Exodus 13:17–17:16: Are you ready to enter God’s rest? 5 questions to ask yourself

Am I really free from my old way of life? Am I going somewhere in life that leads to eternal contentment, or am I wandering through this existence, at the mercy of happenstance? These are some of the big questions tackled in the Torah reading בְּשַׁלַּח Beshalach (“when he sent”), covering Ex. 13:17-17:16. We can’t imagine what our ancestors in faith experienced as they witnessed God’s work during the Exodus from Mitzraim (Egypt). As they were leaving the house of bondage, were they really free or did they leave their hearts in Mitzraim, despite the cruelties and indignities they experienced there?

There are many “big questions” in today’s Parashat. We can’t imagine what our ancestors in faith experienced as they witnessed God’s work during the Exodus from Egypt. As they were leaving the house of bondage, were they really free or did they leave their hearts in Egypt, despite the cruelties and indignities they experienced there.

The main question that the children of the Exodus had to ask themselves is this: “Is God with us or not?” The children of Israel literally ask this question towards the end of today’s reading.

But there are also other questions we need to ask as we study today’s text such as:

  • Are we really free?
  • Where are we going?
  • How will we get our “daily bread”?
  • Where will we find “living water”?
  • Do we welcome God’s direction or do we complain that His ways are confining and restrictive?

These questions are as relevant today as they were for our ancestors in the faith at the Red Sea.

As we look at the questions “Are we really free?” and “Where are we going?”, I’d encourage you to go to our prior study called Journey to the 10 for more in-depth study.

We are on a similar journey as God reveals His testimony to us, whether we realize it or not. These 10 “words” are a testimony of who God actually is. When Messiah Yeshua was asked “what are the greatest commandments”? He refers back to the Shema as the greatest commandment and the commandment in Lev. 19 to love our neighbors as ourselves. He tells us that all the prophets hang on those two commandments.

The rest of the Torah is commentary on one of those two points and showing us the roller coaster of Israel’s history as they go up and down in their journey towards God and away from God and back to God again. We have to ask ourselves, what is the trajectory of our journey? Is it trending up towards God or down away from Him?

The annual Festival of Weeks (Sevens), aka Shauvuot and Pentecost, caps a period of time that starts with the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Matzot). We see them moving from bondage to covenant. All the events from Exodus 13–20 originally happened during this spring/summer festival season.

The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) have similar phrases and themes. Miriam’s Song of the Sea is full of prophesy, showing us the prophetic gift God gave her.

“ ‘You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.’” (Exodus 15:17 NASB)

The one thing to note about mountains and hills are a places of power. In the Ancient Near East, mountains are the homes of the gods and sources of power.

“On your own mountain” “is a unique phrase in the Bible. It occurs in Ugaritic literature in relation to the sacred mountain Ṣapon on which stood the sanctuary of the Canaanite deity Baal.” Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 76.

God was not just exercising his might and power against the false deities of Egypt but also against the false deities of Canaan. God refuses to share worship of Him with worship of false deities.

There are scholars who have compared the Song of the Sea to the Epic of Ba’al aka “The Ba’al Cycle.” The Ba’al Cycle or Epic of Ba’al is a 13th century B.C. It records the Ugaritic religious account of Ba’al overcoming his equal, the sea god Yamm. The Ugaritic language is similar to Hebrew. Words such as Ba’al, El and Yam have similar meanings in both languages.

Song of the Sea

Epic of Ba’al

HaShem has no equals. HaShem created the waters. Ba’al and Yamm are equals.
HaShem uses the ים yam (sea). Ba’al fights Yamm.
HaShem defeats Mitzraim (Egypt) by using the waters. Ba’al defeats Yamm and takes over his holdings.
HaShem frees Israel from bondage and brings them to Mount Sinai. Ba’al subjugates the peoples from Zaphon/Saphon. Other deities ruled from mountains.
  1. HaShem has no peers, no equal. The pagan deities are a peerage of fighting and squabbling members.
  2. The water does not oppose HaShem. The water is merely tool of His judgement at His command.

  3. The pagan deities subjugate and oppress people, while HaShem offers people freedom and dignity.

What happened at the sea spread through all out the region so far and wide that 40 years later, Rahab was able to tell the Israelite spies about their history and about the might of their God.

““I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.” (Joshua 2:9–10 NAS95)

In Exodus 16, we see the children of Israel asking the second question: How will we get our “daily bread”? They were hungry and had no way to know how to get food.

The manna encounter teaches important lessons:

The first lesson is that what we need may not be what we want. The Hebrew manna can be translated, “What the …?” or “What is it?”

  • Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) taught us to pray that God gives us “daily bread,” literally, “food for tomorrow” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3).
    • In other words, trust that God will sustain us, whether we have little or much.
  • Yeshua had countered the Adversary’s challenge to feed His bodily hunger with His own power, outside of what God would provide (later via Heaven’s servants), by quoting the Torah, “Man shall not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4; quoting Deut. 8:3).

“ ‘All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers. 2 You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5 Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6 Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.’ ” (Deut. 8:1–6 NASB)

We should not ever underestimate God. Just because He doesn’t use His overwhelming power all the time, doesn’t mean He is powerless. God transcends time and death. The Lord know what we need, are we going to trust Him enough that He has a better plan to deal with our hungers and take us where He needs us to be?

God is speaking to the second generation in the book of Deuteronomy. The first generation are all dead and gone. God will not entertain us blaming our parents for our own shortcomings. Are we going to blame someone for what we don’t have for claim it from God who generously provides us all of what we need.

