Paul comments that during their wilderness wanderings, Israel “drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). Why does Paul think that the rock “followed them”? Here’s a simple explanation (one I believe I read last year in Matthew Levering’s Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation): Exodus and Numbers both narrate this episode, but each locates it differently. In Exodus, “Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim” (Exod 17:1), and it’s there that Moses strikes the rock, at a place he calls “Massah, and Meribah” (Exod 17:7). In Numbers, by contrast, the Meribah episode occurs when Israel arrives in the wilderness of Sin, and camps at Kadesh (Numb 20:1).
Does this Pauline hermeneutic, which seems to presuppose that two prima facie contradictory passages of Scripture can be reconciled, even as to matters of history, have implications for how Christians today ought to read Scripture? It would be awkward indeed if we couldn’t allow for any factual errors at all in the OT or NT (do we need to be believe in a literal global flood?). Perhaps we can say, in the spirit of Origen, that this factual error was placed in Scripture to intimate the spiritual mystery which Paul draws from it, namely that Christ himself sustained and sustains Israel at their every point of need.