IV. Divine Provision (Exodus 15:22–18:27)
IV. Divine Provision (15:22–18:27)
15:22-24 From the Red Sea, Israel traveled three days in the wilderness (15:22). Don’t miss that the only way they could reach their destination was by going through the wilderness. This is a strong indicator that although you may sometimes experience “wilderness” moments in your life, you are not necessarily outside of God’s will. Sometimes modern believers, too, must pass “through the wilderness” to get where God wants us to be.
The Israelites’ main problem at this point in the story was that they could find no water (15:22). When the people finally encountered some, they discovered that it was bitter, so they could not drink it. Their reaction, given all that God had done for them to this point, should raise our eyebrows. They named the place Marah (which is Hebrew for “bitter”) (15:23) and grumbled to Moses (15:24).
Only a mere three days had passed since the Red Sea miracle. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the human heart to move from thanksgiving to complaining—from tambourine shaking in praise (15:20) to fist waving in hostility (15:24). What makes this reaction truly ironic is that their previous crisis had involved a water problem for which there had been no visible solution in sight. Here, when confronted by another water problem with no visible solution in view, they immediately forecast doom for themselves. Yet these people had clearly seen what God could do with water! (Absolutely whatever he wants.) We doubt what God can do only because we forget what God has done.
15:25 Moses prayed, and God instructed him to throw a tree . . . into the water. As a result, the water became drinkable. Of course, this is not an orthodox method of water purification. But neither was cutting the sea in two an orthodox method of allowing people to cross to the other side. Don’t miss God’s purpose in allowing this water problem: He tested them through it.
Students do poorly when they fail to study something their instructor says will appear on their test. The Lord had expected Israel to learn from the Red Sea event. Demonstrating that miraculous deliverance before their eyes, in fact, was his way of telling them, “This is going to be on the test! Remember it. Be ready to draw on this knowledge and apply it in the future.” The Israelites had failed to trust a God who had proven himself completely trustworthy. They thus earned an F when the pop quiz of bitter water was placed before them.
15:26 After the test, God explained a statute for the Israelites (15:25): If you will carefully obey the Lord your God . . . I will not inflict any illnesses on you that I inflicted on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.
There are some who try to stretch the promise of this verse too far, advocating a “health and wealth” gospel that assures all believers that they will be disease free and rich too if only they trust in Christ. They say that you shouldn’t become sick if you are truly saved. But this is unbiblical thinking that adds to what God was saying. The illnesses that God would prevent in ancient Israel and the healing that he would provide did not prevent them from deteriorating with age or even from contracting a virus or getting involved in an accident. We live in a fallen world, and these things inevitably happen.
Nevertheless, sometimes people suffer maladies—physical, mental, or emotional ones—because, like the Egyptians, they live in rebellion against God and operate from an unbiblical worldview. God promised Israel that, if they trusted him and followed his instructions, they wouldn’t suffer as Egypt had. Instead, he would be their healer as they encountered sickness.
Importantly, some believers suffer—not due to age or germs—but because they are living outside of the will of God. To them, the Great Physician says in effect, “Take your medicine—obey my Word. For I am the Lord who heals you.”
15:27 The Lord directed Israel to an oasis in the wilderness where twelve springs of water flowed and seventy date palms grew. Once again, he showed his power over water and provided for their needs.
16:1-3 As it turned out, the people of Israel remained quick to forget what God could do. In the second month after leaving Egypt, they began what would be a habitual pattern: grumbling against Moses and Aaron (16:1-2). But since these brothers were the Lord’s chosen servants, ultimately Israel’s grumbling was directed against the Lord. When food ran low, they complained about how good they had it in Egypt (16:3). How sad that Egyptian slavery with a full belly looked better to them than God-supplied freedom with a little hunger along the way.
16:4-5 God was going to provide for them, but with his provision would be another test. He would rain bread from heaven, and they were only to gather what they would consume each day. On the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days. Now, these were fairly simple instructions God gave for the people to follow. Yet a rebellious heart will ignore even simple instructions.
16:6-12 Moses and Aaron explained to the people that Israel’s complaints against them were really complaints against the Lord (16:6-7, 9). They were simply leading under God’s authority. The pair also explained to the Israelites that the Lord would provide them with bread in the morning and meat in the evening (16:8, 12). Faced with such provision, the people would surely know that theirs was the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt (16:6, 12).
16:13-20 In the evening quail . . . covered the camp, and in the morning God caused his heavenly bread to appear on the ground (16:13-14). Moses relayed God’s instructions about gathering only enough for each day—two quarts per individual (16:16). None of the food was to be kept overnight (16:19). Nevertheless, some of the Israelites attempted to hoard it. And in the morning, the leftovers bred worms and stank (16:20).
