Exodus 16:1 - 17:16
Though a pleasant and refreshing spot, Elim was not the permanent resting place to which Israel had been called. So it had to be left behind just one month after they had come out of Egypt, since it was on the fourteenth day of the first month that the passover lamb was slain. Immediately they entered the wilderness of Sin the murmurings of the people broke out afresh.
Not water but food was now the urgent necessity. By this time doubtless all that they could have brought out of Egypt had been consumed, and in the wilderness there was no visible source of supply. Sad to say, the people were walking by sight, and though the marvels of both the passover night and the passage of the Red Sea had taken place within the month, the power of their God was completely forgotten. Only the flesh pots of Egypt were remembered, and they reproached Moses and Aaron. They saw nothing before them but death, and would have preferred it in Egypt rather than in the wilderness.
The people were not yet formally put under the law, hence the Lord at once intervened in mercy, though by the bread from heaven there would be a preliminary testing to see whether they would walk in His law when given or whether they mould not. This we see in verse 4 It was made very plain to them however that their complaints were really directed against God and not against His servants, and that God would take up the challenge they had flung down.
This therefore immediately took place by the appearing of the glory of the Lord in the cloud, when He spoke to Moses, promising that by evening they should have flesh to eat and be filled with bread by the next morning. They were still being treated not on the ground of law but of grace.
The word of the Lord was fulfilled by an extraordinary flight of quails that evening in the first place. This bird is known for its migratory habits and being easy to capture, but the immense numbers of this flight settling on the camp gave a miraculous turn to the episode. Nothing more is said here as to them, but when under the law this miracle was repeated, it was followed by judgment, as we see in Numbers 11: 31-34.
Then, in the second place, there was in the morning the falling of the manna round about the host. This was a miracle not of a moment but one that continued all the wilderness journey. The miracle of the quails is dealt with in part of one verse only, but all the remainder of tour chapter is occupied with details of the manna inasmuch as it is a type finding its fulfilment in Christ, as the wilderness food of His saints. The Lord's own words in John 6 make this manifest. The manna was the type, but He is the "true bread from heaven." Again He said, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven."
Let us notice a few features that are marked in the type. First of all the manna fell during the quiet hours of the night and not amidst the heat and bustle of the day. Silently and unseen by the eyes of men it fell, and only revealed itself lying on the dew when the morning was come. It is not mere fancy when it is asserted that we Christians need times of retirement and quiet that the spiritual manna may descend upon our souls.
Secondly, in appearance it was "a small round thing," so small as to be compared to the tiny particles of hoar frost. By coming down from heaven into Manhood, so that He might give His flesh for the life of the world, the Son of God did indeed make Himself small and of no account in the eyes of men. Moreover it was round, and not angular and uneven. Even so, in Christ once humbled here, there was manifest an even-ness that was produced by perfection in every detail.
Thirdly, as we see in verse 31, it was like a certain seed—not a crystal, which though attractive is but lifeless matter, but a seed which has life—it was white in its purity, and in taste it had the sweetness of honey. It was not honey though when made into wafers for eating it had the sweetness of honey. In all these things we can see a foreshadowing of the purity and sweetness found in the humbled Christ, who became through His death the true seed of life for all His people.
The way in which it was to be gathered is very instructive. There was enough for all but it was to be gathered according to the capacity of the individual to assimilate it. Verse 13 reads almost as though the manna had ability to accommodate itself to each person, so that he that gathered much had nothing over and he that gathered little had no lack. It is often said that we enjoy Christ and His grace according to our capacity and our diligence, and here we have in type the basis for such a remark.
We inserted the word, diligence, as well as, capacity, because of verses 19 and 20. The manna was given according to capacity and was to be assimilated up to capacity, so that none was left until the next morning. There were some who did not use diligence to eat all they gathered and, leaving it till the next day, it bred worms and stank. Thus it became worse than useless. We all know the proverb, "The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting" (Prov. 12: 27) but here we have the case of the slothful man who did not eat all the manna he gathered, with a very unpleasing result. We may make an application of this, if we say that what we gather of Christ from the Scriptures is for our immediate food and enjoyment, and not something to be put aside for display to others. If we treat it thus it will only stink when we display it.
