Throughout the scriptures, whenever the people of the Lord have needed courage and faith, they have often called to remembrance the account of Israel’s miraculous deliverance on the shores of the Red Sea. The children of Israel were trapped with the Red Sea at their backs, and the army of Pharaoh advancing toward them. It seemed like they were doomed for destruction. But nothing is too hard for the Lord. He wanted them to remember the miracle for generations to come: “Fear ye not. … The Lord shall fight for you” (Exodus 14:13–14). We, too, need to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” and remember how “the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:13, 30).

Even after the horror of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh’s change of heart was only temporary. When he realized that the children of Israel were really gone, he decides to force them back to servitude in Egypt. He took six hundred chariots with him, and he pursued after them. Chariots were the most sophisticated military technology at the time. Israel had nothing, except that they went out with “boldness.” The gist of this Hebrew term (ruwn yad) includes the idea of rebellion against authority. Such a spirit was good when it was directed against Pharaoh, but they sometimes used it against the Lord and his prophet Moses.

Try to imagine the terror the Israelites must have felt as they saw Pharaoh’s army closing in on them. It is no wonder that they “cried out unto the Lord” (Exodus 14:10). And yet, in spite of all the miracles Israel had seen, they still looked back to the flesh pots[i] of Egypt. Their words to Moses showed little faith and a loss of confidence in God. They murmured to Moses, “Hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? . . . For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12). They had only been out of Egypt a week, and they were already distorting their past experiences, thinking it was better for them in Egypt than it was really was.

They needed to move forward, but they were still looking back. A new generation has to arise who have nothing to look back to. Moses assures them to fear not and “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,” and to “hold [their] peace,” for they would never see the Egyptians again. That must have been hard for them to believe! I wonder if Moses had any idea how God would help them in that situation. But he knew that in their situation, God had to come through. He didn’t know the details of the plan, but he knew that somehow the enemies of the Lord would be destroyed.

“Go Forward”

Exodus 14:15 Notice that the first command in the miracle, before the water even started to part was, “Go forward.” Maybe it was that a Caleb went forward into the surf before it was divided. Many times the Lord expects us to do this as well. Sometimes the Lord does not remove the problems and obstacles in our lives, but instead, strengthens us to be able to “go through” them. 

The Lord asks Moses, “Why are you crying unto me?” There is a time to pray and a time to act. Move forward!  This suggests that faith precedes the miracle. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3 reads: ‘Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.” I have always been amazed by this scripture. When the Lord commanded Moses to perform this miracle, the revelation came in the same way that we most often receive revelation—in the mind and the heart, by the power of the Holy Ghost. There was no dramatic voice from heaven that immediately opened the water.

“Lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea.” These were the simple instructions that resulted in a mighty miracle—the parting of the sea. Neither Moses nor his rod could be an effective instrument in a work which could be accomplished only by the omnipotence of God.[ii] The Lord had finally answered Pharaoh’s question from Exodus 5:2. “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?” God used the miracle of parting the mighty waters to speak to Egypt as much as he used it to speak to Israel. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:18).

“The children of Israel were “baptized” in the Red Sea. (See 1 Corinthians 10:2 ff esp. 11) “All things are examples to us,” symbolizing that baptism precedes entrance into the promised land. “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” (Exodus 14:22). “The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”[iii]

Psalm 77:16-20 is a poetic rendition of the water crossing, describing the rain, thunder, and lightning that were present as they crossed over the divided waters. Exodus 14:19-20  God sent both a specially commissioned angel, as well as a pillar of cloud as a barrier between the children of Israel and the pursuing Egyptian chariots. This same pillar was a familiar sight to the children of Israel, as it had protected them by day as they traveled in the wilderness, as well as the pillar of fire which protected them by night. The architecture of the Provo and Logan Temples reflects the presence of the cloud and the pillar of fire which testified to the children of Israel that they Lord was with them on their journey.

