(sermon note: 10-10 sermon note)
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 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.’
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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ 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?’ 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.’
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 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.” ’
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. This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. “It has been ten years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?” “Bed… hard…” said the monk. “I see,” replied the head monk. Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk’s office. “It has been ten more years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?” “Food… stinks…” said the monk. “I see,” replied the head monk. Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, “What are your two words now, after these ten years?” “I… quit!” said the monk. “Well, I can see why,” replied the head monk. “All you ever do is complain.”
Now I realize the Israelites haven’t been out wandering in the wilderness for nearly as long as that disgruntled monk but boy, isn’t that typical of human nature?! For thirty years, that monk had the privilege to live his life in silence yet he focused on a couple of minor discomforts and complained about them. A hard bed and crummy food, that’s all he cared about in those 30 years! That and letting the head monk know about his dissatisfaction. What a gift to live 30 years in relative silence! Just think of how well you could get to know yourself and God! Just think of the complexity of that inner dialogue. I suppose some of us would be terrified by a 30-year life of silence but for me it sounds positively delightful! There have been times in my life when I’ve been blessed with long chunks of silence and solitude. Whether it was manning a post while serving in the military or hiding out in a library or sitting at an easel or a piano or walking a golf course or gathering with Benedictine monks, there have been numerous opportunities to simply listen. The world speaks to each of us, God speaks to each of us, we simply need to shut our mouths sometimes and listen. There is a rhythm, an order, a peace to it all that can only be sensed in silence. It’s a pity that few of us take the time to dwell in that silence and find the joy in that silence. We’re more eager to find things to complain about in that silence like that unfortunate monk.
The starving Israelites couldn’t find the joy in their situation either, perhaps rightly so. Yes, they were freed from Egyptian captivity but they were without any direction and assurance. With the help of God, Moses had performed some pretty amazing miracles in getting them set free but there was no plan to help them live with their freedom. They were like children. They didn’t know how to fend for themselves. They relied entirely on the Egyptians for providing them their meals, their homes, and structure to their days. They lost those things when they followed Moses and Aaron into the wilderness. They lost their certainty in life, something that is very important in life. Ironic because there are few certainties in life…death and taxes commonly agreed upon. But even taxes don’t apply to slaves, only death. Death and pain and suffering and hardship, thus is the life of slavery. Slaves and non-slaves alike need certainty in life, or at least the illusion of certainty. We all need things to rely on to help get us through our days. God understands and appreciates this. God knew how vulnerable the Israelites were without the certainty of slavery in their lives. He also knew that He could provide them with absolute certainty. He just needed to be careful not to give it to them all at once. Freedom is both a blessing and a curse. It can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it is put to use.
The Israelites needed food and a regular source of food. God heard this and provided for them in quail and manna. But He added a stipulation to what He provided: they could only gather enough manna for a day’s ration. This stipulation served two purposes: it kept the Israelites from having to worry about storing the manna and it kept them reliant on him. After all, they were slaves and used to relying on others for their livelihood. The Israelites probably appreciated being dependent on God. And the manna was an altogether new food for the Israelites. God introduced a new food probably to undergird the newness of what He was doing for the Israelites. The daily ration gave them a familiar structure, a certainty to their days. God knew what they needed, what they really needed, and God provided for them.
We read this story of Israelites’ exodus from Egyptian slavery and we wonder what it has do with us in the 21st century. We are all in bondage or on the verge of being in bondage to someone or something; if not someone then certainly sin itself. Lucky for us who believe in Christ, we’ve been set free from our bondage to sin and given an alternate way to live our lives. But just like the manna and quail in the wilderness, the gift of Christ was given to us from our good and gracious God. God likes to provide for us. God doesn’t want us to live in slavery. God abhors slavery and always works to encourage freedom. It’s amazing that people have managed to believe that God supports slavery throughout history. What a blatant misunderstanding of who God is! God supports and encourages freedom of all kinds. The biblical narrative is a witness to this truth.
It’s true, God wants to provide for each and every one of our needs. Recall Paul’s words to the Philippians, “and my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (4:19) Our God is a god of riches, meaning our God has plenty to give us. He has plenty and is eager to share his plentitude. We ought not ever believe God is stingy for fear of running out. God has more than enough to meet our needs and because He loves us so much, He wants to give abundantly to us. The wisdom of James asks us, “those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (4:1-2) Anyone who is without is only that way because they have not asked of God. The grumblings of the Israelites were their way of asking God. Moses knew it, God knew it, we know it…if only the Israelites knew it and chose a more positive, affirming way to ask God. But they were starving, can’t blame them for being a little testy! Jesus himself says, “if you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11) God gives to those who ask, plain and simple. We don’t ask, we don’t receive! We have to ask whether in prayer or worship. Yes, God knows what we need and could easily give it without our asking but He prefers that we ask. Keeps us in right relationship, not too pushy or expectant.
God provided for the Israelites just as He provides for you and me: with generous abundance. And He’s good at providing for what we really need. Let us give thanks for both a generous and discerning God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.