This week I return to my study of Exodus. Yahweh has demolished the house of slavery by training Moses as a qualified mediator, and by leading his people into a frightful deliverance. We now enter Act II of Exodus, where God prepares to rebuild by first inspecting what he’s got to work with.
Observation of Exodus 15:22-17:7
Most repeated words: Lord (33 times), Moses (25x), people (23), say/said (23), Israel (16), day (14), gather (11), grumble (10), morning (10), out (10), there (10), water (10), when (10).
- By far, names make up the most repeated words. This passage gets more personal and intimate as God and Israel work on their new relationship.
- The tenfold repetition of “grumble” seems rather ominous.
The length of each episode strikes me:
- Bitter water sweetened – 6 verses
- Manna and quail – 36 verses
- Water from rock – 7 verses
These 3 episodes are all about God’s provision for the people, but the unbalanced length of the central section leads me to think that one warrants more attention.
I see a significant progression through the episodes, marked by contrast:
- First, Yahweh tests the people to see if they will listen to him (Ex 15:25-26).
- Second, Yahweh tests the people to see if they will obey him (Ex 16:4).
- Third, the people test Yahweh to see if he is truly among them or not (Ex 17:2, 7).
Another contrast shows a similar regression:
- First, the people grumble, wondering what they can drink (Ex 15:24).
- Second, the people grumble about their hunger, wishing they had died in Egypt, and they accuse Moses of trying to kill them (Ex 16:2-3).
- Third, the people quarrel, demanding water to drink (Ex 17:2) and accuse Moses of trying to kill them and their children and livestock (Ex 17:3). Then they try to kill Moses (Ex 17:4).
One more thing really strikes me. In Ex 3:15, God told Moses, “I am Yahweh your God.” He promised the same to the Israelites in Ex 6:7. But other than that, we’ve had many repetitions of the shortened phrase “I am Yahweh” (Ex 6:2, 6:6, 6:8, 6:29, 7:5, etc. – 11 times). Now, after their frightening deliverance, he is no long simply “Yahweh” but “Yahweh your God” (Ex 15:26, 16:12), even “Yahweh your healer” (Ex 15:26). The relationship is now in place.
Interpretation of Exodus 15:22-17:7
Some possible questions:
- Why does the testing progress in this way?
- Why is the second section so much longer than the first and third sections?
- Why would these people try to kill Moses? How can they possibly think Moses (or Yahweh) would bring them out here just to kill them in the desert?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- Two things are clear: 1) Yahweh tests his people to see what they are made of, and 2) they don’t do so well on the test. First, Yahweh tests to see if they will trust him; if so, he promises never to treat them the way he treated the Egyptians (Ex 15:25-26). The following two scenes clearly show they don’t trust Yahweh. Second, Yahweh tests them to see if they will obey his law (Ex 16:4). Of course, he hasn’t given his law yet! All he gives them is a basic set of instructions for gathering manna (Ex 16:16). At first, they obey (Ex 16:17-18). But it goes downhill after that (Ex 16:19-20, 23-29). Third, the people take matters in their own hands by turning things around to test Yahweh (Ex 17:7). Why this progression? To paint a picture of a community that fails to trust and obey God. To show the downward spiral and ugly consequences of refusing to trust and obey. To show how life-giving God’s law could be for them.
- The second section gets into the details of God’s provision (both bread and quail from heaven). It outlines the downward progression of disobedience (obedience to first instruction—Ex 16:17-18, failure to listen to second—Ex 16:20, flat refusal and God’s displeasure with the third—Ex 16:28-29). In addition, this episode with the manna leads us to anticipate the giving of the law (Ex 16:4) and to see what’s really at stake: the identity and glory of Yahweh their God (Ex 16:6-7, 10).
- If they trust Yahweh, he will not treat them like Egyptians (Ex 15:26). But in seeking to murder Moses, they are still acting like Egyptians (Ex 17:4, 2:15). These episodes of lack and provision show us that, while the people have come out of Egypt, Egypt has not yet come out of the people.
Train of thought:
- Will they trust Yahweh?
- No. Nor will they obey his law.
- How can Yahweh be their God when they are still Egyptian (worldly, acting like pagans) through and through?
Main point: Yahweh must give his law to expose how completely distrustful, disobedient—and thereby undeserving—his people are of his fatherly care.
Connection to Christ: In no way did Jesus lower God’s standards (Matt 5;17-20, 48; 6:1, etc.). Grace doesn’t oppose law but elevates it, because only those who have been crushed by a standard of perfection will turn from themselves to trust and obey the savior of the world. And since the law has no power to save (Gal 2:16), Christ broke its curse for our sake (Gal 3:13-14), by being struck with the rod of fury and spewing the water of life for the world (1 Cor 10:4).
My Application of Exodus 15:22-17:7
I love hearing and meditating on God as my provider and healer. But when he fails to heal or provide on my time-table, I must remember his fatherly love and discipline (Prov 3:11-12). He tests us to expose what’s going on in our hearts; his righteous law is the greatest test. I must not resent his good law or his impossible standards. Instead, I can cling more closely to Christ, my righteousness.
As I shepherd others, I need never apologize for God’s law, especially it produces an ugly mess in someone’s life. And though the pain of life provides a good opportunity to empathize and show care, it also provides an opportunity to help people see what’s going on in their hearts. That’s okay, and it makes Christ shine all the more brightly.
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