Introduction: Last time in Exodus we saw Israel’s most serious outburst against Moses thus far. As we will see this week, such rebelliousness became a monument of their years of desert wandering: This is the same Moses whom they had rejected with the words, “Who made you ruler and judge?” He was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God Himself… But our fathers refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and their hearts turned back to Egypt (Acts 7:35 & 39). May God use even this sad period in Israel’s history to magnify both His diagnosis of our sin and His graceful skill in saving us from it in this week’s notes.

Monday: read Exodus 15:22-24; 16:2-3, 17:1-3 & Mark 1:40-42. Sometimes it is best to lance the boil of sin so that all its putrid contents flow healingly out of our wounds. In that spirit, God exposes Israel’s multiple episodes of grumbling in Exodus 15:24; 16:2 & 17:1-3. But the really amazing fact is that such an eruption of sin, far from causing Him to draw back, draws forth from God’s heart all the healing skill which Exodus 15:26 promises: “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD who heals you.” What a relief to Israel that none of the terrible diseases which they beheld in Egypt need afflict them as long as they count God as their Redeemer.

Meditate and Pray: Let us learn to trust in God’s ever-present willingness to touch even the most loathsome wounds of our sin … in order to cleanse and heal us – just as Jesus said to the leper in Mark 1:41: “I am willing, be clean.”

Tuesday: read Exodus 15:27-16:1: This week’s notes will exhibit many harrowing examples of the depth and persistence of unbelief in God’s people. But let us also celebrate God’s healing and shepherding skill in bringing all of Israel through the dangers of the Red Sea and the desert. Behold the LORD delivering Israel from their enemies the Egyptians! Behold Him saving them from the danger of thirst and the far more sinister spirit of grumbling by refreshing them with water in Exodus 15:25-27! The result is that God is able to safely lead “the whole Israelite community” to their next camp-site at the desert of “shin”… (pronounced “seen” or “sheen,” not “sin”) in Exodus 16:1.

Meditate and Pray: Let us celebrate the LORD’s shepherding skill in keeping all His flock intact! Even more than Moses, Jesus is able to lead us safely through every danger. As Charles Spurgeon puts it in his January 21 entry in Morning and Evening:

In the last time, when the elect shall sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and of the Lamb, it shall be the boast of Jesus, “Of all whom you have given me, I have lost none.” In heaven there shall not be a vacant throne.

Weds/Thurs: read Exodus 16:2-17:7 & Psalm 78:40-43. Throughout Exodus 15 to 17, we see a repeated pattern of “testing God” on the part of His people. As Psalm 78:40-41 puts it: “How often they rebelled against Him in the desert and grieved Him in the wasteland. Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel.”

But what exactly does it mean to “test God”? The answer is that to “test God” means to question His ability to provide according to His covenant promises, as Israel’s question in Exodus 17:7 puts it: “Is the LORD among us or not?” i.e., “Has God tricked us or is He truly with us with grace to save and preserve us?” To put it another way, to “test” God means to “require unnecessary proof of what should be believed without it” (Archibald Alexander). We see how heinous this sin of “testing” God was when we are reminded of all the miracles which preceded Israel’s grumblings. How could Israel so quickly doubt God when they had seen all the plagues in Egypt and walked miraculously through the Red Sea? What amazing unbelief! How arrogant man can be to demand that God satisfy such lust for a sign!

Meditate and Pray: Lord, when you speak to us with the promises of your Word – help us to take what you say and submit to it without murmuring or doubting. Grant us the assurance and peace which come from accepting, rather than testing, your words of eternal life. We have no one else to turn to. Therefore, please strengthen our faith – even if we have to wait long for our faith to be vindicated before a cynical and unbelieving world. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Friday: read Exodus 17:1-7 and Deuteronomy 6:16: Perhaps the most famous case of Israel “testing God” occurs here in Exodus 17. In verse 7, the place is named “Massah,” which means “temptation” and refers to Israel testing and goading God by insulting His power to keep His promises and care for His own people. This place, moreover, becomes so famous that it is given a second name by Moses: “Meribah,” which means “contention” or “argument,” referring to Israel’s brazenness in daring to argue with their God. There is no limit to what sin within us will aim for. The more shameful sin can incite us to be, the better in its eyes! No wonder Moses points back to this place 40 years later in Deuteronomy 6:16 to revive the memory of testing God! He knows that our tendency to provoke God needs continual warnings to keep us from repeating such provocation.

Meditate and Pray: Lord, we come in prayer, broken by our tendency not only to sin, but to insult you in our sinning. Forgive us that we are so sensitive when others affront us, but so unheeding to the effect our sins have on your honor as the promise-keeping God. Make us ever more sensitive to the danger of “testing” you. We pray in the Name of your Son, who never doubted your Word and never tried your patience. Cover us with His righteousness we plead. Amen.

Sat/Sun: read Psalm 78:40-43 and Deuteronomy 6:4-16. Though it is sobering to see how repeatedly Israel tested God (According to Henry Ainsworth in his commentary on Psalm 78:40, there are at least ten shameful examples in the desert where Israel tested God and refused to obey Him.), and though there is no doubt of the seriousness of Israel’s testing God (See God’s wrath boil over in Psalm 78:59.), yet we also see how gracious God is in handling the memory of this terrible sin in Deuteronomy 6:16, where He uses this terrible episode as an incentive to turn His people to Him in love and devotion.

The point is that Deuteronomy 6 contains not only the warning of verse 16, but also the great command of verse 5: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” As the Rabbis used to say, God is able to turn the terrible judgment at Meribah into waters of mercy. According to Exodus 17:6, water flows from the rock as God’s mercy triumphs over His people’s sin!

Meditate and Pray: Praise God for turning the hard judgment of Exodus 17 into waters of mercy for an undeserving people! Sing hymn # 131 in the Trinity Hymnal as a song of thanksgiving to God for His waters of mercy in your life:

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given.

God His own doth tend and nourish;
In His holy courts they flourish;
From all evil things He spares them;
In His mighty arms He bears them.

Neither life nor death shall ever

From the Lord His children sever;
Unto them His grace He showeth,
And their sorrows all He knoweth.

Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy.