By Simon ManchesterSunday 8 Jun 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Bread And Water – Exodus 16-17
We thank you our gracious God for giving to us through the Lord Jesus,grace for salvation,grace for following and grace for arriving. We pray that in your great love and power you would give fresh grace that these minutes of thinking in your word would show us how very great you are and increase our confidence and our devotion and our usefulness.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Our city is enjoying a big race today. I gather 40 minutes is the magic mark to try and break and am thankful that you have managed to run and get here or run away from the race and get here!
We are following a completely different race on Sunday mornings. We are following a race that took 40 years – a very slow race from Egypt to Canaan,from slavery to the Promised Land.
What we come to today as we’ve already picked up on our readings and from the children’s message is we come to a series of hurdles. God sets his people free,they’re not yet in the Promised Land and then there is this series of hurdles,and the question that you find yourself asking as you read about them is – why does God make it so difficult,why does God make it so hard,why does he bring so many troubles in the path of people whom he loves?
Getting out of Egypt was simple really. Pharaoh told them to ‘get out’. Crossing the Red Sea was quite an exciting experience as the sea parted and now the people find themselves in the desert or what one commentator calls “Desert University”.
The question we ought to ask as we come to this section this morning is not to run too quickly to ourselves. I know this is what is so appealing is to say ‘what does this have for me? What’s in it for me? What’s the take-home value? Say something that helps me but first of all we need to ask the question – what was God doing? Because if we get the original point,we’ll get the real point which then may become our point.
So we need to be careful of devotionalising these passages. You know you can imagine the preacher standing up and saying ‘are you in a bit of a desert’? ‘Do you have a bit of a battle on your hands’? And then we have 7 strategies for deserts and 7 strategies for battles. What we really need is for someone to say ‘what was God doing back there’?
So we would call today’s sections from chapter 15 verse 22 right through to the end of chapter 17 which is chapter 17 verse 16 – we would call this section a series of tests. The first test in chapter 15 verse 22 is where the people begin the desert walk and find they have got undrinkable water. The second test in chapter 16 verse 3 is that they are hungry and they have no food,no adequate food. The third test in chapter 17 verse 1 is that they have no water at all – not just undrinkable,no water. The fourth test in chapter 17 verse 8 is that a hostile enemy comes towards them.
Now instead of just following the 4 events one after the other,I thought I would draw out 3 themes this morning that applied to all four of the tests and I hope will help us to see what God was doing,what God does do and what God will do.
First theme this morning is that God is teaching his sufficiency. The events are designed to show that God is committed to proving to his people that they do not have all the answers. I know that may come as a shock because we are used to thinking that we have all the answers or we can just turn to somebody who has the answers,so many talents,so many gifts,so many abilities and we’ll find someone who will solve the problem but God is committed to proving that we don’t have all the answers.
And so he will take his people as he does to impossible places and they will learn that he is not only the rescuer who gets them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea but he’s also the one they must depend on for the journey.
So the rescue was all God. They couldn’t have got out without God. He caused the Plagues which caused Pharaoh to open the doors. They couldn’t have got across the Red Sea without God – it was all God and now the journey is all God.
The Israelites,you see,are not being led out of Egypt in order that they would just suddenly run and say ‘we’re free for me’ but that they would be led out of Egypt and they would find themselves being free for Him – free to look to Him – free to serve Him and one day free to see Him.
That of course is the theme of Scripture in the Bible. Freedom in the Scriptures is not freedom from for yourself but it’s freedom from sin,from death,from judgment for Him and for his glory and for his praise. And we just don’t learn that God is sufficient if we think we are self sufficient. So when a person thinks they are self sufficient,it’s very difficult for them to learn the sufficiency of God.
Now having said that,it’s very natural and good for us to provide. We are really meant to go and work as best we can,support our loved ones and in those times,interim times,support one another,encourage one another and pray for one another. We really are meant to basically be good providers but there are some things we just cannot provide. And the Israelites are unable to provide water,foot and victory – it is beyond them.
Now let’s think quickly about this. You can imagine getting out of the Red Sea and thinking this is just fantastic. You know God is going to solve everything,every minute,all the time and then they come to this time with no water and suddenly they see what looks like an oasis and they run to it and it’s disgusting water,it’s undrinkable and then the huge disappointment that would come. They would say to themselves ‘you know,this is just wrong,this is nonsense,this is stupid,God has forgotten,he’s gone on holidays,something has gone wrong.’
And the only person who thinks to ask is Moses and in chapter 15 verse 25 he says ‘would you do something’? And God effortlessly using something that is at hand which is a piece of wood,he gets him to throw it into the water and the water is drinkable. This is God proving himself so simply.
