Exodus 16:1-17:7 - Of Bread and Water and Glory

May 25, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 16:1–17:7

[Text: Exodus 16:1-17:7] “Of Bread and Water and Glory”

In baseball and friendships, a lot of folks play the three-strike rule. You forget a birthday? Strike one. You blow off supper plans? Strike two. You ding the borrowed car? Strike three - you're out.

You wanna know the Gospel? God doesn't play baseball with you. Because we're looking at strikes two and three for Israel today. And what we see from God is grace.

[Pray – Guide us, O God, in the reading of your Word, and by your Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.]

[Read text]

Have you ever gone camping and forgot the hot dogs? Packing a tent and sleeping bags and flashlights and the all-important s'mores can be hectic work. Throw in a few excited kids and hot dogs are easy to forget. But it makes for a long night in a tent when all you can hear is your grumbling belly.

The rush of the exodus from Egypt was so hectic, so sudden, Israel hadn't prepared any provisions for themselves (Exodus 12:39). They didn't pack the hot dogs. And YHWH was leading them into the dry and (forgive me) Kroger-less wilderness.

From the very beginning, YHWH was setting them up to depend on him for everything. For leadership through Moses, God's servant. For direction from YHWH himself in the pillar of cloud and fire. For protection from enemies; for shade from a burning sun; for food; for water - for everything - Israel had to depend on YHWH. He had ransomed them from Egypt with blood. He had redeemed them from Pharaoh in power at the Red Sea. Now, they had to trust him to provide for their needs in the wilderness.

For the Christian today, we're in the same place - geographically and relationally. Geographically, we're in the wilderness. Because Christ died, we've been ransomed from slavery to sin. By faith in him, we've passed through his death and into his life. Geographically, Paul says in Ephesians 1-2, we are now "in Christ;" in him we are citizens of his heavenly Kingdom. And at the same time we walk through this present wilderness - already free, already redeemed, already experiencing his presence in the Spirit, already priests in the service of God - all this and not yet home. So, until the Lord calls us home or returns making all things new, in this wilderness we walk. And there's always something to endure as we travel together to the Promised Land. But we walk hearing that the Lord himself has led us here.

Geographically, we're in the same place as Israel but we're also in the same place relationally; we're dependent on Christ for everything. All we bring into this redemption he's working is sin - even our best works are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and skupalon (Philippians 3:8, which gets translated as "rubbish" but is much more graphic) - we bring nothing good into this redemption so, we must depend on him for all our needs. For forgiveness, for righteousness, for protection from the enemy, for direction, for leadership through Christ and the under-shepherds he gives us - yes, even for food and water - we must depend on Christ. We have to trust him to provide for our needs in this wilderness between our old home in slavery and our new home in the Kingdom of Heaven where our citizenship stands.

Israel’s time in the wilderness was a time of testing (16:4). YHWH was looking to see if Israel would walk in his ways, walking in obedience and walking in trust. It’s no different for us.

So, what does it look like to trust God with our needs?

For Israel in this passage it had to do with the most basic of things: bread and water. They walked out of Egypt with nothing but a little unleavened bread in bowls on their shoulders. And whatever water they carried would have been drunk in a few days' time. Very quickly, their ability to provide for themselves would have been shown to be, well, to understate it, lacking. Simply put, Israel was helpless. And so, Israel would have to look to YHWH as their Creator, their Redeemer, and as their Provider. But he had made their bodies. And he rescued their bodies from slavery. They could trust him to take care of their bodies in the wilderness.

So, YHWH adds to his track record of faithfulness. He'd already shown they could trust him to rescue them and protect them from enemies - the plagues and the Red Sea parting were proof of that. But now (and for the next forty years) God faithfully sends manna six days a week (16:35); their daily bread came to them from their God in Heaven. And at Rephidim, YHWH gives them water from a rock (17:6). For all their time in the wilderness, no Israelite fell down from hunger or thirst. So, Israel could trust and say, "YHWH is a faithful Provider for me."

This is a God who loves and cares for our bodies. After all, it was he who made all things, visible and invisible, physical and spiritual - and called all of it before the Fall "very good." And even though hunger and death entered this world because of our rebellion against him, it's not as if he changed his mind about physicality. He is making all things new in Christ and in the resurrection of Jesus we see his intention to give us real, physical, glorified bodies when the fullness of our redemption comes. So, in his provision for Israel of bread and water, we see a God who can be trusted to provide for his people then and now.

