Journey to Sinai: Israel Under Grace
Exodus 15:22 – 18:27
Exodus 15:22 – 18:27
The Wilderness. The entire journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan is typical of God's work in the soul of the believer. The wilderness is a very important part of this journey. Paul's explanation in 1 Cor. 10:1-11 shows that Israel's wilderness experience is given to us as "types... for our admonition". The wilderness begins once the redemption of our souls is complete, which is pictured at the Red Sea. Once we are saved, we are still "in the world", but the world has become a wilderness to us. The wilderness pathway speaks of our life on earth as a heavenly people. We also have a life in heavenly places, but that is typified by Canaan! We are strangers and pilgrims here. Having gone through the Red Sea, the wilderness is the practical living out of Romans 5-8. A great number of lessons are learned, which above all teach us to rely fully on God and to put no confidence in the flesh.
Part of God’s Ways, not His Purposes. It is striking in Exodus 3 and 6 there is no wilderness spoken of. God said that he would bring them out of Egypt into the land flowing with milk and honey, according to the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Bringing the people into Canaan was God’s purpose… the wilderness was only a way to get them there. For example; the dying thief had no wilderness experience, he went straight to be with Jesus in paradise. In a certain sense, the Red Sea and Jordan coalesce. In Psalm 114 Israel is seen going in the Red Sea and come out the Jordan. But as concerning the ways and dealings of God with us, the wilderness is hugely important, and serves as a schoolroom or training course, for God to form Christ in each one of us.
Four stages. There are four stages to the wilderness journey.
- Red Sea to Sinai – In this stage, Israel was under GRACE. They murmured and complained, but God always treated them with grace, His purpose being to show them His all-sufficiency. But they also needed to learn their insufficiency, so at Sinai He proposed the law. Sadly, they put themselves under the law, and so God’s treatment of them changed.
- Sinai to Kadesh Barnea – In this stage, Israel traveled to Kadesh which was near the southern border of Canaan. At Kadesh, the twelve spies were sent in to the land, and brought back a mixed report. There Israel sinned in unbelief, and came under the GOVERNMENT of God.
- Kadesh Barnea to Kadesh Barnea – In this stage, Israel walked in a circle for 38 years, until the older generation had died off. Almost nothing is recorded, it simply says, “we compassed mount Seir many days” (Deut. 2:1). It ends with the death of Aaron in Mount Hor. This answers to the CORRECTION that God gives in the wilderness.
- Kadesh Barnea to the Jordan – In this stage, Israel journeyed toward the land of Canaan, and the Lord prepared them for entrance. Above all, the Promised Land is set before them as an object, that the HOPE of it would motivate obedience to the Word of God.
Learning grace has two elements: God’s favor, and man’s need. Israel was dealt with in grace, despite their murmurings, etc., until they reached Sinai. This is one remarkable feature of the first phase of their journey. God was showing them that He was sufficient to meet every need. But He also wanted to show them their need; so He proposed the Law (Exodus 19). The purpose of the Law is to expose man’s true moral condition, and produce a spirit of dependence. However, at Sinai, they arrogantly put themselves under law. As a result, God began to treat them differently.
Ten Temptations. We see this with the "ten temptations" (Num. 14:22) where Israel tempted Jehovah in the wilderness. Five were before Sinai, and five were after. The consequences of their failures after Sinai were far more severe than before. For example, compare Israel’s murmuring for food in Exodus 16 (before Sinai) with Numbers 11 (after Sinai). In Exodus 16, God gave them quail as well as manna without any reproof. But in Numbers 11, “while it was yet in their mouths, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote them with a very great plague.” The ten temptations are:
- Not trusting the Lord at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:11-12)
- Questioning the wisdom of the Lord (Ex. 15:24)
- Asking for bread to fulfill their lusts (Ex. 16:2)
- Gathering manna on the Sabbath day (Ex. 16:27-28)
- Questioning the Lord's presence among them (Ex. 17:2)
------ SINAI -----
- Worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:7-14) - Three thousand slain by the tribe of Levi.
- Complaining against the Lord (Num. 11:1-3) - The fire of Taberah broke out among them.
- Lusting after Egypt's foods (Num. 11:4-34) - They were smitten with a very great plague.
- Criticizing Moses their leader (Num. 12:9) - Miriam's leprosy.
- Despising the pleasant land (Num. 14:1-5) - Sentenced to wander until death.
But in the first phase it is grace that is the theme, not government. Each of the steps is this phase of the journey begins with a failure by the people, but results in a demonstration of the Lord’s grace.
Marah and Elim
Marah: Bitter Waters Made Sweet (15:22-26)
Marah. Here we have the first great lesson of the wilderness: there is nothing in this would that can satisfy and refresh us. The way seems almost impossible, but there is a way through the Person and work of Christ. The Lord alone is our resource!
