first. He had understood who Jesus was- revealed to him by the Father. He had understood that the Lord Jesus was the Christ- the Messiah, "the anointed one" (as it means literally), the special One who God had promised to send, the One foretold through the Old Testament. Peter understood that Jesus was the One. But he also understood something more, he understood that He was the Son of the Living God. And here we are onto something different, perhaps we could say- greater even. He understood that Jesus was divine, that's what is contained within this expression. When Caiaphas asked the Lord Jesus whether He was the Son of God and the Lord agreed that He was- this was the point at which they accused Him of blasphemy- they recognized the expression "the Son of God" to have implications of deity. And Peter understood this too, revealed to him by the Father.
And the Lord then goes on with a play on words "You are Peter", "You are stone" - that's what Peter meant, stone "and on this rock [ petra- a massive rock, not a stone] I will build my church". The rock is Peter's statement of faith in the Lord Jesus and the one about whom he was talking - the Lord Jesus Himself.
The church is built on the truth of Jesus Christ. It is wonderful that the Lord should emphasize this. It is not a society for those with similar opinions or interests. It has a solid foundation which is fundamental for all who would be part of this building. Let's just emphasize these fundamental foundation truths on which the church is built.
Peter described the Lord Jesus as
a) the Christ
b) the Son of the Living God
and the Lord refers to these as the rock, the foundation truths on which the church is built.
a) the Christ, the anointed one- that is what Christ means. As we look through the Old Testament of the Scriptures we find there examples of 3 different classes of persons that God instructed should be anointed. And Christ is the perfect example of each class, the fulfillment, the culmination of each.
Firstly, we see that God instructed that priests be anointed- for example, in Leviticus chapter 6 we read of God's instructions for anointing Aaron the first High Priest, and the anointing of subsequent High Priests is mentioned too. The book of Hebrews reminds us of the limitations of these priests- they had, for example, to offer sacrifices for their own sins- because they were sinful-, as well as the sins of the people. But Christ is the Great High Priest and offered himself to God as the perfect and complete sacrifice, and he can now act for us as our High Priest. The point I'm making here is that the priests were anointed, and Christ (the anointed one) is the Great High Priest.
Secondly, in 1 Samuel chapter 16 we learn of Samuel's anointing of David as king on God's instructions. Christ (the anointed one), David's greater son, is King of the Jews and one day will return to rule over this earth and all will be subject to Him.
So, we've seen Aaron the High Priest anointed on God's instructions, we've seen the great king David anointed on God's instructions.
And thirdly, God instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha as prophet in his stead [1 Kings 19]. So we have a prophet anointed on God's instructions. Moses mentioned that God would raise up a Prophet "from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him" [Deut 18:18 ]. The Christ (the anointed one) was this Prophet, of course, He was the one who spoke God's words to the people to perfection.
So, we see that when we read of anointing, we are brought into the realm of prophet, priest and king, and when the Christ is mentioned then we have the One who is the perfect and complete prophet, priest and king. And note that in order for Him to take these roles He had to be a man, a real human being- the Lord Jesus had to be man.
b) Peter said that the Lord Jesus was the Christ- we've just talked about that- and the Son of the Living God. We've already mentioned that the Son of God spoke of his deity- He was God as well as man.
This is the Rock of Christianity- Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one- a man who was prophet, priest and king) and he was the Son of the Living God (divine).
While we are on this section of Christ as the solid foundation rock we should mention this passage.
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." (Matt 7:24-27)
Doing what the Lord says is like building on a rock. We know it, of course, but let's remind ourselves that if we don't want to make a mess of our lives or our assemblies the foundation has to be absolutely right- the Lord and his words.
So we see from these New Testament passages these 3 aspects of the Lord Jesus as a rock-
- a rock of offense- specifically to the Jews, but I think that the principle extends to any who are offended by the solid unyielding truth of the Lord Jesus
- the smitten rock to provide life, refreshment and the Holy Spirit
- the foundation rock for our personal and corporate lives
Let's now move to the Old Testament teaching on God as a rock:
There are 2 different Hebrew words that are translated "rock" in the Old Testament and they have a very different emphasis. As we read through the Psalms we often find God mentioned as being a rock, and both words are used. Unfortunately our translations don't distinguish between them.
Let's look at the first one.
4. The high/elevated place
[e.g. 2 Sam 22:2 / Ps 18:2 / Ps 31:3 / Ps 71:3 / Ps 42:9]
"The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer" (2 Sam 22:2)
"For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me" (Ps 31:3)
"thou art my rock and my fortress" (Ps 71:3)
One Hebrew word that is translated 'rock' in English translations of the Old Testament refers to a high place, an elevated place, perhaps a cliff. The emphasis on the word is on its elevation, its height. Several times this word is used to describe the Lord, particularly in the Psalms. In many of these times when this word is used as a metaphor for the Lord another word is used at the same time, a word that helps to give us the emphasis of the word- and that is the word fortress.
In 2 Sam 22 and Ps 18 David uses these words as a celebration of the Lord delivering him from the hands of all his enemies and from Saul.
As we think of this rock, this sort of rock, what do we see? We have an elevated place, a high place where a soldier can look out over the countryside, see for miles, be able to view any enemy approaching; he is in a superb position to defend himself. It is terribly difficult from the bottom of a cliff to attack an enemy who is on the top. The position is easily defensible.
God is our rock, God is our cliff (we could say), God is our fortress. David knew this from his many experiences- perhaps particularly fighting against the Philistines, but other enemies too- David knew practically the Lord giving a strong defense from the attacks of his enemies. He was able to defeat the enemy because of the strength of the ground on which he stood.
