The nation of Israel seems to go from one life-threatening situation to another in the Exodus scroll. From slavery in Egypt to being cornered between a hostile army and a vast body of water, Israel’s God has delivered them from everything so far. Now in the wilderness, they face a series of three tests. Will they trust Yahweh to deliver them again? In this episode, Tim and Jon explore Israel’s testing in the wilderness.
All three of these stories are about tests of trust. When Yahweh’s people don’t trust him, they get demanding and arrogant, and they take their salvation or deliverance for granted. They take their status as God’s chosen ones for granted, and they use it as a platform to accuse God of not delivering.
In part one (00:00-9:05), Tim and Jon review the theme of the test we’ve been tracing through the second movement of Exodus. In the last episode, we explored Exodus 13-15, where Yahweh tests Israel at the Sea of Reeds. When Yahweh tests people, he doesn’t place extra obstacles in front of them in some vindictive way. Rather, when Yahweh tests people, he invites them to trust him in the midst of circumstances that seem impossible.
Israel chooses to trust Yahweh at the Sea of Reeds. Safely on the other side, they face three tests in which they have to choose whether they will trust Yahweh when they lack water, food, and water again. Each story uses the word “test” specifically, and in each story they grumble against God and Moses.
In part two (9:05-25:45), Tim and Jon pick up Israel’s journey as they leave the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 15:22. After just three days in the wilderness, Israel has no water. In the Bible, “three days” almost always indicates a test and a confrontation with death.
Worried about the lack of water, the people complain to Moses, who intercedes on their behalf to Yahweh. Yahweh shows Moses a tree that he casts (all or part of) into undrinkable water, which then becomes good to drink. It’s a small story packed with Eden imagery. In Genesis 1-2, God plants a garden in the middle of the wilderness, and Adam and Eve have a choice to trust God’s word or not—a test, at a tree, involving food/nourishment. It’s like the nation of Israel is back at the tree of knowledge all over again. Moses is even wielding a staff that was once a snake. Here, each of these images is reversed as Moses uses the symbols of death to make life, guided by Yahweh the Creator.
Because of Moses’ intercession, Israel passes the first wilderness test.
In part three (25:45-44:10), Tim and Jon explore Israel’s second test in the wilderness, when they run out of food (Exod. 16).
Exodus 16:4 Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from the skies for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in my instruction.”
For the third time in the Torah, rain falls. First, rain falls and produces the flood. Later, fire rains from heaven to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Now the skies rain bread (manna) for Israel’s provision, but there’s a test—will Israel trust that when they rest instead of gathering bread, Yahweh will have given them enough? Only some of the Israelites trust Yahweh’s word, and on the seventh day, many go out to gather manna anyway, incurring both Moses’ and Yahweh’s anger.
In part four (44:10-55:30), Tim and Jon discuss Exodus 17, the third wilderness test, in which Israel once again finds themselves without water.
Exodus 17:2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”
Israel finds themselves once again in a life-or-death situation, where they immediately fail the test by not trusting Yahweh and then, in fact, put Yahweh to the test. The way they test Yahweh is all about their posture towards him because of who they believe him to be. The issue is not that they asked for water. The issue is they demanded it, as if Yahweh didn’t intend to provide for them.
Up to this point in the narrative, Yahweh has delivered them from slavery and saved their lives again and again. He calls Israel his “firstborn son” (Exod. 4:22), and he has shown himself to be a loving, present Father, not a vindictive or removed dictator. By grumbling and demanding that he provide, Israel is revealing that they don’t trust Yahweh at all.
In part five (55:30-1:11:21), the guys summarize the third portion of the second movement of Exodus (Exod. 17:8-18:27).
In this section of the narrative, two noteworthy events take place. First, Israel fights Amalek and wins. Then, in Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite, pays them a visit.
Exodus 18:10-12 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh … Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods …” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law before God.
These stories form a stark contrast to each other. In both stories, members of the surrounding people groups are polarized by Yahweh’s presence. In the case of the Amalekites, they’re intensely hostile. Jethro, on the other hand, ends up worshiping Yahweh. Jethro and the Amalekites both respond to what they know about the exodus event. The Amalekites respond out of fear. But in the case of Jethro and other members of the nations who want to be in Yahweh’s family, there’s a seat at the table ready for them.
Each of the tests Israel undergoes is designed to make them into a nation that trusts Yahweh’s words and lives by them in such a way that they usher other nations into Yahweh’s covenant blessings.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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