Summary: God provides for Israel, and for us, in ways that demonstrate his glory and our reliance on him.

Exodus 15:22 – 17:7

Cf John 6:25-59

There’s a number of different types of students at school that I find annoying. Am I allowed to say that? Well, I suppose I just did!

But there’s a number of types of annoying kids. There’s the hyperactive ADHD types – you can understand why they’re annoying. There’s the too-cocky-by-half types who would like to think they own the joint. There’s the bush lawyers who will try to wriggle their way out of any punishment based on a dubious interpretation of the school discipline code. There’s the know-it-alls who find perverse joy in picking out a spelling error on the board – to which I always reply “Well done, glad you picked up on my little test there!”. There’s the students with selective hearing who seem to always be able to pick up the bell but never the instruction to stop talking. But I’ve got to say that the most frustrating of all are the whingers. The grumblers. The complainers. Those kids who seem to think that the whole world is against them. I had one such child in my activity group on our year seven camp earlier this year. It’s too far, it’s too hard, it’s too hot, it’s too cold (often within the same ten minute period). He pushed me. He got more than me. My bag’s too heavy, can you carry it sir? A never-ending litany of dissatisfaction meant it took all my considerable powers of self-control to avoid giving him something to really complain about.

Sometimes when you read parts of Exodus, as well as Numbers, it’s hard not to put the Israelites in the same category. Whingers, grumblers, complainers.

God has rescued them miraculously out of Egypt. You’ll no doubt remember some of the detail from our first foray into Exodus earlier this year.

He miraculously saved Moses in a basket in the Nile and delivered him to the pharaoh’s daughter. He miraculously appeared to Moses in the burning bush and miraculously demonstrated to Moses and the pharaoh his power by performing signs and wonders. He miraculously punished the Egyptians with ten plagues until the pharaoh finally let God’s people go. Miraculously, he led Israel with pillars of cloud and fire out of Egypt. And, perhaps most amazingly, he miraculously saved the Hebrews from the marauding Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea so they could walk to safety on dry land. It’s an amazing story. Even apart from the profound theological pointers to God’s plan we can see in the Passover and in the Prophet Moses it’s still no wonder that this event became the pivotal moment which defined the nation of Israel and which they remembered and celebrated above all others.

But even before we get to our passage today in chapters 15 through 17 we have already seen the first suggestions of discontent and grumbling, which is really just lack of faith in God. Moses was the first – remember how much he resisted God’s call to lead Israel out of Egypt. And then when Moses’ first demand for Israelite freedom results in Pharaoh making the work harder for the slaves they curse Moses in the name of the Lord. And when Pharaoh’s army has pursued them to the edge of the Red Sea they again assume they are done for and declare to Moses and to God in 14:11-12, “What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”

This is a stiff-necked and unfaithful people. And God knew them to be so! In 13:17, after leaving Egypt God decides to lead them to the Red Sea rather than through Philistine country because, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” God knows their hearts yet he still saves them. And what’s more ironic is that even though they never have to lift a finger to defend themselves as they leave Egypt – up until chapter 18 at least - even though God rescues them and delivers them time and time again in this most amazing of ways, they still will not trust him and will not cease grumbling.

You might have heard people say that they’ll follow Jesus if they see something miraculous with their own eyes – seeing is believing after all. But the Israelites in Exodus and Numbers show that claim to be a lie, a convenient excuse. They’ve seen the wonders of God but they still don’t trust him.

Which brings us to chapter 15:22 and this great narrative of grumbling and provision.

This all happens very soon after the crossing of the Red Sea. On the map you can see one possible route the Israelites may have taken as they left Egypt. They could have gone directly east up into Philistine country but God chose not to take them there as we read. Instead, they headed south, crossed the Red Sea and the headed down the Sinai Peninsula toward that the holy ground where God had first appeared to Moses in the burning bush. It’s largely a desert but there are pockets of green, oases like Elim where they camp at the end of chapter 15.

There first stop is at Marah. They’ve traveled for three days without water, and when they finally find some it’s bitter and undrinkable – Marah means bitter. The people grumble about this, Moses cries out to the Lord and God provides a piece of wood to make the water sweet. Then they move on to camp at Elim.

In chapter 16, Israel is traveling through the Desert of Sin exactly a month after their exodus from Egypt. Now they grumble about not having enough food. So God again provides – in the evening quail covers the camp and in the morning thin flakes of bread called manna appear for the Israelites to collect every day except the Sabbath.

