Week of March 11, 2018
The Point: God is the only one who can restore us and make us whole.
God’s Deliverance and Resultant Faith: Exodus 14:29-31.
 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.  Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. [ESV]
“These verses sum up the great miracle of deliverance at the sea. Verse 29 repeats verse 22 almost verbatim. Verse 30 describes the event in general, emphasizing the great truth of God’s deliverance of His people from their otherwise unbeatable foes and also presenting an aspect of its aftermath: as bodies began washing up on shore, the Israelites saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Presumably they also saw many horses and chariots washed up as well, but the human foes are the important topic. Once again God had differentiated His people from the Egyptians, just as had been the case in all the plagues, and once again death had been the result of Egyptian intransigence, just as in the case of the tenth plague. In verse 30 Moses said, literally, that God saved the Israelites “from the hand (singular) of the Egyptians.” Then in verse 31 he said, literally, that “Israel saw the great hand that Yahweh displayed against the Egyptians.” The reader/hearer of the original catches the point: the hand of Yahweh is powerful; the hand of the Egyptians was weak. All of this fulfills just what was predicted by God to Moses in 6:1: Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land. Verse 31 addresses this most important implication of all the events with attention to faith: the resultant faith of God’s people in the Lord and their willingness to place their trust in Him and in His representative, Moses. Not only does this verse thus identify the point of the story of the deliverance at the sea for all generations (all should learn from it that the Lord can be trusted to deliver His people, no matter what their plight) but adumbrates the New Testament emphasis on salvation by faith. What was important for Israel was not merely that they were safe and the Egyptians were not; what mattered was that faith saves, and God had shown them how faith in Him could pay off to their lasting benefit. They were still new to good theology. Many of them at this early point understood very little of who Yahweh was and what He expected of them. But they had now seen one final, awesome act of deliverance from Egypt, and it prompted their fear and trust.” [Stuart, pp. 345-346].
“Reflection. The Exodus, the going out of the Israelites from Egypt, is now complete. Their departure from the land on the night of the Passover and their passage through the Red Sea have to be thought of as two parts of the one event in the same way as the crucifixion and the resurrection are both required to constitute the gospel message. The escape from Egypt delivered the Lord’s people from the oppression of the demonic forces that were distorting God’s creation order for their own ends. The earthly embodiment of these forces in the army of Pharaoh has now been divinely destroyed with an overwhelming display of sovereign power. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again [14:13]. By going through the waters the people were all united into the bond of the covenant as mediated by Moses. Through Moses the Lord had done extraordinary things on their behalf, and so they were from that time forward under obligation to acknowledge Moses’ leadership and obey his instructions. Standing on the other side of the sea, the people might have thought that all their difficulties were now over, but having been brought by divine power into a new relationship with God, they now have to learn how to live in terms of the covenant bond God has forged between Himself and them. They are moving to the land of promise, but their slowness to learn means that they will be delayed along the road. Salvation does not ordinarily lead straight to glory: there is still on earth a preparatory process that the Lord leads His people through to make them ready for their full enjoyment of the inheritance.” [Mackay, pp. 260-261].
A Bitter Complaint: Exodus 15:22-27.
 Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.  When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah.  And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”  And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them,  saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”  Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water. [ESV]
“God had just brought His people through the sea, saving them from Pharaoh and his chariots. This miracle of grace brought the Israelites to saving faith. They saw, they believed, and they worshiped. What comes next? The Israelites made a decisive break with sin when they left Egypt, but a great deal of sanctification still needed to take place. This process began almost as soon as the music stopped. As the last chords of Miriam’s song dies away, Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur . God’s people may well have expected to head straight for Canaan, going from grace right on to glory. Instead their triumph was followed by tribulation. God’s plan did not call for any shortcuts. The Promised Land could only be reached by way of the wilderness. The wilderness is a hard place. It is a place to meet with God, to be sure, and yet it is always a difficult place. It is barren and desolate. Thus the Israelites were setting out on a long and arduous journey. They still had a pilgrimage to make, a pilgrimage that was both spiritual and physical. Going through the wilderness was not necessary for Israel’s salvation, but it was necessary for their sanctification. The lesson is easy to apply. The church is now living in the wilderness between the first and second comings of Christ. He came once to save us; He will come again to lead us home. In the meantime we are on a long and difficult pilgrimage, which God is using to make us holy. All our problems and persecutions are meant to teach us to depend on God alone, to have absolute confidence in His faithfulness. It is important for us to know where we are in the Christian life. We have not yet reached the promised land. We are still in the wilderness, where God is sanctifying us. So Moses leads the Israelites into the wilderness. Although there were several watering holes in the desert – interspersed about a day’s journey apart – the Israelites soon found themselves in real difficulty. Their crisis concerned the most basic of all physical needs: water. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? We can only imagine the bitterness of Israel’s disappointment. By the third day the people must have been getting desperate. Just when they were on the point of dehydration, they saw an oasis on the horizon. They hurried to reach it, but when they bent down to take a drink, the water tasted brackish, and they had to spit it out. It was more than simply distasteful; it was unfit for human consumption. It tasted of salt, minerals, or perhaps even poison. At this point the Israelites should have cried out to God for help, asking Him to give them the water of life. Remember, they had every reason to believe that God would save them. They knew that God answered prayer because it was in response to their cries that He had rescued them from Egypt. They knew that He had power over creation because they had witnessed the plagues. In particular, they knew that God controlled the water supply. They had seen Him turn the Nile to blood. They had also witnessed His wonders at the Red Sea, His mastery over the wind and the waves. The Israelites had witnessed God’s mighty saving acts in history. Furthermore, God Himself had led the Israelites to this place. Even the bitter oasis was part of His providential plan. God was in the cloud to guard them and guide them. Thus they had nothing to complain about and every reason to believe that God would save them. All they needed to do was ask, and He would provide. Instead, at the first sign of difficulty, the Israelites complained to God’s prophet, Moses. The problem was their attitude. To put it bluntly, they were whining. Whining against God is a sign of spiritual immaturity. There are several ways to characterize Israel’s sin. The people were forgetful, selfish, ungrateful and immature. But their deepest spiritual problem was a lack of faith. The Israelites simply did not believe that God would take care of them. They did not trust in the faithfulness of God. This is a strong warning to anyone who has a complaining spirit. It is not a sin for us to bring God our problems. He invites us to talk things over with Him through prayer. What is a sin, however, is to have a complaining spirit that poisons our communion with Christ and thus robs us of the joy of serving God. We are called not to complain but to believe in the goodness of God, even when He leads us to the bitter waters. One reason to trust God is that He can turn what is bitter into something sweet, which is what happened at Marah. When Moses was confronted with desperate physical need, he did not grumble. Instead he took their troubles to the Lord in prayer. This was typical. Moses often cried out to God for help. He knew how to handle a difficult situation in a spiritual way. There was nothing that he could do to save God’s people, but he knew that God could save them, and so he trusted in God. He exercised real dependence on God’s promise to provide. God answered Moses by instructing Moses to throw a certain log into the water and the water became sweet. What is remarkable is not that God was able to perform the miracle at Marah, but that He was willing to do it for such a bunch of malcontents. Why does God do this? He does it to show His mercy and grace. He also does it so that we learn to trust in Him for the water of life. God wants us