A Test In The Wilderness


As we enter into today’s study, I think it’s important to remember the recent events in Israel’s history.

  • God provided Moses as an instrument to release and lead His people from Egyptian captivity.
  • God demonstrated His power over the Egyptian gods in the 10 plagues.
  • God provided deliverance for his people at the Red Sea.
  • Israel followed Moses for about 3 days in the wilderness and couldn’t find water, so they began to complain. (Ex. 15:22-27)

QUES: When have you forgotten, or almost forgotten, God’s goodness because of a difficult situation in your life?

3 Mistakes made by Israel:

  1. Forgot what they had seen
  2. Lost sight of God’s character
  3. Doubted and grumbled about their predicament.

QUES: Why does God lead us into “the wilderness” at times?

He does this to build our faith and make us rely on ourselves and more on Him. If we keep the proper perspective, the wilderness is a blessing and not a curse.

I. God Provides for His people in their time of need (Ex. 16:2-4)

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 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.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

Israel now finds themselves about a month into their wilderness wanderings. Circa 3 weeks after their grumbling over water, we now see them default back to grumbling over their lack of food.

Much like us, we tend to over exaggerate in our grumbling as we see Israel do so here in verse 3. The good ole days are probably a bit better when in hind sight than todays current struggles.

God uses this shortage of food to teach Israel a fundamental truth about His character. The ways in which God could’ve supplied food was endless, but he choses to send “bread from heaven” which they were to gather each days portion (except for Sabbath preparation).

QUES: What does this teach us about God?

God is our ultimate provider.

Jesus reiterates this in Matt. 6:25-34.

In John 6:26-42, Jesus emphasized once again that God is our ultimate provider…and the ultimate provision for our ultimate need is Christ.

On a more practical note, as we consider the Israelites, their default mode seems to be that of grumbling. Even though God has continually provided for and met all of their needs. We are not much different form them at times.

QUES: What causes our default mode to be that of grumbling? (self centeredness, lack of faith)

Despite our complaints, God always provides for us in our time of need. God’s patience truly runs deep.

God is Gracious: God’s nature is to delight in giving unmerited favor to those who are undeserving. His grace toward sinners is found most clearly in the salvation he has provided through Christ

II. God provides for His people despite their disobedience (Ex. 16:13-20)

13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’ ” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.

Even though Israel was in a state of disobedience, God graciously provided mana for them.

Earlier in verse 4, God describes this as a test for Israel.

QUES: In what way is this a test? (if they tried to build a surplus, it would go bad)

QUES: What is God seeking to see in His people by making mana function in this way? (He wants to know, Will you trust me to provide for your needs? Will you follow me when my way differs from yours?

I think we struggle greatly with the concept of trusting God for daily bread. Jesus prays this in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:11). With freezers full of food, we seldom think of what we need each day. Every bag we remove from our freezer is a gracious gift from God. Just as he did with the Israelites, God wants us to go to sleep each night trusting not in the bread they had stockpiled by their effort but rather in the God who would faithfully provide bread for them each morning.

Two important considerations for this mana:

  1. It was satisfying
  2. It was sanctifying

III. God provides for His people in unexpected ways (Ex. 17:3-6; 1 Cor. 10:1-4)

But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 

After all they had seen God do for them, the Israelites continued to struggle to trust Him.

Life Principle: Seeing isn’t Believing, but believing is seeing.

Think back to Jesus’ conversation with the crowd in John 6. Does he not say something similar? Also, consider Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Yet, here we are for round three of Israel’s groaning.

As we previously stated, the mana, the rock and water that flowed from it all point to Jesus.

God was teaching His people to trust in Him for provision, even for their salvation, and showing them their need to yield control to Him.

Because of our sin, we faced an impossible, hopeless situation, much more dire than that of the hungry and thirsty Israelites. But God provided the answer no one could expect: Through Jesus Christ’s life of perfect obedience and laying down His life on our behalf, we are able to have life in Him. Like the Israelites, we did nothing-we could do nothing-to earn or deserve Christ. All we have been called to do is surrender our control and trust in Him, our Spiritual Rock struck for our salvation.