THE PENTATEUCH PART II: EXODUS
Lesson 9:
Exodus chapters 16:1-18:27
The Miracles on the Desert Journey to Sinai

Lord of our every need:
How gently You escorted Israel on her courtship journey through the desert wilderness, feeding her manna from heaven and quenching her thirst with water from the rock.  You provided for the Israelites' every need, all the while teaching them to trust You, to rely upon You, and to be obedient to Your commands.  With the same covenant faithfulness You continue to guide the New Israel, the virgin Bride of Your Son, Jesus Christ, feeding Your New Covenant people the spiritual food of Your Son's Body and Blood, the necessary nourishment for the journey to salvation.  We thank You and praise You, Lord, for your faithfulness and we submit ourselves to Your commands as we obediently and thankfully receive the spiritual and eternal blessings that the first generation of the Old Covenant Church only hoped to receive.  Guide us now, Lord, as we study Israel's journey to holy nationhood.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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He split the sea and brought them through, made the waters stand up like a dam; he led them with a cloud by day, and all night with the light of a fire; he split rocks in the desert, let them drink as though from the limitless depths; he brought forth streams from a rock, made waters flow down in torrents. [..].  Even so he gave orders to the skies above, he opened the sluice-gates of heaven; he rained down manna to feed them, he gave them the wheat of heaven; mere mortals ate the bread of the Mighty, he sent them as much food as they could want.  He roused an east wind in the heavens, dispatched a south wind by his strength; he rained down meat on them like dust, birds thick as sand on the seashore, tumbling into the middle of his camp, all around his dwelling-place.  Psalm 78:13-14, 23-28).

They asked and he brought them quails, food from heaven to their hearts' content; he opened a rock, the waters gushed out, and flowed in dry ground as a river.  Psalm 105:40-41

I want you to be quite certain, brothers, that our ancestors all had the cloud over them and all passed through the sea.  In the cloud and in the sea they were all baptized into Moses; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:1-4

At the crossing of the Yam Suph God defended Israel and battled the Egyptians using the elements of the natural world to gain His victory.  He used water, wind, rain, thunder and lightening in a storm that terrified the Egyptians and doomed their army when the waters of the Yam Suph closed over them (Ps 77:16-18).  God did this mighty work within site the cultic shrine of the Canaanite storm-god Baal (Ex 14:1, 9), once again showing the peoples of Egypt and the Levant that their false gods were powerless and Yahweh is the One, True, God (Ex 14:4, 18).(1)

At every stage of the journey out of Egypt to the rendezvous point at Mt. Sinai, God demonstrated His covenant love and His protection of Israel. In this courtship journey the Israelites learned to trust God to provide for their needs, and they learned to be obedient to God's commands.

Works of God on the courtship journey to the rendezvous at Mt. Sinai:

  1. The miracle of the pillar of cloud and fire.
  2. The parting of the Yam Suph and God's victory over the Egyptian army.
  3. The sweetening of the bitter water at Marah.
  4. The miracle of the quails.
  5. The miracle of the manna, bread from heaven.
  6. The miracle of the life-giving water from the rock.
  7. The defeat of the Amalekites at Rephidim.

Please read Exodus 16:1-5: More Complaints and Yahweh's Promise
16:1Setting out from Elim the whole community of Israelites entered the desert of Sin, lying between Elim and Sinai on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt. 2And the whole community of Israelites began complaining about Moses and Aaron in the desert 3and said to them, 'Why did we not die at Yahweh's hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart's content!  As it is, you have led us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death!' 4Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens.  Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not. 5On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they have brought in, this must be twice as much as they collect on ordinary days.'

After crossing the Yam Suph the children of Israel journeyed through the desert of Etham for three days until they encamped by the pool of Marah (Num 33:8-9).  They left Marah and traveled to the oasis of Elim (Num 33:9).  After leaving Elim they encamped by the Yam Suph (Num 33:10).  They left the Yam Suph and encamped in the desert of Sin (pronounced "seen") on their way to Sinai (Num 33:11-12).  From the description of the journey in Scripture it would appear that the children of Israel crossed the Gulf of Suez somewhere near the northern arm of the Gulf (Num 33:1-15).  Then traveling south they encountered the Gulf of Suez again where it widens.  The next stop after the encampment on the Yam Suph was in the desert of Sin at Dophkah (Num 33:12).  It was at this encampment that the children of Israel must have experienced the miracles of the quail and the manna.  The etymology of Dophkah, dopka in Hebrew, is unknown but a number of scholars have associated it with the Egyptian word for turquoise or the word for "smeltery" and have suggested that the place-name refers to the Egyptian mining center at Serabit el-Khadem, located on the east side of the Gulf of Suez several miles east of where the gulf widens (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. II, "Dophkah", page 222; Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 188).  According to Numbers 33 after three more encampments the Israelites entered the Sinai desert (Num 33:11-15).  A healthy adult can travel about 20 miles a day, but a group this large, with women, children and the elderly, could probably not travel more than 4-5 miles a day.

Question: When the Israelites encamped at Dophkah how long had it been since the Israelites left Goshen?  See Ex 16:1 and Num 33:3
Answer: It had been exactly one lunar month; the date was now the 15th of Iyar.

Exodus 16:2-3: 2And the whole community of Israelites began complaining about Moses and Aaron in the desert 3and said to them, 'Why did we not die at Yahweh's hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart's content!  As it is, you have led us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death!'

The suffering affected the "whole community," not just "the people" as in the crisis at Marah (Ex 15:24).  This time the suffering was greater and more widespread than in the previous crisis.  You will recall that it was Moses and not Aaron the people accused of leading them into disaster and "trying to kill them" in crisis of the Yam Suph in 15:11-12 and in the water crisis at Marah in 15:24, but this time they accused both Moses and Aaron of leading them to disaster.

Apparently the people had depleted the food supplies they had brought with them from Goshen.  Living in Egypt the people were used to a good diet of staples like bread and barley beer (henket); vegetables like leeks, lettuce, cucumbers, garlic, lentils, beans, chickpeas and onions; fruit like dates, figs, melons, grapes, olives and pomegranates; fish and more rarely the meat of wild game and chickens (Chronicle of a Pharaoh, pages 94-95; Num 11:5; 20:5).

Question: What was the community's complaint?  What did their complaint reveal?
Answer: Their complaint to Moses was that it would have been better to die of old age in slavery than to die prematurely by starvation in freedom.  The response of the Israelites to their suffering shows a lack of gratitude for their redemption from slavery and a lack of faith in God's divine providence.

Question: Was this the first time the Israelites accused Moses of trying to kill them?
Answer: This was the second time; they made a similar accusation on the shore of the Yam Suph in Exodus 14:11-12.

Question: If the people were hungry why didn't they just kill some of their livestock?
Answer: They knew that their future prosperity depended on their flocks and herds.  A dead animal will never reproduce or give milk or wool.  They needed to preserve their animals.  Many of the animals were probably also distressed from the lack of adequate pastureland and water.

Exodus 16:4-5: 4Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens.  Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not. 5On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they have brought in, this must be twice as much as they collect on ordinary days.'

