Not just sheltered… brought out… through trials… for deeper dependence.
Grumbling goes hand in hand with comparisons doesn’t it? Grumbling is bound up with looking to our non-Christian past or our non-Christian friends with rose tinted glasses. We say (Ex 16:3) “Egypt was great, remember the barbecues? Aw the barbecues were fantastic. Man those Egyptians knew how to party. It was feasting and fullness.” That’s how they remember it when they’re in the desert. It’s complete garbage of course, Egypt was slavery and genocide. But when Jesus leads you into a desert place you re-imagine your non-Christian past as feasting and fullness and you look at non-Christians around you and imagine that they’re all blissfully happy millionaires. You compare… and you grumble.
And here’s what’s really disturbing, the Israelites thought they were just grumbling against Moses and Aaron but we’re told that the LORD takes their grumbling personally. In v7, v8, v9 and v11 it says the LORD heard the Israelites’ grumbling. They were moaning to one another, they were blaming Moses, but the LORD took offence. Isn’t that sobering, when we think about having a grumble, having a moan, complaining?
The bible is full of complaints that are addressed TO God – they’re called prayers. And they are wonderful and godly things. The Psalms are full of complaining prayers: “LORD this is terrible, I can’t handle it, what are you going to do?” That’s a perfectly good prayer. But moaning to one another in unbelief, wishing you weren’t Christ’s, wallowing in a complaining spirit – that’s grumbling. And the LORD takes great offence.
But what does the LORD do to these grumblers?
Rain down fire and brimstone? Rain down lightning bolts? No. He rains down the bread of angels (Ps 78:25). It’s astonishing really. He showers grace on the grumblers.
This week the Chilean miners were brought out. And the whole world rejoiced! Why? Why were we rejoicing? They’re on the other side of the world, we don’t know them, we don’t know their families. And yet when they are brought out we rejoice. Why is that?
Well for one thing, there is a deep spiritual resonance in their story. One of the miners spoke of a battle between God and the devil. Another said to reporters he felt “reborn” as he came to the surface. And as another came up the Chilean President said “Welcome to life”.
Being brought out of darkness, being lost and then found, left for dead and then rescued alive – this has such resonance for us all.
Because the bible insists there is a darkness, a captivity, a lostness and a spiritual death that holds the human race in bondage. Our natural state is to be trapped, with no way out. I wonder whether that’s why the whole world had such empathy with the plight of those miners.
According to the bible the whole world needs to come out from darkness and into the light. The world needs just this kind of rescue. And Exodus shows us how it happens.
Exodus is a grand Old Testament picture of how a people gets saved out of darkness and slavery. That’s what the whole book is about. The word Exodus just means “way out” and it models to us the way we can be brought out of our spiritual slavery to sin and Satan and self.
This morning Exodus is going to model for us how this rescue actually happens. We’re going to rattle through about 5 chapters worth of Exodus to chart the full extent of this great salvation.
As we begin, the definitive moment of salvation was Passover.
That’s what we studied last week. On the night of that devastating final plague, the Israelites found shelter from the coming judgement. In obedience to the LORD’s instructions, they sacrificed a lamb, painted its blood over their door frames. And the LORD passed over every house sheltering under the blood of the lamb. But He struck down the firstborn son of every house that did not trust in the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb.
We saw last week how this was a dramatic presentation of the cross of Christ. Jesus is the Lamb of God. And as the Lamb, He was sacrificed at Passover 2000 years ago, so that whoever trusts in His blood is sheltered from the coming judgement.
And last week we reflected on Passover about the meaning of salvation. At Passover we see that salvation is not about the LORD inspecting the inside of the house to see who’s worthy of salvation. It’s only about seeing the lamb’s blood on the outside. It’s not about what’s on the inside, it’s what’s on the outside that counts. It’s not about the quality of your life, it’s about the quality of your Lamb’s death! So it was with those little lambs, and so it IS with the eternal LAMB of God.
But I wonder whether that left some of you with a question. Perhaps you were thinking this: if salvation is simply sheltering in Christ our Lamb, doesn’t that mean we’re just left in our sins? Sheltered from judgement, great. But doesn’t this mean we’re still in darkness and slavery? If you end at Passover then you’ve got fire-insurance for the judgement but basically you’re still stuck in Egypt.
