Scripture never defends God. Occasionally there is an explanation—but not this time. At a first-time reading, no easy solution appears; but there is at least a firm hint which looks deeply into the grumbling souls of the people.
Documented in Exodus 17 a troubling event appears to focus on drinking water. However, more than water is involved. A Mt. Sinai-sized clue was obvious to the first hearers and readers of the story. As realtors sometimes say, “Location, location, and location.”
The named-clue-locations serve as spiritual interpretations, providing disciples in our day with more than map references. The names also provide clarifying insight into the events, as they were recorded by Moses. Our translation resources provide a precise picture beyond water.
First to be identified is Massah, which in the language of Moses means testing. Then he names a second location Meribah, which means quarreling. Moses names the sites as more than merely un-watered places; they are times and locations carrying spiritual significance.
There is a lack of water: life’s sustenance. At most times focusing on the water is completely legitimate. Water is essential for life. Don’t forget the hint. There is more going on here than a mere lack of water.
Has God used physical, mental or emotional obstacles as times when you suspect your faith was being tested?
If you are currently in a time of apparent spiritual testing, what is helping or hindering your faith?
Do the New Testament words of 1 Peter 1:7-9 help you understand the Exodus passage?
Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias are tools that support our studies. Publishing companies including Baker Book House, Zondervan, InterVarsity Press, and Eerdmans provide solid selections. Members of the pastoral staff, ABF, and other small group leaders may have additional suggestions.
It’s possible to win the battle and yet lose the victory; this can happen to us just as it did to the Israelites, fresh out of the “Walls of Water” experience. They left the Sea and began to march toward Mount Sinai. When have you left a momentous experience and begun to march toward your next destination and been overcome with questions and fear? Fear can still your praise and steal your spiritual victories. Moving from bitter to better requires faith in Yahweh. “A dauntless faith, in God, brushes fear aside, like the cobwebs in a giant’s path.” (Charles Spurgeon)
The praise songs of the Israelites rose from the far side of the Sea. They sang, “The Lord is my strength and defense…” (Exodus 15:2) Their voices rang out, “The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name.” (Exodus 15:3) “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11) As you read these words of praise, how do they resonate with you? What would your worship song say?
The Israelites celebrated God and then went right back to their lives of fear and discontent. The Israelites forgetting muscle was much bigger than their remembering muscle. They forgot that life is a pilgrimage, during which we much learn new lessons and fight new battles. Which muscle in your life is flabby? Is it the forgetting muscle or the remembering muscle? Muscles gain strength and definition when they are used.
The notes of the Israelites praise song still hung in the air as the Israelite contingent began to cross the desert of Shur. Their tongues began to dry, their children began to cry, and the thirsty bawling of the livestock began to drown out their notes of joy. Fear of “not enough” began to consume their minds. The Israelites began to lift the weights of forgetfulness and exercise that muscle fueled by fear. Uppermost on the minds of the Israelites was not how to please God, but “…What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:24) When has fear stilled your praise and stolen your spiritual victories?
The thirst of the Israelites could not be slaked in the bitter waters of Marah. Our thirst for a relationship with the Creator God cannot be slaked in the distractions of today and the bitter taste of life’s disappointments. I have stood on the banks of bitterness, anger, disappointment, and eagerness to pin the blame for “not enough” on someone. I have asked God to fix the “bitter” never realizing that God had something better. God was testing his people “…There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test.” (Exodus 15:25) He tested them, not because He didn't know their hearts, but because they didn’t know their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Despite the Israelites fickle hearts, God cleared the bitter waters and then still brought them to sweet rest in Elim. The attitude that we take toward our difficulties determines which direction life will go, bitter or better. How will you exercise your “remembering muscle of who God is” to move you back to your heart of praise? Trust God and obey Him, knowing that “the will of God will never lead us where the grace of God cannot sustain us. “ (Billy Graham)
The Israelites had escaped Egypt en masse with thousands of people, a lot of animals, and the parting gifts that their neighbors had given them. It wasn’t long before they faced a dilemma with frightening prospects. Ahead was the Red Sea whose crossing posed a host of problems. Behind was the onrushing horde of the Egyptian army with innumerable chariots and troops.
