Exodus 16:2-15 - link to the NRSV text
Last week I spoke about the pattern that is repeated several times in the wilderness narratives of crisis-grumbling-providence-deliverance, and this pattern shapes the narrative for this Sunday. The Israelites, so recently saved from slavery and delivered through the sea, are quick to turn and doubt that the God who had performed such wondrous and awe-inspiring deeds of power would be unable to provide for their most basic needs.
And so the people grumbled “against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (Exo 16:2). “If only God had killed us back in Egypt!” they despair. “Why, back in Egypt we had plenty of food! You’ve only brought us out here to die from hunger.”
The present often seems worse than the past. We often romanticize the “days of yore” and think of them as better than now. We especially see this is the American church; while dealing with declining membership and people’s suspicions of apathy towards the Christian faith, we think back to when everyone just went to church because it was “what you did.” And we assume that this was better. Maybe it was better, maybe not.
Or we think back and look at society and culture and think things were so much better than. People were more polite, you didn’t have to lock your doors, everything was closed on Sunday, no school would ever schedule activities on Wednesday nights, etc.
I could go on and on about the things we think were “better” back in the previous times. But I think the main reason we romanticize the past is that we know that we can get through the past whereas the present and future is still undecided. Kind of a “better the enemy you know” way of thinking; sure, it wasn’t perfect but at least we know we could get through it.
The God of Israel, however, is not a God of the past. This God is a God of the present and future, one who calls us to new places and new ways of being in relationship with God and with each other. Jesus himself hinted at this idea when he taught, “[H]ave you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32; cf. Mark 12:26-27, Luke 20:37-38).
Here in his teaching on resurrection, I believe Jesus is pointing to a fundamental characteristic of this God: that this God is one that seeks life and renewal over death and stagnation. It might seem self-evident, but I know in the church we often do live this teaching out very well, clinging stubbornly to our pasts to the detriment of our future.
And in this story of bread from heaven, we are reminded that while the future may be uncertain God does not send us to a place where we will not be provided for. As God tells 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” (Exo 16:4). God will provide us what we need to go on, to live and to survive in our wilderness places. It is a promise that God will be with us daily, providing us what we need to get by, whether this “bread from heaven” is physical or spiritual food.
And lastly, how God provides may be in ways that we don’t recognize at first and we’re unsure what God is at work doing. The Israelites, when they went out to gather, the found what the text describes as “a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground” (16:14). And the Israelites look at it, then each other and ask, “Okay. So what is it?” And Moses answers, “It is the bread God has provided you to eat.”
Where are those gifts and blessings God has sent that we don’t immediately recognize? What are some of the things we have that we haven’t realized is God’s doing in order that we might be people of life and love and not people dragged down by what always was? Were is God raining “bread from heaven” in your life and in the life of your church or family or community in order that it might find its way forward in the wilderness, away from the past of bondage and into a new day of life with God?
As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, so we too pray this day: “Give us today our daily bread,” whatever form that bread might take in order that we can be the liberated people of God.