Question: God planned to provide the people with food for the journey, but He set out certain requirements.  What were the requirements he gave to Moses and Aaron?
Answer: The people must collect their ration of the heavenly bread daily but on the sixth day they must collect double the normal portion.

Question: God told Moses: I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.  What are two ways in which God tested the people?
Answer:

  1. God tested the people by allowing them to go without food and water to humble them and to demonstrate that they were absolutely dependant upon Him for their survival.
  2. The regulations concerning the rationing of the manna and the command to collection a double portion on the sixth day tested Israel's obedience to God's commands.

The journey to Mt. Sinai provided an introduction to God's laws and statutes for governing Israel, the journey humbled the people and taught them to trust and to depend on God, and their experiences with God on the journey revealed to the Israelites a more intimate knowledge of God.  In Moses' last homilies to the covenant people in Deuteronomy he recalled the testing in the desert and reminded the new generation of Israelites who had grown up during the forty years in the wilderness of that experience: Remember the long road by which Yahweh your God led you for forty years in the desert, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart---whether you would keep his commandments or not.  He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna which neither you nor your ancestors had ever known, to make you understand that human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh.  The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet were not swollen, all those forty years.  Learn from this that Yahweh you God was training you as a man trains his child, and keep the commandments of Yahweh your God, and so follow his ways and fear him (Dt 8:2-6). 

Please read Exodus 16:6-12: Moses and Aaron Give God's Instructions to the People
16:6Moses and Aaron then said to the whole community of Israelites, 'This evening you will know that it was Yahweh who brought you out of Egypt, 7and tomorrow morning you will see the glory of Yahweh, for Yahweh has heard your complaints about him.  What are we, that your complaint should be against us?' 8Moses then said, 'This evening Yahweh will give you meat to eat, and tomorrow morning bread to your heart's content, for Yahweh has heard your complaints about him.  What do we count for?  Your complaints are not against us, but against Yahweh.' 9Moses then said to Aaron, 'Say to the whole community of Israelites, "Approach Yahweh's presence, for he has heard your complaints."' 10As Aaron was speaking to the whole community of Israelites, they turned towards the desert, and there the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud. 11Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, 12'I have heard the Israelites' complaints. Speak to them as follows, "At twilight [bein ha-'arbayim = "between the twilights," plural ending] you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart's content, and then you will know that I am Yahweh your God."'
[..] =
literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 184).

Notice that Moses addressed the people directly in the last Egyptian plague and in the departure from Egypt (Ex 12:21, 25; 13:3).  He also spoke directly to them in the crisis of the crossing of the Yam Suph (14:13-14), but in this latest episode, after addressing the people himself in verses 8-9, Moses directed Aaron to speak for him to the people.  Then, Moses addressed the people directly again in 16:15-16, but throughout the next forty years he continued to use Aaron to function as his spokesperson. 

Question: If Moses has gained confidence in his leadership role as God's chief agent to Israel, why did he continue to speak through Aaron?
Answer: We can only speculate, but it was possible that Moses felt the people had more affection for Aaron and were more receptive to him. 

Later, the people's affection for Aaron and Aaron's desire to please them will lead to a crisis as serious as Adam's fall from grace in Genesis chapter 2.

Question: Moses and Aaron assured the people that God heard their complaints, but they could not resist two complaints of their own. What were their complaints to the people?
Answer: In response to their accusations in 16:2 Moses and Aaron told the Israelites that the people's suffering wasn't their fault; then Moses told the people their complaints should be directed to God.

Question: Moses and Aaron repeated the instructions God gave them but they left out what important command that caused some confusion later in verse 22?
Answer: They failed to mention the collection of the double portion of manna on the sixth day.

 Exodus 16:10-12: 10As Aaron was speaking to the whole community of Israelites, they turned towards the desert, and there the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud. 11Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, 12'I have heard the Israelites' complaints. Speak to them as follows, "At twilight [bein ha-'arbayim = "between the twilights," plural ending] you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart's content, and then you will know that I am Yahweh your God."'

Question: Why did God appear in this way and speak to the people through Moses?
Answer: If the people doubted what Aaron told them, the sudden appearance of God in the Glory Cloud reassured them.  The visual display and God's voice coming from the Glory Cloud was another affirmation that Moses and Aaron's role as Israel's leaders came directly from God. 

God spoke to the Israelites from the midst of the cloud in the same way He addressed Moses from the burning bush.  God assured the people through Moses that at noon (between the twilights of dawn and dusk) they would eat meat and in the morning they could have as much bread to eat as they wanted.  Noon was the normal time to take the daily main meal.  Then too, in a desert journey one didn't travel at the hottest time of the day.  God's visitation took place on the 16th of Iyar.

Question: What was the purpose of these miracles?
Answer: That the people should know that Yahweh is their God and not just the God of their fathers.

The manna blessing continued for the next forty years but the gift of the quail is only mentioned twice in Scripture: here in Exodus 16:13 and in Numbers 11:31-32.  In The Pentateuch as Narrative, Sailhamer notes an interesting pattern with the manna and quail, the Scriptural reference to forty years, and the Israelites' entrance into the Promised Land forty years later when the gift of the manna ended. The miracle of the quail is only mentioned in Ex 16:13 and Num 11:31-32:

manna & quail
Ex 16:4-34
40 years
Ex 16:35
manna & quail
Num 11:4-7; 31-33
40 years
Num 14:33-34
end of the 40 years
Josh 5:6
manna ends
Josh 5:12

This chart was adapted from John Sailhamer's book The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 274.  The Scripture references are listed slightly differently and unlike Sailhamer's chart the last two blocks have been reversed.  In Sailhamer's chart the last block listed the end of the forty years but did not list a Scripture reference.  This chart reverses the pattern because that is the order in which the end of the manna and the end of the forty years are recorded in the Book of Joshua.  The reversed pattern in the last two blocks does not lessen the theory that this was an intended pattern. The reversal in pattern points to a significant conclusion to the series of related events.

Scripture references to the forty years between Exodus and the Book of Joshua when the forty-year Exodus journey was completed is found in seven Scripture passages: Ex 16:35; Num 14:33-34; 32:13; Dt 2:7; 8:2-4; 29:5; and Josh 5:6.

Please read Exodus 16:13-18: The Miracles of the Quail and the Manna
16:13That evening, quails flew in and covered the camp, and next morning there was a layer of dew all round the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was something fine and granular, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. 15As soon the Israelites saw this, they said to one another, 'What is that?' not knowing what it was.  'That', Moses told them, 'is the food which Yahweh has given you to eat. 16These are Yahweh's orders: 'Each of you must collect as much as he needs to eat, a homer per head for each person in his tent.' 17The Israelites did this.  They collected it, some more, some less. 18When they measured out what they had collected by the homer, no one who had collected more had too much, no one who had collected less had too little.  Each had collected as much as he needed to eat.

"Evening" began after the sun reached its zenith and began to descend into night.  Sundown signaled the beginning of the next day.  That day at the noon meal they ate quail, and the next morning they ate "bread from heaven." 

Exodus 16:15:  As soon the Israelites saw this, they said to one another, 'What is that?' not knowing what it was.

The meaning of the word "manna" is a puzzle.  In Exodus 16:31 the word in the Hebrew text is man but in 16:15 the word is rendered in Hebrew as man hu.  Some biblical scholars have suggested that man and man hu is derived from the Egyptian word mannu, which means "food" (Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 189).  The expression man hu is usually translated, "It is manna," but the Septuagint translation of this verse is ti esti touto, "what is this?"  (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "manna", page 511; JPS Commentary, page 89). "What is this?" has become the most widely accepted explanation of the meaning of "manna" and is supported by the rest of the Scripture passage following man hu in 16:15: As soon as the Israelites saw this, they said to one another, 'What is that? [man hu] not knowing what it was.  'That', Moses told them, is the food which Yahweh as given you to eat.

Some scholars have attempted to associate the miracles of the quail and the manna with natural phenomena.  In the autumn large flocks of quail are known to migrate from Syria, Egypt, and Arabia southward to central Africa and then return in the spring.  In this long migration sometimes larges flocks of birds fall to the ground from exhaustion.  Since the quail miracle is only recorded twice in Scripture it is possible that it was a natural phenomenon, but it cannot be denied that God used that "natural" occurrence at a very specific time and at a very specific place to address the need of the Israelites. 

It has also been suggested that the manna was not a miracle but was a gum resin produced by several varieties of flowering trees in the Sinai or that the manna was a substance from the excretions of two species of scale insects found on branches of the tamarisk tree, a secretion that occurs in June in the Sinai (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, "manna", page 511; Davis, Studies in Exodus page 192).  However, these natural substances only occur seasonally and cannot be ground into a flour and baked into pancakes or boiled into a mush like the manna described in Exodus 16:23 and Numbers 11:7-9.  Nor are these other substances found covering the ground with the morning dew as in the biblical text, and the natural substances do not occur year round in large enough quantities to feed two million people.  St. Paul called the manna "spiritual" or supernatural food (1 Cor 10:3), Deuteronomy 8:3 records that no one had ever eaten manna before, and Jesus compared Himself to the "bread which came down from heaven" (Jn 6:31-65) and not to the secretions of insects or tree resin.  In other Bible passages the manna is described as supernatural food which was previously unknown (Dt 8:3, 16; Ps 78:24; 105:40; Neh 9:20).

Exodus 16:17-18: 17The Israelites did this.  They collected it, some more, some less. 18When they measured out what they had collected by the homer, no one who had collected more had too much, no one who had collected less had too little.  Each had collected as much as he needed to eat. The Catholic Bible Dictionary defines a homer /omer as a dry measure that was one-tenth of an ephah, or about half a gallon (page 663).  The prophet Ezekiel defined the Israelite homer as the basic unit of measure: Have fair scales, a fair ephah, a fair bat.  Let the ephah and the bat be equal, let the bat hold one-tenth of a homer and the ephah one-tenth of a homer.  Let the measures be based on the homer (Ez 45:10-11; also see Judg 6:19; Ruth 2:17; 1 Sam 1:14; Zec 5:6-10)

Question: What did the people discover about the amount of the manna they collected?  How often did God bless the people with a miracle?
Answer: The people witnessed a daily miracle in the giving of the manna each morning for six days a week and in the amount of the manna each person gathered.  When they gathered the manna some gathered more than others but when they measured what they gathered, the amount was exactly what each needed.  The fixed daily amount of manna for each individual provided for a fair and equitable distribution of the food.  No matter how much or little each person was able to gather, the ration was miraculously always the same.

Please read Exodus 16:19-30: Instruction on Collecting and Eating the Manna and the Sabbath Observation
16:19Moses then said, 'No one may keep any of it for tomorrow.' 20But some of them took no notice of Moses and kept part of it for the following day, and it bred maggots and smelt foul; and Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they collected it, each man as much as he needed to eat, and once the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22Now on the sixth day they collected twice the amount of food: two homer per person, and all the leaders of the community came and told Moses this. 23Moses replied, 'This is what Yahweh said, "Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, a Sabbath sacred to Yahweh.  Bake what you want to bake, boil what you want to boil; put aside what is left over, to be kept for tomorrow." 24So, as Moses ordered, they put it aside for the following day, and its smell was not foul nor were there maggots in it. 25'Eat it today,' Moses said, 'for today is a Sabbath for Yahweh; you will find none in the fields today. 26For six days you will collect it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.' 27On the seventh day some of the people went out to collect it, but they found none. 28Yahweh then said to Moses, 'How much longer will you refuse to obey my commandments and laws? 29Look, Yahweh has given you the Sabbath; this is why he gives you two days' food on the sixth day; each of you must stay in his place; on the seventh day no one may leave his home.' 30So on the seventh day the people rested.

The Israelites were told to collect only enough manna for a daily supply.  This practice recalls our Lord's words in the prayer He taught His Church: give us today our daily bread (Mt  6:11) These words are an expression of trust taught to us by the Savior just as the command to collect the manna daily was meant to inspire the Israelites to trust in God every "today."  These were words to inspire trust in that past experience but they also look forward in time to the daily trust between God and all believers. Jesus' prayer to give His faithful disciples God's "daily bread" refers both to God's Word and the Body of His Son in the Eucharist, offering His people a "today" that is not only marked in our mortal time but in God's eternal "today." St. Augustine wrote: The Eucharist is our daily bread.  The power belonging to this divine food makes it a bond of union.  Its effect is then understood as unity, so that, gathered into his Body and made members of him, we may become what we receive...  This also is our daily bread: the readings you hear each day in church and the hymns you hear and sing.  All these are necessities for our pilgrimage (Sermon 57.7; see CCC 2836-37).

The Fathers of the Church saw the Israelites daily blessing of the manna in the wilderness as foreshadowing the "daily bread" of Jesus' Body offered to the people of the New Israel in the Eucharist.

Question: In what Scripture passage did Jesus compare Himself to the manna in the wilderness?  Quote the passage.
Answer: It was the comparison Jesus made of Himself to the manna of the wilderness journey in John 6:33-35: In all truth I tell you, It was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, it is my father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  'Sir,' they said, 'give us that bread always.'  Jesus answered them: I AM the bread of life.

Just as the children of Israel's hunger drove them to ask for food, so should our hunger for the Lord Jesus dive us to seek Him in the Eucharistic bread of life.  Encouraging the faithful to seek Christ in the Eucharist, St. Peter Chrysologus wrote: The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven.  [Christ] himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven (Sermon 67).

Some Israelites attempted to disregard God's command and tried to horde part of their allotted portion to keep from working the next day.

Question: Was their disobedience rewarded?
Answer: No it was not; the extra manna turned to maggots.

Exodus 16:22-23: 22Now on the sixth day they collected twice the amount of food: two homer per person, and all the leaders of the community came and told Moses this. 23Moses replied, 'This is what Yahweh said, "Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, a Sabbath sacred to Yahweh.  Bake what you want to bake, boil what you want to boil; put aside what is left over, to be kept for tomorrow."

