Tsur: ROCK in the Tenakh

Rock: tsur (Strong’s 6697)

Root: צוּר

Sounds like: tsoor

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of hanging out with my best friend and our families at Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick… a collection of stunning, gravity defying, rock formations.  It certainly helped put in perspective the reason why so many people in the Bible used the word Rock to describe YHWH. The vastness, strength and grandeur of these rocks were something to behold.

Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick, Canada

Last week we looked at the word sand (chol) and how Abraham was blessed by God to have descendants in abundance, like sand on the seashore. And where does sand come from?… it comes from rock:

Isaiah 51:1-2

Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek YHWH:

Look to the Rock from which you were cut,

and to the quarry from which you were hewn.

Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you.

When I called him, he was but one; then I blessed him and multiplied him.

YHWH continues on to say:

Isaiah 51:4-5a

Pay attention to Me, My people, and listen to Me, My nation;

for a law will go out from Me, and My justice will become a light to the nations;

I will bring it about quickly.

My righteousness draws near, My Salvation is on the way,

and My arms will bring justice to the nations.

We, like sand, are the children of God, and God is our Rock and our Redeemer, and He promises that Salvation is on the way.

These words Rock, Redeemer, Refuge and Salvation are intertwined all throughout the Tenakh. It has a strong Messianic connotations. God promised a Messiah to be a Redeemer and to bring Salvation to the people. If Jesus is that Messiah, how do the Scriptures associate him with Rock, Redeemer and Salvation?

The first time we see the word rock in the Tenakh (Old Testament) is during the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt towards the promised land:

Exodus 17:3-6

But the people thirsted for water there, and they grumbled against Moses: “Why have you brought us out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to YHWH, “What should I do with these people? A little more and they will stone me!”

YHWH answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take along in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb; when you strike the rock, water will come out of it for the people to drink.”

When Jesus makes the claim that he is the Living Water (John 4:4-26, John 7:37-39) it harkens back to this moment in the Torah. Paul makes that very clear in his letter to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 10:1-4

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud, and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Some Biblical scholars also associate this moment, of Moses striking the rock, with the time when Jesus was on the cross and his side was pierced. John notes that it wasn’t just blood that spilled out:

John 19:31-34

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

This ties in to the Messiah prophecy written by the prophet Zechariah:

Zechariah 12:10

Then I will pour out on the house of David and on the residents of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look on Me, the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns an only child, and weep bitterly for Him as one grieves a firstborn son.

Rock, Living Water, Redeemer… when Jesus was struck, blood and water poured out. Jesus isn’t just a metaphor; he lived out the metaphor… in the most painful way possible. Jesus even associates himself as the Rock when he tells the parable about building your house on sand or on rock. Who is the wiser person? The person who builds their future on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-29). 

The second time we see rock, in the Tenakh, it is again in a conversation between Moses and God. Moses boldly asks God to reveal his glory to him. God tells Moses that He will pass in front of him, but that Moses cannot see His face, for no one can see God’s face and live:

Exodus 33:21-23

YHWH continued, “There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

God uses a rock for Moses to stand upon and a cleft in the rock to protect him. Rock is almost always associated with protection and refuge throughout the Bible:

Psalm 62:5-8

Rest in God alone, O my soul, for my hope comes from Him.

He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My Salvation and my honour rest on God, my strong Rock; my refuge is in God.

Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts before Him.

God is our refuge.

It is the Song of Moses that really sets the descriptive name of God as the Rock in motion. Moses sings:

Deuteronomy 32:3-4

For I will proclaim the name of YHWH. Ascribe greatness to our God!

He is the Rock, His work is perfect; all His ways are just.

A God of faithfulness without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

But the Hebrew people turned away from the Rock who had brought them forth:

Deuteronomy 32:15-18

But Jeshurun [poetic name for the Hebrew people] grew fat and kicked— becoming fat, bloated, and gorged.