That’s where we left off last week. But this week we’ll learn the truth:
We’re not just sheltered, we’re brought out.
Passover means the end of condemnation, it’s the end of fear, it’s the end of any prospect of judgement. But it’s not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of our Exodus. We’re not just sheltered, we’re also brought out.
Because what’s the next thing that happened to the Israelites after Passover? Drum roll: the next thing that happened was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Oooo. I know you’re tingling with anticipation just at the thought of the feast of unleavened bread. If your trembling fingers can handle the excitement please turn to Exodus 13 verse 3 and we’ll see why the Feast of Unleavened Bread is crucial to understanding our salvation.
Exodus 13 verse 3 – Moses is speaking on the day of Passover and he says:
3 …”Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.
Now look on to v6:
6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders.
The feast of Passover was ALWAYS followed by the feast of unleavened bread. After Passover you MUST be yeast-free for a week. Why?
Well think about the night of the Passover. They ate the lamb with yeast-free bread – unleavened bread. Chapter 12:39 tells us why – they were in a hurry.
If you want to leave Egypt then you can’t be waiting for your bread to rise. If anyone put yeast in their bread they’d be saying – “I want to enjoy the lamb AND I want to stay in Egypt.”
But you cannot do that – Passover means no yeast which means rejecting anything that ties you to Egypt. We don’t benefit from the lamb so we can enjoy Egypt. We benefit from the lamb so we can leave Egypt.
You can see how this applies to us can’t you? The cross doesn’t free us TO sin – it frees us FROM sin. We don’t say to Jesus our Lamb, “Thanks for your death, now I can stay in sin.” We say “Thanks for your death now I’m leaving sin.” People of the Lamb will be people determined to get rid of Egypt living. That’s the real meaning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. You can study 1 Corinthians 5 for more. But time’s flying so let’s look on to chapter 13 verse 17 to see how the LORD brings them out.
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea.
Here’s the straight route to the promised land. If you keep the Mediterranean on your left, keep going, you can’t miss it. But the LORD says, watch out for the Philistines. I’ll take you another route. So this is the route He sends them on. He sends them straight for the Red Sea. Can anyone see a problem here? The Jews are not a maritime people. They have no boats with them. And this is the route God sends them on. So, chapter 14:1 the LORD leads them to camp by the Red Sea in a valley. Mountain to the left, mountain to the right, sea in front of them, and what’s behind them?
From v3 we read about how the LORD stirs up Pharaoh to chase them! Extraordinary. So verse10:
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, [can you imagine this in your minds eye] and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD.
What on earth is the LORD doing? He has led them into a trap. And He has stirred up a murderous enemy to chase them! What would you be feeling in this situation? Here’s what the Israelites say – v11:
11 Hey Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt,`Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Verse 11 is tremendous sarcasm. Jewish comedy has a very long history. You can almost hear Woody Allen or Mel Brooks saying this line. Here’s the joke: Egypt’s got a lot of graves – famous graves, the pyramids. And if you believe the film the Ten Commandments the Israelites had been working on them. So they say to Moses – what a shame, if you’d wanted us to die, we know some great graves back in Egypt. Pity we’ve all got to die in the desert!
So first they’re sarcastic. Then they just lie. Verse 12 – they had never said “leave us alone to serve the Egyptians.” When they were in Egypt they were desperate to be saved. But now with Pharaoh bearing down on them they say those very telling words:
It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Under trial they start to see their past, their present and their future all wrong. They think back to Egypt and they have rose coloured glasses – they re-imagine Egypt to be the good old days. They look at the present and all they see is desert and armies and Red Sea and hunger and thirst. They look to the future – and they can only imagine death.
Is that how we think when trials come?
Well here’s another perspective on these trials – look at verse 4: The LORD says
“I will gain glory for myself.”
Here’s what’s really going on. The LORD’s glory is all about the salvation of His people. He’s not into appearing as Big and Powerful for the sake of it. His glory is the salvation of His people. But the LORD gains MUCH glory when His people are saved against the odds. There is more glory in going through the Red Sea than in sauntering by the Mediterannean!
