Week 7 / Exodus 16-18
In the third century B.C., there was a popular Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, which was kind of like the ‘NIV’ of its day. There are some strong arguments to suggest that this was the translation the Apostles used when teaching Christians who had converted from Gentile backgrounds (and possibly those from international Jewish communities). Anyway, the point is that in the Septuagint the Greek word that is used for ‘Church’ in the New Testament (ekklesia) is first used to describe the group of people who left Egypt in the Exodus. In many English translations this is obscured, and the phrase is rendered somewhat strangely as ‘Israelite community’; the ‘company of Israel’; or slightly more helpfully, some form of ‘the congregation of Israel’.
What we have witnessed then, in the last few chapters of Exodus, is the birth of the Church. We have moved beyond a family (of Abraham) chosen by the LORD, to an international people who have been redeemed by that same LORD through the death of the Passover Lamb. Perhaps somewhat tellingly, the first thing the Church does after the worship of Chapter 15, is ‘grumble’ (15:24; 16:2; with a variation on the theme in 17:2…). Grumbling is so commonplace in our world that we may barely notice that this is quickly becoming a defining characteristic of Israel in Exodus. Indeed we may feel a certain empathy, and conclude that they were justified in their behaviour – after all they had just been hauled out into the middle of the wilderness, with only the food they could carry. But that would be to dramatically miss the point.
They had just been redeemed from slavery and death, from tyranny and oppression (6:6). The Angel of the LORD had pledged Himself to adopt them as His own people, thus taking on the responsibility to provide for them (6:7) and to bring them safely to the ‘promised land’ (6:8). For the first time, they were free. Against this background, their complaining, quarrelling and grumbling take on a more sinister dynamic. It is symptomatic of ingratitude and an ingrained cynicism, as they cast aspersions about the LORD’s motives, and willingness / ability to provide, calling into question even His presence with them (17:7). In the light of everything they had lived through, literally in the last few days, you might imagine a joyful dependence, and a faith-filled prayer that the God who has already acted with such glorious power, would continue to provide for the people He has now adopted as His own. Instead, we are given a master-class in suspicion, faithlessness, mistrust and disobedience. Is it any wonder we are warned no to follow their example (I Cor.10:5-10). At this stage in the narrative, Israel is functionally atheist, as are we when our first reaction to trouble is grumbling and anxiety. But like a loving Father, the LORD graciously begins to discipline and train them in His ways (‘Do everything without complaining…’, Phil.2:14). He invites them to trust Him, and proves Himself trustworthy again and again.
Do you think the Hebrews actually had ‘sat round pots of meat, and ate all the food we wanted’ (16:3)? If not, why do you think they say what they do?
Why is their ‘grumbling’ such a wicked thing to do? What do we learn about the LORD from His response in 16:4-5? What do we learn about the Church (I Cor.10:11-12)?
When is ‘grumbling’ against leaders legitimate? When does grumbling against leaders become grumbling against God (16:6-9; 17:2)? How can we learn to resist the temptation to make the same mistakes?
What is the test (v.4) that the LORD is administering here (see also Deut.8:2 & 16 etc.)? Does the LORD know what the outcome will be? Is it a frightening thing to be tested by the LORD? Can you think of ways the LORD might similarly test the Church today? What action would such a ‘test’ lead to? How could we learn from their failure (16:20)?
How is the LORD’s testing of the people different from the people’s testing of the LORD (17:3 & 7)? In what ways does the Church continue to test the LORD? How can we learn to do things differently?
What is the point of the manna from heaven (see also Deut.8:3)? Why do you think they couldn’t keep any till morning, but had to collect it ‘fresh’ each day? What does this teach us about our relationship with the LORD?
What do you make of the description of Manna in Psalm 78:25? What is the significance of our being told that it tastes like honey (16:31)?
Jesus teaches that Manna was prophetic of Him (John 6:32-35 & 48-59. It is interesting to note that ‘grumbling’ features in John 6:41-43). In what ways does the Manna teach us about Christ? What points is Jesus making when He says He is the Bread from Heaven? How would that encourage you as a Christian, and deepen your understanding of Jesus?
What do we learn in Ex.16:22-30 about the importance of the Sabbath? Are Christians still required to keep the Sabbath? If so, what does that look like? How important should it be in the life of the Church?
How does Paul use Exodus 16:17-18 in II Cor.8:15? Do you think He is right to do this? What do we learn from this for our own experience of discipleship today? How can we help each other to grow in this area of discipleship?
How does the rock prefigure and teach us about Jesus (Ex.17:7 & I Cor.10:4)?
The Old Testament has a number of passages which narrate varying degrees of genocide (such as Ex.17:8-16). Israel’s war with the Amalekites is a recurring theme (see e.g. Num.14; Deut.25:17-19; Jdgs 10:12; I Sam.15 & the book of Esther). What do you make of such passages? How are they any different from people who declare ‘holy wars’ today? What would you say to someone who couldn’t believe the Bible was the word of God on the basis of such passages? What can we learn from them?
What is the significance of Moses’ actions during the battle with Amalek? …and of Joshua’s? What is the connection between the two? How does the Name of the LORD serve as a banner?
Do you think Jethro becomes aChristian in 18:9-11? What do you think is happening in 18:12?
Why do some leaders resist delegating? How do qualities such as ‘capable’, ‘God-fearing’, ‘trustworthy’, and ‘hating dishonest gain’ still apply to good leaders in the life of the Church today?
How could this model of leadership be more effectively implemented in the lives of our Churches?
Every event resonates with prophetic significance. Jesus famously picks up the incident with the Manna in John 6; Paul tells us the ‘rock was Christ’ (I Cor.10:4 / John 4); and Hebrews teaches us to see the Sabbath in a deeply Christ-centred way - to say nothing of Joshua’s defeat of the Amalekites, and Moses sitting as judge among the people! But perhaps the most compelling of links to Jesus’ own ministry is the contrast between Israel’s and Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1-10 shows us the glorious victory of Christ as He triumphs over the tempter, and the temptation. There is no grumbling or quarrelling, doubting or cynicism as Jesus remained steadfast in His trust in God’s Words, refused to put His God and Father to the test, and as He resolved to worship only Him. As the Angel of the LORD watched the unfolding tragedy of Israel’s distrust and disobedience, He knew that in the fullness of time He Himself would stand in their place, facing the same temptations (though to a much greater intensity), yet proving Himself the true firstborn Son as He is ‘tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin’ (Heb.4:15).