Manna

We now follow the Israelites as they travel through the wilderness to their next destination of Mount Sinai. How sad that after such a magnificent display of God’s miraculous power just a few weeks earlier, the people still question God’s provision and care for their lives:

There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:2-3, NLT)

Notice that when the Hebrews allow fear to take control, they begin to engage in three very bad patterns of irrational thinking: 1.) They selectively and incompletely remember the past. They forget how bitter their bondage was in Egypt, and they grossly embellish their comforts during their time of slavery. 2.) They begin to question their leaders’ motives and accuse them of malicious intent. 3.) Although they had not actually begun to experience the effects of starvation, they anticipate and exaggerate the worst-case-scenario.

We, too, can fall into these traps of fear-based thinking if we are not careful. Fortunately, we can stand in the assurance that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Notice that each of these three things act as combatants of fear: 1.) Power – we don’t need to fear because we have God’s indomitable power on our side! 2.) Love – I once heard it said that the antithesis of fear isn’t courage, but love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18). And 3.) a sound mind. So much of fear is irrational. God is willing and ready to help us declutter our minds and engage in sound thinking so that we can dispel the confusion and anxiety that comes from fear.

The LORD then promises to give His children bread to satisfy their needs. The next morning, the Hebrews wake to the sight of a flaky, frost-like substance covering the ground. “Manna? What is it?” they quizzically ask. Moses explains God’s miraculous provision for His people and gives the people instruction for how to gather the bread on a daily basis.

“Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat” (Exodus 16:16, ESV). There are a number of spiritual lessons that we can draw from manna. It was to be gathered for each individual, daily. Likewise, we must, each one of us for ourselves, daily feast on the Word of God. “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12, NIV). Each day, we are invited into the very Presence of the true Bread of Life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). It’s a free invitation! God is once again offering His children the manna from heaven — He’s offering Himself. And it’s an offer that stands fresh every morning. We need simply come.

Never try to live on the old manna, nor seek to find help in Egypt. All must come from Jesus, or thou art undone for ever… This hourly dependence our Lord is determined that we shall feel and recognize, for He only permits us to pray for “daily bread,” and only promises that “as our days our strength shall be.” Is it not best for us that it should be so, that we may often repair to His throne, and constantly be reminded of His love? Oh! how rich the grace which supplies us so continually, and doth not refrain itself because of our ingratitude! The golden shower never ceases, the cloud of blessing tarries evermore above our habitation. O Lord Jesus, we would bow at Thy feet, conscious of our utter inability to do anything without Thee, and in every favour which we are privileged to receive, we would adore Thy blessed name and acknowledge Thine unexhausted love. (Charles Spurgeon)

Deliverance

The Hebrews are freed at last! Pharaoh has finally caved to God’s sovereignty and released the children of Israel. Bearing the treasures of Egypt, the Israelites parade out of the land of their bondage into a brand new life of freedom with their God. We pick up in Exodus 13, verse 17: “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.'” Interesting. Have you ever felt like God was taking you on a long and unnecessary detour in your life? Well, maybe it’s because He knew something that you didn’t. Even though the Israelites “went up out of Egypt ready for battle,” God knew that they were most definitely not up to the challenge. Instead, he takes them through a detour — a detour that will ultimately cause glory to be brought to His name:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea… Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 14:1-4, NIV)

Now, what about this “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” business? Where does that leave our free will? What does that imply about God’s character of love? I think the key to understanding this issue is to remember that the term for “harden” comes from the Hebrew word chazaq which literally means “to strengthen” — in other words, to fortify a resolve that was already in place to begin with. We can think of it like this: God used circumstances that He knew Pharaoh would react to of his own free will (verse 3) in order to bring judgment upon the evil oppressor. In His divine justice, God simply allowed evil to be lured to its own destruction.

When the Hebrews learn that Pharaoh’s armies are pursuing them, they don’t exactly demonstrate unfaltering faith in God’s power, do they?

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!‘” (Exodus 14:10-12, NLT)

It’s better to be a slave in Egypt… How sad. But isn’t that exactly what we do sometimes? Don’t we sometimes say to God through our actions, if not our words, “Leave us alone! I would rather be a slave in Egypt than journey in the wilderness with you! I would rather remain in bondage to this world–where my surroundings are at least familiar, where I am comfortable–than walk into the unknown with you!” God have mercy on us…

But I absolutely love Moses’ response to the people: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13, NIV). The beautiful promise of Psalm 46:10 comes to my heart: “Be still, and know that I am God.” I like what Pastor David Guzik has to say on this: “Despair will cast you down, keeping you from standing. Fear will tell you to retreat. Impatience will tell you to do something now. Presumption will tell you to jump into the Red Sea before it is parted. Yet as God told Israel He often tells us to simply stand still and hold your peace as He reveals His plan.”

