BY THE HAND OF THE LORD
10th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 13) LSB #’s 663, 587, LW #441
Text – Exodus 16:2-3
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses & Aaron in the wilderness, & 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 & ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
BY THE HAND OF THE LORD
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, & at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, & the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back & covered the chariots & horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh – that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right & on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, & Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. When the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord & put their trust in Him.
What a difference a month can make, because the sermon text occurs only 30 days after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Now we hear the Israelites grumbling in the desert, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt!”
So much for putting their trust in God. The people are already accusing Him of bringing the entire nation into the desert to be starved to death. What a difference a month can make. Back in February of 2020 we’d been hearing rumblings of a virus, but had no idea that 30 days later everything in this country would be shut down.
Whenever some monumental event occurs, 30 days prior can seem like ages ago. Think back to September 11, 2001. Think back to December 7, 1941. What are you unaware of
today that will be all too obvious in just one month? That question is uncomfortable to think about in any negative respect. It’s not that confusing to plan out the bill payments or the sermon schedule. But it is a lot more difficult to consider making out a will, or deciding upon a course of treatment for the cancer just found in your body.
A month can, & often does, make a huge difference in our lives & in our attitudes. Sometimes, we find ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites. If only we had died by the hand of the Lord. I have learned how difficult it is to minister to a man or woman who is bedridden & unable to help themselves.
By all the standards we normally measure life by, there’s nothing good that can come of that situation. The world of our consumer-oriented society & even the world of psychology have nothing to offer except euthanasia. And we as pastors, as we so desperately wish to make things better, find that we have no magic cure either.
It is human nature to want the power & control to manipulate our world; to make it the way we want it to be. And if we can’t have it our way, then we’re tempted to quit the game & take our toys home. Struggle & self-sacrifice are not things we naturally aspire to. The willingness to share, the ability to endure sacrifice or suffering, those must be learned.
And no matter how many times a person goes through that learning process, it never becomes easy. Not even when you trust God that the results will be to your benefit. That’s why it’s so important that we never drift very far from our Savior. Apart from Him, alone & unprotected, we can easily lose our faith in Jesus. We can lose our eternal life.
Their grumbling was merely a symptom of the growing distance between the Israelites & their Lord. And it’s not that God had moved. It’s the nation of Israel that was creating the gap. They were walking away from the God who’d just rescued them from the Egyptian army. That seems extremely foolish, until we examine our own lives. In our baptism God performed just as great a miracle by rescuing us from the clutches of hell. Yet, our lives are filled with grumbling as well. As stressful times come into our lives, we often wish that things would be like they were in the “good old days.”
Our faint hearts want nothing to do with the battle between good & evil that goes on all around us & even within. We’d rather ignore the struggle & the suffering. We’d rather stick our heads in the sand & pretend that there are no problems. The good old days seem as if they had no stress & the times were only good.
In the same way, the nation of Israel suddenly found itself in the middle of the desert remembering the good old days of Egypt: “…we sat by the meat pots & ate bread to the full… you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
How quickly they forgot the harsh & brutal treatment they received as slaves. How quickly they forgot the grumbling they did in regard to their Egyptian slave masters. How quickly they forgot the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. It was by their Lord’s hand that they’d been delivered from Pharaoh, yet God now bore the brunt of their complaints.
And that in spite of the fact that it was also their God who provided even those pots of meat for them in Egypt. How many of God’s blessings in your life have you already forgotten? Just like He did for the Israelites, our God has provided for us in those “good old days,” & continues to provide for us now. Nothing that we possess is of our own doing.
Everything we have is from the Lord’s hand, so Paul warns us in His letter to the church at Corinth, “Do not grumble, as some of them did – & were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples & were written down as warnings for us.
So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:10-12 NIV)
The Israelites were longing only for the material aspect of life, & had no interest in the
spiritual. Even though they were now free of the Egyptians, they were still slaves to sin, & they did not realize it. The people grumbling in the desert preferred their slavery in Egypt because they preferred the darkness of their sin.
Yet in this case, God is merciful to them, but not because they deserved it. The hand of the Lord delivered mercy rather than death, only because He chose to do so. In that sense this OT lesson provides a rich background for the Christian life as a journey toward heaven sustained by Jesus – the Bread of life.
The manna, which appeared on the desert floor six mornings a week, represents Christ. And as the Gospel reading explains, Jesus is the Bread of life. He who comes to Christ will never go hungry, that is spiritually. “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (John 6:27a ESV)
In the desert, God provided for the nation of Israel. At twilight, they ate meat, & in the morning they were filled with bread. God gave unto them all those things they needed, & He’s providing for you everything you need. If you’re not satisfied, it’s because you’re seeking the wrong things.
But even if you are dissatisfied, your Lord is still providing for you, & He offers much more than earthly possessions. He offers spiritual blessings that will never end. He offers you life for eternity, & that not simply in a neutral context. The only other option is death for that same eternity.
By the hand of the Lord, Israel was given life & delivered from the Red Sea. By the same Lord’s hand, the Egyptian Army was given death & swallowed up by the Red Sea. God painted for us a picture of the Last Day when Christ will return to permanently lead His people out of slavery to sin, & in to paradise.
In the meantime, until that Last Day, Jesus also provides for us in our wilderness wanderings here in this sinful world. Because we live in a sinful world, we will struggle & suffer; yet through those very trials God strengthens us & purifies us. By the hand of the Lord our faith is tested so we will know – Jesus is Lord.
With that knowledge, we are no longer condemned to fear, even if we’re diagnosed with cancer or struck down & bedridden for the remainder of our lives. And though it’s estimated that 4 million people have died from Covid 19, their families still have hope for seeing them again in the life hereafter, as long as they knew Jesus as their Savior from sin.
With the assurance that comes by faith, & with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can put off the old man which has been corrupted by the fall into sin. For as God made the manna fall from heaven, He will also make us new in the attitude of our mind. With Him, we are able to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness & holiness.
This new self, this new man living in us, is sustained by the Living Bread who came down from heaven. This new man has no desire to grumble, no need to fear, & trusts completely in the Lord our God. It is by the hand of the Lord that this new man is created in you & me, & it’s by the hand of the Lord that this new man is preserved & nourished.
Christ sacrificed His body in order that we might receive life from it. Christ shed His blood in order that our sins might be washed away & our souls made clean. “…Though our sins were as scarlet, they’ve been made white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18) Christ placed Himself upon the cross so that our grumbling & ingratitude might be forever erased.
No matter how quickly we forget that, the truth remains. We have been set free from
our slavery to sin. Let us not look back upon those days of old, whether good or bad. Let us ever fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before
Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, & sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
However menacing & frightening the wilderness may look, God has already prepared the way. No matter how bleak the situation may appear to our eyes, our soul will never die as long as we are in Christ. For it is by the Lord’s hand that we’ve been brought into the family of God, & it is by the Lord’s hand that we shall be delivered home to paradise. Amen.
Increase our faith dear Savior, for Satan seeks by night & day, to rob us of this treasure & take our hope of bliss away. But, Lord, with You beside us we shall be undismayed; & led by Your good Spirit we shall be unafraid. Abide with us, O Savior, a firmer faith bestow; Then we shall bid defiance to every evil foe. Amen. LSB 587:2.
 Exodus 14:29-31 NIV
 Exodus 16:3 ESV
 Hebrews 12:2
Pastor Dean R. Poellet