16:21-30 Moses explained why it was necessary to gather two days’ worth on the sixth day. The seventh day was a holy Sabbath to the Lord (16:23, 29-30), which was a hint of a commandment to come (20:8-11). The people were not to gather on that day; therefore, they wouldn’t find any in the field (16:25). But just as sure as some ignored the instruction about gathering too much, others ignored the instruction about not gathering on the Sabbath. As they went out to gather food, they did not find any (16:27). Needless to say, Moses was angry (16:20), and the Lord was angry too (16:28).
Through his instructions God was teaching the Israelites the principle that he provides for his people one day at a time. God’s mercies “are new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23). Jesus articulates this kingdom provision in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt 6:11). But will we trust him to provide and receive it in the way he prescribes?
16:31-36 Since the Israelites had never seen the unusual substance (16:31) before, they asked, “What is it?” (16:15), which in Hebrew is the word manna. So that’s what they called it (16:31). Moses commanded them to preserve two quarts of manna in a container so that future generations could see it (16:32-33). Eventually it would be placed in the ark of the covenant (16:34; cp. Heb 9:4). Israel would eat manna every day for forty years until they entered the land of Canaan (16:35; cp. Josh 5:12).
17:1-4 The people of Israel journeyed on. At their next campsite, there was no water (17:1). Now, you would think that they would have learned by then that God is able to provide. But instead they complained to Moses and tested the Lord (17:2). Rather than trusting the Lord who had delivered them and provided for them, they simply tested his patience. They were so upset, in fact, that they even threatened to stone Moses! (17:4).
17:5-7 In spite of Israel’s fickleness, God graciously told Moses to take his staff and hit the rock at Horeb (17:5-6). When he did, water miraculously gushed out for the people to drink. Moses named the place Massah (or “Testing”) and Meribah (that is, “Quarreling”), because Israel had faithlessly tested the Lord there (17:7). Though God provided for them in spite of their sin, the Israelites were setting themselves on a path of habitual disobedience that would lead to sorrow and disappointment. Eventually, their stubborn tendency to refuse to trust God would lead him to forbid that generation from entering the land at all (see Num 14:20-23).
Later, the author of Psalm 95 would warn God’s people not to test the Lord like the Israelites of Moses’s day (see Ps 95:7-11). Still later, the author of Hebrews warned Christians about the same thing, pointing to Psalm 95 (see Heb 3:7-19). It’s important to remember that all these things “were written for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11).
17:8 With the water crisis solved, another crisis arose. The people of Amalek arrived to attack Israel (17:8). Amalek was a grandson of Esau, brother of Jacob, who was a patriarch of the Israelites (see Gen 36:12). Both the Israelites and the Amalekites, then, could trace their ancestries back to Isaac and to Abraham. But that family connection didn’t matter: Amalek wanted war.
17:9 Moses recognized that Israel had no option but to stand her ground. So he commanded Joshua to select some men for battle. What would Moses do while Joshua led the troops? He would stand on the hilltop with God’s staff in [his] hand. Moses had a simple shepherd’s staff. But he knew God had sanctified it; previously he had used it to perform the miraculous (see 14:16, 21-22, 26-28). And once again God was going to work through the natural to perform the supernatural.
17:10-11 As the battle raged in the field below him, Moses held up his hand, holding his staff high. As long as he did this, Israel prevailed. But whenever he lowered his tired hands for a rest, Amalek prevailed (17:11). What was happening down below, then, was inextricably tied to what Moses was doing on the mountain. Moses was engaging in spiritual intercession while the people were fighting. This tells us that both military force and spiritual commitment were needed. This is a reminder that we must avoid the extremes of thinking that either we’ll simply pray and let God take care of the life battles we face or that we must assume all responsibility and solve each problem in our human capacities alone. To prevail against enemy attack, you must both make contact with heaven and take responsibility for your actions.
17:12-13 Eventually, Moses grew tired. So they gave him a stone to sit on. Then Aaron and Hur stood on either side of their leader and supported his hands (17:12). By doing so, they helped keep God’s staff held high, and Joshua was able to defeat Amalek (17:13). Moses was a godly leader and servant of the Lord. But he couldn’t do the work he’d been assigned alone. Just as sure as Joshua couldn’t fight the Amalekites by himself, Moses couldn’t engage in spiritual warfare by himself.
You, too, need others in your life—brothers and sisters in the Lord—who will be there to help you spiritually when times get heavy. So put aside your pride, and let others “lift up your hands” when you’re overwhelmed by the trials of life.
