And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin…
This chapter contains an account of the first provision of miraculous bread for Israel in the wilderness. We are told very fully the circumstances in which it was given and the regulations for obtaining and using it. This provision of bread comes very appropriately after the visits to Marah and Elim. The waters had been made sure, and were soon to be made sure again (ch. 17.); and now the bread is given (Isaiah 33:16). Before God takes the people to Sinai, he does everything to show that they may confidently depend on him for necessities, however vainly they look for superfluities. Consider -
I. THE STATE OF MIND AMONG THE ISRAELITES WHICH PRECEDED THIS GIFT. It is important to notice that such an ample, gracious and miraculous gift as Jehovah hero bestowed was bestowed on the unthankful and the evil. With many reasons for faith, they were unbelieving; instead of being patient and submissive, considerate towards their leader, and thankful for liberty, they broke out into selfish and unjust complaints. Things were going far otherwise than as they wanted them to go. They have now been a month or more out of Egypt and it is wilderness, wilderness, wilderness still! They have got water, but what is water without bread; and what is bread, unless it be the bread along with the flesh of Egypt? And, letting their minds dwell on these lost delicacies, their discontent breaks out in the most expressive way. Discontent is assuredly at a high pitch in a man's mind, when he begins to talk of death as a thing to be desired. It shows that he has got so reckless and peevish as not to care what he says, what others may think, or who may be hurt by his random talk. The low ideal of life on the part of Israel is here revealed. God has delivered a whole nation, and this is their idea of why he has delivered them. They think a life, from which the flesh pots and the fulness of bread are absent, is not worth living; and such is indeed a very excusable conception of life, if hunger and thirst after righteousness have not become vigorous desires within us. If one is to become a freeman simply to die, then it seems as if one might just as well live a little longer as a slave. Note further how the people try to throw the responsibility of their present position on Moses. It was a consequence of their carnal-mindedness that they could not think of the Jehovah who was behind and above the visible leader. They are where they are because Moses has brought them. Thus they utter an unconscious but weighty and significant testimony to the fact, that they had not come there of their own accord or wandered there in an aimless fashion. But for the mighty power that held them fast together, they might have straggled back to Egypt with its comforts and delights. Strange that with such a rebellious spirit, there should yet be such a measure of outward obedience. Evidently they had invisible constraints all around them, so that they could not help but follow the cloud.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD TREATS THIS STATE OF MIND. As he dealt in supplying the water so he deals in supplying the bread. There was a real and pressing want, and though the people made it the occasion for foolish talk, it was also to be the occasion for immediate Divine supply. God does not let the existence of the unthankful and evil fail, for presently, at Sinai, they will have the chance of learning such things as may lead them into a thankful, trustful and noble spirit; and so he hastens to meet Moses with the cheering promise - cheering in the substance of it, and cheering none the less in the expression - "I will rain bread from heaven."
1. They shall have bread. He does not yet tell Moses what shape the bread will take; but the people shall have something to sustain them, and that something in sufficient quantity.
2. The bread shall be rained from heaven. We do not read that Moses repeated this expression to the Israelites; but it must have been very cheering to himself. The words "rain" and "heaven" were enough to put fresh courage into the man. Then we find too that when the promise came to be fulfilled, these words were not taken in a figurative way. The manna came with the dew, and when the dew disappeared there the manna lay, waiting to be gathered. Hence for the supply of bread the people were to look heavenward; and doubtless Moses himself did so look. In whatsoever part of the wilderness they might be, however sterile and unpromising the earth was below, the same heavens stretched out above them, distilling from their treasuries the daily manna. The contrast is thus very striking between the varying earth and the unchanging, exhaustless heaven; and as to the rain, we may be very sure that when God says, "I will rain," he means a copious and adequate shower. But even in this immediate promise of copious giving Jehovah combines demands with gifts. If there is great grace, there are great expectations. He gives and at the same time he asks. He points out to Moses the manner in which the food was to be gathered. Though given copiously, it was not therefore given carelessly; nor was it to be used carelessly. It was given on certain principles and with certain restrictions, so as to be not only the means of staying hunger but of disciplining Israel at the same time. In eating bread, they were to learn habitual faith and habitual and exact obedience. God is ever showing men how he can make one thing to serve more purposes than one.