Can you imagine their fear at this double whammy?
There likely were many among the refugees who feared the massive wall of water before them, as I would. I don't know about you, but I think the worst way to die would be drowning. Oceans frighten me. The Great Lakes are too big. Winona Lake is as big a body of water as I want to swim in—or even be on in a boat. I can see across the lake, and that's a comfort. But could the Israelites see the other side?
The Red Sea where God was to rescue his people is just below Lake Tanis so, wherever the crossing is to take place, there is a huge amount of water above that site. The wall of water that was piled up to make the roadway across the sea would have been extremely high, no doubt. Even at the narrowest finger between Egypt and the land on the other side, crossing was the most fearful venture imaginable.
As if that weren’t enough, the Israelites also feared the rapidly approaching army. The Scriptures tell us they acted like we probably would have, had we been there.
As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (14:10-12)
How would you - or have you - responded when God asked you to do something way beyond your comfort zone? When the going got tough, did you think, "It's better to go back where I know what to expect, rather than stay here in a great unknown?”
In the midst of a struggle without an easy answer, most of us don’t understand God’s purpose, and we may fret and lose hope like the Israelites. We know that God’s plan was to move his chosen people to the “Promised Land.” Why, then, this impossible hurdle? The purpose was repeated several times during the plagues and is made very clear in today’s text.
I have planned this in order to display my glory … After this, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord! … My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord! (vv. 5, 18)
How has knowing “the rest of the story” sustained you in difficult times?
It’s good to know God’s long-range plan, but that doesn’t necessarily solve my immediate problem. How can I get through today’s pain, loneliness, or grief? It might be helpful to remember what Joni Erickson Tada wrote, “God will permit some things that He hates, but He’ll allow those things so that something He loves can be accomplished.”
The direction for us today is exactly the same as what Moses told the people at the Red Sea, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today” (v. 13). Or to put it another way, “Stand still and let God work his plan.” He would say to you, “I’ve got this!”
jbd & gmd
“Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery,
because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.” (Ex 13:3)
It’s common to commemorate key people and events in history; in Washington, DC:
the Washington Monument the Thomas Jefferson Memorial
the Lincoln Memorial the Frederick Douglass Memorial
the Civil War Unknowns Memorial the Titanic Memorial
the World War II Memorial the Vietnam War Memorial
the Martin Luther King Memorial the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
in NYC, the 9/11 Memorial and the list goes on . . .
More importantly, God instituted commemorations:
a rainbow, promising never again a global flood (Gen 9:8-17)
two quarts of manna for future generations (Ex 16:33-34)
lamps burning for generations to come (Ex 27:21)
the stone tablets with the 10 commandments placed in the ark (Deut 10:5)
twelve large stones from the Jordan River erected on shore (Josh 4:1-9)
the Passover Celebration (Ex 12:1-28; 13:3-16)
the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20)
Architects, composers, artists, sculptors continue to recreate biblical themes:
Painted ceilings, stained glass windows, sculptures, portraits, music
Michelangelo’s “Moses” statue, Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer”
Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Handel’s “Messiah”
“This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand
and a reminder on your forehead
that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips.
For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Life Application Questions
Four prohibitions identify unacceptable individuals. They are to receive no invitation. If they show up, well, it will be embarrassing for they are unwelcome guests. At the specific direction of the LORD, you are to adhere to these dis-invitations to The Dinner. (Exodus 12:43-50).
Additional nonnegotiable instructions involve The Dinner’s preparation. Remember to also pay attention to all provisions for consuming it. These regulations are not for your family alone but for the entire community—no exceptions. The LORD’s directions are precise.
For our insight as well (all disciples of Jesus), the regulations arrived as heavenly edicts, a historically blazing light shaping Passover’s first night. The LORD did not qualify everyone to attend Passover.
