In a post from last year called Jesus and the Red Sea Crossing I tried to establish a timeline for the Israelite exodus from Egypt. I was surprised to discover two things I had not noticed before.
The first is that there were only three recorded stops before the Red Sea: Succoth, Etham and Pi-hahiroth. This seemed to indicate that the Red Sea crossing took place during the third night after Passover.
The second is that the waters came back together, drowning the Egyptians, at daybreak on that third day. For me, the link between this and Jesus’ rising at dawn on the third day was an eye-opener. Jesus fulfilled all of the types of the Exodus!
This dawn drowning marked the end of the military threat from Egypt, meaning that the people of Israel were now finally free from the clutches of Egypt.
Or were they?
We’ll return to that question in a moment after we work out the timeline a bit further.
My proposed timeline inadvertently undermined a belief I had (which was widely held in Worldwide Church of God circles) that the crossing of the Red Sea had taken place on the 7th day after they began their journey out of Egypt. So if the 7th day isn’t the day of the Red Sea crossing….
… What is it about the 7th day that makes it so special that God marks it with a holy day?
Reading about what happened after the crossing revealed a clue. Exodus 15:1-21 records a brief morning worship session of singing a victory song about God’s deliverance. Verse 22 states that they then began what turned into a 3-day journey into the desert. During those three days they travelled without finding water anywhere.
After three days they finally end up at a place that has water, but the water is too bitter to drink. (This leads them to name the place “Bitter” or “Marah” in Hebrew.) After an arduous 3-day walk without water, ending up in this place with undrinkable water is the last straw. The people begin bitter recriminations against Moses.
Moses cries out to the Lord, and the Lord answers by showing him a piece of wood. Moses picks it up and throws it into the water. The water immediately becomes healthy to drink. God covenants with them there that if they follow him faithfully he will be their Healer. The context suggests that perhaps the bitter water had been making them sick.
The following day he leads them to Elim, where there are 12 springs and 70 palm trees. Since there are 12 tribes in Israel, the number of springs indicates that this is a special place that had been prepared for them.
I’m not absolutely certain if the 7th day of the exodus occurred while they were at Marah or at Elim.
If they were at Elim, the 7th day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread would represent a rest from their arduous journey. It makes some sense to see a respite from hard journeying memorialized as a Sabbath of rest.
On the other hand, if they were at Marah on the 7th day, there is a very different message. After the bitter complaining of Israel, God not only provides the means to make the water healthy, but also enters into a covenant with them to protect them from “all the diseases of Egypt” as their Healer.
If the 7th day represents the deliverance from bitter water at Marah then it becomes a symbol of how difficult leaving Egypt really is. Leaving Egypt is not a cake-walk. It is a long and arduous journey.
In fact, the adults who physically left Egypt still longed to go back. They complained bitterly each time things got difficult. They even refused to go into the Promised Land later on when the 10 spies made it sound difficult. That refusal cost them a glorious opportunity. It entitled them to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, where that generation all died without inheriting the land.
In that sense the 7th day of Unleavened Bread also becomes a reminder that without God’s help we cannot complete the arduous journey. He must turn the bitter waters sweet. He must provide the healing in our bodies and in our souls for us to complete the journey.
Jesus himself notes that the journey with him will not be easy. The Second Exodus is no less arduous than the First. In John 16:33 Jesus warns his disciples that they will face “tribulation” in this world.
In all the above Jesus and Paul agree that only Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit, can keep us faithful under trial and testing. He provides the way through the unpleasant times and the awful circumstances with his presence in us. He gives us the “healing” power to continue all the way to the Promised Land no matter where circumstances take us and no matter who opposes us. For me, that is the message of the Last Day of Unleavened Bread.
Or, as the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 8:34-39:
It is Christ that died , yea rather , that is risen again , who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written , For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded , that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come , Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.