III. THE EXPOSTULATIONS OF MOSES AND AARON WITH THE PEOPLE (vers. 6-10). Though it is not expressly said that he spoke thus by Jehovah's instructions, yet these remonstrances evidently accorded with his will. For the people to complain as they (lid was not only an unjust thing to Moses; it was also a perilous thing for themselves. They could not thus vent their spleen on the visible Moses without despising the invisible God. Their insult to their brother man on earth was as nothing compared with their insult to Jehovah on high. And, indeed, we cannot too much consider that all murmuring, when it is brought to its ultimate ground and effects, is a reproach against God. For it is either a complaint because we cannot get our own way, or it is an impeachment of God's way as not being a loving and a wise one. What a different scene life would become, how much more equable, serene and joyous, if we could only take the invisible as well as the visible into all our thoughts. The people felt the lack of bread, the loss of Egypt, the hardships of a life unfamiliar and unprepared for; and Moses could sympathise with all these feelings; although of course, after forty years of shepherd life in Midian, the hardships his brethren complained of were as nothing to him. But at the same time, Moses felt very keenly what many of his brethren did not feel at all, the mysterious presence of God. More and more distinctly would the words now be rising to his mind, "Ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (ch. 3:12); for the cloud was taking the multitude nearer and nearer to Sinai. It is very significant of the feeling in Moses' mind that he dwells on this charge of murmuring, returning to the word again and again. He wanted these people who so felt the pangs of hunger to be equally sensitive to the perils of impiety. Jehovah had heard their reckless speeches as well as Moses; and now, in recognition, he was about to make manifest his glorious presence. The connection of the cloud with himself was to be proved by the appearing of his glory in it. What the people found fault with was that they had been guided wrong: and now the nature of the guidance stands out, distinct, impressive, and full of warning. He who found fault with Moses really found fault with Jehovah. Remember the words of Jesus: "He that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me." (Luke 10:16.) If we presumptuously neglect the apostleship of any one, we have to do with the Being who made him an apostle. Wherefore we should show all diligence to keep murmuring off our lips; and the only effectual way is to keep it out of our hearts by filling them with a continual sense of the presence of God. Instead of murmuring, let there be honest shame because of the selfishness that runs riot in our hearts. God can do everything to make our lives joyous, and banish causes of complaint for ever, if only we will take right and sufficient views of his purposes toward us and his claims upon us.
IV. THE ACTUAL GIVING. Here again we notice the tender and gentle dealings of God. The necessary and permanent supply of bread is preceded by a special and occasional supply of quails. By this gift he, as it were, runs towards Israel to soothe their murmurings. The flesh of Egypt was the thing they missed the most, and it comes first, in the evening; whereas the manna did not come till the next morning. By this supply of the quails God showed an attentiveness to the feelings of the people which should have had the best effect on their minds. They murmured against Moses, forgot Jehovah, and yet Jehovah gave them in reply a delightful feast of quails. So to speak, he was heaping coals of fire on their heads: and we should take special note of this Divine conduct, just in this particular place. It is very natural that as we consider Israel in the wilderness, we should think of God's severity rather than any other feature of his character. The whole tenor of the New Testament - the contrast between the law and the gospel - makes this view inevitable. But as we read the whole of this chapter, and ponder it carefully, how shall we do other than confess "Verily, Jehovah is love"? It is love that leads to Sinai. And assuredly there is not less of love in the thunders, lightnings and terrors of Sinai than in the gift of the quails. The expression is different - that is all. The quails were but a slight, passing thing, bestowed upon Israel much as a toy is bestowed on a child. There is love in the gift of a toy; but there is love also in the discipline and chastisement which soon may follow from the same hand. So there was love in the quails; but there was equal love, stretching out to far deeper results, in the demonstrations of Sinai and the commandments which accompanied them. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
WEB: They took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.