Though they have every reason to believe in God's care for them at this point (having seen miracle upon miracle through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, described in the preceding chapters of Exodus), the Israelites do what all of us do when things don't go the way we want or expect: they complain. They are hot and hungry, and it feels like they are in a desperate situation.
In spite of their lack of faith, and their whining, God provides for them. He gives them meat to eat, and "a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground," that "was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." The Israelites called it manna, which according to a couple of Bible encyclopedias I looked at, derived from the words "What is it?" (man hu) They could boil or bake it, but they would only receive enough for each day. If they tried to hoard it, it would rot.
Right around this time in 2009, I was in transition. I had moved out of one position I had had for about fifteen years. Unfortunately, this decision was made right before the economy completed tanked, and job hunting was not a walk in the park. This is what I wrote then in this blog:
I am waiting upon God's timing and provision for work these days. It is a daily discipline, and more and more I am seeing how little patience and faith I truly have. I am used to having a plan and making things happen. But for now, I have a clear sense that that is exactly what I am not supposed to be doing.
Instead I am growing, very slowly, in learning how to pray about things daily, with open hands. And this week, I discovered another way to cultivate reliance on God.
Food. That's right. Through food.
To save money, I started relying more on the stockpile of food in my pantry, which was more than adequate, but which wasn't always filled with what I wanted to eat on any given day. I also started to eat seasonally. This is how I described it a couple of years later:
I love, love, LOVE red bell peppers and could eat them every day. And in 2011, I can eat them every day, thanks to hot houses in South America and semi-truck trailers hauling food all over tarnation. But I choose to eat red bell peppers when they are in season where I live. By eating seasonally I am reminded to enjoy God's provision in God's timing. Sometimes he gives us things to enjoy, and sometimes he asks us to wait. And it is often in the waiting, and anticipation, that I learn how to deeply enjoy the things he gives me.Sure, eating seasonally in May is FUN... tomatoes are coming out, farmer's markets are filled with peppers and zucchini and loads of luscious fruit. Yessss! But in January, when there is not much good fruit to be had and the dominant vegetables are turnips, celery, kale and kohlrabi, it's much more challenging. I want to jump ship, cruise through the frozen food section and eat what I want.
But if I can hold to it, through prayer and self-discipline, what I discover, ever so slowly, is that if I follow the principle of manna and learn how to eat what God provides rather than what I want, a foundation develops in my soul that then is able to receive the other things that God provides... circumstances, relationships, disappointments, changes, you name it. In other words, God used the experience of manna to teach the Israelites to rely on him for every thing, every day. This fosters faith and dependence and intimacy with God.
So these past four years I have been trying to learn from the Israelites in Exodus 16. Rather than complain about anything that is not to my exact liking, what if I seek to gather only as much as I need each day, rest on the Sabbath and "draw near to the Lord" (vs. 9)?
But on vacation recently, I discovered some new things about manna. I was reading through the Gospel of John and came upon the feeding of the 5,000 (verses 1-14). I was just about to skim over it because yeah, how many times have I read this story? Then I remembered I was on vacation, and decided I wasn't in a hurry.
Immediately after the feeding, Jesus withdrew from the crowds to be by himself. Then he walks on water to rejoin the disciples. All in all, a rather exciting day, right?
But look what happens next:
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.If I really want to keep learning about manna and reliance on God's provision... oh my. For the first time, I realized that the feeding of the 5,000 was (in part) an object lesson for the disciples, to connect the miracle of manna, something that had been memorialized for centuries by Israel, with Jesus. Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 was a foreshadowing of the remarkable sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; similarly, the provision of manna in the desert, which sustains and nourishes Israel for forty years, was a foreshadowing of how Jesus himself meets our most basic needs... IF we rely on him each day. In other words, while the stuff of life meets our physical needs, it is only Jesus who meets our deeper and more significant needs -- emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, eternally.
As I grow in relying on him day by day, may I not stop at simply enjoying the blessing of a full stomach; may that satisfaction be the reminder that only he, the giver of all good things, is ultimately satisfying. It is Jesus himself for whom we hunger and thirst, and every thing else is a mere substitute.