We can see why that’s true can’t we? The Red Sea crossing with all its fearfulness and trials and awe is more glorious than a Mediterranean saunter. We can look back from the safe distance of 3 and a half millennia and make that calculation. Well then, let’s get dangerously close. What about in our own lives? We don’t really want a Red Sea do we? We want a seaside stroll. “God why can’t you lead me along a Mediterannean saunter.” But the LORD is committed to bringing us out through trials.
[SLIDE – through trials]
There is so much more divine glory in going through hardships. Our testimony to the LORD is all the greater for the trials He sustains us through.
Paul says in Acts 14:22:
We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God
This is the way God saves. He brings us out THROUGH TRIALS. What trials are you going through? This is the opportunity for the LORD to show Himself glorious.
Let’s watch Him do it for the Israelites.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
[SLIDE – red sea]
You could translate v21 as “The strong ancient Spirit blew on the waters.” And if we’re thinking “ancient Spirit” and the “waters”, we’re perhaps thinking about the Spirit of God who hovered over the waters back in Genesis 1. And we’re thinking about how creation involved the dividing of the waters so that dry ground appeared. What we’re seeing in Exodus 14 is the divine power of creation being unleashed for salvation.
But the same power that means life for Israel means death for Egypt. Look on to Exodus 15 verse 9 to read what the Egyptians were saying to themselves as they saw this divine miracle:
9 “The enemy boasted, `I will pursue, I will overtake them. I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them. I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’ 10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
There is such poetic justice here. The King of Egypt had once wanted to drown Israelites in the water. Now he is drowned. Pharaoh pursued them to death, but he’s the one who dies. It’s the bloodlust of the Egyptians that cost them their own blood.
We are not meant to pity the Egyptians, not at all. These soldiers were the enforcers of a centuries long genocide. And they had entered the Red Sea to destroy God’s people once and for all. And destruction is what they reaped – for themselves. So their judgement does not lead to lament but rejoicing.
Some of you remember VE day. The end of a number of years of oppression, hardship and genocide. This was the end of four hundred years of oppression, hardship and genocide. The evil perpetrators have been justly and poetically judged. And Israelites who once were in darkness, now are in the light. They once were slaves and now they are free. They once were lost and now are found. What else can they do but sing. Chapter 15, verse 1:
“I will sing to the LORD, for HE has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
They rejoice in their salvation. And then in verse 13 they turn to the future:
13 “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.
The Israelites know that they’ve crossed over once and for all from the old life. They have been definitively brought out. And brought out through trials. But as we close, they know that the story is not over yet.
They’ve been brought out, but they’re not yet in God’s holy dwelling. They’ve left Egypt, but they’re not in the promised land yet. In fact – where are they? They’re in a desert.
[SLIDE – desert]
And by the end of chapter 15 that stark truth begins to dawn on them. 2 million people, freed from slavery, but they are now the biggest refugee crisis in human history.
The LORD brings us out, through trials and into deeper dependence.
[SLIDE – deeper dependence]
That’s what we’re learning.
And remember: Israel’s story is our story. We too have been delivered from sin and Satan and self and we are headed for God’s holy dwelling. But we’re not there yet are we? The LORD saves us out of sin but He does not save us out of suffering. When we trust Christ and cross over from death to life, He doesn’t immediately teleport us to heaven. Instead we are brought out into a wilderness time.
In the bible, the wilderness (the desert) is a place of hardship, testing and trial – and that’s what our Christian lives are like. We’re not yet in God’s holy dwelling. If we’ve trusted Christ then our eternity is secure but in the meantime we are called into a deeper dependence.
Read chapter 16:1 with me:
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Grumbling. It’s the characteristic sin of the Israelites in the wilderness. Grumbling.
And it goes hand in hand with those rose tinted glasses doesn’t it? “Egypt was great, it was feasting and fullness.” That’s how they remember it when they’re in the desert. It’s complete garbage of course, Egypt was slavery and genocide. But when Jesus leads you into a desert place you re-imagine your non-Christian past as feasting and fullness and you look at non-Christians around you and imagine that they’re all blissfully happy millionaires. You compare… and you grumble.