Question: Why were the elders confused?
Answer: They knew they were not supposed to keep any manna over until the next day and that the collection of the manna was regulated by God, and yet on the sixth day they collected a double portion. Moses had failed to explain this exception earlier and the discovery caused some confusion.

Exodus 16:24-27: 24So, as Moses ordered, they put it aside for the following day, and its smell was not foul nor were there maggots in it. 25'Eat it today,' Moses said, 'for today is a Sabbath for Yahweh; you will find none in the fields today. 26For six days you will collect it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.' 27On the seventh day some of the people went out to collect it, but they found none.

The preservation of the manna for the Sabbath was another miracle.  Prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments and the covenant formation at Mt. Sinai, God established the Sabbath rest and a holy day of obligation, a day of sanctification for the people of Israel.  The prophet Ezekiel wrote about the first command of the Sabbath rest when Yahweh said: So I brought them out of Egypt and led them into the desert.  I gave them my laws and taught them my judgments, in whose observance people find life.  And I also gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I, Yahweh, am the one who sanctifies them (Ez 20:12).

Exodus 16:28-30: 28Yahweh then said to Moses, 'How much longer will you refuse to obey my commandments and laws? 29Look, Yahweh has given you the Sabbath; this is why he gives you two days' food on the sixth day; each of you must stay in his place; on the seventh day no one may leave his home.' 30So on the seventh day the people rested.

Question: What was the theological reason for collecting the manna for only six days and resting on the seventh?  Quote the significant passage from Genesis where "work" and "seventh day" are both repeated three times.
Answer: God intended that the Israelites should labor daily for their food and that they should rest on the seventh day just as God labored the six days of creation and rested on the seventh day: Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array.  On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing.  He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.  God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day he rested after all his work of creating (Gen 2:1-3).

Please read Exodus 16:31-36: The Command to Preserve a Portion of the Manna
31 The House of Israel named it 'manna.'  It was like coriander seed; it was white and its taste was likethat of wafers made with honey. 32 Moses then said, 'These are Yahweh's orders: Fill a homer with it and preserve it for your descendants, so that they can see the bread on which I fed you in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.' 33Moses then said to Aaron, 'Take a jar and in it put a full homer of manna and store it in Yahweh's presence, to be kept for your descendants.' 34 Accordingly, Aaron stored it in front of the Testimony, to be preserved, as Yahweh had ordered Moses. 35 The Israelites ate manna for forty years, up to the time they reached inhabited country: they ate manna up to the time they reached the frontiers of Canaan. 36 A homer is one-tenth of an ephah.

Question: Describe the manna; what did it taste like?  See Ex 16:14, 31 and Num 11:7-9.
Answer: The manna appeared on the ground when the dew fell.  It was white, light and flaky like hoarfrost but sometimes appeared granular like coriander seed.  To some the manna tasted like wafers with honey and to other like fresh olive oil.  It could be ground in a mill to make flour.  The flour could be baked into wafers or made into pancakes, or the manna could be crushed with a pestle to make a courser grained substance which could be cooked in a pot like porridge. 

Question: For how long did they eat the manna and when did the provision of the manna cease.  Were the people always grateful for this gift?  See Num 11:7-9; 21:5; Josh 5:10-12.
Answer: The people ate the manna for forty years. The manna ceased as soon as the people arrived in the Promised Land.  After years of eating the manna the people became ungrateful for God's gift.

Question:  Jesus compared Himself to the manna the Israelites ate for forty years.  How was the "heavenly bread" of the manna different from the "heavenly bread" of Jesus' own Body?  See Jn 6:31-58.
Answer: The manna only offered temporal salvation but Jesus' flesh is the bread from heaven that gives eternal life.

Question: Are we any more grateful to God than the Israelites for our gift of the "heavenly bread" of the Eucharist?
Answer: Unfortunately, after the many generations that the New Covenant people have been nourished on the "heavenly bread" of Jesus Body, many take this gift for granted or complain that they have ceased to be "satisfied."

God commanded Moses to preserve a jar of manna.  After the desert Sanctuary was built Aaron kept the jar of manna in the Holy of Holies front of the Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of Testimony.

Question: According to the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews what became of the jar of manna?  See Heb 9:4.
Answer: At some time, perhaps after the reforms of Hezekiah or Josiah, the jar of manna was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant along with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and Aaron's rod of priestly authority.

Please read Exodus 17:1-7: The Miracle of the Water from the Rock
17:1The whole community of Israelites left the desert of Sin, travelling by stages as Yahweh ordered.  They pitched camp at Rephidim where there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people took issue with Moses for this and said, 'Give us water to drink.'  Moses replied, 'Why take issue with me?  Why do you put Yahweh to the test?' 3But, tormented by thirst, the people complained to Moses.  'Why did you bring us out of Egypt,' they said, 'only to make us, our children and our livestock, die of thirst?' 4Moses appealed to Yahweh for help.  'How am I to deal with this people?' he said.  'Any moment now they will stone me!' 5Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Go on ahead of the people, taking some of the elders of Israel with you; in your hand take the staff with which you struck the River, and go. 6I shall be waiting for you there on the rock (at Horeb).  Strike the rock, and water will come out for the people to drink.'  This was what Moses did, with the elders of Israel looking on. 7He gave the place the names Massah [trial] and Meribah [contention] because of the Israelites' contentiousness and because they put Yahweh to the test by saying, 'Is Yahweh with us, or not?'

Rephidim was the last stop before reaching Mt. Sinai (also see Num 33:14-15). The place-name may derive from Hebrew root rpd, meaning "support" or "help" (Propp, Exodus, page 604).  The people continued to collect the manna for six days out of every week, but for the second time (since 16:22-25 at Marah) they complained that they were dying of thirst and needed water for themselves and their animals.  This time they were so threatening that Moses feared they would kill him.

The courtship journey to Sinai and after the two years at Sinai, the thirty-eighty years of wilderness wandering (Dt 2:14) was continually marred by Israel's complaints to Moses and their lack of trust in God to provide for them.

Question: How many times are their complaints recorded in Scripture?  See Ex 14:10-12; 15:24; 16:2-3; 17:3; Num 11:4ff; 14:2; 20:2 and Psalms 78 and 106.
Answer: They complained to Moses about their thirst in Exodus 15:24; 17:3 and Num 20:2; about their hunger Ex. 16:2-3; Num 11:4ff, and about the dangers of war in Ex 14:10-12 and Num 14:2.  The first generation of Israelites to witness God's mighty works was so willful that they threaten to reject the promises of God: Ps 78:13-44; 106:6-22.

Question: What were God's instructions to Moses?  Where was he to go and what was he to do when he got there?  Horeb is Sinai.
Answer: Moses was instructed to take some of the elders of Israel with him and to go ahead of the people to Mt. Sinai.  God told Moses He would be waiting at Sinai on the rock.  Moses was to strike the rock and water would come out of the rock for the people. 

