God's Testing in the Wilderness

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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 5, Session 1, © 2018 LifeWay Christian Resources
Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser. Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., Feb. 2022.
A Test in the Wilderness
Summary and Goal
God had delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt through His powerful works. Sadly, the people forgot what they had seen, they lost sight of God’s power, and they doubted and grumbled when they became hungry in the wilderness.
We are not much different from the people of Israel: We too are prone to forget the promises of God; we are prone to wander from the Lord, even when He has proven Himself to be good and faithful.
God is faithful despite our faithlessness and demonstrates that faithfulness to us as we go through trials and tribulations.
How do we typically decide what things to trust God to provide (i.e. worthy to pray for, or what is too insignificant for Him or too big for us)?
Session Outline
1. God always provides for His people in times of their need (Ex. 16:2-4).
++2. God always provides for His people despite their disobedience (Ex. 16:13-20).
++3. God sometimes provides for His people in unexpected ways (Ex. 17:3-6; 1 Cor. 10:1-4).
Session in a Sentence
God is always gracious to provide for His people in times of need, even when they disobey, often in unexpected ways.
Christ Connection
Moses struck the rock instead of the people, and water flowed for the people’s salvation. Jesus is the Rock who was struck for our salvation, the Rock whose living water satisfies us forever.
Missional Application
Because we have experienced God’s grace through the striking of His Son, we receive God’s faithful provision for our daily needs with gratitude as we testify of His kindness to others so that they too may come to trust in Him.
DDG (p. 75) .
The exodus story thus far:
· God showed His power in miracle after miracle in the plagues and delivered His people out of Egypt.
· God delivered His people through the Red Sea and caused Pharaoh’s army to be swallowed up by the same sea.
· Safe and secure in the presence of the Lord on the other side of the sea, the Israelites expressed their worship through singing.
· The Israelites followed God’s leadership through Moses for three days in the wilderness and could not find water, and they began grumbling. When their throats became dry, their memories became short.
It is easy to read the story of the exodus and be critical and frustrated with the behavior of the Israelites, but we need to realize how important water is. for the whole tour of Israel, we hear over and over again, “no water, no life.” For Israel, this was a real life and death situation. That does not meant that they shouldn’t trust the Lord; they had already seen God provide in life and death situations, but to think that this should have been easy for them is a misnomer.
I wonder how much we are like them. We have seen God work in our lives, and we have praised His name in response, but then something didn’t go as planned and our worship gave way to grumbling.
Summarize: The people of Israel forgot what they had seen, they lost sight of God’s power, and they doubted and grumbled in the wilderness. We are not much different from them. However, the Lord does not take His people into the wilderness because He is cruel or because He has forsaken us—He does so to sanctify us, to make us rely less on ourselves and more on Him.
The wilderness, is a blessing from God, not a curse.

Point 1: God provides for His people in their time of need (Ex. 16:2-4).

Read: Exodus 16:2-4 (DDG p. 76).
2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and 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 and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to 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 they will walk in my law or not.
DDG (p. 76) The Israelites grumbled out of fear.
After God had proven Himself many times over, even providing water for them in the wilderness (Ex. 15:22-27), the Israelites again grumbled in fear instead of resting in faith. Their fear caused them to complain and to distrust God. They started believing it would have been better to die in Egypt as slaves than to follow God in the wilderness.
DDG (p. 76) God responded to the Israelites in love. This same God continues today to show love and grace to His people.
Yet once more we see God’s faithfulness, love, and grace on display for His fearful and distrusting people. God’s patience truly runs deep. God responded to their grumbling not in wrath but in love, raining down bread from heaven to feed them. While the refrain of the Israelites was to doubt God, question Him, and walk in disobedience,
God’s refrain is to extend His grace, mercy, and forgiveness again and again and again.
· This is who God is, and He hasn’t changed.
God is just as faithful, even when His people today are just as faithless.
2 Timothy 2:13 NASB95
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
We wander and run from God. We doubt Him. We complain and question His character. We put our hope in other things—even the absurd—instead of turning to God, trusting Him, worshiping Him, and hoping in Him. And yet, God continues to love us and extend liberal amounts of grace and mercy to us.
Just because God loves us doesn’t mean He won’t put us through trials and tribulations. In fact, because God loves us, He allows us to be tested and even to suffer at times.
The problem is that we don’t understand trials.
We see trials as God’s way of figuring us out, of seeing what we can handle and how deep our spiritual maturity runs, as if He needed to collect information on us. That is why we balk at the pain we endure.
But trials are not for God to know our faith; they are so we might come to know our faith.
Through trials and suffering, God strengthens us. He deepens our roots so we might stand more boldly for Him despite the storms that howl around us. That’s why we consider it all joy when we face various trials, because we know that God is at work in and through them for our good
James 1:2–4 NASB95
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 76).
God Is Gracious: God’s nature is to delight in giving unmerited favor to those who are undeserving (Eph. 2:8-9). His grace toward sinners is found most clearly in the salvation He has provided through Christ.
Because of sin, humanity is undeserving of salvation—all of us have turned our backs on God, and as a result, we deserve death (Rom. 6:23).
However, instead of leaving people in their sins, God has demonstrated His graciousness by providing atonement and forgiveness for our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus
2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB95
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
What are some ways we can remind ourselves of God’s love when adversity makes it feels as if God’s love has waned or ceased?
(we can read Scripture to be reminded that God is always the same and His love never changes; we can look back at our own lives and see how God has loved us and provided for all of our needs; we can seek the counsel of brothers and sisters in Christ who will encourage with the truth of God’s Word that He is faithful, gracious, and unchanging)

