They left Marah and went to Elim , where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea. Numbers 33:9-10
Israel’s journey to worship their God was an emotional roller coaster. First, they were terrified Egypt would kill them. Then they were dancing with joy and singing with awe at God’s power. The next morning they traveled a few miles down the road to an explosion of bitterness and anger at Marah. God eased the tension when he led them to a place of rest at Elim. Their spirits were high and hopeful as they packed to continue the journey, but God led them back to the Red Sea.
Israel began quarreling with Moses the day he returned to Egypt as their deliverer. They thought he controlled their circumstances, but he didn’t. God lead them to a dead end when they left Egypt. No mortal man could have held the Egyptian army at bay all night while he made a way of escape for a million people. God hid Israel behind his back and troubled those who troubled them. When they argued with Moses at Marah, God led them back to the Red Sea to look at the people, who had denied them religious freedom, stripped of life, floating helpless on the waters, and by this time creating an unbearable stench.[i] As Israel gagged in disgust at the at hundreds of bodies decomposing on the shores of the Red Sea, the cloud stopped and Moses announced, “Pitch your tents.”
Without doubt, Israel was puzzled, irritated, and frustrated. It had been six weeks since they left Egypt, and they have not traveled any farther than the place they began their journey into the wilderness. Compounding their frustration was God’s command to spend the night smelling the stench of sin and fighting off flies and other creeping creatures that dead bodies attract.
Misery came upon Israel for a reason. They can’t tell the difference between God and a servant of God. God brought them back to the Red Sea to remember because remembering will open their understanding. God brought Israel into the wilderness to worship him and Israel can’t worship God until they know and understand him.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. ” And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:17-21
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to an evangelistic meeting. The disciples were hungry, but discovered they only had one loaf of bread. While they were debating what to do about lunch, Jesus warned them to beware of the Pharisees yeast.[ii] The disciples thought Jesus gave them this warning because they didn’t have enough bread. Their thoughts were wrong.
The disciples had one loaf of bread in the boat and that is why their discussion disturbed Jesus. They had eyes but didn’t see, ears but didn’t hear. They didn’t understand Jesus warning about yeast because they forgot the past. Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves in April 28 AD, and four thousand with seven loaves three months later in July 28 AD.[iii] The conversation about yeast and bread took place in the same month that Jesus fed four thousand. Within a three-month period, Jesus fed nine thousand people with twelve loaves of bread and had nineteen baskets of fragments left over. If the disciples had remembered what happened yesterday, they never would have thought that Jesus was concerned about having one loaf of bread among thirteen men.
In the disciples’ day, God was among his people in human flesh. In Moses day, God was among them in the form of a cloud by day and fire by night. Both generations interacted with God. They heard him speak and saw the miraculous things he is able to do. Both generations failed to know and understand their God because they don’t remember what happened yesterday.
Matthew recorded the same conversation between Jesus and his disciples but added some important information.
How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees… Matthew 16:11-12
Jesus never told his disciples he was talking about the Pharisees teaching. He got their minds off earthly bread by reminding them what he could do with a loaf of bread. When they remembered, the light came on, and they understood that Jesus warned them about the teaching of the Pharisees.
God is not as concerned about the food we feed our body as the food we feed our spirit. The food we eat sustains this body of flesh temporarily. The teaching we eat can keep us alive eternally if the teaching is true and we believe.
When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. John 2:22 KJV
Early in Jesus ministry, he angered the religious leaders by driving the businessmen out of the temple. The leaders immediately accosted Jesus and demanded proof of his authority to close the market, which sold lambs and other items needed to make offerings to God. Jesus challenged, “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.”[iv] They thought Jesus was talking about a temple of stone that took forty-six years to build. At the time of this incident, no one, including Jesus’ disciples, understood that Jesus spoke about the temple of his body.
Two years later, the disciples understood Jesus’ challenge when they remembered. After Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered the conversation about the temple. When they remembered, they understood that Jesus was not talking about a temple of stone but his own body. When they understood, they believed the scripture and the teacher.
Believing the scripture is more important than believing a teacher. The scripture always gives us truth. Teachers may or may not have the truth. If a teaching is accurate it will ultimately create faith in the written word of God. But it may take time before you know that a teaching is accurate, so don’t be quick to write off a teacher who says things that you don’t understand.
Moses, Jesus, and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day taught about the same God: Abraham’s God. By Jesus day, Israel’s religious leaders had added so many of their own rules that their yeast/teaching did not produce anything to feed the human spirit. Embracing a teaching about God avails little if the teaching is a lie. But if you have been taught the truth, when you remember, you will understand.
When you understand the written word of God, you will be persuaded that you possess the truth. Not the shallow believing of immature Christians, who believe because someone told them what to believe. Mature Christians believe because they understand God’s intent and purposes from his written word. When you understand God’s ways, it will shut your mouth and shorten your journey through the wilderness.
