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Exodus: Provision in the Desert

Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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May We Get What We Want, May We Get What We Need, But May We Never Get What We Deserve

So I finally got around to watching the movie Wonder Woman last night and as good as the movie was, it was this quote in the middle of the movie- which turns out to be an old Gaelic toast- that caught my attention and has stuck with me. This is probably because I was also thinking about this week’s sermon while the movie was playing because isn’t that what we all do when we watch movies? But I also think it has stuck with me because of how incredibly true those words are for what I want out of life in the most human of ways. Because I know what I want and I want it because its what I want- how’s that for logic. And I know what I think I need because I know that when I go without it I need it- again, amazing logic. But I also know what I probably deserve because of the multitude of shenanigans I’ve pulled, people I’ve hurt, lines I’ve crossed, ways I’ve messed up, and If I deserve all of that back on me, I’m really not interested- can I get an amen.
As we dive into our passage from Exodus today, we find ourselves in a text that, at least for me, highlights why I love the book of Exodus so much. In the passage we look at today, we are left with a clear depiction of the difference between humanity and God. By that I mean that throughout the book of Exodus, people are portrayed as stubborn, self-serving, fickle, fearful, bumbling, cynical, sinful, murderous, greedy, angry, dramatic, forgetful, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately beings. Sure, there are moments where people are faithful, compassionate, and loving- but those aren’t the stories that are highlighted, nor are they the ones the writers of Exodus wanted to draw our attention to.

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Sin desert, which is located between Elim and Sinai. They set out on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the LORD had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”

You see what I mean? And there are several factors that make this whole description of the people even better. First, we have the background of everything that God has done on their behalf up until this point. The plagues, the crossing of the sea, the defeat of the Pharaoh's army, and bad water purified with a stick. They’ve experienced God’s saving grace, sang praises to the God who provides and rescues them, started to become a nation instead of just foreign slaves because of the work of God. Now lets be fair to the people of Israel. When you’ve been at the mercy of your slave master’s whip your entire life, its hard to expect Good things. And I’ have to believe that when Good things start happening, part of you is waiting for it to Go wrong. And sure, God has delievered you from Pharaoh’s hand, but you’re still in egypt as the pharaoh’s army is bearing down on you and you have no weapons, no military training, no armor, no chariots, and if it comes to blows, you have no hope of winning. Fear is a justified response. And then you wander into the desert and don’t have water to drink. You get to complain about that too. You only get a few days of life without water, so if you run out, you get to let “getting water” dominate your thoughts. So again, here they are without food. Now, if I’m stuck in the desert without food I’m going to complain too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about wanting food when you don’t have any. But there’s something here too about how they, and how we, tend to remember things in our past. We don’t necessarily remember “accurately.” Oh remember how good things used to be. I’ve heard people say it a thousand times. I’ve heard you say it. I’ve said it, and I’m not old enough to say it. And for the people of Israel at this point in the text, the “good old days” in egypt when they had all the bread they could want and sat around pots of meat was less than 50 days ago. 15th day of the second month after they left. The used a lunar calendar, so a month was 29 or 30 days- tack on another 15 and you’re sitting at 45 days tops. It wasn’t that long ago that as the sea blocked their path, fearful of death at the hands of pharaoh’s army, the text tells us they were remembering how plentiful their graves were in Egypt, not their food. Couldn’t we just die there. They’re more than happy to reach for the comfort of the known and ignore the work of God because of just how fleeting those miracles feel compared with the known of life in Egypt- and for better or worse, we people like our known, our traditions and rythyms, clinging to them even when something better is available- because what I know and am comfortable with is more comfortable that what could be, even if what could be is what should be- like freedom from the chains the people of Israel are at this moment in the desert pining for.
If the mode of operation is “eye for eye,” then what their fickleness and forgetfulness, their view of the past through the rosiest of lenses deserves is fickelness and forgetfulness from God. If you are going to forget me and my work, then please allow me to return the favor. And yet thankfully this is a story where we are reminded that God does not function in the ways that people do, that God is not fickle and forgetful, that God does not simply hand out what people’s actions deserve.

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the LORD’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the LORD have been heard. Who are we? Why blame us?” 8 Moses continued, “The LORD will give you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning because the LORD heard the complaints you made against him. Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the LORD.”

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community, ‘Come near to the LORD, because he’s heard your complaints.’ ” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned to look toward the desert, and just then the glorious presence of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

11 The LORD spoke to Moses, 12 “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”

13 In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes, as thin as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” They didn’t know what it was.

Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

The God who Hears

One of my favorite names for God in the Hebrew Bible is the name “El Roi”- The God who Hears- The God who hears me, the God who hears us. Three times in those verses, it is stated explicitly that God has heard. Hearing has been the root of God’s action on behalf of God’s people throughout the books of Genesis and Exodus. In Exodus specifically, God begins the rescue of God’s people when God hears their cries, the cries of the oppressed. We cannot hear these words here outside of that narrative- that God hears, that God pays attention to, that God notices God’s people. And God does more than simply take in noises- God responds to, and meets the needs of, God’s people. And this story makes clear that God’s response isn’t a response based on the merits of the people in need, and is instead based entirely on who God is. God is a God who provides. This is one of numerous reasons why the health and wealth gospel championed by Olsteen and company is utter garbage. People’s actions, people’s faithfulness isn’t something that either universally earns or restricts God. We see repeatedly throughout scripture God’s work to meet the true needs of people.
I started with an Irish toast. May we get what we want, may we get what we need, and may we never get what we deserve. There are a few things here I am fairly certain of. One- God’s not all that concerned with what it is precisely that I want. My desire for a child who sleeps perfectly through the night, a tablet that automatically reminds me to take it off the roof of my car before I get in the car and drive away, or even for everyone to like me- these are not things that God is ultimately concerned with because tomorrow will still be here and tomorrow will still be good even without those things. I’m equally as certain that God is not simply a cosmic tit-for-tat machine handing out a human version of what is “deserved” in any given situation. Today’s hangnail isn’t punishment from God for not praying enough yesterday, McDonalds messing up my order isn’t a divine sign that I should make better health choices, and the guy that sped past me getting pulled over isn’t holy justice dealt out no matter how much I want to smile and think that it is- none of those ideas really hold up biblically, certainly not in light of this story. What I can say is true, perhaps the most hopeful thing that can be said, is that God, our God, hears and sees, and God chooses to be concerned with our true needs, meeting them not because its what we deserve, but often in spite of it. My ability to be perfect does not decide God’s ability to be Holy, to be God. Praise be to God.
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