Introduction: As we journey with Israel in the desert, facing in our own lives the same kind of trials and failures which they faced – even at times falling as they did into pits of sinful complaining, we may well cry out: “How long O Lord?” After all, the reality is that God’s professing people never completely overcome the tendency towards unbelief and rebellion down here. In the terms Martin Luther used, as long as we are pilgrims we are at one and the same time “simul justus et peccator”: “justified and at the same time sinners” in our struggle with our old sin natures. What then is the antidote to our wandering like sinful sheep away from our Master? May these Bible notes magnify God’s persevering grace as our only hope! Like Israel of old, it takes a long, long time in the desert, both for the full demonstration of our sin and the full dimensions of God’s grace to be revealed. God at times longs for us to be more faithful (Deut. 5:29), yet never gives up on His work to make us His own.

Mon/Tue: read Exodus 15:25-16:30. God tests Israel with thirst in Exodus 15:25, and with hunger in Exodus 16:1-5. Such testing was for their benefit in order to humble Israel into a more constant dependence on God. God divides His ‘hunger-test’ of His people into two parts.

First in verses 4-21, God’s ‘hunger-test’ consists of telling Israel to gather only enough for their daily needs, trusting Him for the next day’s supply, instead of sinfully hoarding the manna overnight. Sadly, some would not trust God’s care and the manna which they unfaithfully set aside rotted overnight, becoming full of maggots in Exodus 16:20.

The second part of the ‘hunger-test’ in Exodus 16:22-30 consisted of teaching His people to rest on the Sabbath Day instead of gathering manna. Speaking through Moses, God clearly tells Israel that if they do venture out on the day of rest to gather manna, they will find none (Ex. 16:25). Once again, some disobeyed and ventured out in a fruitless search for manna in Exodus 16:27, much to Moses’ and God’s grief! Look at the Divine grief over such stubborn unbelief as God speaks in Exodus 16:28-29:

How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.

Meditate and Pray: Well now – that is a question worth pondering: “How long would Israel refuse to keep God’s commands” when it comes to these hunger and thirst tests in the desert? Sadly, for the next forty years their complaints would be the same. No wonder God’s salvation is all about Divine Perseverance! From beginning to end, it must be God’s persevering grace which carries us through the desert of this world, so weakened by sin as we are! Sing about such Divine perseverance in hymn # 457 in our Trinity Hymnal:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Hither by thy help I’m come;

And I hope, by thy good pleasure,

Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Wednesday: read Exodus 16:27-28 and Mark 6:1-6. We left God expressing wonder at the sin of His own people in Exodus 16:28: “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?” It is from the deep well of Divine compassion that such questions come. God is not rendered impotent or speechless at our propensity to sin. He is sovereign over all things – even our sin! But such Divine amazement is the only way for our Holy and compassionate God to lovingly depict for us the scope and danger of sin’s wickedness and perversity so that we might run from it! Sin astounds God – and therefore must be a terror to us! Run from it! Don’t expose yourself to its bomb blasts! In New Testament terms, if the hard-hearted unbelief of Jesus’ own townsfolk could result in an amazed Jesus, able to do “only a few” miracles in Mark 6:4-6, then what foolishness for any of us to think that we can trifle with a sinful world or compromise the sin within! God’s advice is urgent: “Flee…. Flee away from all sin and into my arms!” Use hymn # 534 as your prayer for God’s constant help against sin:

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.

Thurs/Fri: read Exodus 16:28; Numbers 14:29-35 and 20:1-11. We are struggling with questions about Israel’s deeply-seated tendency to sin which even made God ask: “How long will you refuse to keep my commands?” (Ex. 16:28) The reality for Israel is that after forty years of watching their parents die in the desert under God’s curse (Numbers 14:29-35), many wished that they too had died along with their brothers in the desert rather than submit to God’s loving discipline! Their language is graphic in verse 3: “Oh that we had died with our brothers before the LORD!” What rebelliousness! Yet we see even the godliest Elijah and Job at times of despair wish for the same thing – see 1 Kings 19:4 and Job 3:3! How terrible to see what sinful requests can come from our mouths! How gracious when God turns a deaf ear to them.

Prayer of Reflection: Thank you, Father, for your grace in not granting Israel’s request for death at your hands in Numbers 20:3! Instead you again provided water from the Rock in Numbers 20:8-11. In the same way, thank you for the complaining demands which you do not answer in our lives! Thank you that you know how to say “no” to us, in order to show us more grace! Help us to rest content under all the trials you send into our lives. Help us to learn that it is better to have a gainsaying God who graciously refuses our desires, than a God who grants us our sinful requests and then sends His judgment along with them (see Psalm 106:14-15)! We pray all these things in the Name of your Son, who “does all things well” even when He refuses to give us what we impatiently demand! Amen.

Sat/Sun: read Psalm 78:1-8 and 106:1-8. After a bruising week of Bible notes in which we have rehearsed the persistent unbelief of God’s people in the desert, it is good for us to realize the spiritual fruit which such convicting Bible stories are to produce in following generations of believers. For example, Psalm 78:9-67 offer a bleak description of Israel with which we are all too familiar from their rebellious years under Moses in the desert. Yet, is there anything more sweet than Psalm 78:1-8, which we sing as # 364 in our Trinity hymnal, in its expression of the godly lessons for future generations which such stories of Israel’s failure are meant to produce? What hopeful lessons there are in the last verse of that hymn by Isaac Watts (speaking of what our covenant children will learn from such sinful history):

Thus shall they learn in God alone
Their hope securely stands,
That they may ne’er forget His works,
But practice His commands.

Psalm 106:6-43 is another Psalm which sums up how low sin had brought God’s people in verses 13-14: “But they soon forgot what God had done and did not wait for God’s counsel. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test.”

Yet Psalm 106 actually begins with a sweet confession of sin in verse 6 (“We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”) and ends with an affirmation that God remembered His covenant even during His people’s exile and captivity in verses 45-46:

For their sake He remembered His covenant and out of His great love He relented. He caused them to be pitied by all who held them captive… Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from the nations.

Prayer of Reflection: Lord, our battered faith revives when we see you remember your covenant towards wayward Israel! Thank you that some of the sternest songs of judgment in Scripture also contain the sweetest revelations of your grace. How quick and ready your grace is to forgive! Help us to set this doctrine up in our lives as a pillar and rock-like ordinance to hold onto when we sin: That you have the authority to forgive sins and that we ought always to reckon on your help and deliverance, especially when we like Israel least deserve it. Amen.

For our meditation on God’s generous, forgiving grace, here are the verses of hymn # 364:

Let children hear the mighty deeds
Which God performed of old;
Which in our younger years we saw,
And which our fathers told.

He bids us make His glories known,
His works of power and grace;
And we’ll convey His wonders down
Through every rising race.

Our lips shall tell them to our sons,
And they again to theirs;
That generations yet unborn
May teach them to their heirs.

Thus shall they learn in God alone
Their hope securely stands,
That they may ne’er forget His works,
But practice His commands.