Question: According to God's statement in Exodus 17:6 where was God at Sinai and what happened when Moses obeyed God's orders?  When did the people receive the gift of the water from the rock?
Answer: God was on the rock and Moses was instructed to strike the rock upon which God stood.  God was struck to produce the waters of life for the people. When the people arrived at Mt. Sinai the water was there waiting for them.

Because the people were contentious and put God to the test by asking if God was indeed with them, Moses re-named Rephidim "Massah," testing and "Meribah," contention (Ex 17:7; Dt 6:16; 9:22; 33:8).

Question: What did St. Paul say about the miracle of the crossing of the Yam Suph and the miracle of the rock that gave life-giving water in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4?
Answer:  St. Paul identified the Rock as Christ: I want you to be quite certain, brothers, that our ancestors all had the cloud over them and all passed through the sea.  In the cloud and in the sea they were all baptized into Moses; all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink, since they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:1-4).

The Fathers of the Church wrote that the rock that was struck to bring forth life-giving waters was an allegory of the Passion of Christ and His work of redemption: Then the Lord said to Moses, "Take the staff and strike the rock, that it may produce water for the people."  Behold, there is a rock, and it contains water.  However, unless this rock is struck, it does not have any water at all.  Then when it has been struck, it produces fountains and rivers, as we read in the Gospel: "He who believes in me, from within him there shall flow rovers of living water."  When Christ was struck on the cross, he brought forth the fountains of the New Testament.  Therefore it was necessary for him to be pierced.  If he had not been struck, so that water and blood flowed from his side, the whole world would have perished through suffering thirst for the word of God (St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 103.3, quoting Jn 7:38).

Just as the manna continued to satisfy their hunger and give nourishment to the Israelites on their journey, the rock that gave life-giving water now followed them on their forty year journey (1 Cor 10:4).

"Rock" as a title/name for God is found seven times in Scripture (rock in Hebrew is sur: pronounced "tsoor"):

The miracle of "water from the rock" was repeated near the end of their journey forty year at Kadesh in Numbers 20:1-11.  Please read that passage.  At Kadesh the people banded together against Moses and blamed him for their sufferings, complaining again the Moses had purposely brought them out into the desert to die of thirst.  Moses and Aaron appealed to God and Yahweh instructed Moses: Take the branch and call the community together, you and your brother Aaron.  Then, in full view of them order this rock to release its water.  You will release water from the rock for them and provide drink for the community and their livestock (Num 20:8-11).

Question: How are the instructions different from the instructions given at Rephidim in Ex 17:5-7?  Compare the passages.

Exodus 17:5-7 Numbers 20:8-11
1. Go on ahead of the people, taking some of the elders of Israel with you; in your hand take the staff* with which you struck the River, and go (17:5). 1. Take the branch* and call the community together, you and your brother Aaron (Num 20:8a)
2. I shall be waiting for you there on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out for the people to drink 17:6) 2. Then, in full view of them, order this rock to release its water.  You will release water from the rock for them and provide drink for the community and their livestock (20:8b-c).
3. This is what Moses did with the elders of Israel looking on (17:6) 3. Moses took up the branch* from before Yahweh, as he had directed him.  Moses and Aaron then called the assembly together in front of the rock.  He then said to them, 'Listen now, you rebels.  Shall we make water gush from this rock for you?  Moses then raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the branch*; water gushed out in abundance, and the community and their livestock drank (20:9-11).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

* same word in the Hebrew text (mattah).

Answer: The first time Moses was instructed to strike the rock in the presence of some of the elders.   The second time Moses and Aaron were told to call together the assembly of the Old Covenant Church and in their presence Moses was instructed to speak to the rock to bring forth the water.

Question: How did Moses address the people in the second event?  Did Moses faithfully carry out God's instructions the second time he was told to bring water from the rock for the people?
Answer: Moses was infuriated with the people and called them "rebels."  No, Moses lost his temper and struck the rock twice. The water came out of the rock but Moses did not obey God's command to speak to the rock.

Question: What was Moses and Aaron's punishment for their disobedience?  See Num 20:12.
Answer: For not believing that God could assert His holiness before the community in speaking to the rock, Moses and Aaron were barred from leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Both Moses and Aaron died without setting their feet on the land they had been journeying toward for the past forty years of their lives. What a seemingly harsh judgment for a failed act of obedience!  

Question: This was not the first time Moses had failed to precisely carry out God's commands.  At what other two times did Moses and Aaron either add to God's instructions or fail to give all of God's commands?
Answer:

  1. In the first audience with the Pharaoh in Exodus 5:3 they became flustered after the Pharaoh ridiculed Yahweh and added the statement that if Pharaoh didn't let the people go that their God "will strike us with a plague or with the sword."
  2. In the instructions for collecting the manna Moses failed to tell the people to collect a double portion on the sixth day.  He didn't include this instruction until the people realized they had collected a double portion on the sixth day and came to him to inquire why this had happened (16:22-23).

Why was the failure to carry out God's command to speak to the rock to obtain the miracle of the water at Kadesh in the presence of the assembly of Israel so serious?  The answer to this question can be found in St. Paul's identification of the Rock as the pre-Incarnate Christ, the Christ who speaks of Himself as the One from whom life-giving waters flow to quench the thirsty soul: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!  Let anyone who believes in me come and drink! (Jn 7:37-38).  Also see Jesus' promise to the woman of Samaria to give her "living water" (Jn 4:10).

The gift of the heavenly bread of the manna prefigured the gift of Christ the "Living Bread" in the Eucharist (Jn 6:32-58) and the command that God's representative must first strike the rock and then speak to the rock to bring forth the water that will sustain life in front of the assembly of the Old Covenant Church prefigured both Christian baptism and the gift of the Eucharist, both sacraments fulfill Jesus' promise that He is the "living water" welling up for eternal life (Jn 4:10-14; 5:8; 7:37-38; 19:34;1 Cor 12:13;  Rev 21:6; 22:17; CCC 694). 

Christ was struck down once and for all time for the sins of man, just as God upon the rock was to be struck once in Exodus 17:6.  But from that one time Christ was struck until the end of time the gift of baptism through water and the spirit and the gift of the bread of life of Christ in the Eucharist is given to the assembly when God's representative speaks to the Rock who is Christ and Christ the "Living Water" becomes present on the altar, giving spiritual life to all who come to Him.

Compare the two passages concerning God's instructions to obtain water from the Rock (the first in Exodus 17:1-7 at the beginning of Israel's covenant relationship with God and the second in Numbers 20:2-11 near the end of their journey) with the miracle of Christ present in the Eucharist.

Miracle of Water from the Rock at Horeb (Ex 17:1-7)

Christ's Crucifixion at Golgotha

1. Moses was instructed to take some of the elders of Israel as witnesses (17:5).

2. God was on the rock (17:6).

3. Moses and Aaron were God's representatives (Ex 3:10; 4:14-16).



4. Moses was commanded to strike the rock with his staff (17:5).


5. When he struck the rock the people received the gift of life-giving water (17:17:6).
1. Some of the elders of Israel witnessed Jesus' crucifixion (Mt 27:41-42).

