Grasping God’s Purpose: “Testing, testing, 1,2,3…testing” – Exodus 16

For some strange reason, at the beginning of most sound checks on the microphones, no matter where I am, people use the opening line: “Testing, testing, 1,2,3, testing..” I was watching karaoke on a cruise ship a few years ago, and a Japanese man that could barely speak English, got up and clearly said those words. I was amazed! Obviously the idea of the phrase is to offer sound for the tech person to adjust levels of microphones and be sure they are working. At the same time, there is something more powerful to be learned from that simple and common exercise: Tests prepare for optimum performance.

For the believer, his life is about the journey through this world to the land of Promise that awaits him at life’s end. The journey has some cool evenings and comfortable days, but many report that there are a significant number of painfully hot times of testing. Is it because God is disconnected or cruel? No, of course not. Testing prepares for optimum performance. Testing helps us know what is improperly set in our lives. It helps us have an opportunity to take corrective steps. That is the point of the middle section of Exodus that highlights the journey through the “hot by day and cold by night” dusty desert

Life is filled with tests: At the beginning of a new year, a high school principal decided to post his teachers’ new year’s resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, a great commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. “Why weren’t my resolutions posted?” She was throwing such a temper tantrum that the principal hurried to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, he had mislaid them on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher’s first resolution was not to let little things upset her in the New Year.

Key Principle: Testing may be an unwanted gift, but it shows us our trouble spots.

God is very present in our testing! We must understand that the absence of trouble does not signal the presence of the Lord – and conversely, the presence of the Lord does not mean the absence of trouble.

We left off in our story last time in the end of Exodus 15, where the real tests of the desert began to become clear to Moses and the children of Israel. The tests are such a feature of the life of the believer, they are mentioned in many places. In the opening chapter of James, the writer of the Epistle begins with tests of the believer (Lit: “peirasmos”or approving tests, an alchemy term, cp. James 1:2-12). James argues they should not be viewed as enemies, but rather as a normal part of the battlefield lifestyle. Moses was just about to find that out.

The Obedience Test (15:22-27)

Look back a few verses into our last lesson to begin where the real testing started. This time of trouble we will call the “Obedience Test”. All were indirectly tests of obedience. This one was a test in “doing what was hard to understand, while trusting the results to God. Obedience is more important than obstacles.

Exodus 15:22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. 26 And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.”  27 Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.

Note the progression of the testing process, and you will uncover a pattern that will repeat many times in the text:

First, there was the disappointment: When they finally got to a place with water, they found that drinking the water made them ill (15:23). Having just come from God’s great miracle at the Sea of Reeds, followed by a tear-filled time of deep worship, the contrast was striking and painful. With time, they would learn there was nothing WRONG with facing tests, and they should expect them. “They could not drink” can be translated they could not bear to drink (elo yakoli). From the initial shock and disappointment, there arose a sense of disgust: What do we do now? (15:24). Voices that were quick to celebrate will be equally quick to complain! The test began in fear and quickly manifest in COMPLAINT.

Faced with an insurmountable problem, Moses cried to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord directed him to collaboration on the problem —  he needed to cast a tree limb into the water to make it potable without any ill effects (15:25a). God provided a way of escape after they failed to drink water that would make them ill – but Moses had to ACT to access the deliverance. By the end of verse 25, we can clearly see the whole thing was a test from God (15:25b). God wanted to help them by making them sick, and getting the parasites of Egypt from them. If we simply obey, it may seem more painful up front, but it is the BEST way to get through the wilderness!

In the shadow of the deliverance was the directive of God: He told them, “Next time do what I say, even if you think it will make you sick, I am working a plan!” (15:26). God knows what He is asking, and why! He is the healer! When the people were cared for, He took time to carefully teach them WHY He tested them.

The test ended with some needed “down time: They arrived at a place of rest, with fresh water and no further test. This was a time to enjoy the delights of God after a difficult lesson. At the same time, it reminds us that many people get to Marah and never leave. They can’t go on to Elim – for they prefer to sit in bitterness and wallow at what appears to be an unfairness in the testing. To most, God gave them an escape and they were all able to continue, but they learned a critical lesson – trust God and don’t always expect an easy way out of troubles!

In this study we are in Exodus 16, where we find three more of life’s tests (sponsored by our Creator) illustrated. The three tests are the “Goal Test”, the “Consistency Test” and the “Limitation Test”. Let’s look at each.

The Goal Test: (16:1-3; 8-12)

In order to achieve success, or attain a goal, you must have a deliberate mind. This test is aimed at the mind and focus. It can be quickly summarized as the “eye on Canaan, heart in Egypt” test. The text opens with three symptoms of the need for the test:

Exodus 16:1 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Symptoms of the Need for the Test (16:1-3)

FEAR: First, there was a fear of the future that set in when they recognized the discomfort of their choice to follow God. The Israelites left the comfort of Elim and entered the foreboding environment of Sin a month after their departure from Egypt (16:1). The place of Elim (Hebrew: אֵילִם‎, ’êlim) is referenced both here and in Numbers 33.9 as a place where “there were twelve wells of water, and seventy date palms,” and that the Israelites “camped there near the water”.

