Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christ the Spiritual Rock: Deuteronomy 32 in Relation to the New Testament

Image result for spiritual rock deuteronomy 32The New Testament is rich with allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures. Regrettably, in modern Christendom, we are largely ignorant of much of the Old Testament, and so these allusions are lost on us. When they are discovered, however, they help to illuminate the Bible's teachings on the nature of Jesus Christ.

One such text is to be found in 1 Corinthians 10, in which we read that the Israelites in the wilderness "drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (verse 4). If your mind is not in tune with the Old Testament then it is easy to miss the implications of this text for understanding Christ's identity.

To properly understand what is going on here, it is necessary for us to take a look at the text of verses 1-22, and so I am reproducing it below -- pay especially close attention to the underlined sections in bold font:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
When we examine the text of Deuteronomy 32:15-22, we find that it is laced through 1 Corinthians 10:
15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked; you grew fat, stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22 For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4 identified Christ as the spiritual Rock that followed them. Deuteronomy 32 identifies God as "the Rock of his salvation" (verse 15) and "the Rock that bore you" (verse 18). Verse 16 also tells us that the Hebrews stirred God, i.e. the Rock, to jealousy with strange gods, whereas 1 Corinthians 10:9,22 says "We must not put Christ to the test...Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" Deuteronomy 32:17 says "They sacrificed to demons that were no gods", and 1 Corinthians 10:20-21 says, "No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."

Thus, we can see that the Apostle Paul, in writing 1 Corinthians 10, has in mind the text of Deuteronomy 32. Deuteronomy 32 tells us that the Rock is the Lord God Himself. We also see the Lord God identified as the rock in other parts of the same chapter. Consider the following verses.


Deuteronomy 32:4: The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

Deuteronomy 32:30-31: How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had given them up? For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.

Notice also that 1 Corinthians 10:3 identifies Christ as "the spiritual rock that followed them." This distinguishes the rock from the physical, flinty rock from which they drank, alluded to in Deuteronomy 32:13:
He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.
The other rock in view throughout this text, however, is the spiritual rock. And unlike the physical flinty rock, the spiritual rock followed the children of Israel.

In context, the spiritual rock in 1 Corinthians 10:4 refers to the cloud (mentioned in verse 2). It was the cloud that followed the children of Israel on their journey, as we read in Exodus 13:21:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
Thus, we see in 1 Corinthians 10 a positive affirmation of Christ's deity. We also see in 1 Corinthians 10 that it was Christ who was tempted and provoked by the peoples' idolatry, whereas in Deuteronomy 32 it was the Lord God who was tempted and provoked. There can therefore be no question that Paul believes Jesus to be the God of Israel.

We read in Exodus 14:19 that,
Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them,
We thus learn that it was the angel of God who was in the cloud. Plenty of texts in the Old Testament reveal that the angel/messenger of the Lord is God Himself. I have discussed this topic briefly before (here and here), but I will have more to say about this in future articles. In brief, though, the angel/messenger of the Lord is a fully divine person who participates in the titles and prerogatives of deity (yet in another sense being distinct from God) and is prophesied in the Old Testament to be the Messiah Himself.

There is also an allusion to the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy 32:43 (where all the angels are instructed to worship the Lord) in Hebrews 1:6:
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.”
Thus, again, we see that Christ is affirmed to be the Lord God Himself.

There is another interesting feature of Deuteronomy 32. Consider verses 8 and 9:
8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. 9 But the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.
Liberal critics like to suggest that this passage lends support to their notion that the God of Israel was inspired from the Canaanite Baal myth (Baal was the son of the Most High God El). The liberal critics are thinking along the right lines -- but passages like this are best understood through Trinitarian lenses. When we interpret it in view of the revelation of the Trinity, the text makes perfect sense. Here we see Yahweh receiving an allotted heritage (his people) from the Most High. Like a number of other texts in the Scriptures, this one uses two titles of deity ("Most High" and Yahweh) to distinguish between two divine persons of the Triune God. In Luke 2:32, Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that "He [Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High."

There is another possible allusion to Deuteronomy 32 in John 8. The setting of John 8 is the feast of booths (see John 7:2), which is the occasion of the song spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 32 (see Deuteronomy 31:10,30). In John 8:58, Jesus asserts, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” One of the Old Testament "I Am" statements can be found in Deuteronomy 32:39:
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
What is especially interesting about Deuteronomy 32:39 is the way in which it is interpreted in the Aramaic Targum of Pseudo Jonathan:
When the Word of the Lord shall reveal Himself to redeem His people, He will say to all the nations: "Behold now, that I am He who is, and was, and will be..."
John of course understands Jesus to be the divine Logos or Memra (John 1:1,14). I shall have more to say about this and its connection to the Old Testament in future articles. It is striking then that the Targum of Pseudo Jonathan speaks of the Word of the Lord appearing to redeem his people and saying "Behold now, that I am He who is, and was, and will be..." A look at the three "I AM" sayings in John 8 reveals the past, present and future tenses of the three statements:

He who is (present): “Unless you believe that I am [ego eimi], you will die in your sins” (8:24)
He who was (past): “Before Abraham existed, I am [ego eimi].” (8:58)
He who will be (future): “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [ego eimi].” (8:28)

John elsewhere appeals to this text from the Targum in Revelation 1:8:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
There can be no doubt that Revelation 1:8 refers to Christ, because the previous verse Revelation 1:7 says,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
It is true that Revelation 1:4 also speaks of the father as he "who is and who was and who is to come." But this does not present a concern, since the title of Alpha and Omega is similarly applied both to the Father (Revelation 21:6) and to the Son (Revelation 22:12-13).

Turning back to our text in John 8, we read in verse 59, that upon the Jews realizing exactly what Jesus meant,
So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
This also resembles what we read in Deuteronomy 32:20, where the Lord God says that he will hide his face in judgment against Israel:
I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation,
Finally, there is of course an allusion to Deuteronomy 32 in John 10:28:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Jesus here again echoes the words of Deuteronomy 32:39:
See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
Again, we see Jesus taking an Old Testament text which applies to Yahweh and claiming it for Himself, thus representing Himself to be the God of Israel.

The New Testament is rich with allusions to the Old Testament, many of which are missed by modern readers who are ill-acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures. In future posts, we will examine some more Old Testament passages to see how they relate to the person, nature and mission of the Messiah.

1 comment:

foofy said...

Your thesis about “Lord” being an exclusive title of Christ is a bit confusing to my ears. I know that the term includes Him, but He really is the same God as His Father.

“And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭14:22‬ ‭KJV‬‬

“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:25‬ ‭KJV‬‬

Luke 1 - 32. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, - Bible Offline

It’s true that Jesus Christ is Lord, but I don’t know if it is always an exclusive distinguishing title...