Exodus Day Thirty-Seven
August 20, 2020, 5:00 AM

In the Wilderness
Exodus 16:23-28

“This is what the LORD has commanded:
'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD;
bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil,
and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'
So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them,
and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it.
Moses said, 'Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD;
today you will not find it in the field.
Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day,
which is a Sabbath, there will be none.'
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather,
but they found none.
And the LORD said to Moses,
'How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?'”

“This is what the LORD commanded” in the wilderness – and that’s what the people of God did in the wilderness. In the wilderness, a time of faithfulness… but mostly a time of faithlessness. This current example, a scenario played out way too often. In this instance, manna provided, the instruction simple and straight-forward: Gather as much as you need each day – cook it, boil it, fry it, steam it – what have you… only don’t leave it on the overnight lest it stinky and wormy on the morrow. Although, there was an exception. The day preceding the Sabbath, the day of rest – the manna collected on that day will be good on the Sabbath. Collect a double portion, and that portion won’t stinky and wormy. The only exception to the rule. Simple, right? Nah. “On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none”!

Now there were, as I alluded to a few sentences ago, some spectacular acts of faithfulness. The people knew how to praise their God in times of plenty and comfort. The worship following the Red Sea must have been a raucous joyfest. They did accept, finally, the leadership of Moses and Aaron, though that was tested many times throughout the journey. The worship at the foot of Mount Sinai was most awe-inspiring as they came into the 360-degree, earth-shaking, smoke-emitting (not a fog machine!) experience of the Holy. During the covenant-making meal with Moses and the elders of Israel in the Sinai Dining Hall, they saw God and lived (Ex. 24:9-11). That was cool! And finally, the faithfulness of the people when the tabernacle was being constructed— the people just kept giving; and giving; and giving. So much so, Moses had to “restrain them.” “Please stop giving!” “We have enough!” (Ex. 36:1-7) When’s the last time you heard of that problem during a church stewardship campaign? There were times of faithfulness. But *sigh* the times of faithfulness were overshadowed, unfortunately, by the grumbling, the murmuring, the complaining, the whining, and the hard-heartedness.

The “wilderness” is a great example of how biblical imagery can convey both positive and negative examples. On the positive side, the wilderness represented a place of solitude— a place of connecting with God. Think of Moses when he flees from Egypt, and he has forty years in the wilderness learning how to be a shepherd, and coming face to face with the holiness of God in the common wilderness brush, albeit an amazing burning-but-not-consumed bush. Even today, in the Judean wilderness, there are hundreds of monasteries out in the middle of nowhere, with communal monks and hermit monks seeking purity and cleansing from the material world. Desiring nothing but nearness to God in the barren wilderness. Conversely, the wilderness is also a place said to be inhabited by demons. A place of curse. No life. Death. Barren-ness. It signifies a cut-off from society. The scapegoat on the Day of Atonement bears the sins of the people in the wilderness, removing the collective sins of the community.

And yet, there is a third meaning tucked into wilderness habitation— that of testing and preparation and purification. For Israel, it appears all three meanings apply. They weren’t ready to be a “Kingdom of Priests” just yet. They needed the time of purification in the wilderness. To learn the hard lessons. After the failure to enter the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea (Numbers 13-14); their bodies would be buried in the sandy soil of the wilds, never reaching the sweet, promised Destination of destinations. The wilderness was the test; revealing the condition of their hearts.

The wilderness years of Israel exposed a great need. Israel wouldn’t have a heart of faithfulness unless God, as the incarnation of faithfulness, gave them a heart, personally. And this he did in Christ. It is not coincidental that when Jesus began his earthly ministry, he returned to the very place where Israel entered the Promised Land with Joshua. Jesus, the Firstborn Son of God went to the lowest place on earth to be coronated (anointed) for his vicarious mission as Israel— for the Israel of God (read Church). He would enter the Promised Land by that same river route; and be faithful unto the Cross and on the Cross to death. Not coincidental either, that the first item of holy business taken up would be sojourning in the Judean wilderness for forty days— corresponding to Israel’s forty years of testing in the wilderness. Traditionally, the location where Jesus spent the forty days was a barren cave high above Jericho, the Mount of Temptation. (Pictured below from the ancient tel ruins of the Jericho Joshua destroyed.)

The cave, now fronted by a monastery, looked eastward out over the Jordan River entry point and the plains of Moab. One can surely imagine Jesus looking to that place and praying fervently for his people; for those he came to save. Knowing full well the perilous mission that lay ahead. Not coincidental – nothing coincidental in Scripture! – that the devil tempts Jesus three times, and three times Jesus refutes the devil with the words God gave Moses to give to the people in the wilderness.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
And Jesus answered, “It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.'” (Luke 4:3-4).

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,
and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” (Luke 4:5-8).

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Luke 4:9-12).

Three times, the number of God. Three-fold test, three-fold obedience. The Firstborn Son obeying God and securing life for his spiritual descendants in faith. It is certainly true, most instances of "in the wilderness" encounters in Scripture are negative— but this one encounter is a world-beater!

“Let us hold fast our confession [in the wilderness]. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16). Amen!

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