Simple Tests

It’s easy to pick on ancient Israel.  After they were delivered from Egyptian slavery through the Passover (Exodus 11, 12 –  judgment on Egypt by the angel of death and salvation for Israel by the substitute sacrifice of the lamb, the primary Old Testament picture prophecy of the Cross of Jesus Christ); and after God’s presence was even more manifestly revealed, leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:17-22); and after they had experienced deliverance through the Red Sea (Exodus 14, 15 – by human standards, one of the really big miracles, but no stretch at all for Omnipotent God); after all this, you would think they would find obedience to God almost natural. Wouldn’t we have fully trusted and obeyed God in these circumstances? Be careful of your answer to that one!

After Israel left the Red Sea and before they arrived at Sinai (where they received the Ten Commandments and all the details of the sacrificial system and multiple examples of case law), instead of confident faith in God based on God’s perfect record of faithfulness where God gave them regular miracles, they began a 40 year pattern of grumbling. So God gave them two simple tests.

The first test followed the experience at Marah in the wilderness of Shur when they ran out of water, then found bitter water, unsafe to drink. God told Moses to throw a log into the water, “and the water became sweet.” Then followed the first test, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” Exodus 15:26  Did you notice that God doesn’t back away from taking responsibility for sickness and health? He is sovereign over all things.  But what follows is an unknown time of refreshment at “Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees” Exodus 15:27 ESV,  a taste of the blessing God had for his people in the promised land if they would “diligently listen… give ear… and keep all his statutes.” So the first test seems to be a general statement of their response to all that was yet to come.

The second test is significantly more concrete.  As they left Elim oasis, and as they ran out of food, grumbling replaced trusting.  “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,  and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Exodus 16:2, 3 ESV

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to 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 they will walk in my law or not.’” Exodus 16:4 ESV

The gist of this test was some simple rules to follow in regard to the “bread from heaven,” that the people named “What is it?” or the Hebrew transliteration, manna.

Rule #1 – Collect only enough for the day, recalling  the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11
Rule #2 – On the sixth day, collect enough for two days so that you will have food for the Sabbath day.

What did they do? Some of them broke rule #1, not trusting that God would give them daily bread, so they collected extra, storing it up for the future, but finding that the leftovers “bred worms and stank.” Others broke rule #2, failing to save extra manna for the Sabbath, going out on Sabbath morning and finding nothing.  In both cases, what they did seemed reasonable and prudent, following the example of Joseph who delivered Egypt from famine by storing grain for the future in the first case; or trusting God’s daily provision in the second case.

Where did they go wrong? They failed the simple test of obedience. And God graciously taught them through immediate consequences that disobedience to God will not work out.  Are you substituting your reasoning and rationalization for obedience to God’s direct commands? The consequences of disobedience today vary from immediate to delayed, but ultimately the results will be the same.

At the end of forty years of regularly failing the test of obedience, including various violations of the Ten Commandments, and after Moses died and Joshua became the leader, God impressed this basic truth once again, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:7, 89 ESV

In these “new covenant” days of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are no longer under the rules and regulations of the Mosaic ceremonial law, nor are we promised that the blessings of material prosperity and physical health will be given in this life, but we are assured of greater blessings in the “new heavens and a new earth.” But basic obedience to God’s moral law is just as vital as ever.

How are you doing with the Simple Test of Obedience to God and His Word?

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