In the Hebrew Old Testament, two words are commonly used for rock: tsur and sela. Both of these words are used to refer prophetically to Christ, yet each has its own relationship to him and conveys a very different picture from the other.
The word tsur comes from a Hebrew verb of like spelling which means to oppress, to straiten, to press upon, to afflict. This verb is used in Isaiah 63:9:
"In all their affliction, he was afflicted."
The noun tsur, then, denotes the rock as being pressed together, placed under enormous strain and stress. This word is used typically to speak of Christ as the afflicted and oppressed one. It invariably pictures him in his first advent, and the benefits that accrue to us thereby.
In Exodus 17:6, where we read of the rock being struck in order to obtain water. God said to Moses:
"I will stand upon the rock before thee in Horeb."
This seems to suggest the identity of God with the rock. Then Moses was commanded to strike the rock and when he did so, water flowed forth. Paul tells us that this rock, of which the Israelites drank, was Christ. The word used throughout this passage is tsur. We are shown a picture of Christ as the rock; God incarnate, yet smitten and afflicted in order that life-giving water might flow. This life-giving water is said, in John 7:38, to be figurative of the Holy Spirit, who could not become an ever present abider with the believer until Jesus was glorified - smitten with death.
Christ as the rock also provides a standing place for sinners who come to Him for justification, as well as a place of refuge from destruction by the glory of the Lord. In Exodus 33:21-22 we read:
"And the LORD said, (to Moses) Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen:"
In both occurrences the word rock is tsur. We have here a picture of Christ smitten, providing a firm standing place as well as a safe hiding place or refuge. Notice also that Moses was pointed to this rock by God, himself, and that it was near by him. From this place of refuge, a man can safely view the glory of God, protected by God's own hand.
In Deuteronomy 32:13, God speaks of this same rock, tsur as being the source of oil:
"And He (God) made him (Israel) to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock."
The first rock, out of which honey was sucked, is not tsur, but sela, to which we will refer presently. The flinty rock out of which oil is sucked is tsur. Christ, afflicted and oppressed, is the source of the Holy Spirit as an anointing that teacheth us all things. See 1 John 2:27 seq.
The tsur, or afflicted rock, is also identified as the source of salvation in Deut. 32:15, where Moses calls it:
"The Rock of his (Israel's) salvation".
It is also said in verse 18 of that same chapter, to have begotten Israel.
The tsur is prophesied in Isaiah 8:14 to be a reproach to both houses of Israel. The fulfillment of this prophecy is so well known that it is not necessary to belabor the point.
Men are exhorted to enter into the tsur (Isa. 2:10) as a place of refuge from the majesty of the glory of God.
Turning now to the other Hebrew word for rock, the word sela, we find it to be derived from a root sala, which means to lift up, to exalt. Thus sela suggests the idea of raised up or exalted. It seems obvious from the figurative usage of this word that it is intended to represent Christ raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father. It is never used to figure Christ in His affliction and suffering.
It will be recalled that Moses was barred from entering Canaan because of an act of disobedience. Having been told by God to speak to the rock that water might come forth, he smote the rock instead. See Numbers 20:2-13. It is commonly supposed that this was the same rock which Moses had smitten to provide water on the occasion recorded in Ex. 17:6-7, but such an identification is impossible, for the first rock was located in the vicinity of Mount Horeb, while the second was at Kadesh, many miles to the north. More important, the first rock, which was commanded to be smitten, is called tsur while the second rock which was merely to be spoken to, is called sela. The lesson seems to be plain: the oppressed, afflicted rock had to be smitten in order for the life-giving water to flow; but, that having been done, it was thence forward necessary only to speak to the exalted rock and water would be forthcoming. Moses, in his fit of anger, obscured this truth by striking the exalted rock; thus implying, in type, that Jesus must be crucified afresh for each outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
It was this rock, sela, which is said to be the source of honey in Deut. 32:13. It is of the exalted Christ that the bride speaks in the Song of Solomon 2:3:
"As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste."
"His mouth is most sweet, yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, 0 daughters of Jerusalem."
Song of Solomon 5:16.