Moses now spoke to the people, who by this time were willing and eager to listen to words of advice. They were shocked by God’s mighty presence in a cloud that supernaturally appeared.
“God has told me,” Moses said to them, “that He has heard all of your complaints. He is not pleased by them, but because of His great mercy He has asked me to tell you that this very evening you will receive the flesh you believe you need to eat. Furthermore, when morning comes, you will find plenty of food on the ground. These miraculous gifts from our Creator should prove to everyone that God is watching out for us all the time, and that we should please Him by not complaining” (Ex. 16:8-9).
That evening the Israelites were surprised to see the sky darkened by a vast flock of birds. At first it appeared that this was an unusually great migration of fowl seeking the climate that was best for them.
All of a sudden the thick hordes of birds swept down on the Israelite camps. Recognizing them as quail birds very good to eat men, women and children reached out to seize the winged creatures. The birds seemed very weary as from a long flight, and they were easy to catch. Within only a few minutes the Israelites captured millions of the tasty birds!
Thus God kept His promise to supply flesh for the people to eat. Next morning, as God had also promised, there was more food for the people. It came in a strange way. Dew had fallen during the night. In the morning hours it evaporated from grass, bushes, trees and rocks. In place of the beads of moisture there was soft, round, white particles (v. 14).
“What is this peculiar white stuff that is in place of the dew?” the Israelites asked one another.
When Moses heard that the people had discovered the peculiar white substance, he sent word out to all of them that this was the promised bread from heaven.
“God is giving us plenty of this good food,” Moses told them. “Each morning you should gather three quarts of it for every person in the camp. Don’t wait until too late in the day to take it in, or the hot sun will melt it. And don’t try to keep it overnight, or it will spoil” (v. 16).
Anxious to try this new thing, the Israelites swarmed out around their camps to gather it into bowls and baskets and bags. They soon found to their enjoyment that it tasted like fresh bread and honey (v.31)!
Before the intense heat of the day began to set in, the people easily gathered the amount they were told to get. Those who were late gathering if found nothing. It had melted.
Although Moses had warned the people not to keep this miraculous food overnight, many of them ignored him and kept it till morning, when they awakened aware of an unpleasant odor. When they looked to see what caused it, they found that it came from the substance they had gathered the day before, and which was infested with worms (v. 20).
Moses was angry when he learned that so many people had gone against God’s orders. But by this time he had learned that it was no small task, even with God’s help, to lead over two millions people into doing what was right.
“On the sixth day of the week you must gather twice as much as usual of this food from God,” Moses told the people. “Whether you bake it, boil it or just let it stand, it won’t spoil on the seventh day which is the holy Sabbath our God hallowed at creation, right after he remolded this Earth as a dwelling place for man.”
On the morning of the sixth day of the week the people went out to gather twice as much as usual about a gallon and a half for each person.
Next morning, on the Sabbath, the Israelites found that the substance had not spoiled during the night. It was as fresh and pure as when it had been gathered the previous day. During the many, many years that the Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt, the Israelite slaves seem to have lost count as to which day was actually a holy twenty-four-hour period. Here was now proof to all the Israelites just what day God wanted them to observe as a day of rest.
“This is a sign that the 7th day of the week, the Sabbath, is holy time,” Moses told the Israelites. “Do not go out to gather food on this holy day God will not provide this bread from heaven on His Sabbath, and you won’t find anything to gather” (vs. 22-26).
Regardless of what Moses said, some of the people went out on the morning of the 7th day of the week to gather the miracle food. Although they carefully searched over a broad area around the camps, they could find no trace of it. This rebellious act of hunting for food on the Sabbath, after being told not to do so, was very displeasing to God.
“How long are your people going to keep on disobeying my orders and my laws?” God asked Moses. “Look out there at the edge of the camps. See how many people are laboring to find bread from heaven even though you told them not to go after it on the Sabbath. Remind them that there is no reason to work on the Sabbath. Tell them to keep close to their tents on this day, and not to labor nor seek out their pleasures during this holy time.”
Moses told the Israelites what God had told him. Thereafter, for a time, the people were more obedient.
As for the miraculous food God had provided, the Israelites named it manna, which means “what is this” the words most of them has spoken when they had first seen it (v. 31).
