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Shemot/Exodus 16:6 And Moshe and Aharon said to all the Children of Israel, "Evening and you will know that the L-rd brought you out from the land of Egypt."
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Hardly are the Israelites out of Egypt and they start complaining already. They have left the desert oasis of Elim and travelled on into the wilderness of Sin, but there - the narrator tells us - "the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moshe and Aharon" (Shemot 16:2, NJPS). The complaint is about food: the lack of it in general and the lack of meat in particular. They accuse Moshe and Aharon of bringing them out of Egypt "into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death" (v. 3, NJPS).HaShem tells Moshe that He is going to provide for the people's needs; He will "rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day's portion" (v. 4, NJPS). Not just a supply of food, but fresh food for everyone every day. Our text starts Moshes's and Aharon's response to the people, relaying HaShem's undertaking to provide for them.
In the first half of the verse, the narrator frames Moshe's and Aharon's words by telling us that they spoke to , "all the Children of Israel". Why is this important? RabbiHirsch explains that they replied "both to those who had confined their murmurings against Moshe and Aharon to their own immediate circle, and to those who had publicly stood up and denounced Moshe and Aharon." Everyone needed to hear the good news that food was coming and, more importantly, that food wasn't actually the most important thing to pick up from this moment. Brevard Childs acknowledges that "the speech of Moshe and Aharon ... is clearly a direct response to the people's murmuring", adding the paraphrase that "Shortly - evening and morning are used idiomatically - you will experience the power of G-d."1 In the following verses - multiple assurances that HaShem has heard the grumbles and will feed the people with meat and bread, followed by a theophany as G-d reveals His presence to affirm His intentions - the main issue that Moshe, Aharon and HaShem have with the people is addressed.
Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt? The people themselves seem confused. They themselves saw the pillar of cloud and fire separating them from Pharaoh's chariots as they fled; They themselves saw the Reed Sea divide so that they could walk across it on dry ground between two walls of water. They themselves saw the sea collapse back together again, drowning Pharaoh and all his chariots as they pursued them. Yet now they clearly see Moshe and Aharon as being responsible for bringing them out here in the wilderness: "For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death" (v. 3, NJPS).Ibn Ezra comments on the difference between faith and knowledge: "According to 14:31 - 'when Israel saw the wondrous power which the L-RD had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the L-RD; they had faith in the L-RD and His servant Moshe' (Shemot 14:13, NJPS) - they already 'had faith' in HaShem. But apparently many of them did not actually know the truth, for they said that it was Moshe and Aharon who had brought them out of Egypt, presumably meaning that they had done it on their own, without G-d's approval."
Moshe and Aharon, on the other hand, are equally certain that they did not bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Any part that they played in the dramatic release of the Jewish people from slavery and the defeat of the Egyptians and their gods was nominal and representative - they were representing HaShem who was the prime mover and sole executive force in the whole exercise - and under instruction from HaShem: they just did and said what He told them. TheRashbam comments simply, "Not we, as you said." Many of the commentators provide similar but slightly longer agreements, explaining that the evening's meat delivery would resolve the matter beyond doubt. Hirsch offers, "This very evening you shall be shown your error in ascribing the exodus from Egypt to us and not to G-d"; Umberto Cassuto suggests, "Immediately, before this day is out, you shall know that it was actually the L-rd who brought you out of Egypt and not we as you said."2Nahum Sarna paraphrases a little, but essentially says the same thing: "Immediately, before this day is out, you shall know that it was actually the L-rd who brought you out of Egypt and not we as you said."