The second lesson is don’t despise “bread from Heaven.”

  • At Kibroth-hattaavah (graves of greediness), Israel complains about manna (Num. 11:4–35).
    • “ ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite [נֶפֶשׁ] is gone [יָבֵשׁ, dry]. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.’ ” (Num 11:4–6 NASB)
    • God answered the greed for something other than Heaven-sent manna with another Heaven-sent food miracle, a massive flock of quail. But that greed came with a price, eating that meat brought a plague.

God wants us to recognize that all our blessings come from God, to thank Him for them, and be content. God doesn’t like ungrateful complainers. God is not merely the source of salvation but also the source of complete contentment and rest.

As we look at the last two questions Where will we find “living water”? and “Who fights for you?”, we find the answers as we read about what happened at Meribah & Massah.

God has proven that He’s the Creator, Liberator and Provider. By the time we reach Exodus 17:

  • Israel also had seen God’s 10 plagues against Egypt (Exodus 7–11).
  • Israel also had witnessed Savior-God’s delivering Israel from the Egyptian army by taking the people through the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15).
  • The crossing happened right after the arrival of manna (Exodus 16), re-emphasizing that God the Creator and Liberator also was the Provider.
  • After the Exodus, the crossing of the sea and the gift of daily bread, the people ask when faced with another struggle, “Is the LORD with us or not?”

God was teaching the children of Israel not to put their faith in what ever nation is the “superpower” of the day. Egypt’s war horses and chariots were the tanks of their day but when God enticed them to chase after the Israelites in the sea, they got stuck in the mud and drowned.

What do Meribah and Masseh mean?

  • מְרִיבָה Meribah (H4809) means place of strife. (New American Standard Bible Hebrew lexicon). It is derived from רִיב rib or rub (H7378), a root verb for to strive, contend.
  • מַסָּה Massah (H4532) means place of testing. It comes from נָסָה nasah (H5254), a root verb for to test, try.

Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3–4 refer to the events of Massah–Meribah. Do we want to be an endless victim or someone who is content and overcome the world. The worldly leaders who appear to rule over us have no real power over us. Only God has real power over us. The leaders of the world might take our lives but our eternity is safe in God’s hands.

“For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, 9 ‘When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. 10 For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. 11 Therefore I swore in My anger, ‘Truly they shall not enter into My rest.’ ” (Psalm 95:7–11 NASB)

Psalm 95 points to the fact that the generation that rejected God at Meribah–Massah would not enter the land God promised to Abraham as a base of operations for his descendants as a blessing to the world.

Yehoshua (Joshua) led the next generation into that land of rest (Deut. 12:9), but in David’s day there was still lingering lack of trust in God, as at Meribah–Massah.

In the several years leading up to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the setting for Hebrews, the second generation of those who witnessed the mighty deeds and words of Yeshua had to decide “today” if they were going to claim Yeshua wasn’t Immanuel (“God with us”) or trust that God indeed had done an even more marvelous thing than during the Exodus.

Let’s consider what the author of the Book of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:1-10. We have to trust that where God is taking us is a place of rest, and not a place of strife. He will take us where we need to be.

Some say that God replaced the shabbat with a vague concept of “today,” and that therefore, the shabbat no longer matters. Is that what God really says?

When the children of Israel reached the promised land, there were people there who were doing some very disgusting things. They didn’t conquer the land easily, but it was a focus point of the known world and that is where God wanted them to dwell in a particular place and time. The today is not just a date on a calendar. They were a witness not just to what God was doing in the present day but what He did in the past and what He planned to do in the future.

There are dates and anniversaries in our lives that are important to remember. They carry life lessons that we need to revisit and relearn on a yearly basis. The lessons stack one on another.

What is shabbat all about when we enter God’s rest? God gave visions to Abraham and Moses and showed them His plans for the future. The shabbat and entering God’s rest is our acknowledgement that God controls and upholds the world without our plans and machinations. The question is what are we doing with the portion or the double portion of what God has given us?

Rahab got the message. She heard about what God did at the Sea. She knew that the deities she was taught to honor wielded no power. For us, in whatever we see around us and the strongholds that have corrupted the understanding of our friends, families and neighbors, what testimony do we have for them? Do we hit back when we are struck? How do we respond when facing trials?

What’s the connection between God’s stopping Creation and setting aside the seventh day as a memorial for the Creator (Gen. 2:2–3; Ex. 20:8–11) and “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb. 4:12)?

One outgrowth of Meribah and Masseh is that God modeled for us six days of effort then stopping from that effort, so we are Sabbath-rest too.

That rest points us toward and helps us understand the source of Creation, God’s setting us apart from the things of the world contrary to God and providing for our needs and freeing us from what makes us weak.

Because God is able to “judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), there is no point in striving for “rest” at “home” with God our effort (vv. 12–13).

God provides this “rest” by trusting in the work of the Son, the High Priest of God Who as Word made flesh sympathizes with and helps us in our weakness in “living” according to God’s instructions (vv. 14–16).

Therefore, Shabbat also carries the meaning that we have a “great high priest” — Yeshua — Who gives us “rest” from the junk that would otherwise be impassibly between us and God. Yeshua is the one who makes us a “new creation.”

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and You will find rest for your souls [Jer. 6:16]. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 NASB)

Do we welcome God’s direction or do we complain that His ways are confining and restrictive? The answer to this question will show us whether we are ready to enter His rest or not.

Banner Photo Credit: Cat resting from his hard work. Photo Patataj Patataj via Freeimages.com. 

Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

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