Little did they realize then that they would be gathering manna for a long, long time. They supposed that it would be only a matter of days or weeks until they reached the land of Canaan. But it turned out to be 40 years! In the meantime, their main food was manna.
God wanted the Israelites to remember even long after their trip to Canaan-- that He had fed them manna for 40 years with this miracle. Therefore He commanded that a golden jar be filled with three quarts of manna, and that this jar and its contents (which would specially be preserved by divine power) should be kept to add to certain articles that would be of greater value and meaning in years to come (vs. 32-36).
The cloud continued to lead the Israelites to the southeast. Several days later, after moving over hot desert lands, they arrived at a place called Rephidim. From there they could see a menacing mountain range just ahead. It was obvious to the people that they would be traveling on an upgrade for the next several miles. Going would be difficult in the heat, and their water supply was dangerously low.
Moses was aware of conditions. He knew what to expect as soon as camps had been established. Therefore he wasn’t surprised when he was told that an angry crowd was moving toward his quarters.
Moses emerged from his tent. Flanked by Aaron, some of his officers and several elders, Moses held up his arms for silence from the noisy, growing crowd. The shouting and muttering started to die down.
“Let me speak to them,” Aaron asked Moses. “Perhaps I can calm them.” “They’re here to blame me for the lack of water,” Moses told Aaron. “It’s better that I should do the talking this time.”
When noise from the crowd had almost ceased, Moses lifted up his voice to say that he knew how short their water supply was, but that he was certain God would soon do something about it.
“How could even God find water in all this dry sand and rocks?” someone yelled. “My children are crying for water!” another shouted. “So are the children of thousands of those families camped off to the north for miles in this terrible desert! Are you going to let those children die of thirst?”
“You have led us into this barren, miserable land just to watch us and our animals die!” someone else screamed at Moses. “Now you have made it impossible to return to Egypt. For this we should stone you and those who have helped you lure us out into this arid death-trap” (Ex. 17:1-4)!
This bitter demonstration was much worse than Moses had expected. He ordered officers to spread out at once to control the crowd. Realizing that this could be the start of a bloody conflict, Moses went back into his tent, fell upon his knees and begged God for wisdom in knowing what to do before the crowd could get out of control.
A short while later, when he came out of his tent, he seemed quietly confident, like a man who had suddenly been relieved of a great mental burden. “Tell the elders to meet me here at once and be prepared to ride on ahead with me,” Moses said to his messengers.
When the elders had gathered at Moses’ tent, Moses, Aaron and some of their officers mounted their animals and the whole group rode out of the camp and off to the south. The divinely appointed cloud guided them to a certain spot where jagged rocks jutted up out of the dry sand. Then it came to a stop right above a huge boulder that stood out in size and color from the other rocky formations.
“Stand well back from this rock on the higher ground behind it,” Moses called to all those with him. Carrying the shepherd’s rod he had brought from Egypt, Moses went around the rock, climbed up its slanting back side, and stood atop the great chunk of red granite.
“Our God has promised more than once to take care of us,” Moses spoke out to the onlookers, who were more and more curious as to what Moses was going to do. “Here is another example of His miraculous power to provide for us. You elders are here to witness just another way in which our Creator faithfully keeps His promises to His people even though most of them fail to realize or remember what God has done, and is willing to do, for them.”
The onlookers gazed in silence, almost fearful of what might happen. A few, feeling a bit of guilt because of their lagging faith, wondered if fire and brimstone would hiss out of the sky or up through the ground. It was an uneasy moment for several who were present.
Moses lifted his shepherd’s rod high over his head, then brought it down sharply upon the edge of the huge boulder of red granite.
Immediately there was a muffled but loud crackling sound from within the rock. Onlookers standing safely off to the sides were amazed to see several parts of the sides of the rock explode outward like giant corks from so many gigantic bottles. Then crystal clear water spewed forth in huge, forceful amounts from those openings (Ex. 17:5-6)! The water cascaded into a nearby ravine and plunged in a foamy, muddy torrent toward the slightly lower elevations to the north where the Israelites were camping.
A short time later, Israelites at the head camp were startled to see a sheet of water moving slowly over a dry wash bed nearby. Spectators yelled out their surprise, thus alerting others camped to the north. When the first of the waters finally reached those Israelites near the end of the camps, it came to a gradual stop in a level area which later grew into a small lake.
