The Narrative Lectionary text for this week are Exodus 16:1-18 and John 6:51. In the Exodus account we read of the Israelite journey into the Desert of Sin, two months after they marched out of Egyptian slavery into the unknown wilderness ahead. Unfortunately, the exhilaration of newfound freedom had worn off with each step along the way. Now, as we so often do, the Israelites begin to romanticize the past with selective memory.
“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt… There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:3
The Lord’s response is to “rain down food from heaven” for them (vs 4), with some specific rules about when it could be collected and how much. each person / family can collect. These rules were set in place as a “test”.
While the Israelites were grumbling against Moses and Aaron, Moses is clear that it was “the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (vs 6) and He would provide meat in the evening and bread in the morning. A reminder of the Lord’s presence was nearby – a glorious pillar of cloud by day (vs 10). That evening quail flew in and covered the camp. The next morning they found “a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground” (vs 14). When they saw it they asked, “What is it?“. That’s what the word ‘manna’ means, basically. What is it?
What It Is
What it is, is a provision of a loving Father to his hungry children. But we shouldn’t let them off the hook so easily. This text emphasizes nothing positive about the children of Israel, only that they were complainers who had a false remembrance of what it was like to live back in Egypt. Two months and they’ve forgotten the intense slavery and conditions that led to death. They only remember that they had food to eat and graves in which to be buried. The Scripture is clear that they weren’t complaining about Moses and Aaron, but they were complaining about God (vs 7).
I am tempted to say some harsh things about these forgetful folks, if I weren’t one of them. How often have we complained in the midst of immense blessing? Honestly, the American life I live is a dream to many in third world countries. But still, if the A/C isn’t working well, I can be heard to mumble. If the food is not too tasty, I can push it aside. If the place where I wanted to sit was dirty, I’ll just stand. If someone smells bad, I’ll step back. If the worship service runs long, I might frown. When my bills overtake my income, I gripe because the economy isn’t favoring my station.
There is a certain freedom to confess these things because most people I know are in the same boat. We are the Israelites complaining about our current blessings not being big enough. Maybe we even think about the past and how good we might have had it before we became Christians. We didn’t have to worry about giving the church some of our money back then. Who has complained about COVID restrictions and practices – whether we embrace them or not? No need to have a show of hands.
I don’t know how you relate to the Israelites on a specific level, but I hope we all relate to the God who provides in spite of our failure to trust the One who led us out of bondage. God’s provision is not only sufficient but overflowing. He provided a meal for thousands, not just a differ party. In the same way, God has been providing for you the basics of life up to this point. It’s easy to take credit for what we have provided for ourselves, but the life of the believer is about what God is doing.
Who It Is
Just as the Israelites were focused on Moses and Aaron instead of the glory of the Lord visible to them in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, so we also can be focused in the wrong area. We should turn our gaze to the One who loved us enough to guide us out of our wilderness and into a secure home. l
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world many live, is my flesh. – John 6:47-51
Our sights should always remain on Jesus – the bread of life – the one who enlivens, provides, and sustains us. When we commune together and eat the bread and drink the cup, we remember. But we should let that remembrance continue through the days ahead, no matter what the circumstances. After all, Jesus didn’t die just to give us something to do on Sundays. He rose from the dead to give us eternal life.
Preachers using this text Sunday will do well to move listeners away from the complaints of the day to the Savior of all times. Sometimes complaining feel smart. Sarcastic diminishing of others is fodder for Social Media – but actually when we complain it is always against the Lord. Why? Because we have removed our sights from His wonderful provision and focused on a petty gripe instead. We excuse away complaining, but continue reading the narrative of Exodus. God gets his fill, eventually. We have to move way from being focused on WHAT IS IT and instead be engaged fully in WHO IT IS. What are the blessings we often ignore? What should help us feel filled and alive in Christ? God bless you as you preach the Word this Sunday!