When we last discussed Exodus, the Israelites were celebrating their victory over Pharaoh and his minions at the Red Sea with song and dance, the first time those activities were recorded in the Bible. You would think after such a victory, seeing their enemies drowned under a crushing wall of water, their faith would be high, right? WRONG!
The Israelites start to complain again to Moses and Aaron as they camp out in the wilderness that is Sin (interesting name. Pun intended? I do not know). They have again focused on their physical self instead of their spiritual blessings and complain of being hungry. They lament over the pots filled with meat and bread they ate as slaves in Egypt. In response, God tells Moses that he will rain down food from heaven, and the people are to go and pick up as much food as they need for the day. They are told to gather a double portion on the sixth day, because, of course, the seventh day is to be a day of rest. God issues this as a challenge to the Israelites, as he wants to see whether or not they are capable of following these simple instructions.
I like that Moses and Aaron continually remind the people that their complaints are not against THEM—they are against God. Admittedly, this is something I need to remind myself of more often. I have to be honest—living in this small apartment with five people causes me a great deal of distress. I often wonder if I am supposed to be content with the fact that I have a roof over my head, and does God look at my dissatisfaction and complaints about this place as me not appreciating what he has given me, and me not trusting that he plans to give me more?
Getting this job was a humbling experience. I have a quality that the Israelites as a group possess—impatience and wavering faith. If my faith were as strong as it should have been, I would have been certain that one day God would put me right where he wanted me to go. But like the reverend said at church today, we have become a microwave society and are accustomed to having our needs met in an instant. Not so with God. Look at what he did for me… I was passed up by tons of jobs, only to get the perfect one.
Back to Exodus.
Now here is where it gets even more amazing. God reveals himself to ALL Israel.
“And as Aaron spoke to the whole community of Israel (there were a lot of Israelites and they did not have microphones back then… how did everyone hear him? Just wondering), they looked out toward the wilderness. There they could see the awesome glory of the Lord in the cloud” (Exo. 16:10).
The Israelites keep getting example after example after example of God’s power, yet they continue to complain and be dissatisfied and selfish. As I have said before, if the Israelites do not symbolize us as humans today, I don’t know who does. God is showing us sign after sign after sign, and we are so caught up in the things of this world—that is designed to meet our immediate, physical needs and selfish wants and whims—that we are paying him no attention.
I can only wonder how much that grieves our loving God. He took care to create each one of us to glorify him, and we turn around and deny his very existence? Wow. He gave his Son as a sacrifice, and Jesus suffered a painful death, yet one needs not even believe on Him and can be redeemed? Double wow.
Anyway, that evening an innumerable flock of quail come in and cover the camp. The next morning, the ground is covered with dew that evaporates and becomes a flaky substance. The Israelites have never seen this substance before. It is, of course, bread of heaven—manna. Moses relays the collection instructions to the Israelites, and explains that only enough food is to be collected per day, and no leftovers are allowed. Of course, someone disobeys, and maggots appear. Moses is, understandably, angry with those who disobeyed.
Even as the temperature rises, this flaky substance does not evaporate or disappear. That is the wonder of God. God, the author of weather, can control it to suit his purposes.
Next, the Israelites are given the Sabbath day as their day of rest. When the leaders come to ask Moses why they ought to gather more food on the sixth day, (just like us, they can’t follow a simple instruction, they have to know the meaning behind it. I am guilty of this, I cannot lie), Moses responds:
“He told them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow” (Exo. 16: 23).
Sigh. I do not know about you, but a complete day of rest sounds perfectly lovely to me. I remember my grandmothers and parents often discussing how nothing was open on Sundays years ago, except for churches and maybe a few gas stations. There was nothing else to do but go to church and spend time with family. In the days before outrageous gas prices, families often enjoyed Sunday drives. Sounds ideal to me.
Rest=rejuvenation. A lack of rest is why so many of us are irritable, weigh too much or too little, have bad attitudes, cannot focus, etc. God was trying to help us with that. Although the Christian day of rest is not Saturday, as is the typical Sabbath day of observation, the more important concept is that of rest. Sundays are supposed to be, in my opinion, a day of rejuvenation after a long week, a day to refresh, clear, and restore your mind to its rightful state. What better way to start a brand new week than with worship and family? God even goes so far as to call this day a gift: “They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you…” (Exo. 16: 29).
Moving on… Recall a few passages ago that there were some Israelites who disobeyed Moses when he told them not to keep leftover food, and when they did, maggots appeared. This time, the food that is stored for the day of rest is uncorrupted in the morning. However, some Israelites are STILL not satisfied, and go out looking for food! They do not find any.
Is this how some people go about their life journey? They have the goodness and fullness of God staring them dead in the face, yet it is not good enough, and they go and seek membership and acceptance of cults and other sects. It’s like having a perfectly-cooked steak (with A-1 of course) and potato dinner, with yummy asparagus in front of you, and deciding to forego it for a Banquet TV dinner. (No disrespect to Banquets, but I am a foodie, and I love steak and asparagus!).
A further instruction is given for the Sabbath: The Israelites are told to each stay in their place. Again, this tells me that God intended on this day to be restful and for quiet reflection and worship with family.
The Israelites name the food that has fallen from the sky manna. A description of manna follows: It is white like coriander seed and tastes like honey wafers. Now, as insolent as the Israelites have been, God could have rightfully made the manna taste like soap or something disgusting. BUT, since it was of God and from heaven, it had a delightful taste.