2. Jesus is the Rock (1 Cor 10:4).

3. The elders of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, who served the people as God's representatives, condemned Jesus to death (Mt 26:57, 66).

4.  Jesus, the Rock, was "struck" (beaten, crucified & speared in His chest (Mt 26:67; Jn 19:17-18, 34).

5. Jesus was crucified on the Cross; when the soldier struck His side with the spear blood and water flowed from His side (Jn 19:34)'the gifts of baptism and the Eucharist.
Miracle of Water from the Rock at Kadesh (Num 20:2-11) The Miracle of Christ in the Eucharist
1. Moses was instructed to take his staff and call the assembly of the Old Covenant Church as witnesses to the miracle
(Num 20:8a)

2. Moses was God's representative.

3. Moses was commanded to speak to the rock to bring forth the miracle of life giving water for the sake of the people's temporal salvation (Num 20:8b).
1. At every Mass the assembly of the New Covenant Church witnesses the miracle of the Eucharist.


2. The priest is God's representative.

3. The priest speaks the words of consecration and Christ becomes present on the altar in the miracle of the Eucharist.   His people receive His Body and Blood for the sake of their eternal salvation (Jn 6:53-58; 7:37-38).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

* in Num 20:8 Moses was commanded to "take the staff/branch" and call the people but in the command in Ex 17:5 Moses was told to "take in your hand the "staff/branch" with which you struck the River" and strike the rock.  It is the same Hebrew word in both passages (mattah).  The word means "branch" but since branches were used as staffs, the word can also be translated as "staff."  It is interesting that the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible translate the word as "staff" in Ex 17:5 but as "branch" in Num 20:8.  "The Branch" will become a title for the Messiah in the books of the prophets, but in those references to the Messiah as "the Branch" the Hebrew word most often used is netzer, which may have an etymological link to the name of Jesus' hometown, Nazareth.

Exodus 17:7: He gave the place the names Massah [trial] and Meribah [contention] because of the Israelites' contentiousness and because they put Yahweh to the test by saying, 'Is Yahweh with us, or not?'

It wasn't just a complaint the Israelites made to Moses; the Israelites put their complaint in the form of a challenge to test God's willingness to provide for them (see CCC 2119).

Please read Exodus 17:8-16: The Battle against the Amalekites
17:8The Amalekites then came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, 'Pick some men and tomorrow morning go out and engage Amalek.  I, for my part, shall take my stand on the hilltop [mountain] with the staff of God in my hand.' 10Joshua did as Moses had told him and went out to engage Amalek, while Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11As long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel had the advantage; when he let his arms fall, the advantage went to Amalek. 12But Moses' arms grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and on this he sat, with Aaron and Hur supporting his arms on each side.  Thus his arms remained unwavering till sunset, 13and Joshua defeated Amalek, putting their people to the sword. 14Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Write this down in a book to commemorate it, and repeat it over to Joshua, for I shall blot out all memory of Amalek under heaven.' 15Moses then built an altar and named it Yahweh-Nissi 16meaning, 'Lay hold of Yahweh's banner! Yahweh will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.

The Amalekites attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.  The Amalekites were an ancient people first mentioned in the invasion of the kings of Mesopotamia in Genesis 14:4 (also see Num 13:29; 24:20).  They occupied the northern Sinai Peninsula and the Negeb of southern Canaan.  At the time of the Exodus they controlled the caravan routes between Arabia and Egypt (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, page 315).  These people probably saw the opportunity to attack a vulnerable band of refugees and confiscate their herds of livestock.  The Amalekites were considered to be Israel's perennial enemy ( Dt 25:17-18, Judg 1:16; 6:3-5, 33; 12:15; 1 Sam 15:3-9; 27:8, 30:1-2, 11-20) and sometimes served as mercenaries fighting for Israel's enemies (Judg 3:13).  In the reign of King Hezekiah (716-687 BC) the last remnant of the Amalekites were destroyed (1 Chr 4:43).(2)  Esau son of Isaac and brother of Jacob had a grandson named Amalek born to Esau's son Eliphaz and his concubine (Gen 36:12, 16).  This woman was probably an Amalekite who named her son after her people.  The territory of the Amalekites bordered Esau's territory.

This is the first time Joshua is mentioned in the biblical narrative. Originally named Hoshea, Joshua was the son of Nun (Num 13:16).  He was a member of the tribe of Joseph and was a descendant of Joseph's younger son Ephraim, Joshua is listed as a member of that half-tribe (Num 13:8).   Moses changed his name from Hoshea ("salvation") to Yahshua/ Jehoshua ("Yah is salvation") in Numbers 13:16.  Yahshua/Yehosuah is the same name the angel Gabriel will tell the Virgin Mary to name the Son of God (Lk 1:31).  Joshua became Moses' trusted lieutenant (Ex 24:13), and he will be named as Moses' successor, divinely elected by God to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land (Dt 32:44; Josh 1:1-5).  In all his years of service to the Lord, Joshua's record of obedience was unblemished.  His homily to the assembly of Israel before his death is a testament to his unfailing devotion to God and his fidelity to his life's mission to fulfill God's plans for Israel (Josh 24:1-24).  Chapter 34 of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua are attributed to him.

Hur was an aide of Moses and Aaron and is only mentioned here and in Exodus 24:14.   It appears he was the same Hur who was named in the genealogies of the tribe of Judah (1 Chr 2:50; 4:1, 4).  His name (hr) probably derives from the Egyptian hr, "Horus," the Egyptian falcon-headed god (Propp, Exodus, page 617). 

Obedient to Moses' command, Joshua led the Israelite men into battle against the Amalekites while Moses, with his staff in his hand, stood on a hill with his arms raised and stretched out to each side as he prayed for Israel's victory.  This position of prayer is called the Orans or Orante position.  It will become the priestly stance in prayer for the priests of the Old Covenant Church and continues as a stance in prayer for the New Covenant people of God.(3)

Question: How did Moses' position on the hill influence the battle?  How did Aaron and Hur assist Moses?
Answer: So long as Moses continued in his intercessory prayer for Israel with his arms raised Joshua and his forces were able to push back their enemy, but whenever his arms fell the Amalekites began to gain dominance over Israel.  In order to help Moses keep his arms raised Aaron and Hur sat Moses on a stone and supported his outstretched arms.  Moses remained in this position until sunset when Joshua and the Israelites finally defeated their enemy.  

In Moses' position: standing on the top of a hill/mountain (and then sitting on a rock), holding his staff in one hand with his arms outstretched, his body forming a cross, and his intercessory prayer leading to victory over Israel's perennial enemy the Amalekites, the Fathers of the Church saw a foreshadow of the Christ on the rock of the hill/mountain top of Golgotha with His outstretched arms on the Cross as He prayed for the salvation of mankind and ultimately won victory over mankind's perennial enemy, Satan.  The Fathers saw Moses' wooden staff as a conduit for God's power in defeating Israel's enemy just as the Cross of Jesus Christ became a conduit for God's power in defeating Satan (see Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3.18; Cyprian, Testimonia 2.21; Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 2.88).