And here’s what’s amazing, the Israelites thought they were just grumbling against Moses and Aaron but we’re told that the LORD takes their grumbling personally in v7, v8, v9 and v11 – it says the LORD heard the Israelites’ grumbling. They were moaning to one another, and they were blaming Moses. But the LORD took offence. Isn’t that sobering, when we think about having a grumble, having a moan, complaining.
The bible is full of complaints that are addressed TO God – they’re called prayers. And they are wonderful and godly things, the Psalms are full of complaining prayers. “LORD this is terrible, I can’t handle it, what are you going to do?” That’s a perfectly good prayer. But moaning to one another in unbelief, wallowing in a complaining spirit – that’s grumbling. And the LORD takes offence.
Of course He took offence, verse 3 – it portrays Him as a murderer, when actually He’s saving them.
So what does the LORD do to these grumblers?
It’s astonishing really. He showers grace on the grumblers.
Look at chapter 16:4 – I will rain down… what – fire from heaven? Righteous anger? I will rain down thunderbolts on their camp? No – I will rain down bread not baked with human hands. I will feed them with the bread of angels (as Psalm 78 calls it) for as long as it takes to get them to my holy dwelling.
Verse 31 says that manna tastes of honey. Now that’s interesting because the place they’re headed is a land of milk and honey. Their future is a future of honey. And how does the LORD sustain them in the meantime – little tokens of the promised land. Little pledges of the life to come. Day by day they are fed with the bread of heaven. This is the grace that rains down on the grumblers.
And it teaches them deeper dependence on their LORD.
Look at this lesson in dependence in v19:
19 Then Moses said to them, “No-one is to keep any of it until morning.” 20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.
The LORD gives them all they need for today. But if they horde their stuff for tomorrow, it rots. What a lesson!
Here’s another lesson from v23. The LORD institutes the Sabbath and tells them “I’m going to provide double the manna on Friday, so take Saturday off.” But,
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.
What would you have been like at these lessons in dependence? Are you a hoarder? Would you have collected more than a day’s worth? You’d have seen it rot. Are you unable to rest? Would you have gone out on the Sabbath to gather more? You’d have found none. Would you have been content for the day, or forever worrying about tomorrow?
This discipleship programme for the Israelites was leading them into deeper dependence. Daily dependence. And it’s what all of us need.
We’re all in wilderness times of testing before we get to the LORD’s holy dwelling, and we must learn deeper dependence. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray: “Give us today our daily bread.” Jesus applies the lessons of manna to all of life. He assumes that we are a wilderness people and that we need the Father’s daily provision. And notice we’re not to pray ‘Give us today our bread for next year, or for next month or even for the next week.’ It says “Give us today our daily bread.”
Do I depend on the LORD for today’s needs? Do I leave tomorrow in His hands? Well Jesus has done something extraordinary to reassure us that we can depend on Him.
In John chapter 6, Jesus AGAIN encounters some grumbling Israelites. And they’re in a wilderness place. And they’re hungry. And Jesus feeds the multitudes miraculously with bread. He couldn’t say it any clearer: “I AM the LORD of Exodus 16; I AM the One who accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness” But then He goes one step further and says to them “I AM the Bread of Life.” He doesn’t just provide – He IS the Provision.
Jesus is the true Provision we need day by day. And He says, “This bread is my flesh which I give for the life of the world.”
Think of the cross – that was Jesus given to the world like bread to the hungry. That was the true grace for grumblers like you and me. We deserved a thunderbolt and we got the Bread of Heaven. And if you look to Jesus, broken on the cross for you, can you really doubt His provision? No matter what the trial you’re going through, no matter what the wilderness experience, look to the cross and see what kind of Provider your LORD is. Though it cost Him His life, He gave you His very flesh and blood – do you really think He’ll withhold what you need in your wilderness times? He was torn apart for your salvation – do you really think He wants to see you fall in the desert? No! He is a gift to the whole world, as free and available as bread for the starving. Do you think He’s stingey? He’s not stingey. It’s His very nature to give. You can depend on Him throughout your wilderness wandering.
So look to the cross and trust your LORD. He has not just sheltered you by His death – through His death and resurrection He has brought you out, through trials into deeper dependence. Continue to look to your LORD who was crucified for you and know that Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion.”