We learn many important details of how the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. He took off the wheels of their chariots, as the Egyptians sought to “flee from the face of Israel.” It may have been that their chariot wheels “became clogged with the soft ooze in the sea bed.” [iv] The Egyptians even admitted that the Lord fought for Israel against them. When Moses stretched forth his hand again, “the waters returned and covered the chariots, and the horsemen” and “there remained not so much as one of them.” Alonzo Gaskill notes that there might be something significant about the Egyptians suffering death by drowning. He writes:

It has been suggested that a sort of ‘tit for tat’ is at play here in the taking of Egyptian lives by water. Some eighty years earlier, Pharaoh had taken the lives of the male Israelite children by drowning them in the Nile. Now Israel’s God would drown Pharaoh’s armies in the Red Sea. Ironically, the very man God used to bring to pass the watery destruction of the Egyptians was Moses, who himself was rescued by God from the Nile when he was but an infant. [v]

The Israelites saw the Egyptians “dead upon the seashore.” This was confirmation to them that their deliverance was complete, and that God had saved them in seemingly impossible circumstances. No wonder “the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Genesis 14:31). This was the intended purpose of the Lord, to fortify the faith of the Israelites as well as deliver them from the Egyptians. Unfortunately, Israel was not able to maintain this faith, despite the grandeur of the miracle. They quickly went back to their murmuring. But for the moment, they are exultant and they break out into praises. Their joy was so great that it could only be expressed through song.

Genesis 15 is known as the “Song of Moses” or “Song of the Sea. ”This extraordinary song seems to have come spontaneously as they realized their salvation was real, and God had “triumphed gloriously.” In the Hebrew scripture, this song is written out in poetic form, denoting careful composition. It is written in a style of Hebrew much older than the rest of Exodus. According to Jewish tradition, the Israelite people sang this song in gratitude for the victory God had wrought over the Egyptians who were drowned in the Sea of Reeds. [vi] “Presumably, this text is called a ketuba (“marriage contract”) because the relationship between God and the Jewish people is traditionally described as a marriage, and the splitting of the sea is considered to be an important event leading to that marriage, which ultimately took place 42 days later, at Mt. Sinai.” [vii] The phrase “the Lord is my strength and my song, and he is become my salvation ” is very familiar to us because it is the source of our beautiful hymn, “The Lord is My Light.” Miriam, the sister of Moses, leads the women in a dance with timbrels. Everything seems wonderful and everyone has a joyful heart.

“I am the LORD that healeth thee.”

That is, everything is wonderful until they travel in the wilderness for a few days and realize that there is no water. Three days is not a very long time, but it was long enough for Israel to forget the mighty miracle they had just witnessed. Three days without water is long enough to bring out the natural man and natural woman in all of us. After looking for water for three days, they finally find it.  It must have seemed like a cruel joke that they found the water to be undrinkable. The waters were bitter, so they called them the waters of Marah, which means “bitter” in Hebrew. The people panic and murmur, and ask Moses. “What shall we drink?” (Genesis 15:23-25). Moses cries to the Lord and is shown a tree, which he then casts into the waters, and they become sweet.

I always wondered about how this could be possible, but it may have a scientific explanation. Jamie Buckingham, an expert in desert conditions, and author of A Way Through the Wilderness, explains how this may have worked. “The chemicals in the sap of the broken limb drew the mineral content down to the bottom of the pools and left only good water on top. He further speculates that even though the waters were now drinkable, there was still a significant magnesium and calcium content in the water. The laxative effect of this would clean out the digestive systems of the children of Israel, cleansing them of common Egyptian ailments such as amoebic dysentery and bilharzia, a weakening disease common among Egyptian peasants. In addition, calcium and magnesium together form the basis of a drug called dolomite – used by some athletes as a performance enhancer in hot weather conditions. At Marah, God provided the right medicine to both clean out their systems, and prepare them for a long, hot march to Sinai.” [viii]

On a symbolic note, the reference to healing by the means of a tree cannot be missed—the use of wood as foreshadowing the cross of Christ, the means by which the bitterest of life’s waters may be healed. Consider this verse from 1 Peter 2:24:  “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, . . . by whose stripes ye were healed.”