to have a deep dependence on His ability to provide. Often He teaches us this lesson by first leading us to taste bitter water. This was true for Israel. It was the bitter-sweet waters of Marah that increased their faith. One sign of growing spiritual maturity is our ability to trust that God will provide, even when it is hard to see how. God has promised to give us all things that pertain to life and godliness [2 Peter 1:3]. This is a lesson that most Christians need to learn over and over, until we finally get to the point where we no longer question if God is going to provide, but only wonder how He will take care of us this time, waiting in faith until He does. At Marah God turned what was bitter into streams of sweet, refreshing water. This powerful demonstration of His providence was also a teachable moment. Once His people had drunk their fill, God proceeded to teach them a vital spiritual lesson for the rest of their pilgrimage: There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” [25b-26]. God gave His people a command with warnings and promises, blessings and curses. Israel’s command was to obey the word of their God. God’s law was to be the absolute standard for their conduct. Usually we associate His law with the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai, but even before the Israelites reached the holy mountain, God required them to live for His glory. They were to listen to what He said, do what He wanted, attend to what He commanded, and keep what He decreed. These requirements were not the basis for Israel’s salvation. God had already delivered them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. He had brought them through the sea. But now it was time for their sanctification; so God gave them His law. He did not say, “Do this and I will save you.” First He saved them, and then He said, “Now here are some things that I want you to do.” If God had done it the other way around, then their salvation would have come by works. But as it is, salvation always comes by grace through faith. Genuine, saving faith is always followed by joyful good works. God wants us to do more than simply believe what He has done; He also wants us to obey what He has commanded. God gave Israel these instructions to help them live for His glory. Once we have been saved from sin, the way to experience the fullness of God’s blessing is to trust and obey. God gave His people these commands to see what their works would reveal about their relationship with Him. Obedience was the test of their faith. But whether they obeyed or not, there would be consequences. This is the way a covenant always works. It contains promises and warnings, with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The curse is implied: If God’s people did not obey, they would suffer the same plagues they had witnessed in Egypt. Yet God’s desire was to bless and not to curse. He did not test His people so they would fail, but in the hope that they would learn to obey. Sadly, this was a test that the Israelites kept failing – not only at Marah, but throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. When they were thirsty, they did not trust and obey; they grumbled and complained. We often fail in the same way. Our need for provision is the testing of our faith. But when the time of testing comes, rather than waiting for God in quiet confidence, we get anxious and angry. This is why we so desperately need Jesus, who did pass the test. There is great blessing for those who learn to trust in Christ’s finished work and to obey God.” [Ryken, pp. 413-422].
Questions for Discussion:
- What impact did the miracle of deliverance have upon the Israelites [14:31]? What is the relationship between God’s power, fear, and faith? How have you seen God’s power displayed in your life? Did it lead you to fear the Lord and believe in the Lord?
- In light of verse 14:31, how do we explain the people’s actions in 15:24? The Israelites had experienced the power of God on their behalf; they believed and worshiped Him. Why, now, are they complaining? Why does God send His people into the wilderness instead of taking them immediately to the promise land? What wilderness is God leading you through? What is your “bitter water”? How are you responding to His providential leading?
- Verse 15:25b tells us that God tested His people by giving them a statute and a rule. Why did God do this? What does God want His people to learn from this test? It is essential that we recognize the order of events in this passage. The conditional statement in 15:26 is not the means for the people to be saved. God has already delivered His people out of Egypt by His grace. He rescued them out of slavery and made His covenant with them to be His people. The test of obedience in 15:26 is intended to test the people’s faith in Yahweh. Throughout the Bible obedience is always the test of faith; not the means to salvation. Our obedience to God’s law provides evidence of the genuineness and strength of our faith. God tests us in order to show us where our faith is weak and to enable us to grow stronger in our trust in His Word. Prayerfully consider what evidence your obedience is giving concerning the strength of your faith. Seek to become more faithful in obedience to your Lord by depending upon the work of God’s Spirit within you [Phil. 4:13]. Grow in your understanding of what it means to walk as children of light discerning what is pleasing to the Lord [Eph. 5:8-11]. And in so doing learn the wonderful relationship between obedience and communion with God [John 15:8-11, 14].
Exodus, John Mackay, Mentor.
Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.
Exodus, Douglas Stuart, B & H Publishing.