Israel Murmuring Against Moses and Aaron
Stiffnecked People to the Point of Mutiny
In Exodus 15:24 the children of Israel had been in the wilderness just over a month since crossing the Red Sea, and the first complaints begin as they murmur against Moses, and eventually Moses and Aaron. Despite the presence of God and all the miracles performed in Egypt, their faith was weak to the point of mutiny.
At a place they named Marah they found water, yet it was bitter. Marah in Hebrew means “bitter” and in response to their murmuring against Moses, God shows him a tree and instructs that he toss the tree in the bitter water, and miraculously it becomes pure, clean, and sweet to drink. From Marah they journey to Elim where they camp near 12 wells and 70 palm trees, yet soon they will again find reason to complain.
More Complaints and Meaning of Wilderness of Sin
From Elim they continue to the wilderness of Sin between Elim and Sinai. The word sin in Hebrew means “bush”, and Sinai means “bush of Jehovah”. At this point in Exodus 16 they are 45 days into their journey since leaving Egypt, and now everyone murmurs against Moses and Aaron, only this time over hunger.
And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Exodus 16:3 (KJV)
Now the murmuring is about food. There had been plenty of water at Elim. In reply to hearing the murmuring God tells Moses that He will provide bread from heaven in the morning and meat in the evening. The bread was like nothing seen before, so the people called it “manna” which in Hebrew means “What is that?”.
From the description of manna in Exodus, and more clues in Numbers, Psalms, Jeremiah, and even Matthew in the New Testament, we know that manna was angels’ food. It was thin, flakey, white, sweet, and hard, and it was ground like grains and baked into wafers, yet in today’s English the Hebrew for wafers would be more accurately translated as flat cakes.
The meat promised in the evening was quail that flew in and flopped into the campsite, and always just enough for everyone. Looking ahead, for 40 years the cycle of manna in the morning and quail at night continued daily every day for 6 days, and on the sixth they were to gather double for two days, and take their rest on the Sabbath. On the very day they crossed the Jordon entering into the Promised Land, the daily bread from heaven ceased.
More murmuring takes place in Exodus 17 over water, and here God’s instruction is for Moses to strike a certain rock, and immediately water sufficient for all the people and their livestock flowed from the rock. This is in Rephidim, and a few verses later in Exodus 17:8 Amalek attacks the children of Israel. Though not stated, my feeling is it may have been over water. This is the first battle recorded, and the first mention in the Old Testament of Joshua, who Moses commanded to lead the counterattack. Israel won.
Significance of Meeting Jethro and Mount Sinai
Word of the victory is heard by Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, who brings his family to meet Moses. In the course of observing Moses in judgment from early morning to late at night sorting through cases brought before him, Jethro makes a suggestion to ease the workload. His advice was teaching 70 trusted elders to rule on routine matters, and then have only difficult cases come before Moses. He agreed.
Readers should consider the significance of Sinai, meaning “bush of Jehovah”, and the visit by Jethro who was close by. This is the same area of the burning bush from a year earlier where Moses met God for the first time, at age 80, while tending flocks for his father-in-law, Jethro. Exodus 19:1-2 provides other insight that may not be apparent. The wanderings of the families of Israel were directed by God, and the journey was not always in the desert as some may imagine. Exodus 19:1 speaks of the wilderness of Sinai and verse 19:2 refers to the desert of Sinai. Wilderness is more like pasture, and yes, the desert is just that, all sand.
Exodus chapter 19, verse 3, begins the next great moment in Bible history, and the development of one of the two main themes of the book of Exodus, the giving of the law. In Exodus 19:3, Moses makes his first of 3 ascents up the mountain of Sinai to meet with God, each being documented in chapter 19. An additional 3 ascents for a total of 6 are made in Exodus chapters 24, 32, and 34, and the final descent is with the second set of tablets written with the 10 commandments.
As stated before in previous articles, the Old Testament is filled with covenants made and broken by the people of Israel. Despite the miracles they witnessed, the murmurings against Moses and Aaron are just more evidence that proves God’s declaration that “these are a stiffnecked people”.