The mere sight of fresh, moving water greatly excited the Israelites, even though the liquid was at first so muddy from picking up dirt and sand that it was unfit for drinking or even bathing. But with each passing minute the water became a little clearer. It wasn’t long before clear, cool water was flowing into the camps of the Israelites! The people were overjoyed.
For the first time since they had left Egypt there was more than enough water for them and their animals. Learning later how God had miraculously provided a steady stream of water from a solid block of granite, many of them regretted that they had complained so bitterly against Moses which was the same, in a way, as complaining against God.
Moses named the area Massah and Meribah, which means trouble andstrife. The trouble and strife hadn’t come from God or from Moses, but because of the Israelites’ lack of faith and dependence on God (v. 7).
Because there was such a wonderful water supply from out of the rock just to the south of their camps, the Israelites stayed in this spot for many months. The cloud remained overhead, which was a direct sign from God that the people should stay in that place.
The clear, fresh water in such abundance made life much easier for everyone. The attitude of the people was much improved, and there was very little complaining, if any, against Moses. But here in this area, just north of where Moses had herded flocks of sheep only a few months before, something unpleasant was beginning to take place.
Here and there, amid the rocks and rises sloping toward the mountain range to the south, unfriendly eyes peered at this vast band of people who had come from Egypt. Day after day those eyes kept watch on what went on in the camps. Meanwhile, the Israelites had no reason to suspect they were being spied on. Perhaps there were some who suddenly caught glimpses of furtively moving figures at a distance, only to conclude that the wobbly effect of desert heat had caused illusions of strange objects in motion.
It was late at night when trouble that had been brewing came upon the people in the rear camps. Campfires were out or low and most of the Israelites were soundly sleeping.
A peculiar rumble, growing in intensity by the second, came to the ears of those who were awake. Within a few moments it was so loud people began to awaken. Startled women and children cried out. Men sprang from their beds and darted out of their tents to find themselves confronted by a huge band of sword-brandishing warriors mounted on camels and horses!
Having managed to surprise their intended victims, the attackers began a frightful yelling and shrieking. Driving their mounts at top speed, they charged into the startled Israelites, who were at first too surprised to do anything.
Swords and knives of the spiteful attackers found their marks. Within only a few minutes the ground was covered with dead and wounded. Realizing that victory was theirs, the attackers dismounted and quickly ransacked the tents. Children and elderly people still in the tents became their victims. They seized anything they could carry away even some of the young women.
The noise of the attack had been heard by those Israelites in adjoining camps off to the south. Some of the more fearless men in these camps quickly organized hundreds of others to rush to the stricken area. When the attackers heard and saw this horde of men running toward them, they leaped astride their mounts and fled into the night. It was impossible for the Israelites to follow them afoot. All they could do was listen to the fading screams of their captives.
It was a sad night for many Israelitish families. But probably not all the dead and wounded were Israelites. A few of the attackers may have lain dead with the others, and a few, still alive, were captives of the angry Israelites.
It required a while to convey the news of the attack to Moses, whose tent was at the head of the multitude a considerable distance to the south. Moses was greatly troubled. But he wasn’t very surprised. He realized that this desert was inhabited by roaming bands of hostile men who were anything but friendly to strangers.
“Bring the prisoners to me at once,” Moses said to one of his officers. Later, some swarthy, bearded men were brought before Moses. Some of them glared at him hatefully, but two of them were nervous and fearful.
“Hold those two men who seem frightened,” Moses told his officers. “Let the others go.”
After the other prisoners had been taken away, Moses began questioning the last two. He spoke to them in Egyptian and in Hebrew. And having some knowledge of the peculiar tongue in which the desert people spoke, he tried that language, too. The more he talked to them, the more fearful the prisoners became. Officers who watched and listened were not exactly certain what Moses was saying to the desert men. But before long they were cringing in fear, and were stuttering out answers in a language much like Hebrew.
“Give them water and food and let them go,” Moses said. “You are too merciful with these murderers,” one of Moses’ officers remarked. “They will probably return to their tribe and join others in another bloody attack on us. Wouldn’t it have been better to kill them and thus show our enemies that we will show no mercy for anyone who attacks us?”
