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|"Bread from Heaven"
Many years ago, thirty-eight to be exact, when I was a
debate coach, the fellow who was the director of my graduate program
when I was working on my master’s degree, who himself had been a
college debate coach, made these comments.
“You know, you initially think that it takes very little to satisfy you. You think that just a little success would be enough. But when you achieve that ‘little’ success, you discover that you want more of it. And as you achieve more, you continue to lift your aspirations. And no level of achievement ever seems to be enough.”
But I think that this can be positive. It need not be a bad thing. On the other hand, there are those for whom no level of satisfaction is enough; they are pleased with nothing; and they turn into chronic complainers.
The irony of all this is that most current research into happiness and satisfaction is discovering that having and/or achieving more and more and more doesn’t really make us any more satisfied or any happier.
In the book of Exodus, one of the really big stories of the Bible is that of God’s efforts to free the Israelites from the Egyptians. I mean, this is huge, both in terms of God’s efforts and in terms of what God accomplishes.
So, if this happened to you, would you be happy? I mean, at least just a little bit? Well, the Song of Moses in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus would seem to indicate that the Israelites were happy. But then we get into the sixteenth chapter. It’s about six weeks since these folks left Egypt. And what is happening now? In the second verse we read,
“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”
The whole congregation complained. And it seems that their values have changed. God thought God heard them crying out for release from the Egyptians. So God helped them out. Now, they seem to be saying that they would have preferred to die as well-fed slaves in Egypt.
Now, if the Israelites were honest, they might confess, “Hey, this is harder than we thought!” Just about everything in life turns out to be more difficult than we thought it was. But the Israelites can’t be honest about this. Instead, they pass the blame. They insist that this is all Moses and Aaron’s fault. “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us.”
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.”
Now, notice that God does not wait for Moses and/or the people to ask God for food. No, God does this on God’s own initiative. And God is very straightforward: I am going to rain bread from heaven.
But there is a condition, and I think that it is a very interesting condition. Each day the people are to gather only enough for that day. And God says that this is a test. But of WHAT is it a test? On the one hand it is a test of faith. Can the people trust God enough to gather only enough for one day at a time? But on the other hand it is a test of greed and selfishness. Will these people be obedient, or will they hoard as much of this bread as they can?
In our Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Notice that we do not simply ask for bread, but we ask for bread for the day. The Contemporary English Version says, “Give us our food for today.” Other translations focus on our asking God for food sufficient for the day.
This can be traced back to the bread in the wilderness. We are not asking God for a warehouse of food, but rather asking, and being thankful for, food provided by God to meet our daily needs on a daily basis.
“So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?”
Now, notice that Moses and Aaron seem to be shifting some responsibility here, shifting some blame. Get off our case! Who are we? We’re not in charge! God is in charge, and God will take care of you.
But the message of Moses and Aaron to the people is very well done. First of all, you shall KNOW that it was God who was responsible for your escape. Even though right now they don’t seem to think that they are happy that they HAVE escaped. Secondly, you shall SEE the glory of God. You shall have evidence to let you know that God was responsible for your escape. And third, all of this is happening because God has heard your complaining.
Now, some folks might have handled this differently. Some might have said, “Shut up! Stop complaining! God will take care of you!” But not Moses and Aaron. No, what they are doing, in explaining what will happen, is to couch it in a statement of praise and thanksgiving.
God seemed to respond rather readily to the Israelites’ complaining. But I imagine that God responds just as well or better to our prayerful askings.
What if, when we have a request to make of God, we were to say, “Many good things have happened to me, and I know that many good things will happen to me in the future, and I know that your glory is present in all of this.”
“And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him--what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
And Moses seems to be implying, “There are things that I cannot do for you. I cannot bring you meat and bread on a massive scale. But because God can, and only God can, in your hunger it is against God that you complain.” Did you ever find yourself complaining to someone about something about which they could do nothing? “Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.”
This is the third time that we have read that God has heard Israel’s complaint. But Moses and Aaron are pushing this event one step further: Draw near to the Lord.
And what they seem to be saying is that God has heard you, God has acted, and now it is time for YOU to respond to God. Draw near.
In our own prayer lives do we do that? We are good at making requests, expressing concerns, letting God know about our wish lists. But how good are we at praising and thanking? How well do we draw near to God?
“And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”
Do you remember the complaint of the Israelites in verse three? “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.”
So when the Israelites think of glory, they are probably still thinking in terms of Egyptian glory: splendor, wealth, prestige, and extravagance. But now, in verse ten, they looked toward the wilderness and the glory of the Lord appeared.
God is requiring them to look away from Egypt and toward the wilderness. Away from their past and toward their future. When we understand God to be present, our wilderness becomes redefined, our future becomes redefined.
We no longer need to live in the past, we no longer need to live on glory we can no longer know.
“The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” And for the fourth time we have read that God heard Israel complaining.
But let’s take a closer look at what God is saying and NOT saying here. God is saying, “I have heard the complaining; you shall eat meat and bread; you shall know who I am.”
But God does NOT say, “Look at what I am doing for you.” God is not bragging. God is placing no demands on the Israelites to be grateful. But when God says, “you shall know that I am the Lord your God,” God is saying quite a bit. Without being condescending, or a bully, like some politicians I know, God is simply saying, I am in charge, I am responsible; the universe is my sovereign domain.
And when God lets us know that, we also know to whom we should be grateful for all that is given us.
When we receive measurable rain, and the grass and weeds in the parsonage yard are looking green, after looking brown and dry, I am grateful. We usually become grateful when there are changes for the better in our lives. But we should also be grateful when changes are imperceptible. When we go through summers when the grass is always green, we should be grateful for that as well. But how often do we take such gifts for granted?
One might argue that it was good that the Israelites faced severe hunger. Maybe they needed to again reacquaint themselves with the one who proclaimed, “you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
“In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
“When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
So God provides meat and bread, just as God said God would. But there is an interesting twist in this story. Apparently everyone was familiar with and understood the quails. But the bread, on the other hand, was unfamiliar: “What is it?” And Moses needed to tell them what it was.
And I wonder; how often do we complain to God, and God responds to our complaints, but we do not know it because we do not have a Moses around to tell us that God HAS indeed answered our complaint?
Just speaking for myself, I think that there may have been many times when God has positively responded to my concerns and I did not know it because I did not know how to interpret God’s response.
Sometimes it takes weeks or months for me to figure out that God really was paying attention, really was doing something for me. But, like the Israelites staring at a fine flaky substance and asking “What is it?” I was unable, at the time, to understand what God was doing in my life, unable to be grateful for what God was doing for me.
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