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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Ex. 16–18]

MOSES ordered them to depart from Elim and go on towards the wilderness. They marched three days through the wilderness, and found no water. Finding some at last they could not drink it, because it was bitter. The people murmured against Moses, saying: “What shall we drink?” Moses prayed, and the Lord showed him a tree, the wood of which, when cast into the water, rendered it sweet.

And when they had gone far into the wilderness, the people began to murmur still more, seeing that there was no food, and they wished that they had remained and died in Egypt, asking Moses why he had brought them out into the wilderness to die. Instead of punishing them for their want of confidence, God, full of mercy and goodness, promised to give them food in abundance.

He sent them, accordingly, every evening quails in vast numbers, sufficient for all the children of Israel to eat; and, in the morning, a delicious white food which fell from heaven. When the Israelites saw the bread, which looked like hoar-frost, they exclaimed “Manhu”, which signifies: “What is this?” Moses informed them that it was the bread which the Lord gave them. He then told every one to gather of it, as much as he needed.

They did so, and found it pleasant to eat, tasting like flour mixed with honey. On the day before the Sabbath they gathered a double quantity, as none fell on the Sabbath. This Manna was their food for forty years, until they reached the confines of Chanaan.

Some time after these events, they encamped in another part of the desert, where again there was no water. Here also they murmured against Moses, and with great anger upbraided him for having brought them out of Egypt. Then Moses reproved them for their want of confidence in God; and, addressing the Lord in prayer, he said: “What shall I do with this people? Yet a little more, and they will stone me.” The Lord commanded him to strike a rock on the side of Mount Horeb with his rod. Moses did so, and a stream of pure water burst forth from the rock, so that all the people and the cattle could quench their thirst at will.

At this time the Amalekites marched against the chosen people. Moses sent Josue with a number of picked men against them. During the battle Moses prayed on the top of the hill. As long as his hands were uplifted, the Israelites remained victorious; but when, through fatigue, he let them sink, they lost. Hence Aaron and Hur upheld his hands, until the enemy was put to flight.

While Moses and the Israelites were near the mountain of God (Horeb), Jethro, having heard all the wonderful things, came with the wife and the two sons of Moses (Gersam and Eliezer) to pay a visit to Moses. He offered holocausts and sacrifices to God in thanksgiving and counselled Moses to institute seventy ancients as judges to help him in judging the people. (Ex. 18.)

The wood thrown into the bitter well by God’s command possessed no natural properties, by which to make the water sweet; therefore the miracle worked was simply the effect of God’s almighty power. In the same way, the stroke dealt by Moses’ rod did not of itself bring water from the rock: it was the omnipotence of God, which caused that abundant spring to pour from the dry stone. To show that the power came from Him, the Lord God, present in the pillar of cloud, rested on the rock. It was also His almighty will which summoned the flock of quails, and which rained the Manna from heaven every day (except the Sabbath), during forty years, so that His chosen people might be able to exist in the barren desert.

Goodness and Patience of God. Almighty God was marvellously good and patient with the unbelieving Israelites. He dwelt in their midst in a visible way; He protected them from the heat of the sun by the pillar of cloud; He forgave them their repeated murmurings; He was always showering fresh benefits on them, and defending them against their enemies.

Sins against religion. The Israelites were an ungrateful, carnal people. They cared more for good food and drink than for their liberty and the Promised Land. Though Almighty God worked such great miracles for them, and dwelt in their midst in the pillar of cloud, they were always murmuring against Moses and reproaching him. Their reproaches and ingratitude were, indirectly, offences against God, for Moses was but carrying out His commands. The Israelites sinned against the First Commandment by their ingratitude, want of confidence, and murmurings against the decrees of God.

The power of prayer. Moses raised, not only his hands, but also his heart to God. “The continual prayer of a just man availeth much” (James 5:16). It was not only Josue’s valour, but Moses’ prayers, which overcame the enemy. Raise your heart with your hands to heaven, when you pray. Like Moses, the priest at the altar prays with outstretched, upraised hands.

Helping ourselves. The Israelites did not depend only on the prayers of Moses; they exerted themselves, and defended themselves as best they could. In all our times of danger and necessity, we ought to do the same: do what we can for ourselves, and pray to God.

Unappreciated gifts of God. Daily bread to eat, and good water to drink are very great boons. We only learn to prize them when we have to go without them.

The wood, which made the waters sweet, is a type of the Cross of Jesus Christ. His Cross makes sweet to us all that is bitter and distasteful. Firstly, it gives us the grace to be patient, and, secondly, it teaches us to bear all sufferings cheerfully, for love of Him who suffered so much for us.

The Manna is, as our Lord Himself declared (New Test. XXXIV), a type of the Blessed Sacrament. It came daily from heaven to give strength to the Israelites for their journey, and was sweet to the taste. Our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament, comes from heaven, and gives Himself to us to nourish our souls on their journey to heaven, through the wilderness of this life; and He is a sweet and life-giving food to those who love Him. The Church sings at the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: “Thou hast given them bread from heaven, containing in itself all sweetness.”

The water flowing from the rock is (according to 1 Cor. 10:24) a type of the stream of divine grace, which, proceeding from our Saviour who was pierced for us, flows down on the languishing souls of men (compare what our Lord says about the living water, New Test. XVI). “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink”, said our Divine Saviour (John 7:37).

Moses praying on the mountain with outstretched arms is a type of our Lord, who was nailed with outstretched arms to the Cross on Calvary, and prayed for the salvation of the world.

The victory of God’s chosen people over the heathen Amalekites is a type of the victory of the Church militant over her enemies—a victory won by the spiritual weapons of virtue and prayer.

APPLICATION. He who wishes to reach the promised land of heaven must suffer and deny himself. He must renounce his bad desires, and patiently bear trials for love of God. He must fight against the enemies of his soul, and all temptations to evil. We must fight, endure and suffer in this world, and we must do so from our youth upwards. Ask yourself, what you have done hitherto. Deny yourself voluntarily something in the way of food and drink. Do not complain, if anything hurts you, but rather suffer it in silence, and offer your pain to your crucified Saviour. Suppress at once all movements of anger, pride, envy, or sinful curiosity.

We must not only fight: we must also pray, to be enabled to overcome the enemy of our souls. Say to-day a prayer in honour of the Five Wounds of our Lord, or say a decade of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, to obtain the grace to overcome yourself.








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