We, the disciples of Jesus typically emphasize, “Open doors! Whosoever will come.” We love the thought and proclamation of open access to God’s grace, Christ’s redemption, and the Spirit’s filling (Revelation 22:17b).
Moreover, we treasure the image of a repentant Prodigal-child. He wasted the family’s wealth, awakening in the waste of snoring pigs. The odor was atrocious yet it matched his behavior toward the family and God.
We celebrate the Prodigal coming to his senses, returning to family and Father. Even as he is sighted on the pathway home, a celebration takes place. It is a reunion unrivaled in family history. The lost comes home (Luke 15:11-32).
Disciples of Jesus celebrate such stories. We emphasize Scripture’s welcoming, grace-laden announcements, and parables. We mistakenly deceive ourselves in thinking a few selective and individualized stories are the sum total of God’s resolution for always and universally welcoming everyone.
There is a problem with our ignorance for it marks a greater problem. Reading Scripture selectively, ignoring and excluding passages like Exodus 12:43-50, is to miss spiritual truth in action.
Truthfully and accurately Scripture reports that in the days of Moses some individuals were excluded from The Dinner-relationship with God. Kept away from Passover, their lack of access brought tragic consequences. The Passover event, with all its life-saving and deadly outcomes, happened one night in the long ago.
In what ways does the account of the first Passover’s regulations shape your spiritual awareness?
Are there parallels between Passover’s meal to The Dinner described in Revelation 16:9?
Have you been called away on an unexpected trip with little time to prepare? What do you find yourself doing (apart from wishing you’d printed that generic packing list)? You rush from closet to suitcase to dresser to bathroom and back to your suitcase to make sure you have all the essentials. What’s the weather like at your destination? Are there enough clothes for the time you’ll be gone? Did you remember your toothbrush? Did you forget anything?
Imagine the Israelites, who have had more than 400 years toiling in slavery when it seemed God was far away. All of a sudden, the word comes: “We’re leaving!” It certainly was a surprise!
Their “hosts” for the previous 400 plus years, the Egyptians, were just as anxious to have their “guests” gone as the “guests” were to leave. In fact, the Egyptians willingly shared with the Israelites their silver and gold jewelry and clothing, a fulfillment of God’s promise from many years earlier (Gen. 15:14). (It would be like your big sister voluntarily allowing you to take her favorite sweater on your trip without any expectation that it would be returned. You take other items from her wardrobe, too!)
Envision the hubbub as more than 2 million men, women, and children (estimated by most commentators) scurried to leave. There wasn’t even time for their bread to rise, so they wrapped the dough and their bowls in their clothes and carried them on their shoulders. Were they excited or scared? Did they anticipate their arrival in the Promised Land with enthusiasm or did they consider what they had left behind?
The Israelites might have been surprised by the announcement of their travel plans for the promised land, but God was not. He had prepared Pharaoh’s heart, promised that they would come out of slavery with great possessions, and provided them with one of the greatest leaders in history, Moses. As they traveled, a cloud (or pillar of fire) guided them, and each morning they woke to find manna to nourish their bodies.
God is not surprised by our individual journeys either. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalms 139:16 NIV).
Where he gave the Israelites a cloud or a pillar of fire to guide them, He has given us His Word.
Where he gave them a leader in the person of Moses, he has provided His Holy Spirit, who often speaks in a still, small voice to help us navigate life.
Have you ever been caught off guard about an upcoming trip?
How has God specifically guided your life journey?
Is there a verse or a promise that has helped guide your journey?
The cabin crew for the airline point to the location of the Exits and show you the location of the flotation devices and they demonstrate the proper use of the oxygen mask, should you need it. Most people are not listening, hence why when the plane landed on the Hudson, no one exited onto the wing carrying their flotation device. The demonstration of the use of the oxygen masks, includes a statement that parents should put on their own oxygen mask before they assist their children with putting on the mask? Why is this instruction so important? If a parent should be concerned about putting on their oxygen mask first, I think it is safe to say that a parent’s first concern in being a living link to the gospel is to breathe in scripture for themselves and then apply it to their families. The enslaved Israelites had to first believe God and obey him before they could preserve the lives of their children and then become living links to Yahweh’s grace and mercy.
