The Law of Freedom

Chapter 18

From the Red Sea, Israel continued their journey guided by the pillar of cloud. For three days they journeyed without finding water. The supply that they had taken with them was gone. Moses, who was familiar with this region, knew what the others did not, that at Marah, the nearest place where springs were to be found, the water was unfit for use. With intense anxiety, he watched the guiding cloud. With a sinking heart, he heard the glad shout. "Water! water!" echoed along the line. Men, women, and children in joyous haste crowded to the fountain. Suddenly a cry of anguish burst forth—the water was bitter.

In their dismay and discouragement, the majority of the people blamed Moses for having led them in such a way, failing to remember that the divine presence in the mysterious cloud had been leading him as well as them. Moses did what they had forgotten to do; he cried to God for help. "And the Lord showed him a tree. Which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet." Here the promise was given to Israel through Moses, "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee."

About a month after leaving Egypt, Israel made their first encampment in the wilderness. Their store of provisions had now run very low. There was scarcely any plant growth in the wilderness, and their flocks were dwindling in size. How was food to be supplied for these vast multitudes? Doubts filled their hearts, and again they murmured. Even the rulers of the people joined in complaining against Moses and Aaron.

They had not as yet suffered from hunger; their present wants were supplied, but they feared for the future. In imagination they saw their children starving. The Lord permitted difficulties to surround them and their supply of food to be cut short that their hearts might turn to Him. If in their want they would call upon Him, He would still grant them evidence of His love and care. He had promised that if they would obey His commandments, no disease should come upon them; and it was sinful unbelief on their part to anticipate that they or their children might die from hunger.

The history of the wilderness life of Israel was recorded for the benefit of God's people till the close of time. God would have His people in these days reexamine with a humble heart and teachable spirit the trials through which ancient Israel passed, that they may be instructed in their preparation for the heavenly Canaan.

Moses assured the congregation that their wants were to be supplied: "The Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and the morning bread to the full." At nightfall, a vast flock of quails surrounded the camp, enough to supply the entire company. In the morning there lay upon the surface of the ground "a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground." "It was like coriander seed, white." The people called it "manna." "The taste of it was like wafers made with honey." They were directed to gather daily an omer, the equivalent of about two quarts, for every person; and they were not to leave any of it until the morning. Some attempted to keep a supply until the next day, but it was then found to be unfit food. The provision for the day must be gathered in the morning for all that remained upon the ground was melted by the sun.

On the sixth day, the people gathered two omers for every person. The rulers hurried to tell Moses what had taken place. His answer was, "To morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none."

In the circumstances connected with the giving of the manna, we have conclusive evidence that the Sabbath was not, as many claim, first brought into existence when the Law was given at Sinai. Before the Israelites came to Sinai, they understood the Sabbath to be binding upon them. And when some of the people went out on the Sabbath to gather manna, the Lord asked, "How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?"

After leaving the wilderness of Sin, the Israelites encamped in Rephidim. Here there was no water, and again they distrusted the providence of God. In their blindness and presumption, the people cried, "Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" Suspicion and distrust filled their hearts, and they boldly accused Moses of designing to kill them and their children by privations and hardships that he might enrich himself with their possessions. In the tumult of rage and indignation, they were about to stone him.

Moses was directed to take the elders of Israel and the rod wherewith he had worked wonders in Egypt and go before the people. And the Lord said unto him, "Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink." He obeyed, and the waters burst forth in a refreshing stream that more than adequately supplied the encampment.

The people continued their journey, following the movement of the cloudy pillar. Their route had led across barren plains, over steep inclines, and through rocky gorges. Like a living tide, the hosts of Israel with their flocks and herds flowed between the rocky cliffs rising hundreds of feet on either side.

At last the cloudy pillar rested on top of Sinai's summit, and the people camped on the plain beneath. This was to be their home for nearly a year. At night the pillar of fire assured them of the divine protection; and while they slumbered, the bread of heaven fell gently upon the encampment.