But every week there was one exception to this. They gathered it every morning, but on the sixth morning there was a double supply and the half could be retained so that there was no gathering on the sabbath. Before the sun waxed hot it had to be gathered. Thus from the outset God emphasized the rest of the sabbath day which was to be the sign of the covenant shortly to be established. It had been "given" for man's benefit, even from the days of creation. But in this matter the people were careless. Some retained the manna when they should not, and some transgressed in going forth on the sabbath, expecting to find it, and they did not.
In the light of all this, how remarkable is the instruction to Moses recorded in verses 32-34. A small pot—an omer, the tenth part of an ephah—was to be filled with manna and laid up before the Lord. In due time Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, and thus it was preserved, without stinking or breeding worms, from generation to generation and from century to century.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, as is well known, furnishes us in several places with details not mentioned in the Old Testament. Here is one of them—"the golden pot that had manna" (Exodus 9: 4). It was deposited in the Ark, which was made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, speaking of the Deity and Humanity of Christ. So similarly, the manna typifying the marvellous grace as manifested in His Humanity, as come down from heaven, was laid up before God in a golden vessel, which typified His Deity.
The promise to the overcomer of Pergamos, "to eat of the hidden manna" (Rev. 2: 17), refers to this, and indicates that the reality typified will endure for ever. When in our Lord Jesus Christ the Deity entered into Humanity and was manifested before the eyes of men, there was such a display of excellence and beauty as shall be remembered for ever. Tested, as it was, by the malignity of the adversary and the sin and sorrow of man, these things served as a dark background, throwing its brightness into relief. It is indeed true that,
"The touch that heals the broken heart
Is never felt above,"
yet the remembrance of the gracious and powerful touch, that once did the healing, will be the worshipful joy of saints through an eternal day.
Another move forward now took place, as we learn in the opening verse of Exodus 17. Rephidim was reached, and again there was an emergency. At Marah there was bitter water; here was no water at all. Again the people proved themselves to be a generation in whom was no faith, and therefore no ability to profit by their past experience of the power of God. They demand water from Moses with bitter upbraiding, so bitter as to be almost ready to stone him. Moses however, as a man of faith, knew where his resource lay, and referred the matter to the Lord.
The rod of Moses had become the symbol of the Divine authority that had been conferred upon him, and from this point we find the word used in Scripture with this significance, as, for instance, "The Lord shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion: rule Thou . . ." (Ps. 110: 2). There was the rock in Horeb on which Jehovah would stand, and with the rod Moses was to smite the rock.
Now, remarkably enough, this is the first mention of a rock in Scripture, and as 1 Corinthians 10: 4 tells us, "that rock was Christ." The rock being smitten, the waters gushed forth; a clear type of the Holy Spirit, as a river of living water flowing forth as a result of the death of Christ. Here was all the water that the people needed, furnished in grace in spite of theircomplainings.
We cannot refrain from a slight digression. As we read Matthew 16: 18, again we have to say, "that Rock was Christ," the Son of the living God. How great the error of those who imagine that the rock was Peter! Why, a little lower down we find Peter trapped into doing the devil's work, and wishing to hinder that smiting of the Rock in His death, that would bring to pass the flowing forth of the Holy Spirit. No adverse power can prevail against that church which is built by the Son of the living God upon Himself, the Rock, from whom proceeds the Holy Spirit of God.
But to return to our chapter, Moses saw that the people's cry of unbelief was in effect a tempting of the Lord, inviting from His hand some drastic display of His might to show that He was amongst them. The fact that He displayed His power in an act of mercy, and not one of judgment, did not alter the fact that it was a tempting. If there is one thing worse than unbelief it is self-satisfied presumption, such as we find in Micah 3: 11. At the beginning of their national history Israel doubted if God was amongst them, when He was. Towards theend of their history they were dogmatically sure that He was amongst them, when He was not, and they were ripe for judgment.