And then in about the 6th week of their journey in chapter 16 verse 1,they are extremely hungry,they are thinking about all the foods that they used to eat in Egypt – there are no “take-aways” anywhere. There is one million of them and again it’s only God who is able to provide and it’s God who this time initiates and says to Moses ‘I’m going to provide for you meat and bread – I’m going to provide quail and manna’.
We know this story so well. Then in chapter 17 there is no water at all. Not just undrinkable – no water at all and they must have thought to themselves if God can divide the sea,couldn’t he make a sea,couldn’t he make a lake,couldn’t he do something? And so effortlessly again God asks Moses to go up to something which is right there in the desert which they themselves could never think or control and he himself brings out the water that is needed.
By the way,don’t go looking for the gurus who explain a way these miracles happen. There is nothing sadder than reading the commentaries of the people who want to explain a way of the miracles. They just point out that the piece of wood that was thrown into the water was from a magic tree and that the manna bread was the secretion of certain insects or the rock was some kind of porous rock which you can sometimes find in certain places – it’s just a silly thing to go looking for natural explanations when the God of the universe is showing his people that he runs and owns the universe.
Then there is the Amalekite Army in chapter 17 verse 8. Just in case anybody has missed the point that God is making as you read the Scriptures,Joshua leads the army off to fight the Amalikites but what is going to cause the victory is going to be Moses praying with his arms in the air asking God to solve the problem – yet it’s God from start to finish.
So this section,you see,is teaching the sufficiency of God. It does not teach that the people of God travel magically,instant solution,instant solution. It doesn’t teach us that there are short cuts and there are easy answers,how to fix things fast,it just goes on teaching us who is able to look after us.
Sadly some people never learn this. Their eyes are on the ground or themselves all the time. They go like that for years,decades,they never actually look up to God and they never recognise that everything that they are actually dealing with has come from him. And so because they ignore God and avoid God and forget him and even insult him,he breaks up their party and he breaks up their party,not because he doesn’t love them,he breaks up their party because he wants them to recognise that they just call to him and look to him. And when they call to him and have faith in him,they begin to live with a capital L. Live eternally.
So God you see is not teaching his people in some kind of ugly,sadistic and hostile way that they must look to him and trust him,he’s trying to teach them the great privilege of being his people.
Alec McTier says in his commentary “in a word,the trials of the pathway may take us by surprise but not him. They may catch us unprepared but not him. Left to ourselves they would be more than we could bear but we are not left to ourselves” – that’s what God is teaching.
And the provision of the good and the water and the victory are very,very wonderful essential provisions. There is nothing more essential is there than water,food and safety.
Now the manna bread which comes in chapter 16 verse 14 is the most famous and we should just take note of what this is all about. It would good to have one sermon on just the manna bread but I want to point out to you very briefly the manna bread is first of all absolutely supernatural. It’s not natural – it’s supernatural. They say in verse 15 of chapter 16 – they ask “what is this?” We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s supernatural.
The second thing is that it is provided daily. It comes days 1 to 6 of the week and on day 6 they can collect twice as much and have a rest. They don’t have to go out and search and work all the time. Six days it comes – every day.
It is sufficient for everyone. We read in verse 18 they collected and there was not too much and there was not too little – it was just perfect. And then we see that it’s continual. It comes from the day Moses is told about it right to the day they enter the Promised Land – continual supply from God. He knows exactly what he is doing.
And it also is symbolic – it’s a very instructive supply of food. It’s so instructive that they are actually told to collect some of it,put it in a jar and that eventually goes in the Ark which travels with them wherever they go. Wherever they went,in the Ark there were a number of things and one of them was a little jar with the manna bread as a reminder – this is the God we depend on. He looks after us and of course this manna bread ultimately points to the Lord Jesus who stepped into the world and said “your father gave the bread from heaven,the manna bread,I am the bread that has come down from heaven.” “If a person”,said Jesus “looks to me,believes in me” and then he said to shock them “eats me,takes me in,they will live forever”. The manna bread did you a day,I will do for you eternal life,said Jesus.
So here in the desert there is a collection of vital needs being met by God – water,bread and victory. Interestingly Jesus in the New Testament,announces himself to be effectively all of them.
In John 7 “Come and I will enable you to drink”.
In John 6 “I am the Bread of Life”
In John 10 “I am the Shepherd who will protect and provide all the way from the start to the finish”.
We need him – we need his sufficiency.
Secondly,a little more briefly,the second theme that comes is that there is the theme of testing – Testing God’s people. It’s a very important theme – it comes up in chapter 15 verse 25 – God tested them to see if they would listen and 16 verse 4 – God tested them to see if they would follow instructions.
Now what we know about testing is where God stretches his people out of a loving concern that they would grow. It comes from the love of God to test or stretch or grow his people and behind it is a desire to bless.
