How quickly God’s people move from singing his glory (chapter 15) to
grumbling about their situation (chapter 16)!
A few notes along the way…
Forty years of miracle meals. God provides for them manna, a kind of “bread from heaven”, to eat for the next 40 years. Now they might get tired of that (and they will), since there’s only so many creative ways to bake manna. (The purpose of manna is explained in Deuteronomy 8:2-3.) But the point here is that God in his faithfulness brought them safely through the wilderness years and into the promised land (16:35). He provided water along the way and gave protection from enemies (chapter 17). But still, they — and we — are prone to test God by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (17:7)
Water from the Rock. The Apostle Paul teaches that the water coming from the rock (17:6) was an Old Testament picture (foreshadowing) of Christ who gives life to his followers (1 Corinthians 10:4). In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul outlines some of the lessons we believers today can learn from Israel in the wilderness.
Conversion of a father-in-law. In Exodus chapter 18, Moses is reunited with his wife, children, and his father-in-law. Jethro (that’s a good southern Midianite name) hears the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and comes to believe in the God of Israel. “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods…” (18:11). This marks Jethro’s conversion from a Midianite priest to a follower of the true and living God.
Organizing God’s grumpy people. Before he leaves, Jethro gives valuable advice to his son-in-law. Moses alone is serving as leader, teacher, and judge for the people. He spends most of his day now arbitrating people’s complaints against one another. Jethro says, “You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statures and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” (18:19-20) In this way Moses is a foreshadowing again of the Lord Jesus Christ, who represents us to God and guides us into his paths of righteousness.
Further, Moses must organize the congregation into groups and appoint leaders over them to serve in guiding the people and arbitrating in daily matters. These leaders must be able men “who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe,” (18:21). To “fear” the Lord means that we walk before him, truly humbled by the reality of God and who he is. These leadership appointments also are a picture of Christ giving spiritual gifts to his people who are organized into a body of believers. (See 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.)