How do you think the Lord felt about Israel’s short lived faith and gratitude?  God was not only interested in getting Israel out of Egypt, he was interested in getting Egypt out of Israel.  After the waters were made sweet, Moses “made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved (tested) them.” The Lord said, as I healed the waters of Marah, so I will heal thee if you will “hearken diligently to the voice of the Lord.” They were to DO what is right, GIVE EAR to the commandments, and KEEP all the statutes. (see Genesis 15:25b-26)

The Lord had to determine whether the children of Israel were a worshipping people who occasionally murmured, or if they were a murmuring people who occasionally worshipped. [ix]

As they left the “flesh pots” and headed into the wilderness, the children of Israel must have wondered, “What will sustain us in the wilderness?” We, too, can ask this question. What willsustain us in life?  If we are not going to be nourished in life by the things of this world, what will sustain us? Will we, too, murmur if life does not go as we expected? Or will we remember to take a lesson from the life of Joseph, son of Jacob? Joseph was strong because of his trials. He responded to them with a positive attitude. It would have been pretty easy for Joseph to get bitter when he lost his birthright, or his position in Potiphar’s house. But he never murmured, and tried to make the best of every situation in which he found himself.

When you find yourself living the unexpected life, make the best of it, and don’t blame it on God. Consider the “antifragility principle” developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile. “Antifragility” is a property of systems in which they increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures. Certain things in life get stronger the more stress that they encounter. This is true of muscles. If muscles are not used, they become weak. When they are forced to work hard and lift weights they become strong. Bones are the same way. If bones are not required to move the body around, they will become weak. This is also true of people. Nobody grows strong from having everything work out every time for them. People become strong because they endure trials valiantly. The Lord has made earth life difficult for a reason. He wants to make his sons and daughters strong and able to bear the glory he desires to bestow upon them.

But there are times that the Lord allows us to have a break from all these “growing pains.” He knows that a bow cannot stay tightly strung all the time. He created the Sabbath day. Even he needed a rest. The children of Israel needed a break before their sojourn in the desert. They came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. After their desert wanderings, this must have been a great relief. We have all encountered times of “bitter waters,” where we have reached out to the God of healing. There we have found strength by exercising our spiritual muscles. We can more fully appreciate the times when the Lord brings us to our own “Elims,” where we can find peace and enjoy the rest of the Lord.

The Sin of Murmuring

In chapter 16, Israel journeyed from the comforts of Elim into the wilderness of Sin towards Sinai, a place to meet with God and receive his law. Apparently the supplies they had carried with them from Egypt had begun to run out. They went from singing to murmuring very quickly.    Don’t you just love that word? It seems every time the going gets tough, they murmur. “The whole congregation” of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron. The phrase “whole congregation” indicates this was not the behavior of a few troublemakers, but a wholesale rebellion. They said, “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full.” They twisted the past to support their murmuring. They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing them out into the wilderness to kill them with hunger. Of course, this is absolutely untrue, and this is a horrible accusation to make. We ask ourselves, “How long has it been since you saw the mighty parting of the waters of the Red Sea?” A month?

Neal A. Maxwell spoke about “The Sin of Murmuring” in October General Conference in 1989. He gave some fascinating insights into what we are actually doing when we murmur. He said:

Murmurers have short memories. Israel arrived in Sinai, then journeyed on to the Holy Land though they were sometimes hungry and thirsty. But the Lord rescued them, whether by the miraculous appearance by quail or by water struck from a rock. (See Num. 11:31Ex. 17:6.) Strange, isn’t it, brothers and sisters, how those with the shortest memories have the longest lists of demands! However, with no remembrance of past blessings, there is no perspective about what is really going on.

Perhaps when we murmur we are unconsciously complaining over not being able to cut a special deal with the Lord. We want full blessings but without full obedience to the laws upon which those blessings are predicated. For instance, some murmurers seem to hope to reshape the Church to their liking by virtue of their murmuring. But why would one want to belong to a church that he could remake in his own image, when it is the Lord’s image that we should come to have in our countenances?” (See Alma 5:19.)