Exodus 17:14:Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Write this down in a book to commemorate it, and repeat it over to Joshua, for I shall blot out all memory of Amalek under heaven.'  Biblical testimony that there was a written account of the events of the Exodus and a written record of the Law will be repeated eight times in the Pentateuch (Ex 24:4; 34:27; Num 21:14; 31:19, 24; 33:2; Dt 28:58, 61).  Joshua 1:8; 8:30; 10:13 and 24:26 records that there was a document written by Moses and that other events were also recorded by Joshua.  There are also numerous references to a written account by Moses in the other Bible books and Jesus, speaking of Moses' written account of the Pentateuch said: If you really believe him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?  (Jn 5:46-37).

Exodus 17:15-16: Moses then built an altar and named it Yahweh-Nissi 16 meaning, 'Lay hold of Yahweh's banner!  Yahweh will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.  This is the first altar built since leaving Egypt.  Moses named the altar "Yahweh Nissi," the meaning in the text is explained as "Lay hold of Yahweh's banner" but the Hebrew word nissi or nes/kes, is otherwise unknown.  The Septuagint translated the word as "cover" (kruphaia), from the Hebrew stem k-s-h "to cover up," while St. Jerome translated the word as "chair" or "throne" (solium) in his Latin Vulgate (New Jerusalem, note g, page 103; Propp, Exodus, page 620; JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 250, note 18).  If the Hebrew word is an archaic word for "throne" it may be a message to Israel that Yahweh is Israel's king and it is worship at Yahweh's altar that unites Israel to her King.

Please read Exodus 18:1-12: Jethro Brings Moses' Family to the Israelite Camp
18:1Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law,  had heard all about what God had done for Moses and for Israel his people" how Yahweh had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, then took back Zipporah, Moses' wife, whom Moses had sent home, 3with her two sons; one of them was called Gershom because, he had said, 'I am an alien in a foreign land,' 4and the other called Eliezer because 'My father's God is my help and has delivered me from Pharaoh's sword.' 5Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, with Moses' sons and wife, came to Moses in the desert where he was encamped, at the mountain of God. 6'Here is your father-in-law Jethro approaching', Moses was told, 'with your wife and her two sons.' 7So Moses went out to greet his father-in-law, bowed low to him and kissed him; and when each had asked how the other was they went into the tent. 8Moses then told his father-in-law all about what Yahweh had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and about all the hardships that they had encountered on the way, and how Yahweh had rescued them. 9And Jethro was delighted at all Yahweh's goodness to Israel in having rescued them from the clutches of the Egyptians. 10'Blessed be Yahweh', Jethro exclaimed, 'for having rescued you from the clutches of the Egyptians and the clutches of Pharaoh, for having rescued the people from the grasp of the Egyptians! 11Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods... 12Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, then offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God; and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came and ate with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God.

In the "Song of the Sea" there was the prediction that all the peoples of the region would hear of God's mighty works and fear him (Ex 15:14-16).  Moses' father-in-law, the priestly ruler of Midian, heard of God's mighty works for Moses and his people and bringing Moses' wife and children, came to find Moses.  Zipporah must have returned to her own people after the terrifying night described in Exodus 4:24-26.  That Jethro, Moses' "father-in-law," is the central figure in this part of the narrative is evident in the repetition of the word "father-in-law" eight times in the Hebrew text in this section concerning Jethro's arrival and reunification with Moses and another five times in the next section where Jethro advises Moses about his role as Israel's leader.

Exodus 18:5: Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, with Moses' sons and wife, came to Moses in the desert where he was encamped, at the mountain of God.

Question: Where does the reunification between Moses and his Midianite family take place?  See Ex 3:12; 4:27 and 15:17.
Answer: The "mountain of God" has to be Mt. Sinai where Moses had the burning bush experience and where God promised to bring Moses and the Israelites after their liberation from Egypt.

Exodus 18:2-4: 2Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, then took back Zipporah, Moses' wife, whom Moses had sent home, 3with her two sons; one of them was called Gershom because, he had said, 'I am an alien in a foreign land,' 4and the other called Eliezer because 'My father's God is my help and has delivered me from Pharaoh's sword.'

The etymology of the names of Moses' two sons sum up his life history living in Midian prior to his divine election as Israel's liberator.  Moses' sons are only mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 23:15-17 and in 26:24-28 along with their sons, and Eliezer's eldest sons' descendants all of whom served as royal treasurers during the United Monarchy.

Exodus 18:10-12: 10'Blessed be Yahweh', Jethro exclaimed, 'for having rescued you from the clutches of the Egyptians and the clutches of Pharaoh, for having rescued the people from the grasp of the Egyptians! 11Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods... 12Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, then offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God; and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came and ate with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God.

Jethro's acknowledgement of Yahweh as the supreme God is seen by many Bible scholars as a declaration of his conversion.  Jethro's profession of faith in Yahweh is followed by his sacrifice of whole burnt offerings ('olah) to Yahweh, offered on the altar built by Moses, and by another sacrifice (zevah) in which the victim was eaten in a sacred meal with Moses and the elders of Israel in the presence of God'such a meal is always an act of covenant formation and/or covenant continuation (see Gen 26:30; 31:54; Ex 24:5, 9-11).(4)

Please read Exodus 18:13-27: Moses Appoints the Judges of Israel
18:13On the following day, Moses took his seat to administer justice for the people, and the people were standing round him from morning till evening. 14Seeing all he did for the people, Moses' father-in-law said to him, 'Why do you do this for the people, why sit here alone with the people standing round you from morning till evening?' 15Moses replied to his father-in-law, 'Because the people come to me to consult God. 16When they have a problem they come to me, and I give a ruling between the one and the other and make God's statutes and laws known to them.' 17Moses' father-in-law then said to him, 'What you are doing is not right. 18You will only tire yourself out, and the people with you too, for the work is too heavy for you.  You cannot do it all yourself. 19Now listen to the advice I am going to give you, and God be with you!  Your task is to represent the people to God, to lay their cases before God, 20and to teach them the statutes and laws, and show them to way they ought to follow and how they ought to behave. 21At the same time, from the people at large choose capable and God-fearing men, men who are trust worthy and incorruptible, and put them in charge of them as heads [sar = heads/chiefs/commanders] of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, 22and make them the people's permanent judges. They will refer all important matters to you, but all minor matters they will decide themselves, so making things easier for you by sharing the burden with you. 23If you do this, and may God so command you, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.' 24Moses took his father-in-law's advice and did just as he said. 25Moses chose capable men from all Israel and put them in charge of the people as heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  These acted as the people's permanent judges. 26They referred hard cases to Moses but decided minor matters themselves. 27Moses then set his father-in-law on his way, and he travelled back to his own country.
[..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 190; JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 101; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, page 978).

Jethro, an experienced priestly ruler and judge over his people, recognized that Moses had a problem in the way he was managing his human resources.  Moses' inefficient system was having a debilitating effect on Moses and was imposing hardship on the people who were kept waiting for a just hearing concerning their grievances.