He abandoned the God who made him and scorned the Rock of his Salvation.

They provoked His jealousy with foreign gods; they enraged Him with abominations.

They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they had not known,

to newly arrived gods, which your fathers did not fear.

You ignored the Rock who brought you forth; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Later in the song, Moses indicates that God will call Himself the Rock:

Deuteronomy 32:36-39

For YHWH will judge His people and have compassion on His servants

when He sees that their strength is gone and no one remains, slave or free.

He will say: Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge,

which ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings?

Let them rise up and help you; let them give you shelter!

See now that I Am He; there is no God besides Me.

I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal,

and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

After Moses’s Song, God’s descriptor name of Rock is used in many of the great songs of the Old Testament (Tenakh). Hannah sang, there is no Rock like our God (1 Samuel 2:2). David repeatedly sang, YHWH is my Rock, my fortress, and my deliverer (2 Samuel 22:2). Later in that same song, David continues:

2 Samuel 22:3a

My God is my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation. My stronghold, my refuge, and my Saviour..

The word rock appears seventy-seven times, twenty-five of those time are found in the Psalms… showing up, really, as a key word that almost always refers to YHWH.

Psalm 73:23-26

Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand.

You guide me with Your counsel, and later receive me in glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You? And on earth I desire no one besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the Rock of my heart and my portion forever.

This verse is actually one of the most mis-translated spots in the Bible. Almost every English translation (check yours) uses the phrase strength of my heart, rather than rock of my heart. Although “strength” gets the point across, there is something more beautiful and poetic going on. Associating refuge, redeemer and saviour with the word rock tells us that God is the refuge of our heart, the redeemer of our heart and the Saviour of our heart… and that’s way more powerful than strength alone.

Probably the richest exploration of the word Rock comes from Psalm 78. It harkens back to the first mention of rock, when God instructed Moses to pierce the rock which would bring forth water for the people to drink:

Psalm 78:15-22, 35-39

He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as abundant as the seas.

He brought streams from the stone and made water flow down like rivers.

But they continued to sin against Him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High.

They willfully tested God by demanding the food they craved.

They spoke against God, saying, “Can God really prepare a table in the wilderness?

When He struck the rock [tsoor], water [mayim] gushed out and torrents overflowed.

But can He also give bread [lechem] or supply His people with meat?”

Therefore YHWH heard and was full of wrath;

so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and His anger flared against Israel

because they did not believe God or rely on His Salvation [b’Yeshua-tow]

…And they remembered that God was their Rock [Elohim tsoor-am],

that God Most High was their Redeemer.

But they deceived Him with their mouths, and lied to Him with their tongues.

Their hearts were disloyal to Him, and they were unfaithful to His Covenant.

Yet He was compassionate; He forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them.

He often restrained His anger and did not unleash His full wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.

YHWH offered living water to the Israelites, but they did not rely on His Salvation. They say, yes you gave us water. But what about bread? God sees this as narrow-minded, and untrusting! Do you really need to ask? If they had trusted and waited they would have discovered that yes, they would receive living water AND the bread of life from YHWH, through the promised Messiah, God’s Anointed One.

It is no coincidence that the word Salvation, in Hebrew, is Yeshua, the Hebrew name of Jesus. Psalm 78 really is a very beautiful passage full of Messiah symbolism. Jesus is the pierced Rock, from which flows living water and he is the bread of life which, through his death, would be the Salvation of all of us.

The scriptures use the word Rock to tell you that you have the strongest and mightiest protection in YHWH. And that He not only protects, but he Saves! He is an unshakable Rock… your Refuge, your Redeemer, your Saviour. Let this be your prayer:

Psalm 18:46

YHWH lives! Blessed be my Rock! And may the God of my Salvation be exalted!

(Kha YHWH! U-baruk Tsoori! Wey-yarum Eloheh Yishi!)

Next week: Flower


6 thoughts on “Tsur: ROCK in the Tenakh”

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