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.