Passover was a milestone, it marked a new beginning for the Jews and bound them together as a nation. They were leaving behind all they had known. Their long days that had been had been orchestrated at the cruel hands of others. They had homes. They had routines. They had security in the known. When have you had the opportunity to step out into a new experience, the “unknown”? Freedom from bondage sounds thrilling until you have to step out in faith into the unknown. When Yahweh liberates you from bondage, it’s the dawning of a new day and the beginning of a new life.
Not only was the Passover supper an ordinance to be obeyed (Exodus 12:14, 17, 24, 43), but it was also a memorial to be celebrated to keep alive the story of the Exodus in the hearts of the Israelite nation, as they stepped out into the unknown. “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as festival to the Lord-a lasting ordinance.” (Exodus 12:14) What memorials do we celebrate as a church family? These celebrations become “living link” opportunities to join together the generations of our church family. These “living link” opportunities become a breath of fresh air in the life of our church as people share what God is teaching them in His Word because they have chosen to breathe in Scripture for themselves.
How do we memorialize God’s work in our families? One Grandmother celebrates her grandchildren’s spiritual birthdays with a gift each year. Another Grandpa is quick to share the story of how he came to Jesus. Parents are sharing with their kids what they learned today when they read God’s Word. Without intentionality, it is easy to let the time slip by with our families and not spend time sharing with them what God is teaching us. Yahweh knew it would be too easy for the Israelites to eventually settle in the “Promised Land” and forget. They would forget their cries for rescue from Egyptian enslavement. They would forget the plagues. They would forget the miracles of the walk between the walls of water and the rubble of the walls of Jericho. They would need to put on the “oxygen masks” of the truth of God’s rescue for them and be ready to share it with their children. Therefore, Yahweh established adult Israelites as “living links” to Israel’s past so each new generation would understand what it meant to be a member of God’s chosen generation.
As “living links”, let us keep God’s acts of grace and mercy in our lives alive in our conversations and memorializations. How will you tell the story of God’s freeing you from bondage? Who will you tell about the “plagues” that led to your dash to freedom? What miracles of grace will you tell as your representation of “walking between the walls of water”? Who will rejoice with you at the stronghold that God has turned to rubble? “Living links must be willing to first place the “oxygen mask” of God’s Word over their heart so they can lead the next generation. In 1 Peter 2: 5, we read, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Why is it that some children just love scary stories at bedtime? They can hear one and beg for another, then sleep without a problem. But another kid from the same family would need the lights on all night and be crawling in bed with mom and dad after hearing a scary story. Well, here's a story that you may or may not want to tell your kids before they go to bed – unless you jump ahead to read the happy ending.
How did you react to horror stories when you were a child?
Last week, we asked the question, "What will it take to get Pharaoh to let the nation of Israel go?" Today's text has the answer.
It wasn't a stick that became a snake; water becoming blood; frogs, gnats, flies, or dead livestock. Coal dust that caused boils made Pharaoh's heart harder. The plague of hail, which "left all of Egypt in ruins” (9:25), destroyed everything in the fields – people, animals, and crops alike. Even “all the trees were stripped" (9:25). That caused Pharaoh to send an urgent summons for Moses and Aaron, finally admitting his fault and begging them to ask their God to stop the hail. They asked and God did, but—well, you know what happened. Pharoah changed his mind again.
What are the reasons you think Pharoah was so stubborn in refusing to let the people go?
When God sent locusts, there wasn't much left for them to eat, according to the text, “nothing green remained." Three days of a "deep and terrifying darkness" (10:22) really freaked Pharaoh out, but the LORD hardened his heart once more and he would not let them go. He even threatened to kill Moses if he ever showed up on his doorstep again.
But Moses and Aaron did show up again. This time with the coup de grâce. "I (Yahweh) will pass through Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest slave. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die” (11:4-5).
