Journey to Sinai
Moses has led the children of Israel successfully across the Red Sea miraculously parted by God Himself and protected by His Hand. They have endured the threat of Pharaoh’s army who were drowned when the wall of water collapsed. Joyfulness, praise and dancing occurred after they reached the opposite side of the Red Sea as they witnessed the destruction of their enemy from Egypt. They were free from the bondage of physical chains but would find themselves in bondage to something more powerful-a complaining spirit and a love of former ways.
Already the complaints were becoming grumbles and started just three days journey from the Red Sea experience in Exodus 15: 22-27. As mentioned in these verses, their grumblings began over the lack of water. They began to complaint to each other and the complaint became grumbles voiced loudly. God heard their voices and showed them another miracle. He turned bitter water unfit to drink into pure water. It is here that God revealed Himself as “the Lord who heals you” “YHWH Ropheka“. He not only provided water but then led them to an oasis at Elim where twelve springs and seventy palm trees provided drink and nourishment. Here they would rest for awhile.
Wandering in the Desert
As we begin chapter 16, Moses sets out to lead God’s people as reported in Exodus 12: 37-38 numbering “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.” This very large group of people as directed by God would leave the oasis (a place of comfort) to travel to Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai would be a very important stop before they reached the Promised Land but first they must have the desert experience. Lack of food and water, heat, tired feet and bodies would soon cause these people to start complaining once again. Consistently day after day their complaints and grumbles would rise up to the ears of Moses and God Himself. Day after day, God would hear their constant grumbling and time and time again He would provide.
Exodus 16: 1-3 “The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
They have been “on the road” for a month and a half. Their complains began to be louder and louder. Their complaints became focused on Moses and Aaron. Oh, if we just had meat like we ate in Egypt, we would be happy! Oh, if I just had…….I would be happy. Complain, complain, complain. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Sound familiar?
Thought Question: How many times do we complain/grumble to God about things we think we need or want?
Never the less, God gives them food. Not only did He provide food but He showed them His glory once again. Moses and Aaron deliver a message from God about what is about to happen. Listen carefully to what God tells them to do.
Exodus 16: 4-12 “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord. Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for He has heard your grumbling.’” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
God’s reason for providing in this way is so they will know that He is the Lord God.
Notice that God gives them bread from heaven and quail for meat-(another miracle). All they have to do is follow instructions to go out each day and gather enough for that day except on the sixth day when they were to gather enough for two days. The seventh day was to be a day of rest and they were told not to gather on that day. Notice the phrase, “I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions“. Did all of the follow directions?
Thought Question: If you had been with this group of people, would you have followed God’s directions to the letter? Do you follow His instructions now?
Manna and The Sabbath
Manna fell freely from heaven. The Israelites rejoiced at the sweetness of this food from heaven. They followed the Lord’s direction concerning the requirements for gathering manna. Or did they? Some doubted.
Exodus 16: 13-20 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer (about 3 pounds), the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.”
Poor Moses, his troubles with his people were just beginning. Can you imagine spending forty years with complaining and grumbling and disobedient people? No wonder he was angry. But God still provides with grace and love to His people.
Exodus 16: 21-26 “Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
And again some doubted.
Exodus 16: 27-30 “Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep My commands and My instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.”
Thought Question: Why didn’t God just destroy the whole group because of their attitudes and lack of faith in Him? Would this group actually live to see the Promised Land or did God’s judgement finally come upon them?
For one night they had quail to eat (look for another quail event later on in Exodus). They were full and God had satisfied their desire for meat. The next morning delicious bread fell from heaven and kept falling each morning except the Sabbath Day for the next forty years. God lovingly provided for His people. God commanded Moses and Aaron to gather some manna, put it in a jar and place it before the Lord. It would reside in the Ark of the Covenant (not yet built) along with the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments and Aaron’s rod. This would be a reminder of what God had done for His people for many years to come. And the manna by God’s design remained fresh without maggots and a putrid smell for hundreds of years.
Exodus 16: 31-36 “The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’” So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.)”
Water from the Rock
It was time to move on through the Desert of Sin. Note they were in the desert. Hot and thirsty. No water in sight. In fact, they were in the general area known as Horeb (meaning the desolate place). They must have forgotten about the water at Marah when Moses changed the bitter water to pure clean water as well as all the other miraculous things God had provided. They camped at Rephidim but there was no water there either. Their thirst was overwhelming. This time they not only complained/grumbled but they actually quarreled with Moses and were angry because he led them out of Egypt to die in the desert. Moses begins to feel the pressure and fears the possibility of a mob mentality (yes, they had them in those days as well). Moses is so frustrated he cries out to God, “what am I to do with these people?” God tells Moses to take his staff, you know the one that Moses used to strike the Nile River and change it to blood. He was to strike a rock with it. God would show him which one.
Exodus 17: 1-7 “The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah (means testing) and Meribah (means chiding or strife) because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Moses strikes the rock and water flowed out of the rock. So much water that it was enough to quench the thirst of this large number of people and livestock. And the people are satisfied for the moment.
Though Question: How long will God continue to have patience with this group of people? How long does He have patience with you?
The Amalekites Defeated
And next, we meet Joshua. Joshua is an important man so remember his name. He will be the next leader of the Israelites and will lead them into the promised land after Moses dies.
It seems there is a group of people called the Amalekites (descendants of Esau) that didn’t like so many people traveling through their land. They decided to confront the Israelites. Actually, they declare war on them and attacked their camp. Moses tells Joshua to fight the Amalekites and as ordered he leads his group of warriors to fight. Moses, Aaron and Hur (husband of Miriam, Moses sister) went to the top of the hill to watch the battle. Moses held up his hands to make intercession to God and to show his dependence on God. As long as Moses hands were lifted up, the Israelites were winning but when he let his arms down, the Amalekites were winning. Soon Moses grew tired and Aaron and Hur placed a stone underneath him to sit on and they helped to keep his arms and hands raised. One stood on one side of him and the other stood on the other side to assist Moses in keeping his hands in the air. His hands were lifted up until sunset when the battle was over. The Israelites had defeated the Amalekites.
The Amalekites would be exterminated as promised by God. Moses was to write this promise down on a scroll and to make sure Joshua heard it. Joshua was to blot out the name of the Amalekites. Why? The answer is in this verse:
Deuteronomy 25: 17-19 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
Exodus 17: 8-16 “The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Thought Question: How often have you had godly people to hold you up during times of need? How did they help you?
Jethro Visits His Son-in-Law
Exodus 18: 1-12 “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.” So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them. Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.
Exodus 18: 13-27 “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied. Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.”
Sometimes we are so wound up in our own selfish ways, we lose sight of what God has done in the past. Remember when He has provided for you. Talk about it in your house and to your children. Remember God is more than capable of taking care of you. He has proven it over and over. Even when we can’t see how He could possibly do so, He is still taking care of us. He is the way, the truth and the light!
Answer the questions concerning the Israelites travels through the desert and see how much you remember from this lesson.
These following questions are for individual reflection or small group discussion. You can also participate in the discussion by clicking on the link below.
1. What had God told Moses His reason for giving precise instruction concerning the harvest of manna?
2. How could Moses living in the wilderness for forty years have prepared him for the task God would give him in leading his people to the Promised Land?
3. What things did Moses do in order to lead these people?
4. How did God constantly reveal His presence?
5. When did Moses send his family to Midian to stay with his father-in-law? And why?
6. Why did the Israelites need a system of judges?
7. Why was Horeb or Sinai called the mountain of God?