"Deliverance as Assignment" Bible Study on Exodus 16:2-15
September 17, 2020, 12:16 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Exodus 16:2-15 (New Revised Standard Version).

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”  For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

This Sunday's Reading is actually the second story of Israel's journey through the wildnerness.  By a series of dramatic Divine acts, the slaves find themselves delivered to the other side of the Red Sea.  Yahweh God has triumphed decisively over Pharaoh and his hosts.  The now freed slaves rested at the oasis of Elim; then they set out into the wilderness.  The wilderness is aptly named.  There in the desert, they will find themselves in a daily life-and-death struggle for survival.  The Sinai Peninsula will be for the Israelites not only a place of deprivation and want but also a place of moral and spiritual testing.  If they thought Pharaoh's troops were a threat to their survival, wait until they are in the wilderness.  A few centuries later, Jesus will endure forty days of hunger and temptation by the devil himself in the wilderness -- Read Luke 4:1-13.

The basic question behind the complaining is, "Can God be trusted or not?"

We all already know what happens to people away from home, under stress, hungry.  That's not really news.  That's the way people act when they are under stress.  The interesting thing about this story may not be the complaining Israelites but rather the God who has delivered and who is still with Israel, even amid the complaining.

Moses and Aaron are the targets of the people's complaining in Exodus 16:3.  They accuse the brothers of having led them in the wilderness in order to "kill all of us with hunger."  Not much gratitude for Moses' and Aron's leadership.  How does God react to the complainers?  God promises to "make bread rain down from heaven" (Exodus 16:4).

It's odd that Moses, when he reports to the people on his conversation with God, never mentions the bit about the Sabbath test or the rules against storing up the daily bread.  Rather, Moses mainly seems intent on accusing the people of complaining against God when the have complained against him and Aaron.  He focuses on their complaints, not on God's offer of miraculous bread.  Moses says that the bread from heaven comes so that the people will know for sure that God is their deliverer.

Moses goes on to tell the Israelites that they will behold God's glory (strange, since God has not told Moses about a cloud) which then appears in Exodus 16:10.  There's thus a gap between what God actually says to Moses and how Moses reports what God said to the people.  Moses also implies that the Israelites will have to see the bread in order to believe that God is good.

There is the possibility, in Moses' rhetorical leaps and bounds, that Moses means his words to be heard by God more than the Israelites.  Perhaps Moses means to say, in effect, "Hey God, these folks are hungry and scared.  They don't need a bunch of rules about Sabbath.  They need reassurance of your continued presence and care."

After God's dramatic, stunning acts of deliverance in the Passover from slavery to freedom, the Israelites have now settled in with God for the long haul.  Can God be depended upon in the day-to-day strugles of survival in the wilderness?

To any of the people's possible questions and doubts, we should note that God responds with a reassuring promise and with visible, tangible nourishment.  God is giving Israel distinctive rituals and practices whereby they can be united as a people and survive amid all the temptations to wander towards and bow before false gods.  They must organize themselves in order to collect the food and to prepare for the Sabbath.  They will have to share with each other and learn to trust God for their survival.  The keeping of the Sabbath will become an identifying hallmark of the children of Israel down through the centuries.

The slaves are free from Egyptian slavery.  But they are not automatically relieved of all responsibility.  They no longer serve Pharaoh, but that does not mean that they are no longer in service.  God has plans for the tribe of Israel; they have a Divine assignment.  God intends to make out of them a people who will be a showcase to all the nations of what a true and living God can do -- call God's people to deliver all people from oppression.

Through it all, in spite of complaining and doubting, God stays with Israel and continues to make a way when there seems to be no way.

There's a message here for our world and our nation.  God will stay with us are we wander through the wildernesses of pandemic and racism.  God will deliver us!  God will set us free!

Blessings on the Journey,

Pastor Greg Rupright


09-19-2020 at 8:34 PM
Pat May
Amen and amen!
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