When it comes to our physical needs today, Jesus himself spoke of God's trustworthiness in Matthew 6:25ff. saying, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

What flesh and blood reality has you anxious right now? A daughter in rural Africa? An upside-down house that isn't worth what you paid for it? Un-met financial goals? A job that isn't enough? A mother in need of constant care you can't provide? Do the pains of aging or the fears of young parents have you afraid in the wilderness? Are you anxious for your daily bread and water?

Jesus said, "Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matthew 6:32) This God is the great Provider. He led you into this wilderness. And he will take care of you in it.

But where we often believe God will best take care of us through larger bank accounts (so we can buy what we "need"), the Lord often does something very different to care for us. He uses people. Neighbors bringing food. A brother or sister from church cutting your grass when you can't. A deacon whose calling from God is to "to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress."[1] All these helps we accept hesitantly (or reject because we "don't want to be a burden") are, in reality, God's means of taking care of us. We might pray, "Give us this day our daily bread..." expecting a mystical enlargement of our bank accounts. But God will likely answer that prayer through your brother or sister here before he does that.

So, trust him. This God has already proved his faithfulness to provide for our needs. Now, unlike prosperity preachers say, this God may not give us what we want. But to trust him is to believe he knows the difference between what we want and what we need to flourish in him.

The Lord knows how to take care of our physical needs. We can trust him as we look to the past, seeing his faithfulness. We can trust him as we listen to his promise to provide today.

So, what keeps us from doing it? Israel was in a position where they had to trust YHWH to provide for their needs. So, why didn't they? Why don't we?

Because in this wilderness, Israel failed the test. They didn’t trust God and they didn’t walk in his ways. Why do I make the same grade as Israel in this test?

I see two things in the text. It has to do with preferences. And it has to do with doubt.

First, Israel prefers their wants to God's provision. Look at 16:3 (read it). Israel would prefer death with a full belly in Egypt to dependence on YHWH in the wilderness.

What strange appetites we have - preferring satiated stomachs and death to life with a loving God in the wilderness! While in slavery to sin, we filled our bellies with lusts of all kinds, thinking that we were satisfied. But we only ate poison that would kill us. Should we long for such deadly food, preferring porn to intimacy? Should we feast on pride, preferring my self-righteousness to the righteousness of Christ? Should I feast on death, preferring sin to the body and blood of Christ?

But that's what unbelief looks like. We prefer what kills us. But God would satisfy us with better food, heavenly food. So, the Lord is faithful to lead us, more and more, away from our preferences. Because what if the job you want isn't what you need (or not now, anyway). What if that job can't drive you to depend on the Lord like this waiting can? What if the Lord is more concerned with your sanctification than your comfort or retirement or feeling of security? What if God knows if I had enough money to buy the car I want, then I'd forget him and run away from him? I think I that could happen. So, I should thank him for not giving me what I want.

So, the Lord would lead us away from our preferences. And he would lead us to trust instead of doubt.

Doubt is the second thing we hear in Israel here. Because they don't have what they prefer, Israel grumbles against Moses and Aaron saying, "(Y)ou have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." And because they thirst in chapter 17, they ask a ridiculous question I, too, ask in unbelief - "Is the LORD among us or not?" (17:7)

Israel doubts YHWH. They doubt his motives, thinking he aims to kill them. And they doubt his provision even while he provides. Look at vv.17-18. Each family gathered enough for themselves, working each morning (there's a principle there) to have food for the day. Some gather much more than anyone else, but however much they gathered, they ended up with just the right amount. And Moses told them, "Let no one leave any of it over till the morning." He was calling them to trust God for tomorrow. But verse 20 says, "…they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning" - they doubted YHWH's promise to provide - "and it bred worms and stank." Even when YHWH gives them a day of rest, telling them to gather enough on Friday for two days in preparation for their rest, still some go out on the Sabbath looking for more because YHWH's provision isn't enough for them.

Where do we doubt the Lord's provision? Do you doubt his motives toward you, Christian? You who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and raised with him from the dead, is God out to kill you now? If he did not spare his only Son, but graciously gave him up for us (Romans 8:32), should you doubt his provision even while he provides? When we hear his promises and see his Spirit working among us giving us repentance and faith in Christ, why should we ask, "Is God among us or not?"

Okay, so his provision doesn't look like we want or expect. But since when do we know what's best? Since when has sin not clouded our judgement? We still often think sin will satisfy us. Are we really the best judge of what is good for us?

But to doubters like us, YHWH shows tremendous grace in this passage. Because he satisfies his hungry people and gives them rest. And when they're thirsty, he tells Moses to strike the rock. This is where the Gospel meets us in our sin and need, empowering us to trust this God.

