HOW THE SEA BECAME DRY LAND, AND THE SKY RAINED BREAD
Exodus 14:1 to 16:36
WHEN the children of Israel came out of Egypt it was their aim to go at once to the land of Canaan, from which their fathers had come. The shortest road was that following the shore of the Great Sea, and entering Canaan on the southwest. But in this region lived the Philistines, a strong and warlike people; and the Israelites, after ages of slavery, were not fit to carry on war. The other way was by the southeast, through the desert of Mount Sinai, where Moses knew the land, for it was there that he had been a shepherd for many years.
So the Israelites, led by the pillar of cloud and fire turned to the southeast, directly toward the Red Sea, which rolled between them and the desert. In a very few days they came to the shore of the sea, with the water before them, and high mountains on each side.
As soon as the Israelites had left their homes, and were on the march, King Pharaoh was sorry that he had let them go; for now they would no more be his servants and do his work. Word came to Pharaoh that the Israelites were lost among the mountains, and held fast by the sea in front of them. Pharaoh called out his army, his chariots, and his horsemen, and followed the Israelites, intending either to kill them, or to bring them back. Very soon the army of Egypt was close behind the host of Israel, and the hearts of the people were filled with fear. They cried to Moses, saying:
"Why did you bring us out into this terrible place, shut in by the mountains and the sea, and with our enemies close behind us? It would be better to serve the Egyptians, than to die here in the wilderness!"
"Fear not," answered Moses. "Stand still, and see how God will save you. As for the Egyptians, whom you now see following you, you will see them no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall stand still and see your enemies slain." That night the pillar of fire, which was before the host of Israel went behind them, and stood between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of the Israelites. To Israel it was bright and dazzling with the glory of the Lord, but to the Egyptians it was dark and terrible; and they dared not enter it.
And all that night there blew over the sea a mighty east wind, so that the water was blown away, and when the morning came there was a ridge of dry land between water on one side and water on the other, making a road across the sea to the land beyond, and on each side of the road the water lay in great lakes, as if to keep their enemies away from them.
Then Moses told the people to go forward, and the pillar of cloud again went before them; and the people followed, a great army. They walked across the Red Sea as on dry land, and passed safely over into the wilderness on the other side. So God brought his people out of Egypt, into a land that they had never seen.
( click to see Exodus 14:1-19 )
When the Egyptians saw them marching into the sea, they followed, with their chariots and their horses. But the sand was no longer hard; it had become soft, and their chariot-wheels were fastened in it, and many of them broke off from the chariots. And the horses became mired, and fell down, so that the army was in confusion; and all were frightened. The soldiers cried out:
"Let us fly from the face of the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them, and against us!"
By this time, all the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea, and were standing on the high ground beyond it, looking at their enemies slowly struggling through the sand, all in one heaped up mass of men, and horses, and chariots. Then Moses lifted up his hand, and at once a great tide of water swept up from the sea on the south; the road over which the Israelites had walked in safety was covered with water; and the host of Pharaoh, with all his chariots and his horses and their riders were drowned in the sea, before the eyes of the people of Israel. They saw the dead bodies of the Egyptians tossed up by the waves on the shore.
Moses wrote a great song, and all the people sang it together, over this great victory, which God had wrought for them. It began thus:
"I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously,
The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea,
The Lord is my strength and song,
And he is become my salvation."
And now the people of Israel were no longer in a level land, with fields of grain, and abundance of food, and streams of water. They were in the great desert, with a rocky path under them, and mountains of rock rising all around, with only a few springs of water, and these far apart. Such a host of men, and women, and children, with their flocks, would need much water, and they found very little.
They saw in the distance some springs of water, and ran to drink of it, for they were very thirsty. But when they tasted, they found it bitter, so that they could not drink it. Then the people cried to Moses, and Moses cried to the Lord; and the Lord showed Moses a tree, and told him to cut it down and throw it into the water. Moses did so, and then the water became fresh, and pure, and good, so that the people could drink it. This place they named Marah, a word which means "bitterness," because of the water which they found there.
After passing Marah, they came to another and more pleasant place, where they saw twelve springs of fresh water, and a grove of seventy palm-trees around them. And there they rested under the cool shade.
But soon they were in a hot desert of sand, which lies between the waters of Elim and Mount Sinai; and again they were in great trouble, for there was no food for such an army of people.
Then Moses called upon God, and the Lord said, "I will rain bread from heaven upon you; and you shall go out and gather it every day."
The next morning, when the people looked out of their tents, they saw all around the camp, on the sand, little white flakes, like snow or frost. They had never seen anything like it before, and they said, just as anybody would say, "What is it?" In the language of the Israelites, the Hebrew language, "What is it?" is the word "Manhu." So the people said to one another "Manhu? Manhu?" And this gave a name afterward to what they saw, the name Manna.
And Moses said to them, "This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. Go out and gather it, as much as you need. But take only as much as you need for to-day, for it will not keep; and God will give you more to-morrow."
So the people went out, and gathered the manna. They cooked it in various ways, baking it and boiling it; and the taste of it was like wafers flavored with honey. Some took more than they needed, not trusting God's word that there would be more on the next day. But that which was left over, after it was gathered, spoiled, and smelled badly, so that it was useless. This was to teach the people that each day they should trust God for their daily bread.
But the manna which was left on the ground did not spoil. When the sun came up, it melted away, just like frost or snow flakes. Before the sixth day of the week came, Moses said to the people:
"To-morrow, on the sixth day of the week, take twice as much manna as usual; for the next day is the Lord's Sabbath, the day of rest, and the manna will not come on that day."
So the next morning, all the people went out as before to gather the manna. On that day, they found that the manna which was not used did not spoil, but kept fresh until the next morning.
On the Sabbath-day, some of the people who had failed to hear Moses, and had not gathered the manna in advance for the Sabbath, went out, and they could find none. So that day, these people had nothing to eat; and all Israel learned the lesson, which we also should remember, that one day in each week belongs to God, and is to be kept holy to the Lord.
All the time that the Israelites lived in the wilderness, which was forty years, they ate the manna which God gave them day by day. Not until they entered the land of Canaan, did the manna cease to fall.
Do you remember, who it was, long after this, that said "I am the bread of life. He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me, shall never thirst?"