Keep Your Fork


God desires obedience from His people.

Exodus(40) (Part of the Rescued(39) series)
by Marc Webb(80) on June 23, 2024 (Sunday Morning(348))

Grace(9), Obedience(36)

Keep Your Fork

Several years ago, an article on Sabbath-keeping appeared in the pages of the in-flight magazine of United Airlines. The author began by identifying a common problem. “Not so long ago,” she wrote, “I was just another harried working mom, rushing through the day with one thought always in mind: Why isn’t there any time?” Eventually she found the time by enjoying a weekly day of rest. She went on to say, “Now, if someone told you there was a way to stop the onslaught of everyday obligations, improve your social life, keep the house clean, revive your tired marriage, elevate spiritual awareness, and improve productivity at work—all overnight and without cost—you’d probably say the claim was absurd. I certainly did. But I was willing to see if some cosmic miracle cure might really work, and after a year of earnest research, I’ve discovered that adherence to a Sabbath yields a precious gift of time. My personal life, my professional life, and my family life have all improved, and I plan to go on celebrating the Sabbath.” Now as far as we know this woman was not a Christian. No doubt she would experience an even deeper rest if she set aside the works of her own righteousness to rest upon the grace that God offers in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, she experienced God’s blessing because she is made in God’s image. Like everyone else, she needs a day of rest. Now she enjoys God’s gift of a Sabbath—a gift that is still ours for the taking.

In our scripture this morning, God is going to introduce the Israelites to this day of rest, a sabbath, a stoppage of work for a day. He would introduce it through the bread that he provided them; that he had “rained” down from heaven. This bread would not only be physically tasty but spiritually tasty, as the Lord would use it to test and teach his people the way of obedience. His sabbath grace and his sustaining grace would test them to see if they would be obedient to his instructions. This was for their benefit not his. The bread would taste good to their bodies but the sabbath would taste good to their souls. But they needed to be obedient. The Lord continues to lovingly and patiently test and teach His people because they wouldn’t be able to grow to fully know him if they didn’t first obey Him. The same is true for us, today. That brings us to our big idea this morning that God desires obedience from His people.

Before we dive into our scripture this morning, let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we approach your throne this morning, humbly asking for your Holy Spirit to fill us as we look into your Word. Let your Word be a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our paths. Help us to put all other thoughts away in this moment and focus our hearts and minds on you. May all we think, say and do here be honoring and glorifying to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Our first point this morning is Sabbath Grace found in Exodus 16:21-30. This is what God’s Word says, “Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

We first need to go back to the end of our scripture from two weeks ago. The Lord had lovingly and patiently supplied bread from heaven for the Israelites to eat in the desert, even though they grumbled and complained. And we saw a number of miracles from the Lord in that early part of chapter 16: the quail he provided, the bread from heaven, the fact that no matter the quantity that each person gathered, it always came out to one omer per person per day, and lastly the fact that it would not last till the next day. God was testing his people to see if they would trust in Him, rely on Him and be obedient to Him. To that end, Moses commanded the people to not save or hoard the bread from heaven till the next morning. Of course, we saw that some paid no attention to Moses or to God’s command and their bread was full of maggots and began to smell. There were consequences for their disobedience. And their disobedience made Moses angry.

Now as we begin our passage, we can notice a few things in the very first verse. It seems that for the next five days, everyone did as they were told and gathered as much as they needed. Those who had disregarded the Lord’s instruction seemed to learn their lesson and didn’t keep any bread for the next day. We also notice that once the sun rose and grew hot the bread melted away. God seems to be instilling a work ethic and a routine in His people. He didn’t want His people to be greedy but to trust in Him for their daily bread, but he also didn’t want his people to be lazy. They would need to get up early enough in the day, every day, to gather their omer of bread before the sun got too hot or it would melt. The Lord provided the bread from heaven, but the people had to gather it themselves. It is possible that the melting of the bread was also a miracle from God to teach them responsibility and a proper work ethic. We know from creation that work is a gift from the Lord.