Now we would expect that when it says there was no water it would go on to say that’s because he was testing them and there was no food because he was testing them and then an army came because he was testing them – but it doesn’t say that. It says I’m going to test them to see if they follow my word – I’m going to test them to see if they follow my instructions.
That’s God testing his people and it raises the interesting question,you see,that God is not just testing us by giving us a difficult situation and he may be giving a difficult situation,but what God is doing is he tests to see if we will stand on his promises and obey his commands.
Are you prepared to keep going with what he said? I mean I don’t know exactly what’s on your plate at the moment but imagine there is something that you are quite stressed about,you are quite nervous about,you are quite fearful about and yet you know enough of the promises to be able to hold one and walk with it and you know enough of the commands to be able to hold one and walk with it.
This testing of God,the testing of the word is his question “can you walk with the word”? There are difficult circumstances which may test us but the question that he’s asking is that “I want to test you by seeing whether you will hang with the word”.
Now the other testing that takes place if you look over in chapter 17 verse 2 and chapter 17 verse 7 is that incredibly the people test God. There is nothing honourable about testing God because we don’t get to work out whether God needs to grow. We don’t get to see whether God can be stretched and make progress. That’s insulting!
The testing in Exodus 17 is an attitude which is basically saying to God ‘here’s my sentence,do this and I’ll approve you,do this and I’ll trust you,do this and I’ll obey you’. That’s testing of the very worse kind. As we read in verse 7 ‘is God among us or not?’ If he turns up and he does what we tell him,we’ll give him the “tick” – that to test God.
So the difference you see is that God tests his people with a view to their progress by giving them promises that they can trust. We test God in an insulting kind of way by asking him to perform or co-operate according to the words which we have laid down.
CS Lewis famously said this is called “God in the dock”. He wrote a book called “God in the Dock” and in the book he says this: “the ancient man approached God as the accused approaches the judge. For the modern man the roles have been reversed. The modern man is the judge,God is in the dock. The modern man is quite a kindly judge if God should have a reasonable defence for his behaviour but the important thing is the man is on the bench and God is in the dock”.
Now this is a dreadful,dreadful attitude which is never going to work and God is going to make sure that people are never going to go forward with that kind of distortion and one of the marks of being in the desert,of course,is that it is a place where you just aren’t the master. God is going to teach the truth that he is the master,the provider,the judge and all is bound up with him.
So we need to notice that what God is doing in testing here is that he does give the people a difficult place for a certain amount of time but he gives them a word to see if they will go with it. And we of course are able to test God in our foolishness in various ways. Sometimes we are just reckless – we says “I don’t really care what God says or what God thinks – this is what I want and this is what I’ll do”.
Or sometimes we say “I think the friendship with God is pretty secure,I’m going to perhaps stretch it a bit but I won’t break it – I’ll do this”.
Sometimes we test God by thinking that we can manipulate him. I’m sure this is true to your own heart and mind – it’s certainly true to mine. Just push in a few coins into the pious slot-machine and then God is obliged to do ……….. for us. All this testing of God is a great mistake.
Sometimes we test God by saying things in a really inappropriate and offensive way. We need to be very careful. There are books around which will say that you can tell God anything you want. I think we need to be very careful with that. It’s possible to speak to God honestly. “I am angry”. “I am lustful”. “I am impatient”. “I am frightened”. We can say basic and honest things to God and we can tell him what’s going on. “Please help me” but it stays reverent. It’s not insulting. It’s not abusive. It’s not irreverent. It’s not inappropriate.
So there is the testing of God. And here are these two things we have seen so far that God is teaching his sufficiency. When Jesus came of course he expanded on this in the Sermon on the Mount by saying to his listeners ‘listen,if God looks after the birds and flowers and he’s just their Creator he’s not their father,how much more will he if he is your father,look after you his children?’ There’s the logic.
I’d always find it very frustrating when I’d listen to sermons where people would say ‘don’t worry,don’t be anxious’ because I was worried and I was anxious. Now Jesus is not so simplistic or foolish. What he’s basically saying is – use your logic,think about this,is God the Creator running the world? Yes he is. Is he your father? Yes he is. Will he treat you worse as being your father as the Creator does his creation? Probably not and therefore focus and concentrate on his goodness,his wisdom and his power and keep trusting him.
And here is this other section where God is testing his people and being tested by his people because when he tests his people it’s to lift them up to him. When we test him of course is to drag him down to us.
The last thing this morning is trusting God’s servant. Trusting God’s servant – this is the third theme which I think we should notice here. It’s very easily missed and yet it’s so important and that is that the Israelites were tragically horizontal in their thinking. They just grumbled to the side and at the people that were in their sights. They grumbled and they grumbled and they grumbled. In chapter 15 verse 24 they grumbled,chapter 16 verse 2 they grumbled,chapter 17 verse 3 they grumbled and after every reference we read they grumbled against Moses.