And then, look at God’s response: “And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15, NKJV). But, wait a second! This is confusing — on the one hand, we’re told to “stand still,” but then we’re told to “move forward”? Is it possible to actually do both at the same time? Maybe we can learn a deep spiritual truth here. Maybe we can learn to be still in our hearts, having faith in God’s word, while going forward to do what we know to be right and true. Perhaps these directions aren’t so paradoxical after all.

We know the rest of the story, don’t we? We remember how God tells Moses, “Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea” (two things that Moses could do), and then how God does what Moses could not do: He parts the waters of the sea, allowing His children to cross on dry land, and then destroys the pursuing Egyptian army. The deliverance of the children of Israel is now complete. God has come through on His promise.

Deliverance

If there’s one takeaway from today’s thoughts, let’s make it this, friends: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Be still. Rest in His promise. Be at peace in His plan. And yet, don’t be afraid to move forward at His call. Step ahead in faith with what you know to be true and right in your heart. Do what is in your power to do, while having faith that God will perform what is in His power alone to do.

Passover

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go.” Pharaoh’s defiance has reached its apex, and now God is about to show up on the scene and let Pharaoh know just who the LORD is. Exodus chapters 7 through 10 tell us all about it. In a series of intensifying plagues, God takes each of the Egyptian deities head on to prove His supreme power. Yet, Pharaoh stubbornly persists in his defiant pride. Finally, in Exodus 11, the LORD pronounces the final plague which will succeed in getting Pharaoh’s full attention: throughout all the land of Egypt, each and every firstborn child will die.

But, thank God that we have Exodus chapter 12. In this chapter, God outlines the simple, yet very specific, instructions on taking a lamb without spot or blemish, sacrificing it, and smearing its blood on the doorposts of each home. Every family that follows these instructions exactly will be spared from death. The plague will “pass over” their home.

Interestingly enough, the instructions for the Pesach feast marked the beginning of a brand new year and a new calendar system for the Hebrews (Exodus 12:2). It’s as if God was saying, “Remember all those years in slavery? Well, you can forget them now! We’re wiping the slate and starting over again from scratch.” As G. Campbell Morgan puts it, “God is ever the God of new beginnings in the history of failure.”

On the tenth day of this new year, each family was to choose a perfect lamb. For the next four days, the family was to take care of that little lamb in the home. The lamb was to be loved and cared for, treated as a part of the family. Can you imagine how difficult it was for the family to then take the cherished pet and slaughter it? This practice was intended to teach how heart-wrenching the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb, would be, as well as the terrible, ugly consequences of sin.

The blood of the lamb was then to be applied to the doorposts of the home. Why the doorposts, I wonder? Maybe it’s because doorposts represent the every-day activities of our world. The Scripture often speaks of our “coming in and going out” – the daily rhythm of our lives, so to speak. (See Psalm 121:8.) I am reminded then, that when we accept the gift of Jesus, it is something that covers our entire lives. Not one piece of our daily routine can be left out of His all-encompassing sacrifice. Likewise, the Hebrews were instructed to eat every bit of meat of the paschal lamb (Exodus 12:9-10). None of it was to remain to the morning. When we think of the sacrifice of Jesus, we can’t pick and choose what part of Him we want, can we? No, we must take all of Him and accept ALL of His atonement for us. This has profound, course-altering implications for how we live our lives.

I think it’s fascinating that God gave all these instructions and instituted this feast–a party of celebration, really–all BEFORE He ever delivers His children. It takes some faith to celebrate your freedom before liberation actually happens, doesn’t it? In our way of thinking, we would put the deliverance first, and then have a party to celebrate it. But not God – He reminds us that we can have such faith in His Word, that we can begin celebrating even now.

Finally, the scripture goes on to say, “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years–on that very same day–it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:41). It may have seemed like God was silent those 430 years, just like it may seem like God is silent and distant in our lives during some seasons. Yet we can know with full assurance that God is constantly, ceaselessly working behind the scenes to accomplish his purpose for us with exact and perfect precision.

It’s a thought that we can take hope and courage in.