It is now 1491BC in Northern Egypt. Four hundred thirty years, about ten generations, have lapsed since Jacob and his eleven sons moved here to the world's breadbasket, the land of Goshen, which hugs the agriculturally rich lower Nile delta. In an act of treachery, these same eleven brothers had earlier sold Joseph, their younger brother, into slavery. As time progressed Joseph miraculously rose to become Prime Minister of all Egypt. Later he died and his bones are now exhumed, ready for the long wilderness trek. His great, great, great, (and 6 more greats), grand nephew, Moses, leads this army of Israelites toward the Red Sea, bound for the Promised Land.
by Jerry Gentry
"Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you" (Exo 31:13).
Forward, march! Out they go, herding cattle and sheep, goats and geese, chickens and ducks and pets. They carry abundant jewelry, borrowed from Egyptian neighbors at the last minute. They carry with them all their life's accumulation of earthly goods&emdash;donkey saddle packs are filled with grain; personal possessions are loaded onto homemade wagons; household belongings bulge from their backpacks. The standard bearers lead the way, and each of twelve individual tribes move on command. Jehovah God has set his hand to save Israel from their taskmasters. They are now finally on the march forward. They say their final goodbyes to Egyptian neighbors who bitterly and tearfully urge them on.
Grandpas and Grandmas, babies and stripling teenagers, little girls and bug-eyed little boys, fathers and mothers with infants in arms are all now on the move together, slowly and methodically. A frightening and tear jerking scene it is. The whole land of Egypt lies before them in astonishing disarray, destroyed by ten individual miraculous plagues. The gods of Egypt are now all dead. Moses' God, the "I Am That I Am," had cursed the land. The Nile had turned to blood. Ravaging frogs and lice and flies and murrain and boils had scourged the Egyptians. Devastating hail and locusts and thick darkness had afflicted them. Finally, sudden death of all firstborn males, from lowly animals to Pharaoh's son himself, had terrified them. Even Israelite firstborn, who were not marked with lamb's blood on the door post, had instantly dropped dead in their tracks under horrific, bizarre circumstances.
Now the whole Israelite nation&emdash;2-3 million strong&emdash;is relocating, moving out of town, out of the country, like nothing ever seen before. They are relocating on foot, to a land some two hundred fifty miles as the crow flies to the northeast. They are on the move from modern day Cairo to their ultimate destination, the plains of Jericho, just outside modern Jerusalem. Walking at five miles per hour, 10 hours or 50 miles per day, a single hiker could have easily made the trek in one week, given enough food and water available along the parched way.
However, this wilderness journey will actually take forty years to complete, traversing perhaps thousands of wandering, meandering miles. It would be like gathering together twice the entire population of Houston, Texas; somehow bringing them into formation; then marching them with all their animals on foot across country all the way to Dallas, via Baton Rouge and Vicksburg and Alexandria and Texarkana. And remember to throw in a Lake Charles crossing, in place of the Red Sea, for just an idea of the magnitude of this endeavor. What a feat of organization and stamina this took!
Out they do go! By Moses' raised arms and the miracle hand of Yahweh, "by day time in a pillar of a cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night" (Num. 14:14) they move to the point of no return, with waters of the Red Sea ahead and the thunder of Pharaoh's armies closing in from behind.
"Moses, do something!" the people cry. "We are sitting ducks!" After ten mighty miracles, they still don't know and understand this God of Moses.
Moses prays, raises his rod in his arms, and by the mighty hand of God, the waters of the Red Sea part: "and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" (Exo 14:22).
Again, the orders come: "go forward" (v. 15). The people scurry down into the dry, sandy seabed and on to the other side, quickly, before the Egyptian armies can catch up. They arrive at the other side just in time to turn and witness Pharaoh's horses and chariots and army of men be swallowed up in two great walls of water which come tumbling down and crashing together, creating a surf of ten, twenty, perhaps even thirty foot waves leaping up and heaping across the watery exit route! Not one of Pharaoh's men survives this disastrous watery drowning. This entire army of horses and men become fish bait in a matter of minutes! What power this God of Moses is showing! What might! What strength! Heaven has come down! "Hoorah for the God of Moses! Yea for Moses' God! He IS God!" they all must have yelled. Yet still, He is only the God of Moses and not their very own God.
