For many years I would annually take groups of teenagers mountain climbing. One of the many reminders I would give to the group was proper hydration. I’m sure it’s the same for athletes or other prolonged physical activities. But especially in the dry summer climate of the Colorado mountains, hikers can dehydrate rather quickly unless you keep drinking water.
Here’s the part that made it an important reminder. We had to keep constantly drinking as we went along even if we did not feel thirsty. If I ever had a hiker who failed to do this and then started feeling the effects of dehydration, it was already too late. At that point there was no such thing as guzzling down an entire Nalgene bottle and bouncing right back. The only way to keep all my hikers hydrated was to make sure they were all taking in a steady regular amount of water. There’s something to say about the health benefits of steady regular dietary habits. Starving ourselves and then binging is not healthy. Today let’s look at a story about how God provides something of a steady regular diet for his people.
Exodus 16 (NIV) selected passages
1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ ”
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’ ”
33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come.”
34 As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.
So, you know how the week after thanksgiving there are turkey leftovers in every meal. For the years my family lived in Colorado we did not have immediate family nearby, so quite often a thanksgiving turkey would just be the six of us…that meant a lot of leftovers. I like to mess around in the kitchen, so there got to be some desperate attempts at different ways to use turkey leftovers. Our week after thanksgiving would include some of the usual—turkey casserole, turkey soup. I have also whipped up some pretty tasty turkey enchiladas, or BBQ turkey pizza, or turkey chili. How about a turkey lasagna? By Tuesday of the next week, the kids are getting a little tired of all the ways I’m trying to sneak turkey into the menu. That’s five days. Now imagine 40 years.
This is my guess. Moses says to keep some of the manna in a jar as a reminder of God’s provision to the people. I imagine that after eating manna every single day for 40 years, Aaron would have been happy if he never had to ever see another piece of manna again for the rest of his life. So why keep some of it? What’s the point of that instruction?
Manna in the wilderness
Manna in the wilderness
For the Israelites, manna is about more than having something to eat. Manna becomes a symbolic lesson of the ways in which God provides for his people. Let’s try to put ourselves there for a few minutes this morning. These people of Israel had witnessed some pretty awesome stuff since Moses showed up in Egypt. The ten plagues. The Passover instructions. The undeniable declaration that Israel’s God is pushing Pharaoh and his Egyptians out of the way. The parting of the Red Sea. The drowning and defeat of the mighty Egyptian army. And now, here we all are, out in the desert, in this baron wasteland.
Let’s remember another detail. In Exodus 16 where we are reading today, Israel has not arrived yet at Mount Sinai. They have not yet received the Ten Commandments and the covenant law of God. There is not yet a Tabernacle or instructions for a priestly order or sacrifices or instructions for worship. These people who had lived as slaves of Pharaoh for 400 years are just now getting reacquainted with a long-forgotten God of a long-forgotten past from some long-forgotten ancestors. For Israel, the marriage vows come at Mount Sinai, but here in this wilderness they are still dating—just getting to know this God of theirs.
And so it seems that God considers it critical right up front in this dating process to do a little something with this stuff called manna. God sets about a project with his people that lays down a pattern of expectation. God uses the universal necessity of food as a symbol. Just as every living being needs some kind of food in order to survive, God places his people in a wilderness in which they immediately groove into the pattern of seeing their every necessity met by God.
Patterns - manna was every day (except Saturday) and enough for the day
What does this pattern of manna in the wilderness look like? A couple features stand out as worthy of attention. God gives Moses some very particular instructions for gathering this manna. Everyone is to gather only as much as is needed for one day. The sabbath stands as the only exception—the day of rest. It is a pattern of provision that puts it smack in front of every single Israelite every single day—God provides enough for your needs for this day. There was not too much; there was not too little.
But look, this pattern was also used by God as a test for his people. For those who hoarded more than what they needed for the day, it went bad. Follow this now, this is key: the manna was daily nourishment when it was received as a daily provision from God. But for those who sought to hoard more for themselves, the manna turned into a rotting pile of maggots. When received properly as God intended, it was life-giving nourishment. When hoarded in a way God did not intend, it was rotting, maggot-filled poison. Lesson number one for the people of God was a hard lesson to learn. And I think it’s still a hard lesson to learn for us today.
Maybe it’s pretty easy for us to nod our heads and agree that God provides all that we need. I’ll give all of us here the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps we even have the faith to accept that and believe that. They are not just empty words. I actually do know and believe that God is the provider of all blessing. God is the source of every provision we enjoy from this creation. The sticking point is in how I receive it. Do I recognize God’s provision as enough nourishment for today? Or do I take and hoard more than what I need from what God has provided? Because the lesson here seems to be that when I do that, the blessing of God’s provision is no longer something that nourishes me, rather is becomes something that is a stinking, rotten, maggot-filled heap upon my life.
Manna for Today’s World
Manna for Today’s World
The deeper lesson of God’s manna for our world today seems to press into that lesson of the pattern. It is not just the lesson about the source of our provisions and nourishment. Our struggle is with the lesson of the pattern. God instructed Moses and Aaron to set aside a jar of manna to be kept as a reminder. It served as a symbol of some greater truth for generations to come. That’s where we stand today. We are the ones looking back and being reminded of all the ways that this lesson of manna still shows up for us in our world today.
Of course, these things are symbols for us today. Very obviously, we do not live in a desert wandering as nomads. We do not go out every morning and literally pick up bread from the ground that miraculously appears overnight every day except Saturday. But Aaron put aside some manna in a jar so that people to come would always be looking for the other various ways God still produces some kind of manna for people yet today.