On the sixth day, we see another miracle. When the people went out to gather bread on the sixth day everyone had gathered two omers per person. They may have gathered what they had every other day but when they got home, they discovered that everyone had gathered double the bread. Now back in verse 5, God had told Moses that this was going to happen on the sixth day, but it seems that Moses didn’t tell his leaders or the people. The leaders noticed what happened and reported it to him. Moses uses the experience of collecting double the bread to educate the people about what the Lord had commanded concerning the seventh day. The seventh day was to be a day of rest, a “holy” sabbath to the Lord. He had supplied twice the bread on the sixth day so that the people could rest on the seventh. This was the physical part of the sabbath grace gifted to them from the Lord. The Israelites would have realized immediately that the Lord was different from Pharaoh. John Currid writes: “No concept of Sabbath rest has been found in ancient Egypt. That fact underscores the difference between Yahweh and Pharaoh: the God of the Old Testament is compassionate and caring towards his people. Pharaoh was merely a burdensome taskmaster.” The gift of the Sabbath was to remind His chosen people that God had redeemed them from slavery and from Pharaoh. Each Sabbath day would be a day to remember their salvation. There was also a spiritual part of this sabbath grace. The seventh day was to be holy or “set apart” for the Lord. They were not only to rest physically and renew their strength, but they were to rest in Him spiritually and strengthen their relationship with him. The Lord made the Sabbath a priority for the people without making it a hardship on them, hence his Sabbath grace.

Moses told them to bake and boil the bread as they chose, and the leftovers could be kept till the next day. They probably baked or boiled all the bread they gathered each day so there were no leftovers. Now they could prepare whatever quantity they wanted on the sixth day knowing that the leftovers could still be prepared and consumed on the seventh day without consequence. The next day the leftover bread did not rot or smell. God provided their sabbath food on the sixth day and they would not find any bread on the ground on the seventh. Again, this was another miracle from the Lord. The miracle provision of bread the first six days of the week was miraculously suspended on the seventh day. Now the Lord introduces the sabbath test. The Israelites were not to go out and look for bread on the seventh day because that was a day for physical rest and spiritual renewal. Again, some of the people disobeyed the Lord and went out searching for bread anyway. Of course they didn’t find any. We are not told why these people searched for bread on the seventh day. Honestly, it seemed like an easy instruction to obey, which may be the point. God was testing his people in order to teach them to obey his commands and instructions. If they couldn’t obey the easiest instructions, how were they going to be able to obey the more difficult ones. Their willful disobedience proved their rebellious hearts.

Next we see the Lord’s response to their disobedience. He rebukes them through Moses since he was God’s spokesperson to the people. This rebuke reminds us of God’s rebuke to Pharaoh in Exodus 10:3, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” Now he says, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and instructions?” This was a warning to them that they were still more like the Egyptians than the holy people he had called them to be. God is wondering, rhetorically, when his chosen people would learn to trust in, rely on and be obedient to Him. This is the one and only time we see God respond to their grumbling, complaining and disobedience this way, in chapter 16, so his rebuke is not the focus. The focus is his testing and teaching of them. He was testing them in order to teach them that he desires obedience from his people. Obedience to his commands and instructions would be paramount to their relationship with him. (Big Idea).

He reiterates that he had given them the sabbath as his gift to them. The Sabbath was to be a privilege not a restriction. Mark 2:27 says, “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” It was for their physical and spiritual well-being that he gave them bread for two days. He then elaborates on the sabbath rest. They were to stay where they were on the seventh day and not go out. This gave them the opportunity to focus on the Lord and spiritual things. We see obedience in that the people rested on the seventh day reminding us that God rested on the seventh day of creation. We, as Christians, still today, tend to struggle with ‘remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.” There are many reasons for this. One, there is the pressure of our culture. The Sabbath day is no longer recognized as a special day of rest and worship. It is just like every other day of the week. Two, we prefer to follow our own agenda and not allow God to dictate how we spend our days. This reminds us of the willful disobedience of the Israelites. Three, the fear of legalism. The Sabbath becomes a list of rules to keep instead of a holy day set apart to worship the Lord and to rest physically. Four, we fear that keeping the Sabbath will be boring. Whatever the reason, the Sabbath was given to us as a gift from the Lord for our physical and spiritual well-being and as a commandment to us. It is a weekly opportunity for us to witness to those who don’t know Jesus, as it distinguishes us from the rest of the world. It is important that we remember the sabbath and keep it holy which brings us to our first next step: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy to the Lord.”

The Lord had instituted a sabbath grace for his people, now he was going to institute a sustaining grace. That brings us to our second point, Sustaining Grace, found in Exodus 16:31-36. This is what God’s Word says, “The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’” So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.)

For the first time, the Israelites put a name to the bread they had been eating. Two weeks ago, I called the bread “manna” and mentioned that the name came from their question, “What is it?” when they first saw it lying on the ground. But now we see the author using the word “manna” for the first time. We also get a further description of the manna. In verse 14, it was described as “flakes like frost” now it is described as “white” in color and tastes like “wafers made with honey.” The author uses the coriander seed to point out that the manna was white in color not necessarily the same in taste or texture. The manna tasted good. Guzik says, “It wasn’t tasteless gruel or pasty porridge. Since it could be baked like bread or cake, eating manna was like eating sweet bread every day.”

