Part 3 of the Story of Moses and the Exodus (ch. 15-20) with some commentary.
Exodus Chapter 15:
As the Israelites left the Red Sea eastward, Moses led them in song, singing about how God delivered them, and his sister Miriam led all the women to play tambourines while they sang. They traveled through the desert of Shur for three days without finding any water. Eventually, they found water but it was bitter so they called it Marar (bitter). The people complained about being thirsty and only having bitter water. God told Moses to throw a piece of wood into the water and it lost its bitterness and became drinkable. God told the Israelites that if they followed his commands and instructions they would not have to deal with the sicknesses of the Egyptians because he would keep their health. Afterward, they left Marar and found an oasis in Elim that had 70 palm trees and 12 springs.
Exodus Chapter 16:
On the 15th day of the second month, exactly one month from leaving Egypt, they were in the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mt. Sinai. The Israelites started to complain about the food and how they used to have plenty of it as slaves in Egypt, but now they will die. God told Moses that he would send food from heaven to them each day, but would test their obedience with specific instructions on harvesting that food. Moses and Aaron reminded the Israelites that they were complaining against God and not them, and reassured them that God would provide for their needs. In the evening God would provide meat and in the morning he would provide bread. That evening quail flew into the camp and they cooked and ate the quail. Then the next morning, the dew dried up and turned into a flaky frost-like substance. They called it Manna (“what is it”), it was like white coriander seed and tasted like honey wafers, and they could bake and boil it. They were to gather up about 2.2 liters per person for everyone and when they did there was enough for everyone exactly. All families small and large had enough. Moses warned that they must eat it all and not leave any of it until the morning. However some of them saved some of the Manna which then rotted and became infested with maggots and stunk, and Moses was angry at them for their disobedience.
After each morning any Mana that wasn’t collected dried up in the hot sun. On the sixth day, they were given twice as much and everyone collected 4.4 liters per person. When the leaders ask for an explanation, they were instructed that this time they could save the Manna until the next day because it was the Sabbath, a day of rest, and they were not supposed to go out to look for any on the Sabbath. This time the leftover Mana didn’t rot and that is what they ate for Sabbath morning. However, some people didn’t follow instructions and went out to look for more manna. God told Moses that these people are disobedient and are being stubborn, they must realize that the Sabbath is a gift to them. God points out that he specifically gave them extra on the sixth day to cover their needs on the Sabbath because he loves them. Moses reminds them to follow instructions and only gather the extra on the sixth day so they can rest on Sabbath. God told Moses to put some extra manna in a 2.2. liter container and it would be preserved for many generations as a reminder of God’s providence. Eventually, it would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the stone tablets of the first 10 commandments. (The Israelites would continue eating Manna for the next 40 years until they got to the border of Canaan.)
Exodus Chapter 17:
The Israelites left the wilderness of Sin and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water so the people complained to Moses. Moses scolded them for testing God with their complaints and then he went to God for help. God told him to strike a large rock with his staff and when he did, water come out. Moses named the place Massah (which means “test”) and Meribah (which means “arguing”) because the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?”
While still at Rephidim, the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites. Moses had men chosen from among them to go and fight. Meanwhile, Moses stood on a hill to lift up his staff which would give the Israelites favor in battle. The next day, Joshua led the Israelites to battle the Amalekites, and Moses raised his hands on the hill. While Moses’ hands were raised they were winning, but when his hands tired they were losing, so Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands and put a rock under him so that he could sit. They battled all day until sunset and the Israelites won the battle in the end. God told Moses to write down a dedication for Joshua to read aloud that said: “I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses made an altar and named it YHWH-Nissi (“the Lord is my banner”). He said, since the Amalekites raised their fist against God’s throne, they will be at war with God for many generations.
Exodus Chapter 18:
Jethro the high priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses heard about their victory in Egypt and went out to meet with them. He brought Moses’ wife and two sons with him since they went back home after the traumatic circumcision situation on the way to Egypt. His firstborn Gershom was named “foreigner” because Moses was a foreigner in Midian when he was a fugitive from Egypt, and Eliezer gets his name from “God protecting him” from the Pharaoh who wanted him dead as a fugitive. Moses and Jethro spoke in Moses’ tent, and Moses told him about every God had done in Egypt and in the wilderness so far. Jethro celebrated the fact that YHWH was greater than all other gods since he defeated the Egyptians, and Jethro brought a burnt offering to sacrifice to God. The elders then joined them in a sacrificial meal.
The next day, Moses sat to hear all the people’s disputes and Jethro noticed how inefficient that was and had concerns that Moses would wear himself out. Jethro suggested that Moses create a hierarchy of leaders to hear disputes. They should be in groups of 1000, 100, 50, and 10, each leader with sub-leaders respectively. That way small disputes are handled by the leaders of 10 and larger ones go up the chain to the leaders of 1000, and they only come to Moses if the leader of 1000 can’t handle the problem. Moses did what Jethro suggested and it worked out, then Jethro left them, heading back to Midian.
Exodus Chapter 19:
On the 15th day of the third month (2 months after they left Egypt), they made it to the base of Mt. Sinai. God called Moses up the mountain and told him to tell the Israelites they will become a nation of priests to represent him on the earth and must keep his commands. Moses went down and told the people about his requirements and they agreed to them. God then tells Moses that he will bring his presence down to the mountain top and speak with him in front of everyone so that they can trust him. God then said to have the people prepare for his arrival on the mountain in three days, by washing their clothes and consecrating themselves (no sex, or touching anything unclean). No one (animal or human) is to go near the base of the mountain until then or else they will be put to death. On the third day when the shofar (ram’s horn) blows, they may come up to meet God.
On the third day God’s presence came down on the mountain, and there was an earthquake, thunder, lightning, and a blazing fire surrounded by a thick cloud. Then the horn grew louder. The people were terrified and Moses was called up and told to let the people know not to force their way up or else they may die. Moses says they will stay put around the base. God told him to bring Aaron up, but everyone else must stay put.
Exodus Chapter 20:
Moses went back down the mountain to get Aaron and told the people what God said. Then God gave them these 10 commandments directly.
The 10 commandments:
1) Do not worship any other gods.
2) Do not make images that will be worshiped.
3) Do not take God’s name in vain (or use it lightly).
4) Do not forsake the Sabbath day of rest by working on the 7th day of the week.
5) Honor your parents so you may live long in the land.
6) Do not murder.
7) Do not commit adultery.
8) Do not steal.
9) Do not lie against or slander your neighbor.
10) Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, servants, or any of their property.
God said that if they break the commands, their failure can affect later generations like the third and fourth generations, but those who continually keep his commands will be blessed for a thousand generations.
The people were terrified of the thunder and lightning, and the loud shofar (ram’s horn) blowing when God spoke, so they asked Moses to be their mediator because God is too terrifying. Moses then went into the dark cloud on the mountain to meet with God. God says they are not to make any images with precious metals and should use an altar of earth for sacrifices. If they make an altar of stone, it should be uncut, natural stone. Nor should they build high altars with stairways, this will prevent people from seeing underneath others’ garments as they go up.