The doctrines are His, brothers and sisters, not ours. The power is His to delegate, not ours to manipulate!

Damage to ourselves is sufficient reason to resist murmuring, but another obvious danger is its contagiousness. Instead of murmuring, therefore, being of good cheer is what is needed, and being of good cheer is equally contagious. We have clear obligations to so strengthen each other by doing things “with cheerful hearts and countenances.” (D&C 59:15; see also D&C 81:5.)

Murmuring can also be noisy enough that it drowns out the various spiritual signals to us, signals which tell us in some cases to quit soaking ourselves indulgently in the hot tubs of self-pity!

Nonmurmurers are permitted to see so much more. Ancient Israel was once compassed about with “a great host” of hostile horses and chariots. Elisha counseled his anxious young servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” The prophet then prayed that the Lord would “open” the young man’s eyes, “and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha”! (2 Kgs. 6:14–17.)

Elisha’s counsel can help Church members today to silence our murmuring. Regardless of how things seem, or come to seem, in troubled times, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.” My brothers and sisters, if our lips are closed to murmuring, then our eyes can be opened.” (“The Sin of Murmuring,” October Conference 1989)

Would that we could get out of the “hot tubs of self-pity” and open our eyes to see the chariots of fire around us.

The Lord provides bread from heaven. 

Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He can provide resources from sources we never knew existed. Exodus 16:4  “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; . . . that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” Again we see that the Lord wants to “prove” or “test” the children of Israel to see whether they will gather and partake of what he has provided, or long for the flesh pots of Egypt. They needed to gather a certain quota of the heavenly manna every day. This responsibility would test the obedience of these Israelites. On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much, so they could rest on the seventh day, the sabbath.

Moses and Aaron tell Israel that they will “see the glory of God.” Here they had been complaining, but the God, in his mercy, is going to bless them with what they are longing for. They would not see his face, but they would see him lovingly providing for his people in yet another miraculous way. In his mercy, he didn’t demand that they stop their murmuring before they ate. He would give them “bread from heaven” in the morning, and in the evening they would receive flesh to eat. God had heard them longing for the pots of stewed meat they ate in Egypt. Thus, they would know that “I am the LORD your God” (Genesis 16:6-9).  Moses and Aaron point out that their complaints are not against them, but against the Lord. Those in our own day who murmur against those called by the Lord should keep this in mind.

Even so, “as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud” (Genesis 16:10). The last time that the Lord appeared in a cloud was in Exodus 14:24 as the children of Israel were crossing through the sea. The cloud was a sign that God was present with them and that he would protect them. The Lord told the Israelites that he had heard their murmurings, and he was going to give them meat in the evening and “in the morning they would be filled with bread” (Exodus 16:12).   

In a miraculous way, God provided the children of Israel with quails who covered the camp in the evening. (Exodus 16:13) He could have responded with judgment for their murmuring, but instead, he gave them meat. I wondered how the Lord could have caused this to happen, as he created the earth and is well acquainted with its workings. I learned that the Sinai is on the migratory route of quail. These birds do not fly well, so when they migrate, they fly until they are exhausted, and when they land they are unable to fly again for some time. It could have been that the Lord engineered the landing of the quail in their exhausted state right next to the children of Israel, where they would be able to gather the quails easily.

And in the morning, “the dew lay around the host,” and when it was gone up,” the Israelites found “a small round thing” upon the face of the wilderness. Commentators have described this as a small and round and “like hoarfrost,” and it needed to be gathered early before it melted. It required diligence to gather, since it was in the form of small flakes, before it could be prepared by grinding and baking. Tradition says that the taste was like fresh oil and like wafers made with honey.

Israel did not know what to call it, so they called it man-hu, meaning, “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15). God provided for them, but they did not recognize it. When God’s provision comes, do we sometimes do not recognize it?

