Manna and Quail and Loaves and Fishes and Rice and Beans and...

Let’s take a slow walk through an incredibly important event as the people of Israel were making their way from Egypt toward their homeland (Exodus 16:1-34 – NLT).

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. 2 There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.

3 “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “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.”

Note: Anxiousness messes with us.

Question: How does it mess with hungry travelers?

Pete’s thoughts…  When we are anxious, we’re not our healthy selves.  We act out in a number of ways.  We get angry quicker, or we withdraw, or we get hyper and restless.  Sometimes we unintentionally get ourselves into messes because we do not recognize that we are in an anxious space.  We behave in ways we otherwise would not, and things go south.  Perhaps if we remind ourselves that when we are under excessive stress we are not at our best, we will be more mindful of our behavior.

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”

Note: God didn’t scold people for their anxiety-induced behavior.

Question: How should we treat people who are living with anxiety?

Pete’s thoughts…  Related to the previous thoughts on anxiousness, I wonder what might happen if, when seeing a person acting out in ways not typical for them, we would choose to wonder if they may be under undue stress.  How would things be different if we open up an umbrella of grace with people instead of reacting back with equal and opposite force?  It says so much about the character and nature of God – so surprising for many, I bet – that God acts with grace after taking context into consideration.  Let’s follow suit.

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “By evening you will realize it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.7 In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaints, which are against him, not against us. What have we done that you should complain about us?” 8 Then Moses added, “The Lord will give you meat to eat in the evening and bread to satisfy you in the morning, for he has heard all your complaints against him. What have we done? Yes, your complaints are against the Lord, not against us.”

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Announce this to the entire community of Israel: ‘Present yourselves before the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole community of Israel, they looked out toward the wilderness. There they could see the awesome glory of the Lord in the cloud.

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

Note: Being heard matters.  Being heard matters.  Being heard matters.  Being heard matters.

Question: When we deal with stressed people, how well do we communicate that we hear them?

Pete’s thoughts…  Recently a friend was sharing an insight he had learned after being married many years and also being a father to daughters.  “Women don’t want the men in their life to fix their problems – they really want us to listen.  My wife tells me that from time to time.”  Which means on occasion my friend shifted from listening mode to fixing mode.  God is quoted as saying “I heard you” four times within a brief amount of time.  How hard do we try to listen for understanding – to the point where those we talk with would say they felt heard?

13 That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp. And the next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. 14 When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. 15 The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was.

And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat.16 These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.”

17 So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. 18 But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.

19 Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” 20 But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

Note: The bread of God cannot be hoarded.

Question: Which faith system orders your steps, Egypt’s or Israel’s?

Pete’s thoughts…  Bible scholar Leander Keck offered a keen observation worth sharing on this: “They want to establish a surplus, to develop a zone of self-sufficiency. The people in the wilderness immediately try to replicate the ways of Egypt by storing up and hoarding out of anxiety and greed. However, this bread (bread of another kind given by God) cannot be stored up. The narrator takes pains to underscore that stored-up, surplus bread is useless. Bread that reflects self-sufficient anxiety and greed will have no food value for Israel, so that the bread of disobedience breeds worms, turns sour, and melts.”  Of course, it’s not just literal bread to which this applies.  When we hoard love and grace, a similar results occurs.  I once told a highly knowledgeable Christian that he was spiritually constipated.  He knew all about love and grace, but hadn’t shared it with anybody.  Instead of being marked by beauty, he was bitter.  Even with love and grace, it rots if we don’t share it.

21 After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two. Then all the leaders of the community came and asked Moses for an explanation. 23 He told them, “This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.”

24 So they put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor. 25 Moses said, “Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. 26 You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.”

27 Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. 28 The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? 29 They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day.” 30 So the people did not gather any food on the seventh day.

Note: Sabbath is a gift to protect, not a law that enslaves.

Question: How are you protecting Sabbath in your life?

Pete’s thoughts…  We need space and time to just rest with people who matter to us.  To build relationship.  To reconnect.  To be loved and to love.  But we live as if that was a lie.  We over extend ourselves, using up every second with whatever urgent issue arises.  We are left with fragmented lives filled with not-quite-whole relationships with the people we love the most.  To enjoy the gift of Sabbath requires time and intent to make it happen.  It is a gift – let’s unwrap it.

31 The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers.

32 Then Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: Fill a two-quart container with manna to preserve it for your descendants. Then later generations will be able to see the food I gave you in the wilderness when I set you free from Egypt.”

33 Moses said to Aaron, “Get a jar and fill it with two quarts of manna. Then put it in a sacred place before the Lord to preserve it for all future generations.” 34 Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded Moses. He eventually placed it in the Ark of the Covenant—in front of the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. 35 So the people of Israel ate manna for forty years until they arrived at the land where they would settle. They ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Note: Passing on the story matters.

Question: How are you sharing the story with those in your sphere?

Pete’s thoughts… This chapter of the Exodus came with and object lesson, a physical reminder of all that the manna represented.  What reminders to you have before you to keep things fresh, and to point to so that others might learn of your hope as well?


Bonus themes:

Note: God transformed the wilderness… and still does.

Question: Are we stuck in our certainty that or wilderness is devoid of life?

Pete’s thoughts… It is very easy to be so consumed by our difficult seasons that all we can see is darkness.  If we will be mindful, however, our wilderness times can become the richest times of our lives.  If you are in a wilderness period right now, mine it for all it’s worth, because there are gemstones under your feet.  I will help you if you need help to see them.  (Mining is work – but it’s worth it).

Note: Jesus fed 5,000+ from next to nothing.

Question: What dots would people connect between these two feeding stories?

Pete’s thoughts… When Jesus fed the 5,000+ from next to nothing, people would have immediately associated it with this manna story.  The biggest take-home was that what Jesus was bringing was from God, given to the listeners in a literal wilderness of space and time.  God showed up, and there was enough for everyone.

Note: The Apostle Paul referenced this manna passage in 2 Corinthians 8:8-15.

Question: How does Paul’s charge to the first century faithful speak to us today?

Pete’sthoughts… It is alittle embarrassing that we’re 20 centuries removed from Paul’s instruction, yet we still struggle with it as if we were the first audience.  We live in a wealthy part of the world.  We need to share as we are able.  The culture will call us to spend our money on tomorrow’s garage sale items or to hoard our money “just in case”, but we can all be better stewards.  There is enough in the world for everyone’s need; there is never enough for everyone’s greed.

And a final thought from Leander Keck:

It is not accidental that at the end of the miracle of the bread, Mark reports that they “did not understand about the loaves” (6:52 NRSV). They did not understand because “their hearts were hardened.” It is a high irony that in an allusion to the manna story, it is now the disciples, not the people of Pharaoh, who have “hard hearts.” Hard hearts make us rely on our own capacity and our own bread. In the end, they render all of these stories of alternative bread too dangerous and too outrageous for consideration. As a result, the bread practices of Pharaoh continue to prevail among us. In the presence of those practices, this community continues to watch the jar, tell the story, and imagine another bread that is taken and given, blessed and broken.

There is a lot in this passage to chew on.  What will you incorporate from it going forward?