Point 2: God provides for His people despite their disobedience (Ex. 16:13-20).

In their hunger and fear, the people doubted and grumbled, yet God was gracious and promised to provide bread from heaven for them. But God’s provision came with a caveat: The people were to gather only what they needed for each day. On the sixth day, they would find they had twice as much as the other days so they would not need to gather on the Sabbath. This would be God’s way of testing His people (Ex. 16:4-5).
Read Exodus 16:13-20 (DDG p. 77).
13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people 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 that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’ ” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.
Ex. 16:31 “The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.”
God provided bread from heaven for the Israelites and how His provision was satisfying. God’s heart was to provide for His people, but it was also to test them, to refine them, and to move them toward greater trust and obedience.
· At the heart of God’s instructions to the people regarding the bread He provided were these questions:
Will you trust Me to provide for your needs?
Will you follow Me when My way differs from yours?
· To understand the nature of God’s wilderness test, we need to understand that the bread He provided was satisfying. When God told the people to gather a portion each day, whatever they gathered was the exact amount they needed. Whatever was left over at the end of the day would rot before the next day. Why? Because God wanted them to go to sleep each night trusting not in the bread they had stockpiled by their effort but rather in the God who would faithfully provide bread for them each morning.
Commentary: When God rained bread from heaven, the Israelites named this bread “manna” because they didn’t know what to call it (Ex. 16:31). The word manna literally means “What is it?” (16:15).
DDG (p. 77).
In this test, God was teaching the Israelites not to rely on their own efforts but instead to rest in His perfect provision.
Even in trials and tribulations, the Lord provides. He satisfies. God would provide manna every day for His people for forty years as they wandered in the wilderness. An entire generation grew up of Israelites that knew nothing else but God’s daily provision. He gave them exactly what they needed to flourish, and He does the same for us.
Does the Lord provide for us in the same way He did for Israel back then, even in difficult times?
DDG (p. 77) Note the sanctifying purpose of God’s method of providing bread for the Israelites.
The bread God provided, called “manna,” was not just satisfying but also sanctifying. It not only fed their appetites, it also fed their faith. God had told Moses as much: His provision of quail and manna would cause the Israelites to know He is the Lord (Ex. 16:12).
Later, when Moses reflected on this time in the wilderness, he described it this way: “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3).
Voices from the Church
“Going through the wilderness was not necessary for Israel’s salvation, but it was necessary for their sanctification.” 1
–Philip Graham Ryken
(Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, in Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 414.)
· God wanted His people to see their desperate need of Him. His provision of manna was bigger than food—it was His way of showing them that they needed to trust Him alone for that which sustains their lives physically and, more importantly, spiritually.
· Moses was not the only one in Scripture to provide commentary on God’s provision of manna—Jesus did as well.
see John 6:31-35
John 6:31–35 NASB95
“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
After His miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus spoke of Himself as the true bread of life: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).

Point 3: God provides for His people in unexpected ways (Ex. 17:3-6; 1 Cor. 10:1-4).

