The people of Israel have been brought out of Egyptian slavery by God’s mighty hand. The people were taken south into the desert and backed up against the sea. When the Egyptians pursued, God caused the waters to part so that the people of Israel could walk across on dry land. As the Egyptians followed in, God caused the waters to crash back down on to them, destroying them in the sea. With this victory, Moses and the people sing a song of victory, praising God for his strong arm that led them out. It is time to go to the land of Canaan, promised by God to Abraham that his descendants would occupy this land.
Exodus 15:22 tells us that Israel set out from the Red Sea after this victory over the Egyptians and they head into the desert. I want you to underline and pay careful attention to the next sentence. “They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” I want you to imagine being without water in the desert for three days. Walking through a desert with nothing to drink is a frightening proposition. This amount of time is about the maximum the human body can endure under exertion and heat, which are certainly the conditions of walking through the desert. As their thirst begins to build, notice what happens. They came to Marah and there is water there. The excitement that would have moved through the group as they see water. But then the bad news hits. The water is not drinkable. It is likely brackish water so that it is not safe to drink. Can you imagine the disappointment and heartbreak when the thirst that you thought would be quenched will not be quenched? Oh, how the thirst would just be raging in your body and mind! What will the people do? Look at verse 24.
And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Exodus 15:24 ESV)
It has been three days! What are we going to drink! We are in the middle of the desert! Moses cries out to the Lord regarding their circumstance. The Lord shows Moses some wood and threw it into the water, making the water now drinkable. I want us to see what God did. God brought the people to a circumstance of despair so that the people would have to cry out to the Lord. When the people cried out, God solved the problem and provided for the people. God is teaching the people through this circumstance. Listen to what we read in verses 25-26.
There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exodus 15:25–26 ESV)
God tested the people. What will be the response of the people in a time of difficulty? God first tested them by the sea when the Egyptians were pursuing them. The people grumbled that Moses had brought them out to the desert to die. But God rescued them. The people have been in the desert for three days without water. The people grumble that they have no water to drink. But God rescued them. What will be the response in difficulty? This is the purpose of the testing. Will you look to God in a time of difficulty or need? When Moses reflects on the 40 years in the wilderness he reminds the people that this is exactly what God is doing.
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. (Deuteronomy 8:2 ESV)
God used this as a teaching moment for the people so that they would learn to trust the Lord. What was God teaching? Look at verse 26 again. If you will listen to the Lord and obey his voice, then none of the plagues that fell on the Egyptians will fall on you and the Lord will be your healer. The teaching point is quite simple. Obey the Lord and he will take care of you. We can only know God through obedience and trust. You have been set free. Now listen to the Lord and obey. Message learned, right?
Grumbling Again (16:1-36)
Exodus 16:1 tells us that they have been on this journey from Egypt for one month. But the whole congregation of Israel grumbles against Moses and Aaron. Listen to what they say: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3 ESV)
We would rather be dead! You brought us out here to starve to death! We are not told if they have eaten yet since leaving Egypt. It seems unlikely that they have, otherwise this complaint would not make sense. Further, it had been three days since they had water and then they complained. Now it has been one month since they had food and now they complain. Again, they are the maximum of what the human body can tolerate. So they cry out that they wish Moses had not rescued them. Notice their selective memory. Life was apparently so much better in Egypt. They only remember the food they able to eat. They do not remember the slavery. They do not remember the oppression. They do not remember the death of their children. They do not remember the severe treatment they endured. They just remember the food. It is amazing how we can be so selective in how we remember things. The “good old days” never had anything bad happen back them, right? Well, that is often how we remember things. This is what they are doing.
What will God’s response be? Look at verses 4-5. God’s response is amazing and gracious. God will make bread rain from heaven. Yet even with the blessings of God, God is going to test his people. God is going to give enough for that day alone. If they gather more than one day’s worth of bread, it will simply go bad. On the sixth day they will be able to gather twice the amount of bread because they would not go out and gather on the seventh day, for that is the Sabbath. So Moses and Aaron tell the people that they are going to see the glory of the Lord “because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord.” The people were not grumbling against Moses, but against God, and the people needed to learn that. God hears your grumbling and all your grumbling is against God.
But God goes even further. Every night quail came up and covered the camp for dinner and every morning the bread from heaven lay around the camp (16:13). Everyone gathered as much as he could eat (16:18) and they had nothing left over but they also had no lack (16:18). This is the provision of God. He does not give them enough to store up days upon days but he did not give so little that they did not have enough to be full that day. So do the people do exactly that the Lord says? Look at verse 20.
But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. (Exodus 16:20 ESV)
Why did they do this? Why did they not listen to what God had said through Moses? The answer is that they did not believe, right? They did not believe that the food would be there for them tomorrow. So they hoarded it. They tried to gather more than they needed. The people were to learn something very important. God will give you what you need today. You need to trust the Lord to provide for you today, and trust in the Lord for he will provide for you tomorrow. Think about how many times in the New Testament that this teaching is echoed.
Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11 ESV)
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21 ESV)
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33 ESV)
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:12–15 ESV)
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10–11 ESV)
All of these passages are echoing what we are learning in Exodus 16. Trust God to give you what you need tomorrow. That is how you can work for what you need today and give what you have to others. Do not lay up treasures on earth for yourselves. To remind the people of this principle, God commanded that an omer of manna be put in a jar and placed before the Lord (and was later placed in the Ark of the Covenant once it was completed). God provides for his people.
Grumbling Yet Again (17:1-7)
Exodus 17:1 opens with a problem. The people do not have water to drink. At this point the people have seen that God can take care of this problem. He has given them drinking water from bitter water. God has given them food in the desert. Now there is no water. What is the response of the people? Look at verse 2. They quarreled with Moses. Moses warns them that they are testing the Lord. But the people thirsted and they grumbled. Listen to what they say in verse 3.
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV)
Notice the frustration of Moses. He cries out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” Notice the grace of God again. God tells Moses to take the staff of God and strike the rock. When you strike the rock, water will come out from it and the people will drink. Moses does it. But notice how this scene ends.
And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7 ESV)
They tested the Lord because they were saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” This is the problem with grumbling. We are testing the Lord. We are questioning if God is really with us or not. We are judging God, aren’t we? We are determining if God is worthy of our service, worship, and allegiance because we want to see if he is really among us or not.
How have we put the Lord to the test? How many times have we grumbled about the condition of our life? How many times have we complained about our circumstances? How many times have we indicated a lack of trust in God to care for us today because of all the difficulties we are experiencing? I want us to consider what is happening when we do this. Look at Psalm 95 where this event is referenced by the psalmist.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95:6–11 ESV)
Notice that the psalmist declares that the people were hardening their hearts at that time. Grumbling and complaining is the symptom of a hardening heart. Our lack of faith is putting God to the test. Our lack of belief in him to care for us is a hardening of our hearts. If complaining and grumbling is our natural default, we must be very concerned. God says you are grumbling against him for he is over all things. Further, grumbling is toxic as it hardens our hearts against what God has done for us. We will consider the New Testament pictures of redemption from this text in our next lesson from Exodus.