GOD’S INTENTIONS Exodus 15:22–19:25
“Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5–6).The Israelites’ discontent and quarreling on the journey toward Sinai demonstrates how far this people was from the holy nation God intended them to become.
Israel grumbled (15:22–27) and, though God provided meat and manna (16:1–36), the people tested God (17:1–7). Yet God gave a military victory (vv. 8–16), and Moses shared responsibility for settling disputes (18:1–27). They arrived at Sinai, where God displayed His holiness and announced His intention to make this unresponsive people a holy nation (19:1–25).
Understanding the Text
“The people grumbled against Moses” Ex. 15:22–25. The euphoria of the Egyptian defeat quickly disappeared when, three days into the desert, only bitter, alkaline water was found. Moses prayed to God, who showed him how to make the water sweet. The incident established a pattern that was repeated on the journey to Sinai. (1) Something causes dissatisfaction. (2) The people mutter against Moses and God. (3) God responds graciously and provides what the people need or want. (4) Rather than being thankful, the people become more dissatisfied and more rebellious (see also 16:1–12; 17:1–7). Some time ago “permissive” child-rearing was popular. The theory was, let the child do what he wants, and his natural beauty will unfold as the petals of a flower. The only problem was that permissive child-rearing produced selfish, unproductive, and dissatisfied adults, just as the permissiveness that God displayed during the three-month journey to Sinai allowed the Israelites to become more dissatisfied and more rebellious. Grace without responsibility, like love without discipline, doesn’t promote holiness. The behavior of the Israelites on the journey to Sinai shows us why God found it necessary to introduce the Law. The Law, with its clear standards, served to make the Israelites responsible for their actions, and provided God with a basis on which He could discipline when His people did wrong. Today God does deal with us in grace. But He is too wise and too loving to give us everything we want or think we need. God continues to discipline Christians, not to punish but to guide us. Hebrews 12:10 says He “disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” “If you pay attention” Ex. 15:26–27. The principle of reward for obedience introduced here is valid in every age. But the specific promise—that obedience would preserve from disease—was made to Israel rather than you and me. Paul’s experience (2 Cor 12:1–10) shows us that Christians are not guaranteed healing and that God can use physical illness to accomplish spiritual purposes in our lives. “Manna and quail” Ex. 16:1–36. Some suggest that manna was really the excretion of a desert plant, the tamarisk tree, which drops to the ground and hardens into a sweet substance. Manna, however, was the product of a miracle. Enough was produced to feed millions; it was available everywhere the people went for some 40 years; it appeared only six days a week. And, unlike the product of the tamarisk, manna bred worms when kept overnight, melted, was white in color, and could be made into cakes. In Scripture, manna serves as a symbol of God’s provision. The Lord knows our basic needs and He acts to meet them. “Each one gathered as much as he needed” Ex. 16:18. It is significant that manna did not appear in the pot, but on the ground, where people had to gather it. God provides, but He expects us to work for what we get. It’s significant that manna appeared daily. Jesus taught His disciples to petition God for their “daily” bread. God meets our needs day by day, so that we will continue to depend on Him. If God put $10 million in our bank accounts, we would have “lifelong” bread, and would have no need to look to the Lord daily. Jesus wants His disciples to remain dependent on God, so we will seek Him daily and nurture our relationship with the Lord daily. “Put the Lord to the test” Ex. 17:1–7. God’s presence was visible to Israel in the cloudy-fiery pillar that led them, and in the manna that appeared daily. Yet when the people camped where there was no water, they accused Moses of trying to kill them and were “almost ready to stone” him. God provided water. But Moses gave the name Massah (“testing”) to that place because the people questioned whether God was with them or not. When troubles come, it’s natural to wonder where God is. But we must guard against the unbelief displayed by Israel at Massah. How? By making it a practice to rehearse all the good things God has done and is doing for us. Rather than focus on the problem, we need to focus our attention on the Lord. “Now I know” Ex. 18:1–12. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to Sinai to meet Moses. When Moses told him what the Lord had done in Egypt, and how the Lord had saved Israel on their journey to Sinai, Jethro praised God and said, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods.” Sitting with friends or relatives and simply telling what God has done in our lives is still the best way to share the Lord with others. “If . . . God so commands” Ex. 18:13–27. Jethro advised Moses to distribute responsibility for settling any disputes that arose. But Jethro was careful to recognize God’s lordship when giving his advice. He expected Moses to check with the Lord to confirm the wisdom of what he said. We need to have this attitude when giving or receiving advice. However wise we feel our advice may be, it’s important to urge others to bring that advice to God before acting on it. And when we are given advice, no matter how good, we need to seek confirmation from God before we act. “You cannot handle it alone” Ex. 18:17–27. This chapter is often cited as evidence for “organization” in the church. It’s better to see it as a word to workaholics. One of the most popular speakers on Christian radio in the ’80s is a workaholic, bringing home not briefcases but boxes of work to do on weekends and holidays. He urges listeners to give priority to their families, but his ministry has crowded his own family out of his life. Like Moses, he needs to be reminded that there are “capable men” who “fear God” and are “trustworthy” nearby. Delegating responsibility today as in Old Testament times is not only wise, it is right. “In front of the mountain” Ex. 19:1–25. God’s display of power at Mount Sinai is later described as a “consuming fire on top of the mountain” (24:17). It was intended to inspire awe and fear, and to communicate something of the holiness of Israel’s God. Only Moses would go up into the thunder and constantly flashing lightning that shrouded the mountaintop. Hebrews 12:18 describes the mountain as “burning with fire . . . [a vision of] darkness, gloom, and storm.” It was so terrifying that even Moses said, “I am trembling with fear” (v. 21). While Christians come directly to God through a loving Christ, something important about the nature of God was communicated at Sinai. Hebrews reminds us that we are to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (vv. 28–29).
My Treasured Possession (Ex. 19:3–6)
It’s all too easy in reading these chapters to focus on the obvious flaws in Israel’s character. The people were ungrateful. They were rebellious. They were mean-spirited and hostile. They were selfish and petty. Perhaps a good way to sum it up is that they were the kind of folks who, if you had them as neighbors, would make you want to put your house up for sale. Yesterday. Yet God delivered this people from Egypt and “brought you to Myself” (v. 4). God even says that He chose this people, “out of all nations,” to be His treasured possession. The Hebrew word here is significant. Segullah means “valued property,” “personal possession,” or “private treasure.” God looked over the whole earth, and selected Israel to “be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v. 6). These few verses remind us of wonderful things about our God. Like the diamond miner who picks up a rough and dull stone and shouts with delight, God delights in unlovely people. He knows what precious gems, through His shaping and polishing, sinners can become. It’s hard for you and me to have this delight in unlovely people. We tend to see only the rough spots, the dull and lifeless form. When we find ourselves placed next to people who are like members of the Exodus generation, we want to get up and move. What we need to do is ask God to share His perspective with us. We need to see in the least lovely, someone who can be God’s own treasured possession. Someone whom God can transform and make beautiful. Someone who can join God’s kingdom of priests and become a holy citizen of the holy nation He intends to create.
The first step in developing God’s perspective is to pray daily for unlovely others.