God instructs Moses and Aaron to fill a two-quart jar with manna so future generations will be able to see how he took care of the Israelites. Even then, God knew that man and his stubbornness would demand proof of God’s goodness. Word of mouth has proven not to be good enough for some.
Aaron did as told, and this jar of manna was eventually placed in the Ark of the Covenant (we’ll get there eventually). For forty years until the Israelites arrived in the land in which they would settle, God provided them with this manna.
But let’s digress. The forty years are not yet over. And the Israelites are complaining again.
At the beginning of Exodus 17, we find thirsty Israelites complaining to Moses about their lack of water at their new camp in Rephidim. According to the Bible, the Israelites were “tormented by thirst” (Exo. 17: 3). Notice that the Bible does NOT say that Moses faced this same torment. Moses’s hungers and thirst were quenched by God’s promises.
Again, the Israelites opine that they were better off in Egypt (don’t you wish they’d get some new material?). Instead of causing the earth to swallow them up and quiet them forever, as some of us may have done, God lovingly provided them with what they needed, and it did not come from just anywhere. He tells Moses to take his staff, the same one he used in Egypt to perform miracles before Pharaoh, and go to the Nile in the presence of some of the elders of the group. There, God will stand before him on the rock at Mount Sinai. Moses is to strike the rock, and water will gush out for the people to drink.
See any parallels here?
For the Israelites, manna was the bread of life that came down from heaven. Jesus, our Bread of Life, came down from heaven and took on a human fleshly form. Jesus is our rock, who was struck on the cross, and water (and blood) gushed from His body. The rock of our lives is Christ. The Word is ours to drink and sustain us.
In the next Scriptures we are introduced to one of my favorite Biblical figures, Joshua. As soon as we meet Joshua, we see that he is a fearless, courageous warrior. While the Israelites are still camped in Rephidim, they are attacked by Amalekites. According to Biblical archaeology, Amalekites were descendants of Esau who preferred to live in mountainous terrain. They were enemies of Israel, and thus adversaries of God. This makes sense if we consider the history of Jacob and Esau, although the two brothers were later reconciled.
Moses commands Joshua to choose some men to go and fight against the Amalekites. This lets me know that Joshua has already proven himself capable. The next passage lets me further know: “Joshua did what Moses commanded”… Joshua is fearless AND obedient, two qualities that are necessary for soldiers in God’s army.
During the battle, the Israelites gain an advantage as long as Moses’s staff is held high in the air. Whenever he dropped the staff, the Amalekites gained footing. When he gets tired, Aaron and Hur (I have no idea who Hur is, but assume that since he is not fighting that he is one of the elders) find a rock for Moses to sit on, stand on either side of him, and hold his hands up for him (I like that). This enables Moses to hold his hands steady until sunset, and Joshua and his army are victorious. After the victory, God commands Moses to document the victory on a scroll and give it to Joshua as a memento. Undoubtedly, Joshua is already being groomed for the role he will play in Israel’s journey after Moses’s death. Moses builds an altar at the site of the victory.
Remember Moses’s father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian? He comes back into the picture in Exodus 18. We met Jethro back in Exodus 2 when Moses killed the Egyptian, fled to Midian, and met Jethro’s seven daughters as they come to draw water from the well against Moses is resting. In Exodus 2, Jethro is referred to as Reuel, and the daughter he gives to Moses in marriage is Zipporah.
Jethro has heard of all the good God has done for his people. The Bible tells us that Moses had previously sent his wife and sons Gershom and Eliezer to Jethro; now Jethro comes to visit Moses in the wilderness (there were no maps and navigational systems, how did these people find each other???). He brings Zipporah and the two boys with him, and Moses fills his father-in-law in about everything God has done for them. Jethro is delighted and brings a burnt offering and sacrifice to God. As far as I recall, this is the first instance of Israelites participating in a sacrificial meal to God outside of Egypt. Sidebar: I wonder if the Israelites worshipped God while they were in Egypt, or if they were forbidden to worship. Did they even know God, or were they only knowledgeable about Egyptian gods? I have something new to research! My assumption is that God was relatively new to them, and they were thus babes in Christ, which would partially explain their lack of faith).
Get this… Moses is also a judge. The day after the sacrificial meal, it is recorded that Moses sat down to hear disputes among the people. The Bible goes further to say that Moses heard disputes from morning till evening. The idea of patiently listening to people go back and forth makes for a good horror film. Jethro sees how tiring this is for Moses, considering everything else he is doing for the people, and wonders why he does it alone. Moses says that “…the people come to me to get a ruling from God. When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions” (Exo. 18: 15-16).
Here is God setting up the Israelite government.
Jethro gives Moses sound advice: To select from the Israelites honest, upright leaders who will judge groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. Moses should continue to be the leader and teach the people, but Jethro knows Moses cannot do it all himself. These lower level leaders should be able to handle smaller disputes, and Moses will continue to hear more serious cases. Moses follows Jethro’s advice, and Jethro soon returns to his own land.
Jethro was a pretty smart guy, wasn’t he? He cared enough about Moses to be concerned about his innumerable responsibilities, and offered a good, Godly plan. We all need help from time to time. Moses, as great as he was, was just another man. However, I kind of go back and forth with this particular event. God had given Moses a job to do, so was Moses supposed to follow this advice, or did God have something else in store? Was this an example of Moses leaning to his own understanding, or was this the type of government God had intended all along, and he used Jethro to implement it? I do not know, but I have more research to do.
Alas… I have gotten onto a roll and now duty calls. Adios.