From Egypt to Sinai—Becoming a People for a Possession (3)
By Titus Chu
Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.
– Exodus 15:27
The name Elim means “palm trees” (Strong, H362).
It had probably been about 15 days since the children of Israel left Egypt, and no doubt they were tired and thirsty, especially the children. They were no doubt all feeling discouraged, beat down by the heat of the sun and with no proper lodging. Then they came to Elim and found twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees.
We might think the children of Israel were overjoyed at such a find, but consider, what was this to over two million people plus countless animals? A single palm tree does not give off much shade, so even seventy palm trees together can only give very limited shade. If it was a great palm forest, perhaps everyone could have benefited. But as it was, nearly thirty thousand people had to share a single palm tree. Even if you stood in line, how long would it take to get your turn in the shade, and how long would your turn last before the next in line pushed you out? And as for the springs, you would have to share your spring with nearly one hundred thousand other people, plus all their flocks and herds. It seems God was very stingy giving only twelve springs of water and seventy date palms to so many people.
Actually, God is showing us something wonderful here. There were 12 springs, and 12 is made up of 3 times 4. The number 3 in the Bible stands for the triune God, and the number 4 stands for God’s creatures, especially man. the number 12 represents things of eternity, as seen in the frequent use of the number 12 in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 20-21). In the picture of the 12 springs, God is showing us that He as the living spring will supply all of our need for eternity. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:38). He is our divine supply for eternity.
Seventy Date Palms
What about the 70 date palms? The number 70 is made up of 3 plus 4, multiplied by 10. Here God is added to man to meet man’s need, as represented by the shade and the dates. The number 10 represents something of time, not eternity. Whereas God’s eternal supply is the focus of the 12 springs, man’s need in time is the focus of the 70 palms. Without water we would perish, but the palm trees are only to satisfy us in this life.
None of us can say that we are so spiritual that we have no human need. Until we go to be with the Lord, we will have such need. We need a place to live, clothes, transportation, companions, food, health, and at least some finance. We also need a church life. God wants to supply all our need in this life. When God come to be our heavenly supply, He comes as 3 times 4, and He fills us with Himself to the brim. When He comes to supply our human need, He comes as 3 plus 4, and takes full responsibility to meet all our need.
I have served the Lord for many years, and must testify of the Lord’s faithfulness. I have always had something to eat. In fact, I have never been short of anything. I could tell you story after story of how the Lord came in to supply my need, often at the last minute. He has really been the seventy date palms to me, coming as 3 plus 4 times 10. His divine supply is bountiful and endless. The way He meets our human need is always so proper and healthily.
Two million people camped in the midst of 70 trees and 12 springs. It seems so inadequate. But God was telling them that He would be absolutely responsible for all their needs, both spiritually and practically. He would never fail them.
Station 6—The Wilderness of Sin
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.
— Exodus 16:1
The wilderness of Sin does not imply sin as we think of it. Sin was simply the name given to this part of the wilderness (Strong, H5512). Here there was no food, no water, and no rest. It was a real wilderness full of thorn bushes and little else. Since thorns came from the curse (Gen. 3:18), it was a place of curse. Including the two years spent at Mount Sinai, the children of Israel were to spend the next 40 years wandering in this wilderness.
The whole congregation of the children of Israel complained to Moses and Aaron (v. 2), but their murmuring was not a rebellion. Their complaint was very legal—they had no food. Even in the church today, if the leaders are not supplying nourishing spiritual food, the congregation has a right, even a responsibility, to make a complaint. We should not, however, have the habit of complaining, nor should we try to overthrow the leadership. To attempt to overthrow is to be rebellious. To murmur or complain simply means we are not satisfied because we are hungry.
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.”
— Exodus 16: 3
They didn’t die, but they wished they had died so they wouldn’t have to go through such a hard life.
All they could remember about Egypt was their time sitting by the pots of meat and eating bread to the full. They remembered nothing of working so hard as slaves of Pharaoh to earn that bread. Now it seemed Moses and Aaron had brought the whole congregation to the wilderness to die of starvation. Such a complaint was very legal.