Soon after the people had settled at Sinai, Moses was called up into the mountain to meet with God. Alone he climbed the steep and rugged path and drew near to the cloud that marked the place of the Divine presence. Israel was now to be taken into a close and peculiar relation to the Most High to be incorporated as a church and a nation under the government of God.

Upon his return to camp, Moses summoned the elders of Israel and repeated to them the divine message. Their answer was, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." Thus they entered into a solemn covenant with God, pledging themselves to accept Him as their Ruler, by which they became, in a special sense, the subjects of His authority. Moses then told them that the next three days were to be spent in washing their clothes and preparing to meet with the Lord.

On the morning of the third day, as the eyes of all the people were turned toward the mount, they saw that its summit was covered with a thick cloud. The cloud increased in size and density until the entire mountain was wrapped in darkness and awful mystery. As lightening flashed from the dense cloud that now covered the mountain and the thunder echoed and re-echoed from the surrounding hills, a sound as of a trumpet was heard, calling the people to meet with God.

Then the thunders ceased; the trumpet was no longer heard; the earth was wrapped in silence. There followed a period of solemn silence, and then the voice of God was heard. Speaking out of the thick darkness that surrounded Him as He stood upon the mount, the Lord spoke His Law for all Israel to hear.

The Law was not spoken at this time exclusively for the benefit of the Hebrews. God honored them by making them the guardians and keepers of His Law, but it was to be held as a sacred trust for the whole world. The instructions that were given were for the training and government of all. Ten precepts, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, cover the duty of man to God and to his fellow man; and all are based upon the great fundamental principle of love.

"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

God, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all life, is entitled to supreme reverence and worship. Man is forbidden to give to any other object the first place in his affections or his service. Whatever we hold dear that tends to lessen our love for God or to interfere with the service due Him is to us a god.

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments. "

Many heathen nations claimed that their images were merely symbols to remind them of God, but the second commandment declares such worship to be sin and is here forbidden. The attempt to represent the Eternal One by material objects would lower man's conception of God; so would man become degraded.

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."

This commandment forbids us to use the name of God in a light or careless manner, without regard to its awful significance. By the thoughtless mention of God in common conversation, by appeals to Him in trivial matters, and by the frequent and thoughtless repetition of His name, we dishonor Him.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."

The Sabbath is not here introduced but is to be remembered and observed as the memorial of the Creator's work. Pointing to God as the Maker of the heavens and the earth, it distinguishes the true God from all false gods. All who keep the seventh day signify by this act that they are worshipers of Jehovah. Thus the Sabbath is the sign of man's allegiance to God as long as there are any upon the earth to serve Him.

"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

Parents are entitled to a degree of love and respect which is due to no other person. He who rejects the rightful authority of his parents is rejecting the authority of God.

"Thou shalt not kill."

All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life, any injurious act towards another—all these are, to a greater or lesser degree, violations of the sixth commandment.

"Thou shalt not commit adultery."

This commandment forbids not only acts of impurity, but sensual thoughts and desires, or any practice that tends to excite them. Purity is required not only in the outward life but in the secret thoughts of the heart.

"Thou shalt not steal."

This commandment forbids overreaching in trade and requires the payment of all honest debts or wages. It declares that every attempt to take advantage of the ignorance, weakness, or misfortune of another is registered as fraud in the books of heaven.

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."

Any false communication or attempt to deceive is included in this command. An intention to deceive constitutes falsehood. By the expression of the face, a falsehood may be told as effectively as by words. Included are all intentional overstatements calculated to convey a false or exaggerated impression. The statement of facts in such a manner as to mislead is a falsehood. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.

"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's."

Every sinful act finds its source in the selfish desire. The tenth commandment strikes at the very root of all sins, prohibiting even the selfish desire. He who in obedience to God's Law refuses to give way to even a sinful desire for that which belongs to another will not be guilty of an act of wrong toward his fellow man.

God accompanied the proclamation of His Law with a wonderful display of power and majesty, that His people might never forget the scene and that they might be impressed with a profound reverence for the Author of the Law. This lesson was not for Israel alone. God would have all men recognize the sacredness, the importance, and the permanence of His Law.

This chapter is based on Exodus 15:22–27; 16–20