There were several strict rules for the people on how to gather and store the heavenly bread. They  were to collect only one omer (about five pints) per person per day. Some gathered more, while others gathered less, but when they came to prepare and eat the manna, everyone had the same amount to eat. (see Exodus 16:17-18) The Lord knew what each person needed, and he provided it for them. If a person tried to hoard extra manna “it bred worms and stank” (Exodus 16:20). The double portion of manna that was to be gathered the day before the Sabbath did not spoil. In this way, the manna was preserved in a way that enabled them to keep the sabbath day holy. (see Exodus 16:22-26)

The Israelites called it manna, but what did the Lord call it? He called it “bread.” Deuteronomy is a commentary on Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and in Deuteronomy 8:2-3, the Lord tells the people that their forty-year journey through the wilderness was to “humble” them, and to “prove” them. It was so that God would know what was in their hearts, and whether they would keep his commandments or not—a good explanation of mortality for all of us. He allowed them to suffer hunger and be fed with manna, so that they would know that “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” The Savior quoted this scripture to Satan when he tempted him to turn the stones into bread. 

Manna comes in little flakes. This implies that it must be gathered a little at a time, like great truths need to be gathered from many places in the scriptures. What lesson can we learn from this? We too must gather it every day. There is work involved. In the wilderness, there was a need to gather manna every day, just like reading the scriptures provides daily nourishment. We all need to eat every day to sustain ourselves physically, but we also must partake dailyof spiritual nourishment to sustain our souls. It is the doing of a thing day in and day out that has power to save.

The Lord commanded Moses, “Fill an omer of [manna] to be kept for your generations that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:32). This pot of manna was kept in the ark of the covenant as a symbol of how the Lord had fed the Israelites for forty years while they journeyed in the wilderness. [x]

“The children of Israel ate manna for forty years, until they came into an inhabited land” (Genesis 16:35).  As important as it was for God to provide this bread from heaven, it was also important for God to stop providing it at some point. It was essential that Israel be put again in the position to receive the food that God provided through the hard work of cultivating it, which in itself is a blessing of God.[xi]

Jesus reminded the Jews that all must eat of the bread of life in order to live forever. Manna was a symbol of something far greater than mere physical food. In John 6, Jesus  says that “as the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is the bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever” (John 6:57-58).  He said, “I am the bread of life”( John 6:35). “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (Exodus 16:32-33).

The message is clear. Jesus is the bread from heaven, and we need to receive him like the children of Israel received the manna. We need to be hungry and aware of our need. We need to do it every day and with humility, perhaps even on our knees. We need to do it with gratitude, knowing that it is a gift we have not earned. We need to take it inside ourselves, to the innermost part of our being.[xii] There is a saying, “You are what you eat.” We need to make the Savior a part of who we are.

Drinking Living Water from the Rock

Exodus 17 deals with what we drink in this earth life’s experience. When the children of Israel set out on their way from the wilderness of Sin,[xiii] they camp at a place called Refidim, but find that there is no water to drink. They angrily confront Moses and again murmur: “Thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst” (Ex. 17:3). Moses explains that their complaints against him are in reality an attack on Jehovah (see Ex. 16:7–8Ex. 17:2, 7). The people are prideful and slow to understand who Jehovah is. Moses must have been very frustrated, even more than frustrated, for he fears for his life. He cries unto the Lord, saying, “What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4).

George Q. Cannon spoke about the way prophets have been received throughout the ages.

Was there ever a prophet of God—a man who had a message from God who was received by the generation among whom he lived? From Noah down, one prophet after another was rejected by the generations unto whom they were sent and unto whom they bore messages from the Almighty. Even Moses, though successful in leading out the children of Israel, with difficulty escaped being stoned to death by his own adherents. And so with every prophet until the days of the Savior himself. Jesus was persecuted; Jesus was derided, Jesus was  rejected. Jesus, who came—his coming having been predicted by the holy prophets and the whole nation being in expectation of him—was rejected because he did not come according to the ideas, the preconceived notions of the people—that is of his own kindred unto whom he was sent. [xiv]

The Lord instructs Moses to walk on ahead of the people from Rephidim to Mount Sinai and stand near “the rock of Horeb” (Ex. 17:6). There the Lord tells him to perform another incredible miracle. God directs Moses to get out before the people, and to take with him some of the elders of Israel, and to use his rod to smite the rock. Moses trusts God and he had seen him use that same rod to do great miracles before. The Lord assures Moses that he will not stand alone. “Behold, I will stand before thee there” (Exodus 17:6). One of the great themes of this journey from Egypt to Canaan was that God was with them each and every step of the way.