Question: Putting himself in the role as Moses' management consultant, what plan did Jethro give Moses for governing the Israelites?
Answer: Jethro's recommendations:

  1. He defined Moses role as the people's mediator to God, as Israel's supreme judge, and as the authoritative teacher of God's statutes and laws.
  2. He defined the qualifications for Israel's judges and that their duties were to include deciding the people's minor disputes themselves, but they would refer all important decisions to Moses.
  3. He told Moses to appoint trustworthy men to be in charge of groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and ten as Israel's permanent judges.

Jethro's plan of organizing a hierarchy of judges over different groups of people may have been the preferred organizational plan for administrating social justice and organizing the military not only for the Midianites but for many other peoples in the region (1 Sam 8:11-12).  This may be why Jethro referred to the judges as sar = "chiefs/ heads/ commanders" in Exodus 18:21; it is the same title that is used for David when he was the captain of King Saul's bodyguard (1 Sam 22:14), David as leader of a band of outlaws (1 Sam 22:2), and for Philistine military leaders (1 Sam 29:2-3). During the period of Israel's United Monarchy, Israel's military forces will be organized under a similar system as the organization of judges proposed by Jethro (1 Sam 22:7-8; 2 Sam 18:1, 4; 2 Chr 1:2).  Jethro's plan is the beginning of the Sanhedrin, the Israelite courts of justice.

Question: What social, spiritual, and moral qualification did Jethro say were necessary for a man to be selected as a judge?  Are such qualifications still relevant today?
Answer: The men had to be capable, God-fearing, trustworthy and incorruptible.  These are the same qualifications that we should demand from men and women who are in positions of civil and religious leadership.

Was the Exodus out of Egypt an historical event?

The Exodus experience and the covenant formation at Mt. Sinai are the two major events that define the historical nation of Israel.  The Bible presents the Exodus as an historical event and confirms time and again the significance of the experience that must be commemorated in every Israelite generation as well as the significance of the event in God's plan of salvation history:

The Exodus account in the Bible provides accurate information about the regional, cultural, and political situation in Egypt during the New Kingdom period in Egyptian history:

These facts cannot be offered as proof that the Exodus occurred, but they do support Sacred Scripture's own testimony as recorded by God's prophet Hosea: When Israel was a child I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt (Hos 11:1) and Jesus' testimony speaking of Moses: If you really believed in him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say? (Jn 5:46-47)

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Why didn't God just anticipate the needs of the Israelites on the journey and provide for those needs without allowing the people to suffer from hunger and thirst?  Why did He wait to act until the people suffered and the need was obvious?
Answer: The experience of suffering on the journey was the means to teach the Israelites to depend on God and to trust Him to provide for their needs.  If God had anticipated their needs before the people felt hunger or thirst the people wouldn't have been aware that they were in need and they wouldn't have appreciated God's divine providence in meeting their needs.  God also wanted them to turn to Him in prayer and to ask for His provision and protection as a way of building a relationship with Him. 

Question: If Christ came to redeem the world and to defeat sin and death, why do we still have sin and suffering in the world?  Why doesn't God anticipate our needs and eliminate our suffering?  See CCC 164-65, 407-409, 1508, 1521; Mt 5:11-12; Mt 10:38; 16:24; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Col 1:24-25.
Answer: It is true that Christ's perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and His work of redemption freed man from slavery to sin and death; however, although the ultimate victory is won, the fight against Satan's influence in the world and the suffering caused by sin goes on.  Sin is still present; sin still causes suffering to the guilty and to the innocent (original sin in the world is a cause of suffering).  But, just as God did not abandon His people in the wilderness journey out of Egypt or on their journey to the Promised Land, so too has He not abandoned us on our journey through the exile of this world on our way to heaven.  Sin can still harm us temporally and unconfessed mortal sin can harm us eternally, but when we turn to God and submit our lives to Him sin has no power over us and God is faithful to His promise to provide for us.  As it was with the Israelites, so is it now with us in that God's desire is to build a relationship with His people.  The suffering and need of the Israelites on the wilderness journey was a way to test their willingness to trust Him, to teach them to depend upon Him and to be obedient to His commands.  Our sufferings in this earthly existence can also be seen as a test of our willingness to trust God and our willingness to be obedient to His commands when through our sufferings we draw closer to Him, taking up our various crosses of suffering and continuing on our journey to salvation.  When we bear our sufferings in faithful obedience to Jesus' command to "take up your cross and follow Me," we become blessed as partners in Christ's work of redemption, joining our sufferings to the Passion of the Savior.  This is what St. Paul spoke of in 2 Cor 12:9-10 and Col 1:24-25.  We must learn that God's grace is sufficient, as God revealed to Paul, and that God's power is made perfect in our admission of weakness when we depend on Him and not on ourselves.  St Paul also came to understand that "in my flesh I complete which is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church;" Paul's sufferings united to Christ's sufferings became redemptive sufferings that advanced the Church's mission in bringing salvation to the world (CCC 1508 & 1521).

Endnotes:

1. Baal was the chief deity of the Phoenicians, the Canaanites, the Moabites, and the other peoples of the Levant.  In the pantheon of Canaanite gods Baal replaced El as the supreme deity and was described as the "son of El" or the "bull of El."  Baal was worshiped as a mountain storm god who spoke in the thunder and threw lightening bolts. It was for this reason that the Greeks equated Baal to Zeus, the Greek's supreme deity and also a storm god who lived on a mountain (Olympus) and threw thunderbolts (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. I, "Baal," pages 545-49).

2. In the Book of Esther the Persian minister Haman's hatred of Mordecai (of the tribe of Benjamin) and his people was probably linked to the ancient enmity between Israel and the Amalekites.  Haman was apparently a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king who was defeated by Israel's King Saul (of the tribe of Benjamin) and beheaded on the orders of Samuel the prophet (1 Sam 15:7-8, 32-33).

3. From the Latin for "praying," the Orans (or Orante) position is commonly depicted in Christian art in wall paintings in the Roman Catacombs.  It is a position of prayer still used by Roman Catholics and the Eastern Rites for both the clergy and the laity in communal and private prayer.  In this attitude of prayer the hands are open, palms forward, to offer thanks and praise to God while the arms are raised to the side with the elbows slightly bent.  This attitude of prayer was common to the Old Covenant Church and the high priest assumed this position of prayer in the final priestly benediction at the end of each religious service in Temple worship (see The Catholic Encylclopedia, "Orante", Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986 edition, page 437).

4. Throughout the Bible the order of worship is the whole burnt offering ('olah), a sacrifice which was totally consumed on the altar fire, followed by a communion sacrifice in which only part of the animal was offered on God's altar (the blood, fat, and kidneys) and the remainder of the animal was eaten in a sacred meal (zevah). The offering to God must always precede what the offerer partakes (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 250, note 11; Lev 7:1/11-5/15; 22:21-30).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is paraphrased or quoted in the citation)

Suffering with Christ 1508, 1521 Ex 17:1-6 694*
Sin and suffering 164-65, 407-09 Ex 17:2-7 2119*
Ex 16:19 2836* Ex 17:8-13 2577*
Ex 16:19-21 2837*    

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.