Moses and all Israel shout and sing: "The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" (Exo 15:2). "And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances" (Exo 15:20). The great time of rejoicing has arrived. Joy fills the camp. All Israel are finally delivered from their Egyptian taskmasters! Praise the God of Moses, the Great I Am!
The trek continues three days journey into the wilderness. The hot days all blend together. Water supplies become exhausted. Rejoicing has ceased as the joy of victory turns into heartache of trial. The cattle bawl for water. Panic for thirst sets into the hearts of the people. Water needed for this mass of people and animals is not measured in gallons, but in millions of gallons, just to have one good thirst quenching drink. The waters of Marah appear, bitter and undrinkable, bringing on even more panic. The cattle continue to bellow, louder and louder.
"Moses! Moses!" the people cry. "Where is our water? We demand drinkable water! Get us some water now!!"
"And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?" (Exo 15:24). ". . . and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet" (v. 25). The people and animals drank. Israel's thirst is quenched. The animals quiet themselves. At least 2-3 million gallons of water (and probably double or triple that amount) are consumed from the pools of Marah this very day. Even with the miracle of water, how will these children of Israel ever come to know and trust the true God?
Obviously these children of Israel have long since lost touch with their God, Abraham's God, the God of Moses. They are being reintroduced to this God and to a destiny they know little about. Their forefathers had lived in the lap of luxury under Joseph's hand for many years. Then there came a new Pharaoh, who did not know Joseph. The children of Israel lost contact with God and had been ultimately reduced to slave labor, with little hope of freedom under the hands of subsequent Pharaohs. Day after miserable day, they worked. Seven days a week, with no rest, their taskmasters drove them on. But now things are different, quite different. The God of heaven is coming down and making himself known in the affairs of men.
This true God is progressively revealing himself. He ravaged the land of Egypt. He parted the Red Sea. He brought the nation to safety and destroyed the Egyptian armies. He gave good water to drink. But could he feed His people in the desert? Could He give them rest? Up until now, the Israelites had eaten from their old store of food, carried with them from Egypt, on their backs and wagons and beasts of burden. Supplies are running out fast.
Having drunk the waters of Marah, made sweet by the miracle tree from God, now the Israelites watch their portable cupboards become bare as the last million bushels of grain are consumed by man and beast. Saddle packs are now empty. Flour sacks and grain bins are depleted, as little children pick and eat the last few raw grains of corn stuck between the planks of the wagon beds and from the necks of the grain sacks. With stomachs growling, they wet their fingers and rake up the last bits of flour dust from sacks and bins and lick it from their hands.
The people cry to Moses: "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" (Exo 16:3).
Hunger pangs disquiet the Israelites! They murmur. Then again suddenly the answer comes from the LORD. They receive quail first, then manna, but how? "I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily" (Exo 16:4-5).
"Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none" (v. 26).
"See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day (v. 29-30).
Bread. Manna. The Sabbath day. God is now teaching the Israelites a great lesson, a wonderful connection. Bread from heaven, food from the LORD, is contexted and provided to the children of Israel in terms of keeping the sabbath day holy! How strange. Yet how beautiful. Here they stand, quite a few weeks before Mt. Sinai, and the giving of the Ten Commandments in stone. Here they are, standing in the middle of a dry, barren desert with no food in sight, and God rains down manna every day except one. He makes a point that the Sabbath day is a rest day, and not a day for gathering manna. But will they come to know this God?
He makes the point that this whole business of gathering manna for six days, then resting the Sabbath, is to ". . . prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no," and not for bread alone. Here Israel is introduced to the law of the Sabbath, which when obeyed will always produce bread enough in six days to provide food for all seven. Now, who would believe it? The law of the Sabbath is given on the heels of many other mighty miracles, in the midst of plenteous food from heaven&emdash;angel's food it is called. Will they learn to trust God, rest in Him? Can we learn the greater lesson, one applicable not only to Israelites of old, but also for Christians now and forever?