The people gather, and the Lord appears in a cloud before them upon the rock. As instructed, Moses strikes the rock with his rod, and water comes gushing out. This was a remarkable miracle because everybody, including Moses, knows that water does not normally come from rocks in that way. The Lord was indeed generous in providing this miracle because he gives no word of reproach in spite of their unbelief. There is enough water to quench the thirst of this great body of people, and they drink.

The apostle Paul wrote of the spiritual meaning of this event in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”  (see Isa. 48:211 Ne. 17:29). Christ is the Rock of Israel and out of it flows living water. A power is released from the rock by the prophet, the power of the priesthood being represented by the rod of Moses.

Many scriptures speak of trees planted by water. (see  Psalm 1:3, Jeremiah 17:8, Numbers 24:6-7)  We are trees planted by water, living water, as we are nourished by the spirit. We can also liken Lehi’s dream to what is happening here. The great and spacious building is Egypt, and the manna is the rod of iron. The fountain and the fruit of the tree of life are the love of God. The love of God will sustain us in the wilderness until we get to the land of promise. (see 1 Nephi 11:25)  I love the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

Moses names the place as a rebuke to the children of Israel. He called it Massah, which means “testing,” or “trying,” as they had tested the Lord’s patience. Under stress, the Israelites doubted the one fact of which they had overwhelming evidence, that God was with them and loved them. It was also called Meribah, which means “strife” or “complaint.” The Israelites have just seen God bring forth living water from a rock. God has control of the elements. But because he has given his children agency, does the Lord have a difficult time bringing the spirit into their hearts which, at times, can be just as hard as a rock?   

Israel Prevails

“Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8). This was an unprovoked attack by the Amalekites against Israel, and Moses called Joshua to lead the armies of Israel into battle to defend them. The method of attack used by Amalek was despicable. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.” The Amalekites picked off the weak and the discouraged. This sounds like a tactic that Satan often employs.

This was a significant first experience of warfare for ancient Israel. They had lived for hundreds of years as slaves, and God fought the Egyptians for them. Now they had to learn rely on God as they fought a military battle. Moses tells Joshua[xv] to choose men to go out and fight against Amalek, and that he will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hands. (Exodus 17:9-12) Moses, Aaron, and Hur, the brother-in-law to Moses, went to the top of the hill.

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.” Holding up one’s hands describes the Israelite posture of prayer, even as people bow their heads today. Moses had to pray and keep on praying, because their very survival depended on it. We can all take a lesson from his example, because our spiritual survival depends on prayers that get past the ceiling.

“But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus:17:12). What is the symbolism here? How could it be more obvious? When the authority of the prophet is upheld, the Church prevails. When we uphold the prophet, we win battles. This chapter also illustrates how a prophet is sustained by his counselors. 

Boyd K. Packer said: “The wicked who now oppose the work of the Lord, while different from, are no less terrible than the plundering Amalekites. The sustaining of the prophet is still an essential ongoing part of the safety of this people. Should age and infirmity cause his hands to grow heavy, they are held up by his counselors at his side. Both are prophets, seers, and revelators, as is each member of the Quorum of the Twelve.” [xvi]

When we criticize the prophet, it is like handing him rocks. What then is our responsibility?  Doctrine and Covenants 107:22 tells us that the leaders of the Church are upheld by  “confidence, faith, and prayers” of its members.We too can hold up those hands. 