If the saints in the church are not properly fed so that they lose their spiritual appetite, the elders are fully responsible. If the saints cannot grow, the elders are responsible. If the saints do not develop, the elders are responsible. If the saints say that they are spiritually hungry, it is a legitimate complaint, and the elders must listen.
But the saints must realize that to follow the Lord, to grow and develop spiritually, they must pay a price. Many would not deny God, but neither would they take the way of the wilderness to learn the real lessons. They simply attend the church meetings and wait to go to heaven. There is no price to live this kind of Christian life, but neither is there any growth. When the Lord out of His faithfulness does ask them to pay a price, they can only wish for the meat pots of Egypt, forgetting how hard they have to labor to earn the world’s bread.
To complain to the Lord about things we actually need is very legal. When I first moved to Akron years ago and had just dropped my job to serve the Lord full time, I was in need of a house. I went to the Lord and made a detailed complaint, telling Him exactly what I needed and why. I was very specific, naming about seven criteria for the house He should give me. I also told Him that I had no money, and that He would also have to supply that. About a week later, the realtor called me to say, “Mr. Chu, your God has prepared a house for you.” As he described the house, I had to worship the Lord. It was exactly what I had prayed for in every detail. At the same time, I received an unexpected check in the mail that covered the down payment. I lived in that miracle house for quite a few years. Every time I drove in or out I realized that God is my supply.
Do you realize how hard it is to get away from the meat pots and bread of Egypt? It is too easy for us to live a life in which we don’t have to trust Christ. It is hard for us to live a life that is absolutely for Christ and the interest of Christ.
The children of Israel complained about their lack of food. That was a reasonable complaint. They had no intention of overthrowing Moses. The Lord did not punish them, but 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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily” (v. 4-5). The Lord promised them bread from heaven. They were to gather it every day for that day’s supply. Only on the sixth day were they to gather extra, so that they would not have to do the work of gathering on the seventh day, the Sabbath. In the church life we need such a daily diet. The responsible brothers need to make sure that everyone gets heavenly nourishment every day.
In the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. 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.”
— Exodus 16:13-15
Manna means “what is it.” So when the children of Israel saw it, they 1said “Manna!” We may not know what manna is, but we know it’s source and we know it is nourishing.
So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp.
— Exodus 16:13
The children of Israel complained that they missed their meat pots, so God sent them meat in the form of quail. God promised them manna, but He never mentioned quail. The quail came down in the evening and covered the camp as a concession to their weakness. It came that day, but not the next. God’s desire was for them to eat a heavenly diet of heavenly bread, but He gave them some meat to satisfy their earthly appetite.
Jesus told us that we as His New Testament believers are to eat Him as the heavenly bread, the reality of the Old Testament manna (John 6:31-33, 50-51). Even though His intention is that we eat such a heavenly diet, we sometimes eat quail in the form of a variety of different activities. Such activities may be healthy and allowed by the Lord, but they can never be the reality of our church life. Such things as church picnics and other social activities are simply quail. Such a diet is good once in a while, but we will be unhealthy if we eat them every day. We may not live very long spiritually if our church life is nothing but enjoyment.
A lot of things could go on in the church life, and we should allow them, but these things should never become our focus. Quail is extra nourishment, extra enjoyment, but it’s not really what God wants for us. He wants us to be nourished by Himself as the living bread that comes down from heaven, just as the children of Israel were daily nourished by the manna. This is the refreshment of God’s grace. By such a diet He revives us every day.
Manna is produced in the morning, following the experience of a long night. After we go through a lot of pressure and death, a little life comes out. After we go through some experience of the work of the cross, a little freshness comes out. This is the principle of how God sends the manna. Some give a message and we enjoy it, but are not satisfied. Others share something and even though we may not enjoy it that much, we are very satisfied. The sharing in this case was a product of the fellowship of the suffering of Christ, which eventually became a profit for all. This is manna.
This is a sober word. Manna is fresh, and comes after a long night. Everything of life you give to the church is from your walking with Christ through the process of suffering which eventually satisfies God Himself.