17:14 God promised Moses that he would blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Because of the Amalekites’ wicked hostility toward their kin Israel, the Lord planned to eradicate them. He would later command King Saul to accomplish their demise. But because of Saul’s disobedience, the prophet Samuel would have to finish the job (see 1 Sam 15:1-3, 32-33). The Amalekites’ story reminds us that while God is patient in bringing his wrathful judgment, he never forgets to mete it out.
17:15-16 Then Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord Is My Banner” (17:15). A banner is a sign or a flag. People hold or display these as a visible testament to their commitment. Spectators at sporting events, for instance, often hold or wave banners to indicate which team they’re pulling for—that is, where their allegiance lies. Moses wanted to remind Israel to give the Lord their allegiance, for he alone could defeat their crises and give them victory.
18:1-12 During the journey, the Israelites passed near the home of Moses’s father-in-law Jethro (18:1). Moses’s wife and sons had been staying with him—probably as a means of protection during Moses’s confrontation with Pharaoh (18:2-3). So they came to meet with Moses (18:5-7). Moses explained to Jeth-ro all that the Lord had done on behalf of his people, and Jethro declared, Blessed be the Lord . . . who rescued you (18:8-10). Jethro was the priest of Midian (18:1). We know he had become a follower of the true God because he brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God (18:12). Jethro was a Kenite (see Judg 1:16), part of the Canaanite tribes (see Gen 15:19) who descended from Ham of African descent. At that time, the Kenites had settled in the land of Midian.
18:13-16 Jethro observed how Moses was handling the daunting task of judging the people. From morning until evening, they would stand waiting to bring their disputes before Moses, so that he could judge them, render a decision, and teach them God’s statutes (18:13-16). But remember: When Israel left Egypt, there were six-hundred thousand men (12:37)—and that didn’t include the women and children! This job we see outlined here, then, was hardly an easy task for Moses to do by himself. And Jethro recognized it.
Even at a large church, with multiple staff members, it can be difficult to schedule a counseling appointment with one of the pastoral staff. Church members might have to wait days or weeks. So imagine what Moses was dealing with. And be patient with your leaders who work hard to shepherd the hearts of the people.
18:17-18 Jethro made a wise observation: What you’re doing is not good. . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people . . . because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone. In other words, this man said to his son-in-law, “Have you lost your cotton-pickin’ mind? This job’s too big for one guy!”
People were standing in line all day to wait for a chance for one man to hear their cases and render verdicts. And Moses rightly wanted to help the people because they came to him “to inquire of God” (18:15). This tells us that his heart was right, but his plan in this case was bad. Moses was a good and capable man, but he wasn’t God. Both he and the people were going to “wear out” physiologically and psychologically if he didn’t get some help, because Moses couldn’t do it all—and the people couldn’t wait forever for justice.
18:19-20 Jethro offered Moses some helpful advice (18:19). He encouraged Moses to be the mediator—to represent the people before God and teach them the way to live (18:19-20). In other words, he counseled Moses to pray to God for the people and to teach God’s laws. But he warned him that he could not be the sole person responsible for helping each and every person to apply God’s laws to their specific situations. While Moses could provide the people with a spiritual framework, they would need more than Moses alone to help them fill in the details of how to apply it.
18:21 Jethro encouraged Moses to select men who were God-fearing, trustworthy, and [who hated] dishonest profit. This strongly suggests that the priority in enlisting spiritual leadership should be identifying those who are living in a godly manner and are biblically focused in their dealings. When Paul listed qualifications for church leaders, in fact, the lists consisted primarily of character qualities (see 1 Tim 3:1-12; Titus 1:6-9). Moses needed to identify leaders who loved God, knew his law, and submitted to it in their own lives. Such men could then lead groups of people, tackling their issues in bite-sized chunks, and teaching them how to apply the Word of God to their lives.
18:22-23 Such a team of leaders could judge the people at all times. Moses could continue to judge every major case, but the leaders could judge every minor case (18:22) in his stead. That translated to no more waiting in line all day for the people and no more heavy burden of playing judge and teacher having to be carried by Moses alone. This way, Moses could endure, and the people could go home satisfied (18:23).
Here I see a reminder to the church that pastors cannot bear the burdens of the church alone. Wise, Word-centered church lay leaders must share the load. By dividing the work in this way, more Christians can be trained to think biblically about life, and they in turn can help their brothers and sisters in Christ to think and live biblically. This is how the body of Christ is built up. It was never intended to be a one-man job.
18:24-27 Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and chose leaders to serve in the young nation’s new judicial system (18:25-26). Then Jethro returned to his home (18:27). In this story God used a Gentile man to provide wise counsel for the effective administration of the entire Jewish nation.