Often as we travel along the highways, we come to an unmarked fork in the road. We make a choice – one way is followed, the other left behind. A course is established that hopefully will lead to the final destination.
Such was the case with Israel. The night of Passover was over, and the children of Israel had been set free. They were on their way home, but little did they know the winding path on which the Lord would lead them or how long it would take them to reach their destination. So it is with you, dear pilgrim, on your way through life to God’s promised eternal home. Like Israel, you too will face many major decisions: Where do I go from here? What do I do now? Decisions! Decisions! Decisions! Life is full of them.
Where Do We Go?
Exodus 12:37 records.”And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.” Their journey had begun; however, it immediately appeared that they were headed in the wrong direction. They set out toward the southeast, and when they came to the well-traveled trade route called “the way of the sea,” they crossed it instead of following it. Rather than taking the shortest route, which would have put them in Canaan within a few weeks, they traveled toward the Red Sea and the four forsaken wildernesses of the Sinai. Had they made a mistake? Why were they headed in this direction?
The reason they went the wrong way is clearly delineated in the Scriptures. It was the Lord himself who clearly led them in this path, for the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night went before them. They were not alone. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said, Lest the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea: and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 13:17-18).
The ensuing directions from the Lord seemed almost ridiculous. The entire host was to turn and camp by the Red Sea, between Migdol and the sea, over against the water. It appeared that they were trapped, and they were! In this way Pharaoh would think he could recover his Israelite slaves with one swift military maneuver, but the Lord would soon teach him a final lesson, and, with it, the children of Israel would begin to learn to depend upon the Lord. Having camped where the Lord directed, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, only to see the armies of Egypt headed in their direction. They were terrified! “Hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?. . . it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14:11-12).
“Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD which he will show you today. . . The LORD shall fight for you” (Ex. 14:13-14), cried Moses to the Israelites. As the thundering sound of Pharaoh’s chariots reached the ears of God’s people, Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea. The waters were divided, and Israel walked through on dry land. In pursuit, the armies of Pharaoh were soon destroyed in the returning rush of waters.
The right decision had been made. By following the Lord, Israel was delivered from her enemy. God’s way proved to be the right way.
What Do We Drink?
The children of Israel had faced the problem of too much water at the Red Sea. Later, in the wilderness of Shur, they had no water for three days. Much to their dismay, when they arrived at Marah, they found the water bitter – undrinkable. The people murmured against Moses, complaining that he had brought them to a forsaken place. Moses did the only thing he could. He poured out his heart to the Lord. Both Moses and the children of Israel were learning some very practical lessons about depending on the Lord.
God answered Moses’ cry. He showed him a tree which, when cast into the waters, made them sweet. The Lord had made provision for His children. The water was there, but God had to make it fit to drink. He was the only One who could safely deliver them from the Egyptian army and provide the water so necessary for life. He then led them to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and several palm trees – an oasis of rest where they would find all the good water they could drink. Moses, Israel’s leader, was merely a tool in the hands of the Lord, used to provide their needs.
What Do We Eat?
The crops that grew in the Nile delta were no longer available. There was no wilderness supermarket in the desert. The supplies they had carried from Egypt had dwindled, and the gold and silver they had borrowed from the Egyptians could not purchase food.
Thus, as they came to the wilderness of Sin in the second month of their journey, they faced a new problem. There was no food. Instead of looking to the Lord, who had already performed two miracles on their behalf, they began to murmur against Moses and Aaron. They begged to go back to the bondage of Egypt, if only to fill their stomachs again. “Ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3).
Moses and Aaron could never have quieted the embittered mob. Their stomachs were empty, and they were at the point where they would do almost anything for a morsel of food. They were so much like their ancestor Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:29-31). Moses made the only possible choice. He cried out to the Lord who replied, “I will rain bread from heaven for you” (Ex. 16:4).
God not only provided the food for the immediate (this was a provision for their daily needs as long as they were in transit to the land of promise), but there would be a continual and adequate supply for each person and family. Every morning they would experience the adequacy of the Lord.
Clear and detailed instructions were given as to how and when to gather the manna. If they gathered too much, it bred worms and stank, but even if they failed to collect an adequate supply, they never lacked. None was available on the Sabbath, but twice the daily amount was furnished on the previous day. Each morning except the Sabbath, the Israelites went out to gather the manna, which tasted like wafers and honey. The provision of food for this mass of migrants was a miracle. Is it any wonder the songwriter could pen the following words so many centuries later:
The mercies of God, what a theme for my song.
Oh! I never could number them o’er.
