Sunday, 6 February 2011

Protection and Provision from the Rock Who is Christ

Observations on Exodus 16-18 See also Paul's observations here.

How easy it is to romanticise the "good old days." The Israelites quickly forget how harshly they were treated in Egypt. But it is deeper and darker than mere nostalgia, the reason they romanticise their slavery is because they have lost sight of the promise of God to bring them into a good land. All the miraculous provision of God in the past, the history and testimony of his faithfulness, is quickly forgotten. When you've lost sight of the promises of God, slavery to sin looks like an attractive proposition. How quick the human heart is given to wandering foolishly off the paths of grace.

The journey from Egypt to the Promised land was not a long one (two weeks max). They had enough meat from their own livestock and from plundering the Egyptians for the journey, (at this point they aren't counting on being in the desert 40 years) so their grumbling attack on Moses (and the LORD) is an out and out spiritual rebellion, as what they demanded symbolised the old life back in Egypt.

Even though God has already given them much, they are unwilling to use it - behaving like spoilt brats and expecting that God who had "got us into this mess in the first place, had jolly well better provide for all our whims now." An attitude of entitlement is at best an immature and at worst a dark response to grace.

Moses consults with the one known as the "Glory of the LORD" - that is Christ at the tent of meeting, which, until the completion of the Tabernacle, was always set up outside the camp of the Israelites. And God graciously provides quail in the evening (not sure of the symbolism of this). Moreover, he provides bread that comes down from Heaven. The people don't need to worry about tomorrow, they will have enough. As it settled, manna looked like milk and it tasted like honey. It was a foretaste of the promised land. But even with this miraculous provision by which God would daily remind people of his promises, they still disobey the LORD going out to collect it on the wrong day or keeping it longer than they were told to.

Again, they grumble about water and so Moses does a day journey with the 70 elders (most if not all of whom would have represented the grumblings to Moses) and arrives at Horeb. There in the presence of the elders and the Angel of the LORD, he strikes a rock (Jordan says he passed his staff through the Shekinah cloud onto the rock). The rock is split in two and river loads of water gush out into the desert down to the camp of 2 million Israelites a day or so away. And so God, going on ahead, makes this miraculous provision of water a picture of how he will go on ahead and through the Spirit he will break open his his Son - the Rock of Israel  to provide the flowing and teaming water of life for his people in a place of death.

Psalm 105:39-41 has a fascinating take on this whole scenario and there are echoes of Revelation here. The Shekinah cloud would stretch out over the whole camp to protect the people from the extreme fluctuations in wilderness temperatures being like a ginormous parasol by day and a ginormous patio heater by night.

According to Jordan, the Amalakites hear of how vulnerable Egypt, once the most powerful civilisation on the face of the earth, has been utterly broken open by the hand of God and so, like vultures, they go to see what spoil they can plunder, and they set upon the Israelites who are coming the other way. Whether that is the case or whether it is merely that the Israelites were passing through Amalakite territory and they came out to defend it (or a mix of the two) I'm not sure. Anyway...

Moses stands on a hill and stretches out his hands like Jesus on the cross. Joshua leads the people into battle and as long as Moses has his hands up, God's people are victorious. This requires a little bit of ingenuity on their part to make sure the hands stay up. But this is no hocus-pocussy trick. The Trinitarian God gives his people a picture of how the Father (the sun) shines on his crucified-exalted Son (Moses) and through the leadership of the Holy Spirit (Joshua) leads the church (Israel) to victory over their enemies.

In Jethro's visit the nation of Israel comes of age. Up to now she had been loosely run by heads of households but basically Moses had been doing everything and getting run ragged. This is OK when you are a couple of thousand, but when you are two million, it's a different proposition. So, just as with eldership in the New Testament, men are selected for leadership, not by virtue of their birth in a particular household, but by virtue of their godliness.

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