One of the most famous stories of the Bible is the Exodus, God’s redemptive plan for His people. The authors of Scripture poetically compare, contrast, and allude to this event probably more than any other single event in history, and rightly so. The significance of the Exodus event is enormous. Not only does the Exodus serve a foundational role in fulfilling the promises of nationhood to Israel as promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it also serves a symbolic role for us to understand that God has rescued us from the bondage of slavery to sin and called us to be His bondservants. But what about the rest of the story? What about the events following the grand exit from Egypt? The latter half of the book of Exodus is told less often. The latter half of the story is about trials, heartbreak, tears of sadness, and tears of joy. Nevertheless the story must surely be told! We must understanding the great God we serve, the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.
The Sea: So put yourself on the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Reeds. You scramble up the beach being chased by the sound of horse hooves beating, whips cracking, wheels thundering and men yelling. You collapse on all fours in desperate attempt to catch your breath. The wind howls and the waves crash all around. The last time you looked Pharaoh’s army was charging toward you through the highway in the sea. But the wind suddenly shifted. As you ran it pushed at your back propelling you forward between the walls of water, but now the breeze blows with ferocity back toward you, forcing your head down. You squint and turn your head to shield your face from the blowing sand. The sea mist sprays across your face and you wipe your eyes to see torrents and rapids colliding against each other and slapping the coastline, shooting white water upward like a fountain. But the sound of men and chariots are absent in your ears. The violence in the water begins to dissipate and the waves tap each other down and settle to a gentle, rolling current as if nothing had happened. The stormy wind reduces to a whistling breeze and the host of redeemed slaves stare in baffled silence at the sea. The melody of Moses’ voice breaks the silence, “I will sing to Yehovah, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. Yehovah is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” He continues, “Mi kamokah ba’elim Yehovah?” (Who is like You, Yehovah, among the gods?).
Marah: You have been rescued! The tether to the Egyptians has been broken. You walk with the great multitude into the desert, following Moses where his god leads him. A day of walking passes, as does another. The hovering sun bakes your back and the heat from the sand rises into your nostrils. Your lips are chapped and your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth. Someone shouts, “I see water!” and cheers of relief spread through the masses. “Water! There’s water!” Many elbow their way through the crowd and rush toward the body of water only to find after crouching down and sipping some in their mouths that it stings their lips from its bitterness. Cries of exasperation go up from the camp. You are frustrated. You are weary. Griping, you look to Moses for a solution. Moses looks up to heaven and then throws a log into the lake and says, “Drink”. First one, then another approaches and dips his hand in. They drink deeply. The water is sweet, and soon enough, all come to drink and are satisfied. Filled and rejuvenated, Moses leads you to make camp nearby in the shade of a grove of palm trees, a place called Elim. The air is fresh as spring water bubbles up out of the ground. You pitch your tent and fall into it. Your body tingles with refreshment as you rest in the coolness of that place, and you very quickly drift off to sleep.
Hunger: Several weeks pass as you camp amongst the palm trees but the day eventually arrives when you are instructed to move on. It’s a beautiful place and you don’t want to leave, but Moses tells the community to pack up and march further into the wilderness so reluctantly you obey. Further and further you travel from the shade of Elim and its fresh springs of water, and you find yourself once again in the desert surrounded by wasteland. The Arabian sun baking your tent reminds you of that fact. Your feet ache from walking. Your body aches from traveling. And the growling of your stomach has become all too familiar. You remember the food prepared each sunrise in Egypt for the slaves. Was it great? No, but at least rations were made. And each day they were ready so you could eat before you left for the long-day’s work in the mud pits. Now the options are slim to none. The unleavened bread from the night you left Egypt is long gone. Yes, you have animals you could eat, but they’re valuable. They’re your wealth and your livelihood. If you slaughter them all, how will you survive? How will you acquire more? Yes, the life of slavery was bitter, but life in the desert is just so inconvenient! You tell yourself you must hold on to your commodities if you are to prosper out here in the middle of nowhere. After all, Moses is the one who started all this trouble! He and the supposed “god of your fathers” were the ones who dragged you out of Egypt so they’re the ones that need to fix this problem! A group of you storm into Moses’ tent and demand accountability. “What are we even doing out here?” you stammer in desperation. “This doesn’t look like any ‘promising land’ to me, and milk and honey aren’t exactly flowing from anywhere I can see! Is this what we left Egypt for? Will we all die before we see the fulfillment of any promise?! There is heartfelt sorrow in Moses’ gaze and as you continue to speak his thoughtful eyes sink in disappointment. Without responding he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes and bows his head.
Quail: Several minutes of awkward silence pass. You look at your friends and roll your eyes in aggravation. Then suddenly Moses rises to his feet and briskly walks to the door of the tent. Flinging the door flaps open with a push he calls out in a loud voice, “Listen to me, all Israel! You shall know that it was Yehovah who brought you out of Egypt when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him.” You and your friends look at him stunned as he walks past you back into the tent. Shaking your head and turning, you rise up through the exit and your eyes are drawn immediately to the desert. There’s the cloud! There’s the majestic, white pillar that went before you into the Sea and then shifted to the back of the multitude, guarding you from the Egyptian army! All Israel sees it, as if it became visible to each one simultaneously. Small black dots begin to emerge from behind the cloud. More and more appear and very soon you realize it to be a flock of birds! So many approach and fly directly overhead that the sky above you becomes dark with fluttering activity. Cheering erupts all around you as the quail land in the camp and are easily caught. The sun sinks behind the rocky plain and feasting ensues, the evening filled with celebration.
Manna: You wake in the morning and as your eyes take in the daybreak one slow blink at a time you reminisce in your mind over the bizarre dream you had the night before about a mysterious flock of quail. Rolling over you feel your full belly and your eyes burst open. It wasn’t a dream! The words of Moses spoken the previous day come immediately to mind and you jump up from bed. You scurry to the front of your tent and just as you reach the door you step on something with a soft crunch. You throw open the tent covering and your eyes are blinded, not by the sun but by the reflection of the sun off the earth. Bustling and clamoring and laughing are heard in every direction and as your eyes adjust you see the reason. Littered across the entire camp are layers upon layers of fluffy, beige flakes as far as your eyes can see. Your countrymen are out and about observing it and collecting it to eat. You see many of them leaning over to shovel piles of whatever it is into their baskets, and taking a hand full of the stuff here and there to snack as they gather. You bend over, scoop up a small pile into your hand, and toss it into your mouth. You can’t help but crack a smile and chuckle to yourself. It’s bread flowing from heaven which is colored like milk and tastes like honey…