Tested Devotion

Explore the Bible Series

April 11, 2010


Background Passage: Exodus 15:22-18:27

Lesson Passage: Exodus 16:2-4, 11-15, 18, 32-34




The Israelites migrated into the Sinai Peninsula, a triangular landmass bounded by the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.  At its widest point the peninsula stretches for approximately one hundred and fifty miles, and it narrows to a mountainous southern tip, on the shores of the Red Sea.  Today, it is a sparsely populated region rich in oil and mineral deposits.  The peninsula’s flora will support sheep and goat herding, but it cannot sustain agriculture or a large human population. 


No one can certainly identify the biblical Mount Sinai.  The traditional site of the Mountain, Jebel Musa (“the Mount of Moses”) is located in the south central peninsula.  Some scholars believe it more likely that Israel took a more northern route, and they designate Jebel Helah, far to the north of Jebel Musa, as the mountain of the Ten Commandments.  Reference to the conflict with the Amalekites may point toward the northern site. 


Three similar incidents appear in our lesson.  In each case, the Hebrews experienced a serious threat to their survival, they complained against the Lord, and God graciously, patiently met the needs of his people.  Also, Moses acted as mediator between the disgruntled Jews and Jehovah, interceding for the needy, helpless people.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Bitter Waters of Marah (15:22-27): The writer of the Book of Exodus provided considerable geographical information for his readers, but modern Bible scholars cannot, with certainty, identify many of the sites mentioned in our lesson.  The text reveals that Israel travelled three days into the wilderness of Shur (also called the wilderness of Etham), on the eastern border of Egypt. Shur means “walled city”, and the term may refer to a fortified city near the northern tip of the Red Sea.  Apparently, the people expected to find potable water in this region, but temporary climatic circumstances, perhaps, dried up the familiar oases on this route to Sinai. The thirsty horde made its way to Marah, a place known for its bitter, undrinkable water (thus, the name Marah—“bitterness”).  The high mineral content made the water inconsumable (perhaps would produce saline poisoning), and the people feared they would die of thirst.  Panic drove the crowd to blame poor Moses for the situation.  Exodus records that God told Moses to cast a tree (probably a small desert shrub) into the polluted pond, and the waters became sweet.  God used this opportunity to teach his people about his gracious power to provide for their needs, even in dire circumstances.  After the difficulties at Marah, Moses led the Hebrews to Elim, a fertile oasis with twelve springs (Hebrew reads “fountains”), and a large grove of palm tress.


II.                The Gracious Provision of Manna (16:1-36): The giving of manna (Hebrew reads “what is it?”) provides one of the highpoints of the Exodus story, and the imagery of manna appears several times in the rest of the Bible (See Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 78:23-31; John 6:31-58; Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 2:17).


After leaving Elim, Israel journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, somewhere to the east of the Gulf of Suez.  Again, modern readers cannot identify this region with certainty, but the journey into the wilderness exhausted the food sources brought with Israel, from Egypt. 


The people, true to form, murmured against their leaders, romanticizing about the abundance enjoyed in Egypt!  The complaints startled Moses and Aaron, and they quickly pointed Israel’s attention to Jehovah.  On his part, the Lord took personally the criticism of his servants. To carp against God’s servants, in this text, is equated with murmuring against God.  However, Jehovah answered the complaints of the people with the gracious provision of food.  Apparently, the Lord provided a temporary harvest of quail (See vv. 8, 12-13), on the evening of the initial food crisis; then, beginning the next morning, manna appeared on the ground.


Each Israelite was allotted an omer (about two quarts), an amount one person could eat in a day (no “super-sizing” was allowed!). Persons who hoarded the manna found it spoiled and worm-ridden by the next morning. On Fridays, the people were allowed a double portion of the heavenly bread, enough for the careful observance of Sabbath rest.  Perhaps Aaron, or other priests, made certain to include this material concerning the sanctity of the Sabbath (See vv. 22-31), as it related to food production and preparation. Furthermore, an omer of manna was placed in a receptacle for later preservation in the Ark of the Covenant (See vv. 32-33).


III.             Two Additional Struggles in the Wilderness of Sin (17:1-16)

A.    Crisis at Meribah (vv. 1-7): Gradually, the Hebrews made their way through the Sinai Peninsula, and when they arrived at Rephidim (uncertain location), water supplies failed them again.  As before, they murmured against Moses, and the Israelite statesman feared the people might stone him. The text records that God told Moses to strike the rock of Horeb (must have been located very near Mount Sinai) with a rod, and waters would pour from the stone.  Moses named the spot Marah (“proof”) and Meribah (“bitterness”). Note that the Apostle Paul made symbolic use of the imagery of the rock, in I Corinthians 10:4.

B.     Battle with the Amalekites (vv. 8-16): Descendents of Esau, the nomadic Amalekites lived in southern Palestine and the northern Sinai.  Their aggression against Israel may lend some credibility to the “Northern Sinai” theory of the Exodus.  Whatever the case, Moses instructed Joshua (first time mentioned in Exodus) to marshal an army to defend the Hebrews. Moses proposed that he would stand, arms lifted, as the army engaged the Amalekites.  Perhaps Moses’ posture indicates prayerful supplication for the cause of Israel.  The passage observes that Israel prevailed as long as Moses kept his hands elevated. As the elderly statesman’s arms wearied, Aaron and Hur assisted Moses (Jewish tradition holds that Hur was the husband of Moses’ sister, Miriam). The term “banner” (v. 15) is the Hebrew word for “staff” or “spear.”  Moses’ staff became a symbol of God’s presence and power, and it served as a reminder of God’s curse on Amalek.


IV.             Jethro’s Fellowship with Moses (18:1-27)

A.    Moses’ reunion with Jethro (vv. 1-12): We know little about Moses’ father-in-law.  He was a priest of Midian (probably a polytheist) who gradually became convinced of the power of Jehovah (See v. 11). Sometime during the Exodus story, Moses sent his family, Zipporah and their two sons, to live with Jethro, and, after the battle with Amalek, Jethro returned the family to Moses.  The two men warmly greeted one another, and Jethro expressed his amazement at Jehovah’s power.

B.     The administration of the people (vv. 13-27): The Jews, at this early stage in their national development, did not have a judicial system.  Moses taught the people the law of God, but he also judged the disputes that arose.  The workload overwhelmed Moses, and Jethro encouraged his son-in-law to delegate judgment to capable, honorable men.  Following Jethro’s counsel, Moses created a kind of appellate system where he judged only the most difficult cases.