First, because he gives us rest. On the sixth day of the week, 16:22 says, Israel gathered twice as much. And they were supposed to prepare half of it, setting it aside for the next day, the Sabbath. And when they woke up that Sabbath morning, it didn't stink! God had preserved it for them so that they could have a day of rest. They could rest from their labors, rest from the burning wilderness sun, rest with bellies fed by bread from heaven. So, Israel was told to take some of the manna and preserve it (16:34). It would stand as a reminder that YHWH provides food for his people, just like the Sabbath would stand as a reminder that YHWH provides rest for his people.

At our time in this Story, what the manna and Sabbath both pointed toward has already come in the person of Jesus. Once again God sent bread from heaven - the true Bread from Heaven - to feed his people. But the need he meets is not merely physical - Christ meets us in our spiritual famine and feeds our souls with himself. He raises our dead souls and strengthens our weakness and gives us new life in the Spirit, even while promising to raise our bodies on the Last Day. Jesus is the true Bread (John 6:32-35) and while humanity wondered what he was, he died on the cross to rescue us from sin and death, to feed us with himself to nourish us for our time in the wilderness.

Jesus is our true Bread. And Jesus is our true Rest. The rest pictured in the Sabbath has finally come in Christ. Not just rest from physical work, but rest from spiritual work (see Hebrews 4). As you rest in Christ's finished work on the cross, trusting in him, then you may rest from trying to make God like you and accept you. He already loves and likes and accepts you in Christ.

But we see the costliness of such grace pictured as YHWH gives water to Israel in chapter 17.

When Israel quarreled, almost ready to stone Moses, Moses understood that they were quarreling with YHWH, not with him. So, Moses cries out to YHWH. (May we cry out to him in our need instead of complaining against the Lord!) And YHWH said to Moses, "'Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.' And Moses did so..." (17:5-6).

Note this – when Moses strikes the rock to provide life-giving water to Israel, YHWH stands between him and the rock. So, when Moses swung his staff, he had to first strike God before the people could drink. In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul understands the meaning. All of God's people drank from the same spiritual rock, he says, "...and the rock was Christ."

In order for Christ to satisfy our thirst, he first had to be stricken. That is the cost of our satisfaction. Because we've preferred other waters to Christ, looking for them to satisfy; because of our doubt and unbelief, God sent Jesus to be stricken, smitten and afflicted for our sakes. Christ was struck and crucified so that we could finally, finally drink from him and be satisfied.

When Jesus warned his disciples in Mark 8 saying, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” Jesus was warning his followers of the danger of self-reliance. Be wary of satisfying your thirst for physical bread and water apart from Christ. You may find yourself more famished at the end than in the beginning. And be wary of satisfying your spiritual thirst for righteousness apart from Christ as the Pharisees did. Though we might think ourselves to be full, self-righteousness and self-reliance as a “good person” is as rotten in the eyes of God as leftover manna on a Tuesday. Only the righteousness of Christ is pleasing to him. And that righteousness comes to us by faith in the stricken, crucified and risen Christ alone.

So, why should we doubt his provision for our bodies? God has redeemed us in Christ body and soul? Why should we hoard our wealth or time as if it can satisfy us? In the wilderness, it did Israel no good to gather more than their brothers. So why not share what has come to us from heaven? Why hoard it as if I provided it for myself?

God has rescued us in Christ and led us into this wilderness while we wait his return. And in this wilderness God says we can trust him for everything. If he has met our greater, spiritual need, will he abandon us in our physical need? By no means! No, at all times this God is faithful to give us our daily bread and water. We can trust that because he has given us Jesus, the Bread from Heaven and the Rock who satisfies our thirst.

[Pray – Almighty God, who has provided for his people both life and peace in Christ; Our Father, who does not give scorpions when we ask for bread – forgive us for our unbelief. But we praise you now because we hear again today that in Christ you meet all our needs – need for mercy and need for grace; for forgiveness and righteousness and bread and water. You are a great Provider, indeed, Father. Christ, you are a faithful Savior, willingly stricken to satisfy us. Holy Spirit, you are a glorious Spring of living water, giving life wherever you go. Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Still, we give you thanks now for the daily bread you have given us, such as we need. If you give much, may we not forget you, but use what we have for your glory and the good of your people. And if you give little, would you give us the gift of contentment along with it, and humility whereby we can see your hand in the neighbor who shares what they have with us. Now, as always, we are a needy people. But now, as always, you are a faithful God. So, we look to you, Father. On you we depend. In Christ, we hope. In your Spirit, we praise your faithfulness, praying in the name of Christ our Lord, Amen.]


[Benediction – from Number 6]

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.



[1] From the PCA's Book of Church Order, section 9.2 (on the office of Deacon), available at

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