Of this Sabbath day and manna from heaven, Moses says: "And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live" (Deut. 8:3).
Jesus echoed these very same words to His disciples: "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Can we trust this God who reveals the Sabbath, along with manna, bread from heaven?
The children of Israel eat to the full and travel again. Just over seven weeks after their departure from Egypt, they now watch with fearful eyes as thunder and lightening engulfs Mt. Sinai. Here, God further reveals his mind concerning the regulation of time:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Exo 20:8-11).
God's great order for use and regulation of time and provision of life's needs gives man six days for labor, one day for rest. He proves the Israelites by raining down bread from heaven for six days on, then one day off, the cyclical Sabbath day of rest. This seventh day is intended for receiving another kind of bread, the bread of life. This Sabbath day is a divine appointment with God, here reintroduced to our ancient Israelite forefathers, a special day, a day in which man rests from his labors, even as "God did rest the seventh day from all his works" (Hebr. 4:4). The Sabbath is for rest, instruction and special worship.
Worship is not just a theoretical, mental exercise of prayer, head bowed, eyes closed. Worship is a practical acknowledgement of God and His word, His purpose, His authority, His power, His calling upon our lives in every realm. Worship is our daily work, six days a week. Special worship on the Sabbath involves rest, praise and instruction, without the distraction of usual labor. Could it be that gathering manna on the Sabbath day is the kind of labor that sets up a stumblingblock (Ezek. 14:3), and thereby prevents the real manna, the true bread from heaven, ("I am the living bread which came down from heaven"&emdash;John 6:51) whereby man must cease "from his own works, as God did from his" (Heb 4:10)? Yes, to receive this bread Jesus gives, we must cease from our labors and distractions on the Sabbath day, quiet ourselves, rejoice and receive His inspiration and instruction.
The Sabbath day, unique and apart from all other days of the week, is when God shows us His special love by feeding our souls and spirits with the true bread from heaven, while giving our bodies a needed cyclical, physical rest. Jesus witnessed to this New Covenant truth: "And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue" (Mark 6:2). The Sabbath is a divine appointment with God. Jesus kept this appointment. Will you?
What happens when we fail to keep God's divine Sabbath appointment? The answer is: We are not properly fed; our souls and spirits suffer spiritual malnutrition; and our bodies become weary, tired and frustrated. The vibrancy of life is dulled. Our Christian witness is diminished.
"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (Joh 6:32-33). The Father gave this bread through Jesus' teaching on the holy Sabbath day, as was His custom, claiming: "For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day" (Matt. 12:8). How is Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath day? Through breaking the bread of life on that day, that is, giving instruction to His very church. Friend, if your church does not meet for instruction on the Sabbath, pray tell how do you intend to receive Christ's complete instruction as the Lord of your Sabbath? Will you make His Sabbath your Sabbath? Or will you pick a different day, following tradition? Jesus nowhere claimed to be Lord of Sunday. Do you agree with Jesus, or do you agree with tradition?
Friend, your bread from heaven, the true bread of God, comes down from heaven one day each week&emdash;on the holy Sabbath day, through various ministries of the Holy Spirit today, just as to ancient Israelites. You must be in your place at the proper time or you will miss valuable inspiration and instruction not available on Sundays and other week days. Remember, Sunday is a work day in the Bible. "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" (Exod. 20:9). Will you meet God for this divine Sabbath appointment, defined by His Word? Will you be fed the bread Jesus gives on that day alone and no other? Do you think He will give you this same bread on Sunday that he gives on the Sabbath? If so, on what authority dso you believe this? How can you prove it?
Heaven comes down in a very special way one day every week, for Christians today, as typified by our ancient Israelite forefathers who were told to gather manna for six days and rest on the Sabbath. For this reason, every Christian must "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exod. 20:8). You can hang your life on this never changing truth. Praise be to Jesus Christ, Lord of the Sabbath.