In the previous chapter we had Israel hungry and crying out for bread. In contrast to this, we find in Matthew 4, that our Lord was tested by hunger in the wilderness, but waited on God and would not act for Himself. Now we have the people tempting God at Massah and Meribah, whereas the Lord, when faced with the second temptation in the wilderness, quoted, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." In Exodus 32, we find Israel worshipping the golden calf, but in contrast to this the Lord replied to the third temptation by saying, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." Israel had 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus 40 days, but He re-trod their wilderness way, and where they fatted He displayed His perfection.
The closing section of Exodus 17 is occupied with the record of the first fighting in the people's history. At the Red Sea they saw the Lord fighting on their behalf, and they had but to enter upon the fruits of His victory. Now Amalek appears and they have to arm themselves for the battle. Amalek was descended from Esau, the man of fleshly appetite, who for a morsel of meat sold his birthright; and so he becomes very aptly a type of the flesh.
Now let us recapitulate a little. In type, Israel had been sheltered from judgment by the blood of the lamb, and redeemed from the world and Satan at the Red Sea. They had been miraculously fed, and now through the smitten rock the gushing water, typical of the Spirit, had been given. Immediately after Amalek, typical of the flesh, appears. How fitting all this is! We read that, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5: 17), So it is not until as believers we receive the Holy Spirit that this conflict begins. In our unconverted days the flesh reigned supreme, and its power in our lives was unchallenged.
Many Christians are very disturbed in mind when, soon after conversion, this conflict begins within them. But at least it is a sign that they are indwelt by the Spirit of God. Now Amalek was a very subtle foe, as we discover when we read Deuteronomy 25: 18, and in our experience the flesh acts just in this way, attacking us in what we may call our weak points—though these may often be what we may fancy to be our strong ones! Now God put the sentence of death, in its extremest form, on Amalek, as we see in verse 14, just as God has "condemned sin in the flesh" in the death of Christ.
Still in this conflict Israel had to fight, but under the leadership of Joshua, the man who at the end of the 40 years was to be the captain who led them into Palestine. This is the first time we meet with his name, and from this point onwards he is presented to us as a man of faith, and consequently as a man of conflict in a variety of ways.
In this incident he is seen acting under the direction of Moses, deriving the power through him. Moses was on high; Joshua was below leading the fighting men. The fortunes of the day hung upon the intercessor on high who, being but a man, soon became weary with his hands lifted up to heaven. It is easy to discern the spiritual application of this. In our conflict today all depends upon our great Intercessor on high. Truly the Spirit is also an Intercessor with us here below, but He is with us as "another Comforter," who represents the Man, Christ Jesus, who is out of our sight, having gone on high. The interceding hands of our great Priest on high never hang down with weariness; thanks be to God!
Amalek was repulsed and discomfited but he was not yet utterly destroyed, as he will be. The victory was a great one and commemorated by an altar, Jehovah-nissi, for the victory belonged to Him. This fact too has a voice for us. There is power for us to keep the sentence of death on the flesh, so that we do not fulfil its lust, and are preserved from doing the things that otherwise we might, but it still remains in us, though we have received the Spirit. Hence the Spirit still lusts against it from generation to generation. A time is coming when it will be blotted out from under heaven, but that time is not yet.
Even today there are to be found some who foolishly and falsely imagine that for them the flesh has been utterly blotted out, and, in those who hold it, this idea much distorts the understanding of what the flesh in its subtilty really involves. It is too often reduced into meaning only the grosser sins of the body, to the exclusion of many more refined and less obvious sins. Let us never fall into this snare, but humbly acknowledge that the flesh is not only a subtle but also an implacable foe within us, and that only as we walk in the Spirit will the victory be ours.
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