They’re more than the stars in the heavenly dome,
Or the sands of the wave-beaten shore.
For mercies so great, what return can I make?
For mercies so constant and sure?
I’ll love Him, I’ll serve Him with all that I have
As long as my life shall endure.
T. O. Chisholm
From the day He gave the promise, God faithfully provided the food the Israelites called “manna,” which means, What is it? For forty years they had What is it? for every meal. God put into that substance provision for every nutritional need of the Hebrews. It was truly a miracle food.
Where Do We Get Our Water?
America has certainly been blessed by God in so many ways. Most of us have more than adequate housing and an abundance of clothing. Food grows so plentifully that we export some of it to foreign lands, and there are less hungry people here than in most countries. We also have an adequate supply of good, clean water. Our resources are almost boundless, at least for the present. We are a blessed nation.
Contrasted with this, the children of Israel were in a desert. Perhaps up to two million people needed fresh drinking water each day. As the Lord led them from the wilderness of Sin deeper into the Sinai, and further away from the land of promise, they came to Rephidim and camped there. An old problem developed in this new place. It was not a problem of the water being bitter; it was a problem of there being no water at all! Nothing can bring more hardships than a multitude of people with dry tongues, parched lips and thirsty souls. Their hearts were about as dry as the desert. They had so quickly forgotten that the Lord had previously provided water, safely distanced them from their enemy and given them their daily provisions. We are often like Israel – ungrateful and quick to forget all the Lord has given us.
The Lord led Moses and the children of Israel to Rephidim to show them that no situation, even the lack of water, could be so desperate that He could not be “a very present help in time of trouble.” Someone always must shoulder the blame, and as was to become the norm with the children of Israel, it was Moses. After having no water to drink for three days, the people disputed intensely with him. “Give us water that we may drink. . . And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Why hast thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They are almost ready to stone me” (Ex. 17:2-4).
God graciously answered the cry of His distraught servant. He was instructed to take his rod, with which he had smitten the river, and go to the rock in Horeb. The Lord would stand before him there. He was further instructed to strike the rock with the rod and water would come out. It did, and there was plenty for everyone! God had proven Himself once again.
The place was aptly named “Massah,” which means, challenge and Meribah which means dispute, “because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:7). Even after all God had done in Egypt and on the journey, they had questioned once again if He were there with them.
How About A Little Meat?
It is very easy to tire of a restricted diet. Many of my colleagues who travel with The Friends of Israel would rather not see a salad when they are at home. If you ate steak at every meal, you would soon tire of it. Certainly, manna got monotonous after awhile. Toward the end of the wilderness wanderings, the weary travelers became tired of eating the same old thing day after day. They lusted after flesh to eat. “And the mixed multitude that was among them fell to lusting, and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes” (Num. 11:4-6).
Moses heard the people weeping, and was so upset that he had a “pity-party,” Why did you lay the burden of this people on me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this? Do I have to carry them like a father carries a little baby and all the way to the promised land? I just can’t do it, Lord I don’t have any meat to give these people. It is too much for me to bear. Kill me Lord if this is your purpose. I can’t handle this. Moses was probably as distraught then as at any time in his life.
But the Lord did not leave His servant helpless. He instructed Moses to gather seventy men from the elders of Israel at the Tabernacle, where He would come down to them and meet the need.
If they wanted flesh, it was flesh they would get! For one whole month they would eat quail. “But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you; because ye have despised the LORD who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?” (Num. 11:20). So the quail came. The people stood in the midst of the field, reached out and grabbed the birds as they flew by. They gorged themselves with the flesh, and as they did, God brought a great plague upon them. Many died on the spot. They called the place “Kibroth-Hattaavah” or the graves of lust or greed.
And so, the journey continued. God had led the children of Israel the long way for several reasons. He did not want them to face war because He knew it would cause them to return to Egypt and permanent slavery. Also, He wanted to teach them lessons. They needed to experience His daily provision, care and protection. They also had to learn to trust Him.
There are many parallels between the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings and our own lives. The Lord could have saved us and immediately taken us home to be with Him. Certainly, he chose to leave us on the earth to be witnesses to the unsaved. But there are other reasons why we are here. We can experience our Lord’s care. No matter what our age or infirmities, He teaches us of His care, provision and protection. Also, we ought to learn to trust Him. Whenever Moses panicked, he turned to the Lord. Moses’ generation failed to learn these lessons and, as a result, they died in the wilderness. Let us learn God’s lessons and victoriously walk through this life. The decisions of life come daily. Are our decisions the ones the Lord would have us make?