It is the question of knowing, knowing HaShem and recognising Him as the true Sovereign and Master of all fates and destinies, that is the crux of our text and its partner six verses later: "By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; and you shall know that I the L-RD am your G-d" (16:12, NJPS). Thomas Dozeman formalises this: "The demand for the Israelites to recognise Yahweh frames the entire section ... The call for the Israelites to recognise Yahweh signals the change in focus from the polemical revelation of Yahweh at war in the land of Egypt to the sacramental presence of the divine 'Glory' in the tabernacle. The self-introduction of Yahweh and the demand for recognition repeat throughout the formation of the tabernacle cult: 'they shall know that I the L-RD am their G-d, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the L-RD their G-d' (29:46, NJPS)."3 HaShem is insistent as Brueggemann points out: "You shall know that it was Yahweh that rescued. You shall know that the key character in this new, precarious life is precisely Yahweh and none other."4
Is this, then, the first example of the dictum ascribed to both Napoleon Bonaparte and Frederick the Great, that "an army marches on its stomach"? Peter Enns suggests that "The main purpose of sending manna and quail is certainly not just to test the Israelites or simply fill their stomachs. It is rather to teach them something about G-d ... G-d is not yet finished teaching His people who He is. In fact, He has hardly begun."5 By this reckoning, food is merely a means to an end; by the supernatural provision of food - in the case of the quails, like the plagues, using the ordinary in an unusual way - G-d gets the people's attention and makes sure that they are listening to Him. Terence Fretheim agrees, "The purpose of giving the people food is ... so that they shall know (1) that Yahweh is their G-d and (2) that it is G-d who is the subject of this event", before going on to say, "The very presence and activity of G-d can be discerned in connection with daily provisions. ... How common it is among the people of G-d that a crisis, whether of daily need or physical suffering, occasions a crisis of faith. Material and spiritual well-being are more closely linked than we often care to admit."6 Ouch! That's close to the mark in our lives today.
Rav Sha'ul has to write to the Corinthians about the divisions within their community only a few short years after they received the gospel, "because one of you says, 'I follow Sha'ul'; another says, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Kefa'; while still another says, 'I follow the Messiah!'" (1 Corinthians 1:12, CJB). No, no, Sha'ul explains, "you don't understand: we are only the agents through whom G-d worked. After all, what is Apollos? What is Sha'ul? Only servants through whom you came to trust. Indeed, it was the Lord who brought you to trust through one of us or through another. I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow" (1 Corinthians 3:5-6, CJB). Working at a human level, the Corinthians were 'following' the person who had brought them to faith or whose teaching they liked best, whereas they - and we - are supposed only to be following Yeshua. We are only to be called by His name.
Returning to the words of our text, Leon Kass asks, "Can we say with any confidence that the people are permanently convinced about the L-rd's existence? This knowledge of the L-rd is, unfortunately, hard to see."7 The people were shortly to see a miracle - the flocks of quail borne in on the evening wind and the daily portions of manna - but did they know HaShem? The biblical record doesn't look convincing. Kass goes on to suggest that "we share ... the position of Moshe at the burning bush and also of the L-rd-ignorant masses: we must watch and wait to see and know - slowly, slowly - that and what He will be." I'm not sure that is enough for followers of Yeshua. Clearly, our relationship with the master deepens with every day that we know Him, but Sha'ul is very definite about his drive to know Yeshua above all things: "For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:8,10, ESV). We too must push on, setting distractions and objections aside, that Yeshua may become first above all in our lives and that we know Him heart to heart, ready for the day when we shall know Him face to face for ever.
1. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 287.
2. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 192.
3. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 384.
4. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 383.
5. - Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), page 352.
6. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 183.
7. - Leon R. Kass, Founding G-d's Nation - Reading Exodus (New Have, Yale University Press, 2021), page 242.
Further Study: Hosea 6:1-3; John 14:5-7; Romans 1:1-4; Titus 1:15-16
Application: Do you know Father God, through His Son Yeshua, or are you still hungry, still looking for the food? It's time to change focus and know Yeshua as Master and as Lord, and as Friend and Brother!
Comment - 09:45 09Jan22 Joshua VanTine: A drash that is like the mirror in the morning, it doesn't shy away from reflecting areas less than desirable. May as we follow Messiah in this journey may we become more open to admit the state of heart and forth coming in our praise of our lips that the Good Shepherd truly guides our hearts for good in all His happenstances.
Comment - 11:21 12Jan22 Lucienne Edwards: Such a sobering and thought provoking piece, not only on a corporate level for Israel and the church, but also on a personal level. I so agree with Joshua's analogy of the mirror, and his comment. Paul, such an important role model whilst always directing us to Yeshua. How often do I still ebb and flow in my trust and agreement with Yeshua, without even being aware of it? I am so grateful to the Lord for his grace (both to Israel and to me) that He transforms, through my willingness, my state of mind to be more like His.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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