At sunrise Moses awoke to find his wife gone. The boys were snoring, that bullhorn that heralds the abandonment of reality in deep sleep. He quietly crept out of the tent to look for her. In darkness, sound is magnified as if it is suppressed in the presence of holy light. Moses could barely hear her familiar sniffles of weeping and followed the thread to find Zipporah (Sepphora) crouched down behind a boulder in deep distress.
“My dear, why do you weep? These are joyful days. The people are free!”
“I miss my father, and my home. We are near Midian, I recognize the hills and I am tired of walking. These are not my people. I have no friends. I was not a slave, and they resent me for it. I am hungry.”
Moses hugged his wife to envelope her in the only comfort he could offer. She soaked it up like the desert soaks up a flash of summer rain. Moses thought back on how much Sepphora endured, and how he had neglected her.
“When the boys wake up, I will tell them to take you home. You are right; it is less than a two-day journey to Midian. Go to your father and tell him what the Lord has done. Take a messenger with you to bring us his news.”
Sepphora hadn’t felt so calm and happy in weeks. She was jubilant as she hugged Moses and quickly left him to wake her sons and pack. Moses had enough to do; she was sure he would be well cared for by Miriam.
Gersam and Eliezer grumbled at having to leave the group, but they knew they had to serve their mother and obey their father. Admittedly, they too looked forward to seeing their grandfather and friends again, and sleeping in their comfortable beds, and eating meat and vegetables.
By noon, the troupe was off on their own journey home. Moses watched them walk away until they were reduced to speckles on the horizon. He commended them to the Lord’s care.
That night, alone in his empty tent by the sweetened waters of Marah, Moses heard the voice of God loud and clear in his heart. The Lord had made for the people a statute and an ordinance. It was time to put them to the test.
The next morning when everyone was awake and bustling around chatting and doing, Moses climbed onto a boulder to make his announcement. “The Lord says to you,” bellowed Moses, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give heed to his commandments, and KEEP all his statutes, He will not bring upon you any of the diseases that He brought upon the Egyptians; ‘for He is the Lord who heals you.’ Now, it is time to move on! Fill your flasks with water and let’s go!”
Moses said no more to the people that day. He allowed them to think about the words of the Lord as they packed up their tents and goods and quietly assumed their positions in the parade of refugees that followed Perambula in the cloud.
“Who was this God who brings on diseases and heals?”
“Where are we going? I am so hungry.”
“What are these commands and statutes and ordinances that we should obey them? How can we obey what we don’t know?”
Every day brought more unfamiliar experiences, thoughts, and places. If it can be said that Israel was reborn in the Red Sea, it was now in the toddler stage of wonder and learning.
Moses descended the boulder and began packing with the rest. He also never knew where they were going, or what would happen from one day to another. ‘There it is’ he thought, ‘the deal. From this moment on the Lord will let us know the conditions for His blessings, and the consequences if we refuse the conditions. There is no wasteland in between where these people can ignore the Lord and live in peace. The world is too dangerous a place for that.’
Moses and Aaron assumed their place at the head of the mass of refugees, and Perambula in the cloud took position too. They walked and thought, walked and talked, walked and wept.
By dusk the nation of God stopped to set up camp once again.
The following morning Israel saw the beauty of the place they were lead to. A young girl proudly counted 70 palm trees and ran around cheerily announcing her discovery. As the young bucks explored their new home, one after another found a spring of fresh clean water. When it was clear that there were many springs, Aaron assigned one to each tribe. Coincidentally there were just enough, twelve.
This blissful, almost surreal place would have been good enough for eternity, except their bellies growled. Each day that went by Israel had less to eat. Mothers worried, fathers grew grumpier.
After three days walk through the desert wilderness, Moses decided it was time to move on to distract themselves from the hunger and to see if they could find food along the way, although everyone knew that was unlikely in this desert wasteland.
Six weeks had passed since they had left their cozy homes. Curious thoughts turned bitter with heat and hunger. The worried mothers and grumpy fathers joined forces to become a complaining mob that was mystically reduced to the one man, Israel. Israel barked at Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” Frail people fainted.
With furrowed brow Moses looked into the hostile eyes of Israel fearing what could happen. The thought of mass suicide, like an oncoming baseball came hurling at Moses who reflexively batted it away with all his might. At that intense moment the Lord appeared and said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. This is how I will test them, whether they will follow My instructions or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it should be twice as much as they gather on other days, so they may observe My day of rest and not harvest food on the Sabbath.”
Moses through Aaron made the announcement of relief and providence, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because He has heard your complaining. For what are we, that you complain against us, but the Lord!”
Moses walked away in disgust. He entered his empty tent, and took a nap to escape the ungrateful, short-sighted mob.
When he awoke in the evening Moses emerged from his tent to find the whole camp covered with quails and boys and girls and mothers and fathers chasing and capturing them. Others were lighting fires with the brush and anything they could find to burn. That evening Israel feasted for the first time since they ate the Passover lamb. And they went to their sleep with full bellies and content hearts. But no one, not even one person out of the thousands who were fed approached Moses to apologize for complaining and doubting him.
In the morning one tent after another emptied out of people who found a light dew hovering throughout the land. When the dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it they said, “What is it?”
Moses replied, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an Omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for their own tents. But only take enough for one day! One day ONLY, do you hear me! This is your daily bread! The day before the Sabbath you will gather enough for two days so you may obey the Sabbath rest.”
The people took every vessel they could find and gathered the flaky substance. It was delicious! It tasted like wafers and honey. The first day that Israel ate manna the joy of relief spread through the hungry nation like wildfire. Chatting turned to chewing. Chewing and humming approvals like the sound of happy hummingbird wings sucking juicy nectar.