Light from the Sidra


Exodus 13:17 - 17:16

What a roller-coaster Israel is riding in our Sidra! From the heights to the depths. What heights they ascended to when the LORD led them through the sea on dry ground and then destroyed the Egyptians before their very eyes. How they sang his praise! But then they went down to the depths complaining that there was no water or food.

When God provided food and water in abundance at Elim, when he sent quails and gave manna each morning, when he promised health to Israel and blessed them with the gift of Shabbat they were once again on the heights. Then down again, complaining at Meribah. Yet God gave the people water in abundance out of the rock and defeated Amalek for them.

Looking back on it, we can say that Israel had so much to be grateful forand there can be no doubt that many of the people were thankful. After they saw the final defeat of their great oppressors they sang God’s praise with words like, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; he is my God and I will praise him!” As they moved on they came to water, but it was bitter and could not be drunk. So God healed the waters of Marah, not only to quench their thirst but also to illustrate his promise that he would heal all their diseases if they obeyed him. What a promise! Who would not welcome that? Then he led them to an oasis abundant in water and dates. And so it goes on. What more could a people ask for? Deliverance from their enemies and all their needs met. How good God was to Israel!

How sad, then, to see Israel demonstrate so much ingratitude and unbelief. So much kvetching and testing God. Some say it was the mixed multitude alone who complained, but it does not say that in the Sidra; it simply says “the people” and that included the people of Israel. No, there can be no excuses; many of the Israelites complained again and again. What they lacked was faith. They had seen God’s mighty power at the Red Sea; they saw him provide for them time and again. But the next time they were in need they did not trust him. It was not wrong to ask God to help them when they were in need; what was wrong was to ask in a way which indicated that they thought God had forgotten them. So they moaned against Moses, as though it was his fault. Worst of all, they challenged God. Was he really around? Then he should prove it and do something to help them. What arrogance! Was God their servant? Moses does not say that it was only a few who tested God, so it must clearly have been the majority of the people.

When we look back over it all we have to say how patient and good the LORD was to Israel then.  His care for the nation was all out of his mercy, as Moses wrote in the song, “He has become my salvation”. Our safety is due to God alone.

So how can we today escape the same mistakes as the people then? What can we do to avoid lack of faith? How do we stop complaining? This is serious. Too many people think kvetching about God is a joke, something Israel is allowed to do. Not at all! The first thing we have to understand is that unbelief is something to be continually resisted because it will always be with us. The story of Rephidim shows this. Moses called God “Adonai Nissi”the LORD my Bannerand he went on to explain the meaning of this name. A hand was attacking God’s throne and there would be a war, but this war was to be forever. This is surely a picture to us of the war against sin, unbelief and complainingthings we are always tempted to do. Pharaoh may be dead and gone, but another enemy is always around, an enemy like Amalek, an enemy to be fought against from generation to generation. If you know anything about your own soul you will know this struggle goes on and on. The question is: are you winning that fight?

Be honest. Unless you have deceived yourself into believing that you never lack faith and that you never complain you will have to admit you are not. However, there is Good News. There is someone who can help. Who is He?

We will learn more about him later in the Book of Exodus, but in Sidra Beshalah we begin to learn something about him. He was the one who was in the pillar of cloud and fire protecting Israel. It was He who spoke to Moses, telling him how to save Israel and provide for them. He is the messenger from God who tells us what God requires of us. Some call him “Metatron”, but we will use the name Moses gave him, “Malakh Adonai”, the Angel of the LORD. We can still receive his help today.

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