Our Primary children sing “Follow the Prophet”1 with enthusiasm and energy, to the delight of all within the sound of their sweet and trusting voices. We follow the prophet, they sing, because “he knows the way.” Like our prophet today, Moses “knew the way” because the Lord gave him instructions.
After the waters of the Red Sea returned to normal, Moses and the children of Israel found themselves at the edge of a desert with sparse means of sustenance. The route for their journey from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai was not to be the more obvious one (see Ex. 13:17–18). Their route was to be the one the Lord wanted them to take (see Ex. 14:2; Ex. 15:22, 27; Ex. 16:1; Ex. 17:1; Ex. 19:1–2). A review of the events that took place during their travels provides valuable insights into how the Lord shows that He is among us today.
In a desert, water is the most valuable commodity. Imagine the people’s distress when, after journeying three days in a desert, they finally found water at Marah, but it was bitter. They grumbled to Moses, “What shall we drink?” (see Ex. 15:22–24). Jehovah then showed Moses a specific tree, which Moses threw into the pool of water, and the water was “made sweet” (Ex. 15:25). One Jewish source suggests that Moses “wrote upon [the tree] the great and glorious Name [of Jehovah]” before throwing it into the water.2
Another necessity in a desert is food, especially when traveling with a whole nation!3 In the wilderness of Sin, the Israelites complained, “Ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3). Jehovah responded by telling Moses that He would send quail and manna. Jehovah also gave Moses several strict rules for the people on how to gather and store the manna (see Ex. 16:13, 16, 19, 23). These commandments taught them important eternal truths:
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 Ex. 16:17–18). Jehovah knew what they needed, and He provided it for them.
If an Israelite tried to hoard extra manna, “it bred worms, and stank” (Ex. 16:20). They needed to trust that Jehovah would provide.
The double portion of manna to be gathered the day before the Sabbath did not spoil. Thus, the manna was preserved in a way that enabled them to keep the Sabbath day holy (see Ex. 16:22–26).
Jehovah 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” (Ex. 16:32). This pot of manna became a continual symbol of what Jehovah had done for His people.
At Rephidim, near Sinai, again there was no water. The significance of the mighty miracles of deliverance from Egypt had faded in the minds of the people, and they lamented, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:7). They angrily confronted Moses: “Thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst” (Ex. 17:3). Moses explained that their complaints against him were in reality an attack on Jehovah (see Ex. 16:7–8; Ex. 17:2, 7). The people were prideful and slow to understand who Jehovah was. So the Lord instructed 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 told Moses to perform another wondrous miracle. The people gathered, and the Lord appeared in a cloud before them upon the rock. As instructed, Moses struck the rock with his rod, and water came gushing out, enough water to quench the thirst of a nation while they camped there for about a year (see Isa. 48:21; 1 Ne. 17:29). In doing so, Jehovah dramatically showed that He is the Rock of Israel, the ultimate source of living water (see Topical Guide, “Jesus Christ, Rock”), and that Moses was His prophet.
The Amalekites soon came to battle against them (see Ex. 17:8–16), and the Israelites received further proof of Moses’ crucial role in their lives. Bloodshed began with an attack by the Amalekites against those who were “feeble” and had fallen behind the main camp (see Deut. 25:17–18). This must have alarmed the people and resulted in another plea for divine help. Moses instructed Joshua to gather an army to fight the Amalekites. Then Moses stood atop a hill overlooking the battle with the rod of God in his hand (see Ex. 17:9). He raised his hands toward heaven, perhaps in prayerful supplication. As the Israelites began to prevail, Moses’ arms grew tired and he lowered them. The Amalekites then began to win! (see Ex. 17:11). Noticing this trend, Moses’ brother, Aaron, and Hur, who may have been Moses’ brother-in-law, rushed forward to support Moses’ hands so that they might remain raised until sunset and the winning of the battle.
Seeing Aaron and Hur upholding Moses’ arms must have been particularly instructive for the Israelites who had been ready to stone Moses not long before (see Ex. 17:3–4). The Lord showed the children of Israel that He was among them primarily by revealing His power and His words through His servant Moses. The Lord is doing much the same today. The words of His prophets truly demonstrate that the Lord is among us.
Camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses received a visit from his family, including his father-in-law, Jethro. It was a joyous reunion (see Ex. 18:5–7). As they visited, Moses rehearsed for him all that the Lord had done for the people. The next day, Jethro watched Moses as he listened to the individual problems of his people and taught them God’s laws. Then Jethro offered this counsel to Moses, “Be thou for the people to God-ward” (Ex. 18:19), or as footnote 19a says, “You represent the people before God.” Jethro then added, “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do” (Ex. 18:20).
A prophet is to receive instructions from God and then impart them to us for our safety, success, and happiness. These instructions often take us on routes that are arduous and less popular or traveled. During our travels we may be tempted in our minds and hearts to complain about or stray from the prophet’s instructions. When we are “sore afraid,” as were the children of Israel (see Ex. 14:10), the temptations of peer pressure, loss of position, power, wealth, or loss of friends and fame can influence us to desire to stay in the world, to stay in our own modern “Egypt” rather than come out of it and become His people. It is not easy nor is the destination immediately obvious when others invite us to break a commandment of God, be less than faithful to our covenants, or disregard the words of living prophets. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught modern Israel: “We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost—the medium of individual revelation—if we are in transgression or if we are angry or if we are in rebellion against God’s chosen authorities.”4
The experiences of the children of Israel along the road to Mount Sinai were designed by a loving Jehovah to help ancient Israel become “a peculiar treasure unto [Him], … a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (see Ex. 19:5–6). At each step along the trail they had received all they needed through His prophet, Moses. They could not have arrived there without him!
Through the Lord’s Atonement and through our own choices and efforts, garnished with guidance from a living prophet, we may also become a holy nation if with childlike faith we can join our children in singing, “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news. We can get direction all along our way, if we heed the prophets—follow what they say.”5
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
If you were given five minutes to speak to the Israelites after the events described in this article, what would you say to them?
How can we do for our prophets today what Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17:8–13?