And finally in chapter 17 there is again no water when they camp at Rephidim. Again Israel grumbles and again God provides, this time by instructing Moses to strike a rock with his staff and from there water flowed in the sight of all the elders of the people as a testament to the grace of the Lord.

I want to make two simple points this morning from this text:

• 1. The Grumbling and Disobedience of Israel

• 2. The Provision and Grace of God

We’ve already spoken of Israel’s grumbling and complaint at length. And the grumbling restarts mere days after all the people have sung that great song from chapter 15 where they’ve declared about God in vs. 13: “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” It’s a statement of faith and confidence but how quickly it fades!

But I don’t want to make it seem as if the Israelites had absolutely nothing to complain about, or that most of us wouldn’t most likely have responded in the same way.

This journey through an inhospitable landscape was hard, there can be no doubt about it. Having no water in the desert isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s life threatening. So when they say to Moses 16:3 that they have been brought there from Egypt just so they can starve to death that would have seemed like a very real possibility.

They develop the mindset that is so easy for us to develop, where we look back with rose-tinted glasses. Didn’t we have meat in Egypt? Didn’t we have all the good we wanted, they ask in 16:3. Wasn’t Egypt so good? Forget the slavery, the oppression the constant threat of the whip from their Egyptian masters. They want to be back there!

I saw an article online not that long ago lamenting how modern day life was rife with chemicals and genetically modified food and artificial additives that were unsafe and would give us cancer – and how much purer and cleaner it must have been 100 years ago. They seemed to forget that the life expectancy 100 years ago was about 55 as people died from smallpox, polio, and any number of infections that these evil chemicals can now cure. So the Israelites certainly aren’t alone.

And yet, understandable as their grumbling might be, it’s not acceptable. It’s sin. You might say, well, they’re always complaining against Moses and Aaron their leaders – it’s political dissent, not sin - but look at what Moses says to them in 16:8 – “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against God.”

That’s what the grumbling is in the end. It’s a lack of faith in the Lord. A failure to trust that God would look after them no matter what the circumstances – despite all the evidence they’ve had to the contrary.

It’s hard to say exactly why they lack faith. It’s almost incredibly, in many ways. Remember we’ve got three similar episodes here. At Marah God provides. In the Desert of Sin God provides and yet when they get to Rephidim they still accuse Moses of bringing them into the desert to die. They still don’t trust that God will provide for them.

And this lack of faith also leads to out and out disobedience. God gives specific instructions in chapter 16. The manna will appear every morning except the Sabbath and you are to only gather enough for that day, he says. There will be more the next day. But do they trust God? No – some try to collect more. Maybe God won’t come through the next day. Maybe he won’t do what he’s promised, we better prepare in case. And, of course, they find the manna goes bad. And nor can they obey the Lord when it comes to the Sabbath. There’ll be nothing on the Sabbath, says God, so on the sixth day collect twice the amount. Nevertheless, some of the people go out on the Sabbath to collect.

These transgressions might seem so small but they reflect a bit problem in Israel’s relationship with God. They’re not called to account for it yet, but they will be before we get to the end of Exodus, and the fact that God describes their journey through the desert as a test at the end of chapter 15 is ominous in retrospect.

It would be a mistake to simply focus on Israel’s inadequacies in this passage, however. We need instead to turn our attention to what it reveals about the Lord, and the overwhelming picture we get is of a God who powerfully and graciously provides for his people. Yahweh has redeemed his people out of God, he has brought them out of slavery and has promised to deliver them to a land flowing with milk and honey and land his promised to their forebears the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. And now having rescued and redeemed them he preserves them, through the desert, rescuing them anew from a new set of perils and a new enemy.

They ask for water and he gives it to them. They ask for food and he grants them meat and sweet bread daily. He is a good God.

And what we often miss if we read through chapter 16 too quickly is that the Lord does this for 40 years. Not just a week or two, for forty years day in day out Yahweh provides for his people.

If the exodus was an extraordinary act of redemption, then the guidance by cloud and fire, and provision by manna and water is an extraordinary act of preservation.

But the important point is not simply that God provides – although that is clearly significant. It is the way in which God provides so as to reveal himself to us, to demonstrate to Israel and to us our unequivocal reliance upon his goodness, and to bring glory to his name. In other words, he’s teaching us as well as providing for us.

He does this in a number of ways.

