The Wilderness Begins

Today, I want to look at the events immediately following the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army. We will be studying Exodus 15-17.

Government and military sources around the world have invested much in studying civil disorder. We doubt another can take this land from us, but we worry that we could destroy it from within. We almost did it 150 years ago.

What they learned is that in western societies, the people begin to panic when grocery shelves are empty for more than three days. No food or water for 30 days turns into rebellion.

Guess how long the Israelites had been over the Red Sea before they began to complain. That’s right, three days.

One writer noted that this early wilderness experience was not necessary for Israel’s salvation but more for its sanctification.

Clement of Rome was a little more direct. He said that God lead the people into the wilderness to ‘root out the evils which had clung to them’ after 400 years in Egypt.

It is interesting to note that the next three events in the wilderness were all associated with food and water. Not too surprising for a desert experience, since they were still bearing all the loot of Egypt.

Even the apostle Paul would reference some of these events in his letter to the Corinthians.

We should not tempt the Lord as some of them did—and were killed by poisonous serpents; [Num. 21:5, 6.]

Nor discontentedly complain as some of them did—and were put out of the way entirely by the destroyer (death). [Num. 16:41, 49.]

Apparently, we tempt the Lord by trying His patience, never being satisfied, become a burden to Him, criticizing His choices and exploiting His goodness.

I love the how the AMP version describes God’s resolution for these complainers. They ‘were put out of the way by the destroyer (death).

This nation as God found them were entirely unfit for the work God had earmarked for them.

Bitter Water (15:22-27)

These early challenges that faced Israel were designed to take their measure. Like those pre-tests we take in school to let us know what was coming our way and to assess how prepared we were.

This mass of people had consumed their food by now and certainly their water. They managed to locate some water, but it was bitter (alkaline) and undrinkable.

Hungry and thirsty, Israel now demonstrates what would become standard behavior for many. They grumble against Moses and complain.

Moses gets a personal experience of their ungratefulness, self-centeredness, immaturity, and insecurity.

Worse, they did not cry out to God for help but took their complaints to Moses who intervened for them.

God directs Moses to take a certain tree and throw it into the water. By that miracle of obedience, all the water is made pure, and all are watered and refreshed.

Then God reminds them through Moses how He has delivered them and promises that if they stay faithful, He will not plague them with the diseases of Egypt. That got their attention.

He then presents the carrot with that stick: I will heal you. We have a precursor to some of the ailments that will plague the desert because they cannot stop complaining.

God even uses the name ‘Yahweh-Rophe’ which means the God who heals or more specifically the God who ‘restores’ both physically and spiritually.

In that spirit, God leads them to an oasis called Elim where there were 12 springs of water and 70 date palms. I am sure some wanted to stay there.

So we have God caring for His people by miracle (healing the water) and by His providence (taking them to water).

Bread from Heaven (16:1-36)

They make their way from Elim and very soon exhaust their supplies and begin to complain again but there is more.

That bit of refreshment brings out some not so godly behavior. Prior to the apostle Paul’s earlier comments, he breaks down their behaviors in some pretty graphic terms that include:

  1. Setting the hearts on evil things
  2. Idolatry
  3. Sexual immorality (revelry)

But should we be surprised, they grumbled under the Pharoah, they grumbled on the way to and at the Red Sea, they grumbled at the bitter water (Marah), and they begin to complain how they had ‘pots of meat’ in Egypt.

But God responds by sending manna, that miracle food they found waiting every morning all around them.

What was manna? We don’t know. It took the form of a wafer and tasted a little bit like honey.

Psalm 78:25 would call it the ‘bread of angels’. What ever it was, it was able to sustain man, woman and child and would so for the next 40 years.

Moses assembled the people and Aaron spoke to people of God’s next promise. This time the glory of God appeared in the cloud again.

This promise was for the meat they missed. God would send quail, all the quail they could eat. The psalmist (78:27) would say God ‘rained meat on them like dust, and the winged birds like the sands of the sea.”

But even here, God understood the carnal nature for He ordained that all the manna collected would only last one day before forming maggots.

The only exception would be on the Sabbath. They could collect double on the day prior and God would preserve it for them but only then.

Here God built in two lessons: first, remember where your daily provision comes from and remember me on the day of sabbath.

Again, Paul cited this text in 2 Cor. 8:15, “As it has been written: The person who gathered much did not have too much, and the persona who gathered little did not have too little.” Here the miracle was in the sufficiency of the bread. It met all needs regardless of amount.

Paul would use the incident to teach Christian not to hoard in this life but give generously. God would take care of them regardless and so they could be cheerful givers.

Just a comment about the manna and the Sabbath. The manna would end when they left the desert but the Sabbath would continue because the Sabbath was a sign to them and to the nations around them of God’s provision, His goodness, and their faith and it pointed to their future rest.

It would be nice if our Christian witness to this world would do much the same. But then, you and I would have to recognize God’s daily provision to us, speak of His goodness in our lives and demonstrate a life of peace here and life afterward.

Exodus 16:31-36

God even told Moses to save some manna back so it may be placed as a testimony in the Ark of the Covenant. Memory is important to the believer not just to remember what God has done but for the fact it is the only thing we take with us into heaven.

A quick look forward and you will see that the manna ended the day Israel set foot in the Promised Land. From then on, it would be the results of their labor that meet their hunger and thirst.

Later, in the giving of the Law, Moses would explain the importance of these times of trial to teach them a spiritual lesson: Duet. 8:2-3

 2 And you shall [earnestly] remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your [mind and] heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.

3 And He humbled you and allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you recognize and personally know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

It hasn’t changed much over the millennia. God humbles us in order to prove us, to know what is in our heat and if we will keep His commands. Only then will we be able to recognize and know the Word that God has spoken.

Water from the Rock (17:1-7)

On the move, Israel now arrives at a place called Rephidim to find it dry. Again, they complained to Moses but this time, there was anger in their voice for God.

In the second verse, that demanded that God provide the water. Now they were operating on their terms. It wasn’t enough that God perform a miracle now and then, they wanted an answer on their terms.

In verse three, they went as far as to question God by accusing Him of trying to harm with these trials.  Some even doubted that God was even with them anymore.

Not what I would call a stellar beginning. Even Moses grew weary of their bickering and later when God told him to speak and a rock would give them water, Moses in his anger struck the water and water gushed out.

In fact, the psalmist in Psalm 105:41 declares that the water flowed like a stream in the desert.”

Let me finish by referencing the grumbling and discontent that is in our own lives.  Like Marah, we can become bitter and an unpleasant person to be around.

When we do so, we are putting God to the test. But there are worse things set in motion by our grumbling.

First, grumbling grows because it is infectious and worse, toxic.  When we grumble and spread discontent, we reinforce one another’s complaints till we think we are right to feel this way.

No one is immune to its influence and as a society we serve to make this world an unpleasant place to live.

Then grumbling take a toll on us personally and spiritually by hardening our hearts. We become conditioned to scrutinizing God and His goodness and in time, we are prone to judge God and find Him wanting.

Listen to the warning issued by the psalmist, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.” Psalm 95:8-9

That rebellious spirit would cost the lives of everyone in Israel save two. It can cost us dearly as well for it can harden our very heart.

Listen to the warning issued by the Hebrew writer to you and I, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”  Hebrews 3:12-13

If you fail to sense the danger is both those warnings, remember what brought the Pharoah to his own destruction: He hardened his heart.

To harden your heart is a death knell to one’s spiritual life. It puts you out of touch with the mercy and message of God and in time, puts you in opposition to His will and His ways.

Then you become one more shell of a person left in deserts of time.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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