Would Yahweh spare the Israelites from the death sentence he pronounced on Egypt? How? That’s the great story of the Passover in the next chapter.
Did you notice in chapter 10, verse 2 that before Yahweh unleashed his final punishments, he said to Moses and Aaron—almost as an aside— “You will be able to tell wonderful stories to your children and grandchildren about the marvelous things I am doing among the Egyptians to prove that I am the LORD"?
We would hope they didn't tell these gruesome tales at bedtime. But, if they did, they could always include the “rest of the story,” the Israelites were spared some of those awful plagues. For example: when God sent the flies, he said, “But it will be very different in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites live. No flies will be found there” (8:22). When it hailed, Scripture tells us: “The only spot in all Egypt without hail that day was the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived” (9:26). and during the darkness: “During all that time the people scarcely moved, for they could not see. But there was light where the people of Israel lived”. (10:23).
When you relate these stories, be sure to include the rescue of chapter 12. Tune in tomorrow.
Should Christians today expect to be delivered from God’s judgment upon this sinful world? Why and How?
jbd & gmd
Note: quotations are from the New International Version or The New Living Translation.
Days of the Exodus
Okay, worldly Pharaoh, king of pride: “Let my people go!”
So you won’t, huh? Then take this:
filthy water—bloody, fishy, messy
and this, slimy frogs—in kitchens, bedrooms, beds
and this, nasty gnats and flies—swarming, zooming, biting
and this, deadly livestock—horses, camels, sheep
and this, ugly boils—festering, oozing, nauseating
and this, scary hailstorm—smashing, crushing, destroying
and this, hungry locusts—consuming, devouring, gorging
and this, gloomy darkness—blinding, obscuring, concealing
and this, unlucky firstborn—weeping, wailing, whimpering
Don’t delay, prideful king: “Get out of my way! Let my people go, I say!”
Days of the End
Okay, worldly people, masters of pride, “Change your ways, I say!”
“I am about to spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev 3:16)
So you won’t, huh? Then take this:
cast on a bed of suffering; children dying
and this stars to earth falling; sky like a scroll rolling up
and this, burning sulfur raining down; sun scorching
and this, mountains, islands fleeing; quakes shuddering
and this, hailstones, one hundred pounds a-piece, flattening
and this, seas, rivers, springs, bleeding
and this, scorpion-like locusts, big as horses, attacking
and this, in darkness groping; from wasting diseases suffering
and this, tongues in agony gnawing; crying out for rocks to be crushing
Now! Prideful prey: “You’re made of clay. Repent today, I say!”
“I am treading the winepress of the fury of my wrath!” (see Rev 19:15)
Life Application Questions
I would love to distance myself from Pharaoh and confidently aver, “I would never be like that.”
Hhhhmmmm. Don’t believe it.
Only when all the fly swatters in the world couldn’t keep the buzzing swarms off him does Pharoah decide to go a little way in God’s direction: “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”
That’s not what God had demanded through Moses.
After spitting out a couple of flies that had wormed their way into his mouth, Pharoah gives in a little further. “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away.” Read—you may not go a full three days’ journey away.
Again, that falls short of what God had demanded through Moses. But it is getting closer. Maybe there’s hope for a true change of heart.
As soon as the corpses of a million flies are cleaned out of his throne room, Pharoah forgets the whole hardship and reverts to his stubborn disobedience: “But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go.”
When life gets out of control, I’m motivated to move in God’s direction, although rarely to the extent he invites me to depend on Him. Then, when the pressure is off, I tend to revert to business as usual. There is more of Pharaoh in me than I would like.
Tiberius said that it was easier to get Israel out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of the Israelites. Too true. God, please soften our hearts!
One last observation. God repeatedly gives the reason for the plagues: “...that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth” (8:22). Don’t forget this. It is the bottom-line reason for all of God’s miraculous activity in all of the stories of the Bible.
Jesus is Lord. Yesterday. Today. Forever. Let’s choose to follow him with all of our hearts.