It is described as being between Marah and the Wilderness of Sin, interior to the Sinai, and has been debated by some scholars to be in Wadi Gharandel, an oasis 100 km southeast of Suez. In the late 1960’s, Professor Menashe Har-El (a researcher of the ancient geography and history of Israel and the Mideast, formerly a lecturer at the teachers’ seminaries of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University) proposed Elim to be `Ayun Musa “the springs/wells of Moses.” He noted that in 1907 the geologist Thomas Barron had observed that 12 springs existed at this site along with palm trees.  That location is still debated. What is NOT DEBATED is the meaning of the name, “gods” or “strong ones”. It was a place of gaining strength, and it was a place of LIFE to a people lost in the desert. In protest, they became one giant “Back to Egypt Committee,” acting as though slavery with water was preferable to freedom without. The problem with the FEAR was that it blocked out God. We cannot see faith through fear, but the reverse is also true: We cannot see fear through faith.

FUSSING: A second symptom that surfaced from the inner fear was the whining about the circumstances – a mere verbalization of disbelief in God’s power and purposes. When the discomfort grew intense the contagion was released and spread like wild fire (16:2). Some people can complain about anything! One writer tells the story of a young man writing at a post office desk who was approached by an older fellow with a post card in his hand. The old man said, “Young man, could you please address this post card for me?” The young man gladly did so, then agreed to write a short message when asked and to sign the card for the man. Finally the younger man asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The old man looked at the post card, thought about it for a moment, and said, “Yes, at the end put, ’P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.’” (Complaining Saints by Quintin Morrow Exodus 16:1-15,

FORGETFULNESS: A third common call for the GOAL TEST is the manifestation of a selective memory, when we recall the past differently than it really was! (16:3). It is astounding how quickly they forgot their sorry in Egypt and recalled it romantically. Though memories are great to have, we never move forward by looking behind us. Israel was so consumed with the memories of leeks and onions by the Nile they failed to wait on the One who was taking them to a “land flowing with milk and honey”! Why? Simply because they hadn’t LET GO. Although God released them from Egypt, they hadn’t released Egypt from within them! When we won’t let go of the past life, we won’t follow God in faith in the present life.

The Process of the Testing (16:8-12):

Exodus 16:8 Moses said, “This will happen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD.”

WRONG DIAGNOSIS: When the Lord provided for the needs, they should have quickly realized they had rejected His plan, not just their own dreams and ideas (16:8). The people needed to look beyond THEMSELVES to see the hand of God and the purposes of God. When we are hurting and needy, we don’t easily see others, and God is buried deep in the pile.

Jim Smith went to church on Sunday morning. He heard the organist miss a note during the prelude, and he winced. He saw a teenager talking when everybody was supposed to be bowed in silent prayer. He felt like the usher was watching to see what he put in the offering plate and it made him boil. He caught the preacher making a slip five times in the sermon by actual count. As he slipped out through the side door during the closing hymn, he muttered to himself, “Never again, what a bunch of clods and hypocrites!” … Ron Jones went to the same church that Sunday morning. He heard the organist play an arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress” and he thrilled at the majesty of it. He heard a young girl take a moment in the service to speak her simple moving message of the difference her faith makes in her life. He was glad to see that this church was sharing in a special offering for the hungry children of Nigeria. He especially appreciated the sermon that Sunday – it answered a question that had bothered him for a long time. He thought as he walked out the doors of the church, “How can a man come here and not feel the presence of God?” (Illustrations Unlimited, James Hewett). The reality of these two men are that each HAD A DIFFERENT ATTITUDE about church, life and God.

The children of Israel thought their number one issue was Moses’ leadership, but they had no self-awareness of the bigger obstacle – their departure from God. Their failed relationship with the Lord was at the heart of their grumbling – and so is OURS.

DIVIDED HEARTS: The children of Israel looked one way and thought another…. They talked freedom, but dreamed slavery….They followed God’s cloud, but dreamed about Pharaoh’s provision. The PROMISED LAND and the PAST LIFE were is opposite directions – and they knew what their heart was beckoning for.

Exodus 16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.’” 10 It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”

When we recognize the Lord has heard our voice whining, we may be afraid He will judge us, but we if we don’t back away from Him we will discover new things about God and His character (glory-16:10; provision- 16:12a; mastery over all things- 16:12b; creative ability to care for you- 16:13-15). God was about to give them BREAKFAST CEREAL for the morning, and QUAIL for the evening grill.

To think about Egypt, their minds would slip across the burning desert sands, and back across the sea, where slime bricks and slavery were quick forgotten but the smell of leeks lingered and held sway. But to think of Canaan, their minds would have to lift past the burning sand of their feet to the promised land of the distant hills… Canaan or Egypt… Forgotten shackles in one, future songs in the other…. Freedom in Canaan, full stomachs in Egypt… The key question is always, Would we rather stay in bondage than pay the price for freedom?

