When Did It All Begin?
When an olah or shelamim sacrifice was offered in the Beit Hamikdash it had to be accompanied by nesachim consisting of a mincha flour offering and a wine libation. This rule is introduced with the following words:
"When you enter the land of your dwelling place which I have given you" (Bamidbar 15:2).
Were these nesachim additions to the sacrifices in effect while Jews were still on their way to Eretz Yisrael and offered sacrifices in the Mishkan sanctuary? It all depends on how you read those words.
Rabbi Yishmaels view is that nesachim were not offered before entering the land. The above passage introduces a requirement of nesachim for sacrifices offered upon the temporary communal altar that stood in Gilgal during the 14 years the Jews were busy conquering and dividing the land before establishing a more permanent sanctuary in Shiloh. Even though it was permissible during this period for individuals to offer sacrifices for private altars the requirement of nesachim was limited to the communal altar as indicated in the words "which I have given you", an expression of an altar belonging to the entire nation.
Rabbi Akiva, however, contends that nesachim were already offered in the Mishkan in the wilderness before arrival in Eretz Yisrael. What the above-mentioned passage dealt with was the need for nesachim on the private altars, which only became permissible when Jews entered the land and until the Mishkan was established in Shiloh. He sees a support for this in the words "your dwelling places" which seems to refer to the private altars which could be located in all the places that Jews dwelled upon entering the land. There was no need for the Torah to mention this requirement for the communal altar in Gilgal because this practice had already been in effect in the communal Mishkan in the wilderness.
Was the Oath for Both?
When the Torah was given to the Jewish People the "sounds and thunder" (Shemot 19:16) accompanying it were heard throughout the world. Rabbi Elazar Hamodoi says that the kings of all the nations were seized with fear in their palaces and sang praise to G-d. This is the scene described by King David when he speaks of a powerful sound encompassing the universe which resulted in "each in his palace giving honor to G-d" (Tehillim 29:9). These panic stricken rulers all come to Bilaam and asked this wicked prophet to explain the meaning of these sounds which they feared heralded a world destroying deluge. He reassured them that G-d had already taken an oath never again to destroy the world through a flood. When they raised the possibility that this oath did not preclude destroying the world through fire he again reassured them that the Divine oath precluded destruction of the entire world through any medium and that the alarming sounds they heard were merely those accompanying the giving of the Torah by G-d to His people.
The impression we get from this dialogue is that G-ds oath made after the world destroying waters of the great deluge receded was not limited to water but included fire as well. This seems to be in conflict with the gemara (Mesechta Sotah 11a) which describes the deliberations of Pharaoh and the Egyptians in how to persecute the Jews in their land without fear of Heavenly retribution. They rejected the idea of oppressing them with fire or sword because of their awareness that Divine justice could punish them for this measure for measure. They therefore decided to suppress the growth of the Hebrew nation through water, confident that G-ds oath to refrain from another deluge would preclude punishing them through water. This reasoning led them to decree the drowning of newborn Hebrew children. They were nevertheless punished, measure for measure, by eventually being drowned in Yam Suf.
It seems from this gemara that the Egyptians assumed that the Divine oath did not preclude fire, while Bilaam told the kings that it did.
Maharsha offers a simple resolution. Bilaams point was that the Divine oath precluded universal destruction through any medium. The error of the Egyptians was to extend this oath to the fate of an individual nation. They assumed that G-d had ruled out destroying even a single nation through water while reserving the option to do so through fire. As the above-mentioned gemara points out, their fatal error was in misinterpreting the Divine oath which dealt only with universal destruction but left them, as a single nation, vulnerable to measure for measure punishment through water.