Manna was meant for everybody
What do you think about that? What is the manna that shows up in our world today? Can I give a guideline for how to answer this question correctly? The manna that appeared as bread in the desert was given by God as something that was meant for everybody. It wasn’t just Moses or Aaron who could eat it. It wasn’t just for the priests or Levites. Whenever we start thinking about the gifts that God gives as blessings to his people and I start drifting into thinking about something that I might consider as a special blessing that is just for me and nobody else, I’m wrong. Whenever I might think about God’s manna for today’s world and limit that to a select few people, and withhold it from others, I’m wrong. Because manna is not some kind of exclusive prize for the elite. It is basic daily provision for everyone.
Manna was a regular ongoing event
Here’s another guideline. Manna was not this one-time grand event, like the Egyptian plagues, or the parting of the Red Sea. It was a regular pattern that showed up in the ordinary routines of everyday life. It was the regular and ongoing provision of regular and ongoing necessities.
So, when I ask the question about where you see God showing up with manna in our world today, we need to back off and avoid the temptation to identify the extraordinary. And instead we need to look at just plain ordinary.
I have a Facebook account, but I don’t hop on there that often. One reason is because I think we don’t really see people on Facebook as they actually are. Facebook is the place where most people catalogue the extraordinary events of their lives, and leave out the plain boring ordinary stuff. If all you see of someone is based on Facebook posts, then it sort of leaves us with an envious sense of unfulfillment because my actual life never measures up to what people project their lives to be on Facebook. I’ll post a pick of the fantastic wedge salad that is given to me at some swanky restaurant. But you don’t see me posting pics of the PBJ on the kitchen counter at home. But reality is that the PBJ is much closer to my ordinary life than a fancy wedge salad. I’ll post pictures lounging at some beach with a fancy cocktail beside me. But I don’t really think to post pics lounging in the waiting room at the doctor’s office with a stack of 8-month-old magazines beside me.
Here’s the point. We all love to be drawn to the extraordinary. Those make for the best stories. They make the best social media posts. We have this tendency to engage in over-the-top contests to come up with the best God-sighting story. And crazy awesome God-sightings can be an inspiring and uplifting thing. But the lesson of manna is that God doesn’t just occasionally show up in jolting and powerful ways. God also shows up every single day to every single person in countless little, unexciting, ordinary ways. That’s the reminder that comes to us through the symbol of manna. It is living into a reliance upon God every single day for even the tiniest necessities. For 40 years God set a pattern with the Israelites in which they would wake up every day, walk outside of camp, and—oh look—there it is again enough bread for today. Day after day, month after month, year after year. God never fails to nourish his people in providing for their needs.
Manna for Our Souls
Manna for Our Souls
God still nourishes his people today. He still upholds and cares for a creation that produces the food our bodies need, bringing the seasons in their time, keeping the ordered rhythm of his created universe as it always has been since he created it. And speaking of ordered rhythm, God’s pattern for nourishing his people has never faltered either. It is a pattern of nourishment that God provides every single day.
He nourishes us with his grace. The communion table that we approach is our reminder of this. We take a piece of bread and a cup of juice as a reminder that the saving sacrifice of Jesus in his crucified body and in his shed blood is a gift of grace. And we regularly come in worship to celebrate this meal because it is a reminder that—just as food and drink regularly nourish our bodies—God himself through his grace regularly nourishes our souls.
Gathering worship in the church, reading / meditating upon scripture, times of prayer, fellowship / support of believers
This nourishment for our souls comes through partaking in this sacrament as a reminder of his grace—a reminder that engages all of our senses: we hear the words, see the food, touch it, smell it, taste it. It is a reminder of grace that is spiritual in nature, but God gives it to us in the most physical means possible. The nourishment of his grace comes in the gathering of the church to worship together. It comes in the reading and meditating upon his scripture. It comes in moments of quiet prayer. It comes in fellowship and support among the people of God. The nourishment of his grace covers our world every day. The Israelites used to wake up, look out, and see the manna of God covering the world about them. God’s manna for our souls still covers our world every day.
There were a few times when I would have hikers in my group up in the mountains of Colorado who started to show signs of dehydration. Binging an entire 32-ounce Nalgene of water didn’t snap them right back. It meant we had to slow down, and I would work with the student to get them back on track of take smaller sips of water regularly paced out. And sure enough, after a few hours they start to feel better again. But the default was to let it go until something doesn’t feel right, then look for a quick hit to fix it up
Why is it that so often we treat the nourishment of God’s grace that way? Why is it that so often I only go looking for the manna God gives for my soul after I start feeling spiritually dehydrated? How is it that I’ve convinced myself that somehow binging a 32-ounce Nalgene of grace only in my moment of desperate need is somehow going to snap me right back to perfect spiritual health? And then I wonder, why didn’t that work; why do I still feel spiritually dehydrated?
Come back today to the lesson of God’s grace given as manna for our souls. If you have ever been there in that moment of spiritual dehydration as I have, if you have ever stumbled along from one binge of grace to another with long moments of spiritual drought in between, then wake up today to the daily nourishment of grace that is God’s manna for our souls. Wake up every day taking in the nourishment God provides—enough for today. Join the people of God in receiving the gift of his grace every day through times of worship, times of prayer, times of scripture, times of fellowship. Allow God to keep your soul spiritually hydrated so that you wake up every day, step out, and say—oh look, there it is, God’s manna for another day, just enough for what I need today, just like the day before and the day before.
He is faithful. He will provide. And here today at this table we are reminded that Jesus himself is our manna. God himself nourishes our souls.