22 And Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23 And they came to Marah, and could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore the name of it was called Marah. vv.22-23 The Bitter Waters. Israel went three day’s journey into the wilderness and found no water. Then, the water they did find was bitter – impossible to drink. This is the first great lesson of the wilderness: there is nothing in this would that can satisfy and refresh us. The way seems almost impossible.
24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? 25 And he cried to Jehovah; and Jehovah shewed him wood, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There he made for them a statute and an ordinance; and there he tested them. vv.24-25 Waters Made Sweet. We might think that that one trial where Israel wouldn’t murmur would be the first one after the Red Sea. But no, they failed immediately! The same people that three days earlier sang “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation” were now complaining. The wilderness had exposed their hearts, but it would also expose God’s heart. Israel murmured, but Moses cried to Jehovah. He alone would be Israel’s resource. What was the solution? The Lord showed Moses a certain tree, which he cast into the water, and the waters were made sweet. What does the tree speak of? In Gal. 3:13 the apostle Paul relates a tree to the cross of Christ. The eye of flesh will see the trials of the wilderness as bitter waters. When we come to bitter trial in life and we don’t see the Lord’s love in it, we need to look at the cross. It was in the giving of His Son – not in the trials of life – that the love of God was manifested (1 John 4:9). Cast the tree into the water, and they will become sweet. How wonderful to see the sweetness that the cross of Christ brings into our darkest hours. The love of Christ shown out on the cross illuminates the darkest circumstances, and makes us value the very trials that we once saw as bitter (Rom. 5:3-5). The word “tree” could also be translated ‘wood’. In this case, it would refer to the Person of Christ as a man; because wood often pictures humanity. Another thing that can make the bitter waters sweet is bringing Christ into the circumstances; knowing that He has passed through all that we pass through in perfection as a man. I’m not sure which interpretation is correct; i.e. the cross of Christ or His humanity… His work or His Person. Some of the best expositors take different positions!12
26 And he said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of Jehovah thy God, and do what is right in his eyes, and incline thine ears to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the complaints upon thee that I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am Jehovah who healeth thee. v.26 Obedience and Preservation. At Marah, where Israel murmured for the second time, there is a gentle and gracious reminder of the importance of obedience. There would be preservation from the diseases of Egypt if (conditional) they hearkened and obeyed the voice of Jehovah. This is not yet Israel being put under law where the consequences would be immediate. The Lord was showing Himself willing to be Israel’s healer; i.e. not willing to bring the curses of Egypt upon His chosen people. This is one of the expansions of the name Jehovah. There are seven different expansions of the name ‘Jehovah’ (Yahweh) found in the Old Testament. Here we have Jehovah-Rapha, meaning “The Lord your Healer” (found once, Exo. 15:26). Read more…
The Cross! it took our guilt away,
It holds the fainting spirit up;
It cheers with hope the gloomy day,
And sweetens every bitter cup.
It makes the coward spirit brave,
And nerves the feeble arm for fight;
It takes its terror from the grave,
And guilds the bed of death with light.
The balm of life, the cure of woe,
The measure and the pledge of love,
The sinner’s refuge here below,
The theme of praise in heaven above.
Types of the Death of Christ. There are seven types of the death of Christ on Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan.
- The Passover (Ex. 12) – shelter from the judgment of God
- Crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 14) – deliverance from sin/Satan
- The Tree of Marah (Ex. 15) – making the bitter trials of life sweet
- The Smitten Rock (Num. 21) – refreshment in a moral wilderness
- The Red Heifer (Num. 19) – for restoration after failure
- The Serpent on Pole (Num. 21) – Christ made sin for us
- Crossing of Jordan (Josh. 5) – Our death with Christ
Elim: Rest and Refreshment (15:27)
27 And they came to Elim; and twelve springs of water were there, and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters. v.27 Elim. Then they come to Elim, and experience an oasis provided by God for their refreshment in the wilderness. The camp at Elim was different from Marah in that there was no test at Elim. The water was fresh and abundant (twelve wells for twelve tribes), and the shade was plentiful and complete (seventy palms). Often after God has tried our faith and proven Himself faithful to meet our needs, He will also provide a time of rest and refreshment in which the soul can reflect and thank God while being refreshed and blessed. There were twelve springs of water that gushed up from an underground aquifer. These springs were the channels, but the source was deep underground. This might speak of those resources which God has provided in the wilderness; gifts given by an ascended Christ (Eph. 4:11). But the order is important; we must have Christ Himself first (the certain tree at Marah) before we can enjoy the springs of water. The seventy palm trees might also picture the support of fellow-believers, as each one is a joint of supply (Eph. 4:16).