The key to the focus test is this: We need to keep our eyes on the Lord of our journey, not simply on the destination of our journey, or we lose heart!

The Consistency Test (16:4,27)

This can be easily summarized as the “use only as directed” test. The text shares: Exodus 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.

The clear point of the Consistency Test is obedience – not once, but ongoing. The daily GRIND of serving another’s goal goes against our nature. Those who master this are remembered as great by God.

In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery. “Your Majesty,” said the Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” “Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The king learned to rule by being obedient.” (Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching 155, ed. By Craig Brian Larson Baker 1993).

God met their need, but not so that they would begin to place their trust in the FOOD, but rather that they would recall their Master – and TRUST HIM. Food was supplied faithfully all the while they were in the desert until after they came into the land (Josh. 5:12). They had sufficient clothing and sandles (Dt. 29:5). They saw His hand in their lives in profound ways – a pillar of fire, a cloud, provisions of food and water – and this was just the beginning. The old English word for “rely” comes from the word, rally; so to rely on the Lord means having the confidence that He will rally to you, coming to the right place at the right time with the right help. Dependence on the Lord is not blind faith; it comes with instructions from God’s Word. For fullness — they had to follow orders.

What were the instructions?

God’s Word told Israel exactly what it tells us  — what was meant to enjoy, what they should evade, and what they should expect along the way. God told the Israelites how to enjoy their food: knowing when to collect, what to do with it, and how much was needed. It meant gathering food in proportion to the storage of the stomach and the people in the family (16:15). Exodus 16:15 “When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

God’s Word told Israel exactly what it tells us…They were expected to work together in collaboration with God to get the job done, day by day. Exodus 16:4 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.” God wanted them to celebrate HIS WORK and do THEIR WORK. Effective prayer involves the balanced tension between total dependence on God and responsible action by the one who prays. R. C. Sproul has noted, “To pray without action is hypocrisy. To act without prayer is pagan.”.

God’s Word told Israel exactly what it tells us — Each person became responsible to care for their own collecting, with each family caring for the needs of their family.  Exodus 16:17  The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. 18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.

God’s Word told Israel exactly what it tells us – Obedience is time sensitive. He explained not only the fact that it is to be done daily, but when in the day it is to be done (16:21). Exodus 16:21 They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.

God’s Word told Israel exactly what it tells us — Those who did not follow instructions found themselves without and hungry. Exodus 16: 27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? This same idea was repeated many times, as in 2 Thess. 3:10 “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.

The key to the Consistency Test is this: We can’t expect God to take care of everything without us, that isn’t the deal. Nor can we expect others to do our part. We must act when prompted by God or face lack and the withdrawal of His blessing.

The Limitation Test (16:16-36)

Exodus 16:16 “This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” 17 The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. 18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. 19 Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. 21 They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt. 22 Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.” 27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? 29 “See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. 31 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. 32 Then Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept. 35 The sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah.)

This test can be summarized as the  “learning to set limits” test. This is a hard one for a culture trained in HAVE IT YOUR WAY thinking. Look at these five truths:

  • First, the amount of food was specified: The amount that each person needed was given by God. They were to live within the amount He said they needed to be healthy. The amount was checked and divided as specified. (16:16-18)
  • Second, when to eat the supply was specified: Moses told them to eat it that day, and not leave any for later. God wanted them to work daily and need Him daily, but not hoard or begin to sell and take advantage of the system. (He must have seen what happens to relief food supplies of the UN! 16:19-20).
  • Third, when to gather was specified: The pattern of doing it every morning got the camp up and stirring early in a way that kept them disciplined (16:21).
  • Fourth, when to plan was specified: They were given opportunity to effectively plan for the Sabbath weekly (16:22-24).
  • Fifth, when to rest was specified: Nothing would be given them if they tried to run without rest and keep gathering (16:25-30).

A simple request for food gets translated into gluttony in our culture. There is nothing wrong with looking out for tomorrow, but when it becomes an opportunity to hoard things, our heart toward God grows cold as our heart warms to more and more things. We are living in the days of all-you-can-eat buffets. We stop at the food spread and eat until we can’t move. Often, we eat too much, even to the point of gluttony. Many Christians do to food what drunks do to alcohol. The difference is they don’t feel guilty at all.  Our culture is all about self-indulgence. It’s about the drive to obtain things that we think will make us happy.

Funny things happen on the way to the Promised Land, don’t they. We tend to forget what is really important. We tend to stop trusting God. We forget our past and begin to doubt our future. Our fear of what may happen tomorrow can some times turn us into gluttons because we’re not sure that what we want will be available when we want it. So we stock up. We load up. We hoard all that we can get. Gluttony is in its essence, a failure or a refusal to trust God in everything.

The key to the Limitation test is this: God wants us to work hard, but to control our desire to have everything we want when we want it. Failure to control our appetites, work and plan will hurt our walk with Him and our understanding of Him!

Testing may be an unwanted gift, but it shows us our trouble spots. God is very present in our testing! The absence of trouble does not signal the presence of the Lord – and conversely, the presence of the Lord does not mean the absence of trouble.