Things got difficult,they are too faithless to lift up their prayer to God and they take a swipe at the Leader – that’s what they do. They don’t,you see,relate to God. They don’t think ‘I’ll bring it to Him. They just do what is easy which is to go and find someone who they can speak at.
Moses takes it very humbly. He tells the people that he’s really a nobody and he is a nobody but he also tells them that their grumbling is at its root criticism against God. When they go and speak to him and say ‘you’ve failed us’ what they are really saying is ‘there isn’t a God and he doesn’t care and he doesn’t have power and he doesn’t have love and he doesn’t have wisdom and it’s just you’. And Moses says whether you realise it or not,you are insulting God.
Now the great point of this is that how blessed the Israelites are to have Moses.
I remember when I was preaching on this about 10 years ago in the Evening Service and I’d been given Exodus 17 as the one-off sermon and I remember looking at Exodus 17 and there they are – no water,water – army,victory – and I just looked at it for hours thinking ‘I don’t know what to say about this – they had no water,they got some water – they had a battle,they got a victory – one was inside,one was outside, both of them were dangerous,both of them were wonderfully looked after by God – I didn’t know what to say about this’.
And as I was driving to church thinking ‘I don’t know what I’m going to say about this’ I had lots to say but it just wasn’t interesting. I got to the lights there on the corner of Ridge Street and I suddenly thought to myself ‘where would the Israelites have been without Moses as the mediator’? There wasn’t a single person but Moses in the crowd who seemed to remember that God was good and great.
And I thought to myself you know they just wouldn’t have made it through that thirst – they wouldn’t have made it through the hunger – they wouldn’t have made it through the battle if it had not been for Moses thinking “God”. I’m not pretending that Moses is the saviour but you just need somebody who will remember him.
Well that’s why when we come to the New Testament,the New Testament teaches us that you’re like the Israelites and we don’t have someone called Moses who is our guru and our great one,we have someone sensationally better in the Lord Jesus. We have someone who is not only able to call for food but give the food. We have someone who is not only able to hear our prayers but pray for us. We have someone who is not only able to point us to God but link us to God.
The work that Jesus has done on the cross is to build the reconciliation so that’s possible to be in relationship with God and not just think of him up there. We have the greatest mediator the universe has ever seen or will ever see in Jesus Christ. We couldn’t be more grateful,we couldn’t be more blessed. We have somebody who begins the escape for us,carries the journey for us,sees us home and he will make sure it happens. Don’t forget him.
I don’t know if you have noticed Christopher Hitchens,one of the strong atheist voices today,has a brother called Peter Hitchens and Peter Hitchens is just as smart and has come back to faith in Christ so here in the world we have the two brothers,one bashing on about no God and one calling people back to faith in Christ.
And Peter Hitchens has written an excellent book called “The Rage Against God” where he exposes where a lot of the anger,the stupidity and the hostility are coming from. Towards the book he says this: “The 21st Century is being driven by homeless utopians. They are sure there is no heaven and they are coming to fear that they may be no earthly paradise either. But they continue,despite all previous failures,to hope for one,holding tightly to the idea that what science cannot explain does not need explaining,they are still ready to slander the Kingdom of Heaven while mistakenly praising the fanciful utopias of man”.
What a dreadful position to be in – to turn your back and mock everything which God has put in place and then to absolutely,vainly,try to put something else in place. Contrast that with Exodus 15 – 17 where there is a real escape which God supplies,there is a real home which God will give us. We are separated from escape and home by a journey which we are on. There is a very real God,our heavenly father,who teaches us repeatedly that he is our Saviour and he is our provider and he gives us his word,the promises and the commands to walk with and his Son the Lord Jesus guarantees we will travel safely and arrive.
Well let’s bow our heads and thank him together –
Our Father we want to bow before you this morning and to acknowledge that left to ourselves we are just foolish,sinful,easily grumbling. We give you great thanks for showing yourself in the Old Testament to be the God of salvation and the God of providence. We thank you that you not only showed that to your people but you caused them to see it.
We thank you too that you test by giving us promises and commands that we might walk in their assurance and in their wisdom. We pray that you would help us to do it. We especially want to thank you this morning for giving to us not a Moses but one in the Lord Jesus who is so perfectly sufficient for our sin,our foolishness,our frailty,our sadness and all that we need.
We pray that you would help us to not only trust him and testify to him but we pray that you would also help us to point a needy,homeless world to you. Hear our thanks and please enable us we pray for Jesus’ sake – Amen.