President Harold B. Lee, then a member of the First Presidency, cited the example of Moses standing atop the hill at Rephidim and said: “The hands of [the President of the Church] may grow weary. They may tend to droop at times because of his heavy responsibilities; but as we uphold his hands (D&C 81:5), and as we lead under his direction, by his side, the gates of hell will not prevail against you and against Israel (D&C 21:6). Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over His Church. He knows whom He wants to preside over this Church, and He will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident. He has never done anything accidentally.” [xvii]

As members of the Church, how do we do our part in “supporting” the hands of the prophet? President Joseph F. Smith explained, “It is an important duty resting upon the Saints who … sustain the authorities of the Church, to do so not only by the lifting of the hand, the mere form, but in deed and in truth.” [xviii]

Elder George Albert Smith said, “The obligation that we make when we raise our hands … is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means … that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.” [xix] This gives a lot to think about as we sustain our leaders. Are we doing all we promised to do?

God commanded Moses to write about his experiences “for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it” to Joshua (Exodus 17:14). There are five times in the Pentateuch where Moses wrote things down at the command of God. Similarly, recording our spiritual experiences will help us and our loved ones remember the Lord’s goodness. These recorded memories can become a book of remembrance like the one Adam kept, and can be revered as family scriptures.


Israel’s exodus from Egypt was a type of God’s plan for his children. Hugh Nibley has written, “The Exodus was not only a real event, but also ‘a type and shadow of things’ representing both escape from the wicked world and redemption from the bondage of sin.”[xx] The parallels between God’s plan of salvation and events in the Exodus are numerous. The most beautifully obvious is the deliverance of Israel through the death of the firstborn son, echoing the sacrifice of God’s Firstborn Son to deliver all mankind from sin and death. As Moses was the deliverer of the children of Israel, so Christ is our Redeemer. The crossing of the Red Sea is symbolic of baptism and other ordinances that precede entrance into the ultimate Promised Land. The cloud and pillar of fire represent our need to be guided by the Holy Ghost throughout our journey through the wilderness  of mortality. We must be sustained daily by manna from heaven, the word of God, just as the Israelites were sustained physically by the Bread of Life.

[i] Out of curiosity I looked up the meaning of “fleshpots.” The first definition was “places providing luxurious or hedonistic living.” It also refers to a cooking pot, but I like the modern definition, too, for it has such rich application to the lives of so many swayed by the materialism and pleasure-seeking of our day.

[ii] Clark Bible Commentary.

[iii] According to a Los Angeles Times article by Thomas H. Maugh titled “Research Supports Bible’s Account of Red Sea Parting” (March 14, 1992):

“Sophisticated computer calculations indicate that the biblical parting of the Red Sea, said to have allowed Moses and the Israelites to escape from bondage in Egypt, could have occurred precisely as the Bible describes it. Because of the peculiar geography of the northern end of the Red Sea, researchers report Sunday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a moderate wind blowing constantly for about 10 hours could have caused the sea to recede about a mile and the water level to drop 10 feet, leaving dry land in the area where many biblical scholars believe the crossing occurred.”

[iv] John Dummelow’s Commentary [on Exodus 14:25]).

[v] Alonzo Gaskill, Miracles of the Old Testament, 80.

[vi] The Hebrew text which is translated in the KJV as “Red Sea” is yam suph which means “reed sea.” Scholars have proposed several sites for the location of the actual crossing. In this article, I have used the term Red Sea to adhere to the KJV text.

[vii] Accessed from

[viii] Accessed from Enduring Word Bible Commentary,

[ix] Ibid.

[x] See David Ferrell, “The Lord is Among Us!” Ensign, February 2002, 34-36.

[xi] This principle applies to giving welfare to those in temporary need until they are able to provide for themselves.

[xii]  Ideas from David Guzik, at

[xiii] This is a Hebrew word, not an English one. It is related to the name Sinai.

[xiv] Cannon, in Journal of Discourses 22:177.

[xv] It is good to remember that the name Jesus is simply the Greek way of rendering the name Joshua. It’s the same name, meaning “salvation.”

[xvi] “The Shield of Faith,” Ensign, May 1995, 8.

[xvii] “Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church and uphold his hands” (in Conference Report, October 1970, 152–53).

[xviii]  Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith [1998], 211.

[xix] “Sustaining the Prophets,” October 2014 General Conference.

[xx] Hugh Nibley, Approach to the Book of Mormon, 146.