Next, we see another miracle as the Lord commanded Moses to take one days’ ration of manna, an omer, and keep it for the generations to come. We see the sustaining grace of the Lord as the manna that could only be kept for the day, the manna that would melt in the heat of the sun, would now be kept for generations to come. The Lord was pouring out miracle after miracle on his people, looking to draw them to himself, testing and teaching them to be obedient to his instructions and commands, bringing them deeper into relationship with himself, and preparing them for the covenant relationship that he would introduce at Mt. Sinai. This sustaining miracle of the manna was to prove his Presence with them in the wilderness. He had supplied what they needed to survive physically and spiritually, and future generations of Israelites were going to be able to see the manna and put their trust in the Lord. Moses then tells Aaron to take an omer of manna and put it in a jar and place it before the Lord and with the “tablets of the law.” Some versions say, “in front of the Testimony.” They were the same thing; the Ten Commandments. We don’t know exactly when Aaron did this because the Ten Commandments had not been given yet. He may have done it in the present, placing the jar of manna in front of the pillar of cloud where the Lord dwelt. Or it may have been done once the ark of the covenant was built and the Ten Commandments given.

Then we have a couple of verses that were probably written by someone other than Moses after Moses had died. The first mentions that the Israelites ate manna for forty years until they reached the border of Canaan, the Promised Land. Moses never made it into the Promised Land, so he probably didn’t record this. The Lord miraculously provided manna for his people the entire time they were in the wilderness. Now that they were in the “land flowing with milk and honey” there was no more reason for the “wafers that tasted like honey.” Joshua 5:10-12 says, “On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.” Our last verse mentions that an omer is one-tenth of an ephah. The reason for this verse is because by the time this book was written no one remembered what an omer was. It had become obsolete as a measurement and the ephah had become the common measurement used. What this verse tells us is that because this is the only place in the Bible that the word “omer” is used, the story of the Israelites in the wilderness is a very ancient one. ​​ 

There was a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given three months to live. She contacted her pastor to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what she wanted to be wearing. The woman also told her pastor that she wanted to be buried with her favorite bible. As the pastor was preparing to leave the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. "There's one more thing." she said excitedly. "What's that?" asked the pastor. "This is very important," the woman continued, "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand." The pastor stood looking at the woman not knowing quite what to say. "That shocks you doesn't it?" the woman asked. "Well to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the pastor. The woman explained. "In all my years of attending church socials and functions where food was involved, my favorite part was when whoever was clearing away the dishes of the main course would lean over and say you can keep your fork. When they told me to keep my fork, I knew that something great was about to be given to me. It wasn't Jell-O or pudding. It was cake or pie. Something with substance. So I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to know that ‘Something better is coming, so keep your fork too.'" The pastor knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you, oh so gently, that there is something better coming.

Think about this: God gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness that tasted like wafers of honey. The manna from heaven was a foreshadowing of the Promised Land that was “flowing with milk and honey.” The Promised Land would be the place where the temple of the Lord would be built and where his presence would dwell among his people. God gave the Israelites and us the Sabbath so that we would have a day of rest; a physical rest from our labors and a spiritual rest in order for us to renew our relationship with the Lord each Sabbath day. Hopefully, that is what you are doing here this morning; you are renewing and recharging your relationship with the Lord. But the Sabbath rest was also looking forward to that eternal rest with the Lord in heaven. You see the Sabbath is the fork that symbolized to the Israelites that something better was coming. They needed to obey God’s instructions about the Sabbath to fully reap its benefits. The Sabbath would be the sign of the covenant that we are fast approaching at Mt. Sinai. So just like in the story I just read, let today and every sabbath day be the fork that reminds you that something better is coming and to be obedient to all that the Lord is instructing you to do as he tests you and teaches you along the way. That brings us to our second next step which is to “Remember something better is coming and obey the Lord in all things.”

As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Lord, thank you for the goodness and richness of your Holy scriptures. As we go about this week, may your Word permeate our entire being. May we tell others about you and your Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Help us to remember your Sabbath, your gift to us, and keep it holy unto you. Help us to also remember that something better is coming and to obey you in all things. Walk with us this week and we give you honor and glory for the great things you have done in our individual lives and in the life of Idaville Church. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Opening: Ryken’s Commentary on Exodus

Conclusion: The Fork (