After all they had seen God do for them, the Israelites continued to struggle to trust Him. Soon, Israel faced a familiar situation: They had no water to drink (see Ex. 15:22-27).
Previously, they grumbled to Moses and God made bitter water drinkable. But this time, they could not even find bitter water. What would they do? Had they seen God’s hand enough to respond in faith, or would they once more respond in fear?
Read Exodus 17:3-6 (DDG p. 78).
3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
DDG (p. 78) to connect this unusual miracle with our salvation.
God once again provided for His people in spite of their faithlessness, but He did so in an unusual way to reveal both His power and His presence with certainty (Ex. 17:7). And once again we see that God was providing more than just water to satisfy His people’s thirst. This miracle pointed to the greater provision of salvation in Jesus. God chose to strike the rock and not His children, foreshadowing the day when He would send the Son to be struck once and for all for our salvation.
Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (DDG p. 78) is the New Testament commentary on the rock at Horeb.
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Just as the manna pointed to Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:35), both the rock and the water that flowed from it pointed to Jesus as well.
God has given us Christ Jesus, the One who completely satisfies our greatest need—forgiveness of sin and eternal life. And yet, like the people of Israel in the wilderness, we too are called to trust God. We too must turn away from our fears and trust Him in faith.
Interact: Ask the group the following question.
Why is it significant that God provided for the people of Israel in such unexpected ways?
(His ways revealed His power over His creation; His unexpected methods proved His presence with His people; His unique ways showed that He alone was the provider of all they needed)
DDG (p. 78) The wilderness tests were ultimately about Jesus as God teaching His people to trust in Him for provision, even for their salvation, and showing them their need to daily yield control to Him.
Because of our sin, we faced an impossible, hopeless situation, much more dire than that of the hungry and thirsty Israelites. But God provided the answer no one could expect: Through Jesus Christ’s life of perfect obedience and laying down His life on our behalf, we are able to have life in Him.
Like the Israelites, we did nothing—we could do nothing—to earn or deserve Christ. All we have been called to do is surrender our control and trust in Him, our spiritual Rock struck for our salvation.
Like the Israelites, we are prone to grumble and try to wrestle control from Christ. When we are honest with ourselves, we recognize it is not because He has failed us in any way. It is not because He has called us to go where He has not gone before or to do what He has not done Himself. No,
We grumble because we want Jesus to save us but we don’t want to follow Him according to His plan.
We want to travel through the wilderness of this life with ample provisions and camp beside flowing streams of pure water. We don’t want to step out in faith and feel empty stomachs and swollen, parched tongues. But spending time in God’s Word shows us that following God—following Christ—is not easy. It was never intended to be, because following Christ is about surrendering our control and trusting in His provision.
God’s provision is sanctifying, but it is ultimately satisfying.
Interact: Ask the group the following question.
Why do we find surrender to God in Christ so difficult?
(our own pride; fear of what surrender might mean because we don’t trust God; we are content with some things as they are and don’t see the need to give God control over them; we think we can keep some things secret from God and hold onto them for ourselves)
In humility, we should recognize that we share the same struggles and sinful patterns as the Israelites. And in awe, we should also recognize that God is more gracious and patient with us than we could ever imagine.
When God takes us through the wilderness, when we enter pain and suffering, we have the choice to surrender ourselves to Him or go our own way. He has called us to trust His provision, knowing that He will satisfy and sanctify our hearts.
What greater evidence do we need that He is for us than the cross of Jesus, where the Rock was struck so that new life might flow for our salvation and eternal life?
DDG (p. 79)
Because we have experienced God’s grace through the striking of His Son, we receive God’s faithful provision for our daily needs with gratitude as we testify of His kindness to others so that they too may come to trust in Him.
· In what areas of your life will you trust God for His provision instead of trusting in your own effort?
· What are some ways your group can help meet the needs of others in your community as a way to point them to the greater provision of Christ?
· How will you demonstrate God’s kindness this week so that others might come to trust in Jesus or be strengthened in their faith?
Close in prayer:
1. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, in Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 414.
2. Dorian G. Coover-Cox, “Exodus,” in CSB Study Bible (Nashville: B&H, 2017), 115, n. 16:4.
3. Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Exodus (Nashville: B&H, 2014) [WORDsearch].
4. J. Mark Terry, “The Lure of Egypt,” Biblical Illustrator (Fall 2017): 48-49.
5. “Exodus,” in The Reformation Study Bible (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005), 116, n. 16:14.
6. Kenneth Laing Harris, “Exodus,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 172, n. 17:6.
7. P. G. George and Paul Swarup, “Exodus,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 99.
8. Abel Ndjerareou, “Exodus,” in Africa Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 107.
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