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:1-3
This passage leaves out that they returned to the Red Sea before they traveled to the Desert of Sin as is recorded in Numbers. They just spent the night smelling the stench of the decomposing bodies of Egypt’s oppressive government. Egypt’s could not stand in the presence of Israel’s mighty God, yet they grumbled to become Egypt’s slaves again.
Few in Israel understood God’s purpose for delivering them. They thought God came to their rescue because they were miserable and asked for his help. Many have cried out for help and the heavens remained silent. If misery moved God to act, misery would cease to exist because “God does not show favoritism.”[v] God delivered Israel because he remembered the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give the land of Canaan to one of Abraham’s children.[vi] God’s integrity moves him to action.
Israel followed Moses out of Egypt thinking life would get better but it didn’t. They were miserable in Egypt, but they had plenty of meat and all the food they could eat. Now they are in a wilderness where rations are scarce and their leaders were complicating their lives by making rash and unfounded judgments about God. They accused Moses of bringing them into the desert to “starve the entire assembly to death.” Moses didn’t bring them into the desert. God did. When Israel promised to stop worshipping Egypt’s gods and then reneged on their end of the agreement, God wanted to kill them in Egypt. He spared them because his actions are governed by the covenants he promised to fulfill, not by human behavior.[vii]
Israel’s behavior was appalling. Their words about God were full of hate. Let me paraphrase what they said to Moses and Aaron. “You didn’t let us die of thirst at Marah, but you will let us die of hunger. Egypt was good to us. Pharaoh gave us plenty of meat and all the food we wanted, so where is the beef, Moses?” Israel got what they wanted in Egypt, and they were miserable, so what made them think getting what they want in the wilderness would make them happy?
The principle of understanding when you remember and believing when you understand didn’t work for Israel. Even though they went back to the Red Sea and remembered, they never kept their mouth shut. Every time they spoke a lie about God, their evil words darkened their understanding.[viii] Declaring that Moses brought them into the wilderness to starve them all to death was a condemnation of the God who sent Moses.
The Bible admonishes us to “speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”[ix] If you are not merciful, the judgments you make about others will be cruel. If you are the object of cruel judgments, you can overcome by showing mercy to your accuser. God did! God is merciful; therefore, his judgments about Israel were kind. He could have let Israel perish in Egypt and been justified. He chose to believe the best of Israel. When they failed him, he persevered to trust them again, until there was nothing more he could do to save them.
Israel had no mercy for Moses. Consequently, the judgments they made were cruel. Even though the accusations were directed at Moses they were really making judgments about God. Israel judged their God to be a mass murderer, who brought men, women and children into the desert to die a slow death by starvation. What kind of judgment is that to make about someone they followed into the wilderness to worship!
God triumphed over Israel’s judgments and recorded what he did in a book so every generation could know the truth. God is not a murderer. It did not matter how unmerciful Israel’s words and deeds were, God always treated them with mercy and kindness. He gave Israel what they needed to live whether they deserved it or not.
What was wrong with God’s people? They were saved and baptized! The New Testament called them the church in the wilderness and identified the rock they drank from as Christ.[x] Why were they so rude? Why were they so dense? Why were they given to constant bickering? Why couldn’t they see anything good in a God who came to Egypt to keep his word to their ancestors?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
In 1991 Shirl Jennings’ eyesight was restored after forty years of blindness. He is one of twenty people in recorded history to regain sight after an extended period of blindness. Even though Shirl’s eyes functioned normally, Shirl could not see. His life story was made into a movie called First Sight. He said, “the movie is surprisingly accurate on …the most crucial point: For those who have learned to live without it, the gift of eyesight can be a tremendous, overwhelming burden.”[xi]
His eyes functioned but the visual sights were contrary to the textures, smells and sounds that he used to identified the world he lived in. His wife’s face was a meaningless blur, until he touched her face or heard her voice. Doctors concluded that Shirl would have to learn how to see by changing the way he perceives the world he lived in. Life was easier for Shirl when he was blind. After he regained his sight, he had to learn a new way of living by renewing his mind.
Paul summed up Israel’s problem when he wrote, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God…”[xii] In Egypt, Israel learned a way of worshipping that put them in opposition to their God. They could not see anything good in God because they wanted him to conform to the way they were accustomed to worship. If they had been spiritually minded they would have had life and peace as they walked to the mountain to worship God. Instead the church in the wilderness grumbled, quarreled, complained and cried, “God’s gonna kill me!”
Abraham was never angry with God like his descendants were. There is one word explains why: religion! The religion Pharaoh taught Israel had some striking similarities to the faith Abraham taught Isaac and Jacob. In the introduction of Egyptian Religion by Sir Wallis Budge, he observed:
“The resurrection was the object of every formula, every text, every ceremony of Egyptian life, and toward that one end the whole of his formidable religion tended and in the end all inconsistencies bury themselves. With their Christ-like Osiris, their one God, and even a Virgin and Child (Isis and Hours),…”[xiii]
Israel adopted much of Egypt’s teachings because there were many similarities to the faith Abraham taught them, which also had a resurrection and one God as its object of every formula, text, and ceremony. Israel was still practicing the religion they learned in Egypt, when they ran to their new Pharaoh, Moses, to meet their every need. If Moses had been in control, he would have pacified them by giving them what they wanted. When Moses proved helpless to supply their demands, they wanted their old Pharaoh back. If Abraham’s God had been a fake, Israel would have killed Moses and gone back to Egypt. They tried, but a living God faithfully preserved his obedient shepherd.