Firstly, God distributes the manna to the Israelites in a way that requires them to rely on him daily. He could have given them a load week by week. He could have created for them a food-bearing plant that would grow speedily in the desert. But instead the Israelites need to rely on their God day in and day out. Despite the best efforts of some commentators out there, this manna is no naturally occurring phenomena. It’s given to them six times a week, double on Fridays wherever they are for 40 years, and without it they would perish. It’s a constant in your face reminder to Israel that they are nothing – they are dead – without the Lord.

We don’t have the same sort of reminder, but our reliance on God is of exactly the same magnitude and it would do well for us to realize it. When we pray the Lord’s prayer “Give us today our daily bread” Jesus is most likely making reference to the manna in the desert. Perhaps because we work hard at our jobs so we can buy food at the supermarket or even grow our own in our gardens we can easily overlook the fact that we rely on God for everything. Without him we have no jobs or food or air to breath or lives to live. We depend on God as much as the Israelites did in the wilderness.

Secondly, the patience and mercy of God shines through in this passage. God is like a husband with an ungrateful, unresponsive and constantly complaining wife. The way the Lord deals with Israel here gives us an insight into his character so that when he declares to Moses in chapter 34 that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love we already know that to be true.

And finally God was showing his people here a foretaste of the real, lasting food that he has provided in the person of Jesus Christ.

We already know that the Passover lambs that were sacrificed so that the Israelites would be spared from the angel of death point to Jesus, the final and ultimate Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And this manna that God provides in the desert points to the body of Jesus broken for us on the cross and risen to new life.

How do we know this? Well, from the words of Jesus himself. We read them earlier from John 6:35, 57-58: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty…Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

If we think the provision of the bread and the quail and the water for the grumbling Israelites by the Lord in the Sinai desert was generous then how much more is the provision of his one and only Son? And if we thought it was gracious of God to keep them alive for forty years how much more to offer eternal life for those who partake of the real bread from heaven by faith in Jesus?

The book of Hebrews calls the Old Testament a shadow of the things that are to come and the things we see in Exodus are certainly that. Israel are rescued from Egypt – but we are rescued from sin and death. Many lambs die at the Passover to prevent one visitation from death - but our Passover Lamb dies once to defeat death once and for all. And Israel is sustained day by day in the desert by bread from heaven – but Jesus gives us the Bread from heaven so that anyone who comes to him will never hunger again.

I want to close with a few applications and challenges.

I expect that most people here, like me, looked down their noses a bit at the Israelites here in Exodus as they were faithless and ungrateful. Yet if we are Christians we have been given more, yet how often can we be found grumbling and complaining about our lot. All too often we concentrate on what we think we lack, or the hardships that beset us rather than be content with the marvelous blessings we have in Christ.

In Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe finds a Bible in a sea chest and having read and reflected upon it, he says this:

“I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side and to consider what I enjoyed rather than what I wanted; and this gave me sometimes such secret comforts, that I cannot express them; and which I take notice here, to put those discontented people in mind of it, who cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them, because they see and covet something that he has not given them. All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.”

Rejoice and be thankful at what we have in Jesus. And the only way we can do that is if we truly trust God. For everything.

We find that just so difficult. We have the “God helps those who help themselves” mindset – and if you think about it that’s the complete opposite of what he was teaching the Israelites in the desert. Yes, we trust God for eternal life and “spiritual” blessings but the rest we need to sure up for ourselves. Many of us are never genuinely confident that God will provide.

Short of a specific instruction from God, I don’t think it’s wrong to make provision for ourselves and our families for the future but we need to be wary that we are not then making plans independent of God and that we are not sacrificing our complete reliance upon him for at least a partial reliance on our own material security.

I’ve got to ask myself that question as I think more and more seriously nowadays about entering the housing market. One of my thoughts is, of course, that I need to purchase now to set myself up for retirement. My superannuation will be limited enough as it is with having to pay rent until I die. I’m not saying that’s illegitimate, but I need to reflect closely on my motives. Am I really trusting God?

Really trusting the Lord doesn’t mean we won’t go through difficult, challenging circumstances. It doesn’t mean we will get all we desire or all we want or all we ask. But it does me that God will always provide, that God will always bless, that God will always grant us what we need in his great mercy. And we can be sure of that because he has already done it. He’s already provided it in the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you haven’t eaten this heavenly bread and drunk this living water then please do so – trust Jesus and you will have everything you need. And if you have been eating of this bread for years then remind yourself again of the extraordinary provision from God in Christ. Trust Him. With Everything.