“I prefer to let them think that we are not a cruel, war-like people, “Moses replied. “Perhaps then they will be less likely to use their full strength against us.”
“But we don’t even know who our enemies are or when they might strike again,” another officer spoke up.
“I know,” Moses patiently replied, “All I did to find out, was to threaten to send those two you just released back to the camp where they were captured that is, if they didn’t answer my questions. Then I learned that our attackers were the Amalekites, desert people who have come down from Esau, the brother of our forefather Jacob. These Amalekites therefore are our distant cousins, and it would be good to meet them in peace. However, they are planning another attack tomorrow morning. Our men must take the few weapons we obtained from the drowned Egyptians and be prepared by sunrise to defend ourselves against these Amalekites!”
A young man named Joshua, a top officer under Moses, was then and there assigned the great responsibility of choosing strong, willing men who had the courage to band together and fight off the Amalekites. Even if Joshua had been given this task days before, it would have been a very difficult duty. But as it was, he had only until sunrise to prepare for battle (Ex. 17:9)!
By this time, news of the attack had reached all camps. This was quickly followed by messengers asking able-bodied men to report to Joshua at once and bring any kinds of weapons with them.
Before dawn a host of many thousands of men had gathered. Most of them were young, strong and full of zeal for the excitement of battle. Many others were angry and vengeful because of the vicious attack made on the rear camps just a few hours previously. There was no time for any training. All Joshua could do was encourage them to stick together in battle against the enemy.
“I am going to that high ridge over there,” Moses told Joshua, and pointed to a long hill off to the south. “There I will be praying for the people. God revealed to me that I must hold the rod of God High as a token of victory against our enemies, when they attack us again which they shall surely do.”
Moses and several of his officers and elders went at once to the high vantage point he mentioned. Immediately they spotted hordes of Amalekites off across the desert, moving swiftly toward the Israelite’s camps. Moses quickly sent a messenger back to Joshua to tell him that the enemy was already on the way.
Thus forewarned, Joshua speedily hid his men in the low spots to the east of the main body of Israelites. When the mounted Amalekites came charging over the desert knolls and rises they found themselves suddenly blocked by thousands of Israelites men. Not only were they blocked, but within seconds they were all but surrounded by the teeming defenders.
The Amalekites wheeled about to flee from this dense multitude of spear wielders. But only a part of them succeeded in escaping. The Israelites, using any weapons they had, including shepherd’s slings and their bare hands, brought down hundreds upon hundreds of the foe from their mounts.
The battle seemed to be over almost as soon as it had begun. The desert was strewn with dead and wounded Amalekites, whereas the Israelites seemed to be unharmed.
Having witnessed the apparent victory, Moses ceased his prayers and with great relief lowered the shepherd’s rod he had been holding up while he prayed for the defeat of their foes.
“Look!” Aaron shouted, pointing to the northeast. “They’re returning to attack again!”
Moses realized that he had assumed too much in thinking that the foe had been totally overcome. He raised his shepherd’s rod again and resumed his fervent prayer for victory.
Again the attackers ran into trouble. The Israelites were ready for them because of a signal from the hill were Moses was. Hundreds and hundreds more Amalekites lost their lives or were too wounded to fight. They fell by the same weapons of war by which the Egyptians had intended to slay the Israelites at the Red Sea, and which had been vomited up by the sea so that the Israelites could be armed for combat to come!
Again it seemed that the Israelites had won out over the Amalekites. Again Moses stopped praying. He let his arms down, thankful for the relief from the physical strain as well as being thankful for God’s helping the Israelites to stand fast against their foe.
But no sooner had Moses lowered his arms than the Amalekites charged back for the third time. This time they rushed into the Israelites with such fury that they forced them back dangerously close to their camps.
Perhaps it was then that Moses began to understand that Israel succeeded in battle only when he, Moses, held up his hands in prayer. At last realizing this fact, Moses again prayed diligently and held up his hand in an attitude of begging help from God Almighty.
The result was miraculous. Again the Amalekites fell back before the Israelites and fled away (Ex. 17:11)!
This was a wonderful example of how Christians should pray when they have problems. Asking just once is often not enough. Sometimes God tests our sincerity by requiring that we be willing to ask several or even many times for the things that we need.
We’ll continue with The Story of the Bible in our next installment, be watching!