God exhibited great restraint in dealing with his people, because they were immature children with carnal minds who had no concept of freedom. God desires his people to be governed by love, not their carnal appetites. Moses generation came to a tragic end, because they rejected the original faith of Abraham that teaches you how to love and be loved. Paul warned us not to make the same mistake as Israel did by conforming to the pattern of this world, which is another way of saying stop worshipping to get what you want. You must be transformed by renewing your mind. Only then will you be able to understand God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.”[xiv]
Renewing your mind will transform the way you perceive the world around you and you will be able to see God with the eyes of your understanding. If you don’t know God’s ways, you will see him like Shirl Jennings saw his wife; a meaningless blur. Some Christians think if God would appear and speak to us it would be easier to understand him. Israel proved that idea false. They saw God. They heard him speak. They never understood his ways and remained at enmity with God until they perished in the wilderness.
Israel’s desperation for food and water had deep spiritual roots. The Egyptians believed after they died they must make a journey to another world where they would receive eternal life. To survive the journey the Egyptian brought all his earthly possessions with him, including food and drink. One of the most popular types of food offerings to bring on the journey was “choice cuts of beef.”[xv] This idea was practiced literally in early dynasties. Later generations were satisfied with the head and foreleg of a bull. Throughout the history of ancient Egypt all social levels strived to “make the best provision they could afford for their tomb.”[xvi]
In the Egypt, the temple priest and or your family members provided food for your tomb. Those with financial means went to great lengths to guarantee someone would bring food to their graves, lest they die before they finished the journey and failed to receive eternal life. Providing for the dead was a heavy burden on the living. When Pharaoh gave them all the food they wanted, he was providing for their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs. God also desired to meet their spiritual needs by removing the burden of providing for the dead. Israel’s anger with God was rooted in fear: the fear that they would cease to exist if they failed to obey Pharaoh’s teachings.
RUNNING A GOOD RACE
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7
The descendants of Abraham were running a good race but people kept cutting in on them. First, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, introduced the worship of other gods into the family. Then the Egyptians taught Israel the living must provide for the dead to obtain eternal life. When you don’t know and understand the ways of God, it is easy for people to distract you from his path.
After some Christian Jews convinced many of the Galatian Christians they must obey the Law of Moses and be circumcised to be saved, Paul sent a letter to refute their yeast/teaching. He warned the Galatians this “kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”[xvii] Paul called teaching the same thing Jesus did when he warned his disciples about the Pharisees teaching. If the Galatians’ embraced the yeasts of salvation by obeying laws, it would eventually work it’s way throughout the whole church. If that happened, the church would lose its effectiveness because we do not receive the Spirit by the works of the law but by hearing and understanding faith.
The Corinthian Christians wrestled with the same problem. Paul warned the church at Corinth,
“Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast– as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” [xviii]
The Corinthians worship of God was rift with quarreling over which teacher was the best. Paul called that kind of worship old yeast. The Corinthians chose to worship the God Paul preached about but continued to worship the way the world does. They claimed to love God even as they disdained one another. They were treating God with malice because their worship of him was with partiality.
God gave Abraham bread without yeast. Abraham taught his children a pure gospel. Israel went down to Egypt and allowed Pharaoh to add his yeast/teaching to the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth that Abraham gave to them. Abraham’s descendants never stopped worshipping God. They incorporated the teachings of other nations.
God’s flock had been distracted from the path he set before them though Abraham. Therefore, before they continued the journey to keep the worship of God at Sinai, God will give them his bread/teaching without the yeast men add.
Budge, Sir Wallis, Egyptian Religion. (Carol Publishing Group, Secaucus, N.J., 1997)
Reese, Edward, The Reese Chronological Bible. (Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN., 1980)
Spencer, A.J., Death in Ancient Egypt. (Penguin Books, London, England, 1982)
[i] Exodus 14:30
[ii] Mark 8:15
[iii] Edward Reese, The Reese Chronological Bible, (Minneapolis, 1980), p. 1309, 1317
[iv] John 2:19
[v] Romans 2:11
[vi] Exodus 2:24
[vii] Ezekiel 20:8
[viii] Job 42:2-3 Amplified Bible
[ix] James 2:12-13, KJV
[x] 1 Corinthians 10
[xii] Romans 8:6-7, KJV
[xiii] Sir Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion, (Secaucus, N.J.), p. 7
[xiv] Romans 12:2
[xv] A.J. Spencer, Death in Ancient Egypt, (London, 1982), p. 48
[xvi] ibid, p. 47
[xvii] Galatians 5:7-9
[xviii] 1 Corinthians 5:6-8