There’s a neat contrast being made in Exodus 15:22-27. It’s not obvious, but helps define what’s going here in the setting of the bitter waters. The Israelites arrived specifically at the “Wilderness of Shur”. Shur (Strongs H7793) means “wall”, and the major shift in momentum from the crossing of the sea to this pool of bitter water sure feels like a Israel has hit a shur.
Israel wasn’t the first ‘person’ to meet YHWH in Shur, and the author of Exodus certainly meant for us to connect and contrast those two stories.
The last time that the setting was in this neighborhood of Shur, was in Genesis 16, when we were introduced to Hagar. You should re-read the story in your own Bible for proper context, but a contrast between Hagar and Israel is being made implied via this unique location:
• In Genesis 16, Hagar is pregnant. In Exodus 15, Israel is a redeemed newborn.
• In Genesis, Hagar is heading back to Egypt, her homeland. Here in Exodus, Israel has been freed from Egypt and is heading toward the Holy Mountain.
• In Genesis, Hagar is told to name her child ‘Ishmael‘, which means “God Hears”. Here in Exodus, Israel is told to listen to God. The Hebrew root word in both cases is shema.
• Hagar is told to return to Sarai so she could continue being a helpful object-lesson for future Bible studies. Israel is told to continue towards Shavuot for the same reason.
Hagar’s name means “fugitive”, so perhaps the spirit of Hagar could be condensed down to ‘running FROM something, rather than TOWARD something.’ [As an aside, naming a slave “Fugitive” seems like a really bad idea.] In Hagar’s offspring, Yah painted expectations of what the fruits of a fugitive spirit would look like:
Genesis 16:12, “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
Contrast that to the expectations set for faithful Israel:
Genesis 12:2-3, “…I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Frankly, most denominations or religious sects are blindly defined by this fugitive spirit. Almost every time there is a religious ‘reformation’, the fruits are the fruits of a fugitive, even if the motivation grievance is warranted. The reformer sees that something is obviously not right. Something has to be done! But that new reformed direction is often based on the reformer’s human understanding or worse, constantly evolving cultural norms.
Restoration, however, is the opposite reaction of a reformation. Obeying the original Word of Yah, not any human reformation of it, is the defining difference in both approaches. The fruit that results from each is also obvious.
A similar sin that is a drum-beat in Scripture aligns perfectly with a fugitive spirit. It’s called the Sin of Jeroboam. Jeroboam was the first King of Israel, and he led the first religious reformation. In 1 Kings 12:26 his heart-attitude is revealed:
“And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David.”
That sounds GREAT, except for one small detail…Jeroboam is doing everything in his power to PREVENT that from happening—having “his” people join the house of the King of David is, in fact, his greatest fear. With that sole goal in mind, his reforms include creating an entirely new priesthood based only on political power, inventing new holy places and methods of worship of his personal choosing, and inventing entirely new holidays that aren’t defined or authorized by Scripture, and intentionally reinventing a new calendar to enhance the confusion.
This Sin of Jeroboam was the reason why the “Lost Tribes of the House of Israel” got lost in the first place. This was literally the sin referred to in the divorce decree (2 Kings 17:7-23).
Even the restoration attempts of Josiah in 2 Kings 23 couldn’t undo the harm caused by the generations of religious reformation begun by Jeroboam.
Read it. Now. Seriously. 2 Kings 23. I’ll wait.
Josiah’s is the greatest attempt to undo prior reforms in the entire Bible, with the exception of Messiah’s current and ongoing mission. This is why Messiah prepared his Disciples, in the Book of John, for what they should expect during their own counting toward Shavuot, which started three days after he said this:
“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know The Way?” Yeshua said to him, “I am The Way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”
Messiah was not introducing reform in the Gospels, he was leading The Way towards a faithful restoration for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He is still finding his fugitive sheep and reminding us who we truly are. We are no longer fugitive slaves. Why would anyone think that Messiah would lead his people on a different Way other than His Father’s?
The Hagar/Israel contrast was hinted at in this point in the Exodus saga to underscore this same point. His people had just entered ‘The Door’ on Pesach, but now they are on “The Way” to Shavuot. They can’t just run lawlessly from their past—fear of Sarai, of Pharaoh, of persecution, all might be understandable motivators, but it doesn’t define any specific direction. The Israelites are being told that they have to choose a specific direction, Yah’s, and stay on The Way. The promised healing of Exodus 15:26 is dependent upon it.
A new week of counting toward Shavuot begins tomorrow. The Israelites are about to learn about supernatural provision while being trained to count to seven. They are about to be introduced to the inherent blessings of Shabbat.