Now, we can see obvious application of this, can't we? We too have an enemy. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, our warfare is spiritual. We too have the Lord as our rock. I see this as giving us a picture of the Lord as the strong solid ground from which we are able to defend ourselves from Satan's attacks.
The enemy can and does attack us in many ways, personally and corporately. As we mentioned at the start nothing is solid and fixed as far as the world is concerned, but we have the solid rock of the true God and His divine standards. As the Lord Jesus used the scriptures to respond to Satan's temptations and testings, so we too have His unchangeable word with which to respond to the devil.
5. The rocky place
[e.g. 2 Sam 22:3,32,47 / Deut 32:4 / Ps 18:31 ,46 / Ps 28:1 / Ps 31:2 / Ps 61:2 / Ps 62:7 / Ps 78:35 / Ps 89:26 / Ps 92:15 / Ps 94:22 / Ps 95:1
"The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted." (Ps 18:46)
"be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me" (Ps 31:2)
"From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (Ps 61:2)
The second Hebrew word that is translated 'rock' has a different emphasis. The word has the idea of sharpness within it, like a craggy area- an area where someone can hide, an area of shelter, an area of security.
David was particularly aware of the protection afforded by a rocky area. He spent some time, for example, in the wilderness of Ziph (1 Sam 23:14 ,15,24; 1 Sam 26) and the surrounding area which were in the highlands of Judah . This seems to be just the sort of area we are talking about, a rocky area where it was easy to find somewhere to hide.
In 1 Samuel 21 and 22 David is on the run from Saul, and there is the terrible incident where Saul (using a particularly unpleasant man called Doeg, an Edomite) murders the priests and their families because Ahimelech the priest supplies provisions and Goliath's sword to David, believing him to be on the king's business.
In the next chapter David is on the run from Saul, but hearing that Keilah was under attack from the Philistines David puts himself at risk by going to Keilah and rescuing the town. The Lord tells him that the people of Keilah would repay him by handing him over to Saul, so he leaves Keilah and goes to the wilderness of Ziph.
Saul with a large company of men (3000, in fact) chases David and his 600 followers. Saul sought him "every day", we read, but did not find him- David and his men could hide among the rocks, and they were secure; Saul and his 3000 couldn't find David and his 600. Later on in chapter 26, Saul again follows David into the wilderness of Ziph, and again David and his men remain hidden.
A rocky area providing shelter and security. The Lord is a rock, the Lord is security, the Lord provides protection. With storms and problems and difficulties around- not just in our relationship with the world, but also tragically in our relationship with other believers sometimes, the Lord can protect physically, emotionally and mentally if we hide in Him.
But the scriptures go a bit further. God is a rock, and this sort of rock (a rocky area) is used, but the scriptures take it a bit further in showing aspects in which God is this sort of rock.
This is what I mean:
Rock of salvation
"He shall call unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation" (Ps 89:26)
Rock of salvation. A completely solid and unshakeable basis for salvation. Whatever aspect of salvation we think of, God is the rock of salvation. Of course, salvation in scripture doesn't just refer to being saved from sins and their penalty, but perhaps we would think primarily of this aspect. As we know, there are some who would teach that we can be saved today and lost tomorrow. The salvation they teach is not based on a rock. With God's salvation we have absolute certainty- He is the rock of salvation.
rock of my strength
"With God is my salvation and my glory; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God." (Ps 62:7)
The rock of my strength. We are very weak. The enemy is strong, but God is strength we can completely rely on, unshakeable, unmoveable solid strength to live for Christ and face the dangers of the world.
rock of my refuge
"But Jehovah will be my high tower; and my God the rock of my refuge." (Ps 94:22)
A secure refuge from the storms of life.
rock of habitation
"Be to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress." (Ps 71:3 - JND)
A rock of habitation - the King James Version has something a bit different, but this is how it should read. Where we should live - in God and in the conscious knowledge of Him as secure, unmoving, dependable. A rock of habitation - living in Him.
the rock of my heart
"My flesh and my heart faileth: God is the rock of my heart and my portion for ever." (Ps 73:26 - JND)
Again the King James Version has something slightly different, but this is how it should read. The rock of my heart - I think that this implies something on a different level from the others we've mentioned. This implies that our affections are involved - we love Him because He first loved us. The "rock of my heart", the one who loves us with an unshakeable love and who we love, poorly- yes, but we do love, in response.
So, we see in scripture the Lord Jesus in the New Testament and God in the Old Testament presented as a rock. We saw from the New Testament that the Lord Jesus is:
- firstly, very sadly- a rock of offense- to those who are offended by the solid and absolute truth of the Lord Jesus. In some senses this is common in today's world of shifting standards.
- secondly, He is the smitten rock- smitten for us to provide life, a new relationship and the Holy Spirit in our lives.
- thirdly, He is the foundation rock for our personal lives and our lives together within the assembly, and we know how important it is to build on Him.
- fourthly and fifthly, when we are under attack from the enemy and the storms of life we see God as a rock in 2 different ways- as a high rock where we can defeat the enemy from an impregnable position, and as a rocky area where we can hide and so find protection, and in this last aspect we scripture shows Him as a rock in at least 5 ways:
rock of salvation
A completely solid and unshakeable basis for salvation
rock of my strength
Solid strength in our weakness
the rock of my refuge
A secure refuge from the storms of life
rock of habitation
Living in Him - a solid basis for living
the rock of my heart
His love is unshakeable- how much do we love Him in return?