What Is It?: Manna and Other Wilderness Tales

mannaAfter dreaming about it for the past three years, I have finally applied for seminary. This week I have been anxiously waiting for emails and calls of which schools have accepted me–calls which tell me where I will be living and studying for the next three years of my life. While I am excited to graduate from undergrad, my head is reeling at the thought of moving on.

Feel particularly worn out from worry today, I decided to go to my campus’ prayer room to spend some time in silence and look over some Scriptures. I decided to turn to one of my favorite stories having to do with God’s provision– Exodus 16–in hopes that it would illuminate something special this time.

Exodus 16 contains the story of the manna, the bread from heaven. Before too long in the wilderness, those darn Israelites start to complain of hunger to Moses and accuse him of trying to starve them in the desert. 

Yahweh then explains to Moses that bread will be sent from heaven so that everyone will have enough to eat for the day: “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” (Ex. 16.4). Moses and Aaron add, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 16.6).

Before I continued with the story, I began to think: what would I have expected if God Almighty said bread was going to fall from the sky? What would the Israelites have expected? Perhaps matzo. Perhaps another kind of hearty bread. Anyway, they probably (1.) had a hard time believing that bread was literally going to fall from the sky of all places and (2.) had certain expectations of what form that bread was going to come in.

Fast forward.

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. (Exodus 16.13-15)

There are often times in our lives when we hope and pray for God to provide. Sometimes it is prayers for jobs, health, housing, companionship, freedom, vocation, discernment, or deliverance.  Often we seek God’s will through prayer and meditation, and try to figure out the right path to take or attitude to have.

The take-away from this passage is that God always provides, but we may not recognize exactly what God is providing when God provides it. We have our expectations of what the bread will be like. (For me, that is definitely Hawaiian Sweet Bread. Yes lord.) But if I was only looking to find that Hawaiian Sweet loaf, I would miss the white flakes of manna on the ground. Manna literally means “what is it”– I can imagine the looks of incredulous, dubious disgust on the faces of some punk ass Israelites. “…The hell is this?”

The manna was a little funky probably, but it nourished them. It may have not been what they wanted, but it was what they needed. The passage goes on to describe how some Israelites attempted to hoard up more manna than they needed for the day, and how Yahweh caused the manna to spoil. The moral here is that we have to, of course, trust God for our daily bread, and just the bread to get through the day. No more, no less. Yahweh also provided for the Israelites with a bunch of quails that just kind of wander into camp it seems, and then water from a rock of all things! Even after all of this provision (bread, meat, and a nice rocky beverage), the Israelites still doubt:

[Moses] called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not? (Exodus 17.7)

Do the Israelites pass the test? Yahweh said that this was all a test to see if they would follow instructions, and Moses and Aaron mentioned that the Israelites would “know it was the Lord”. As we know from the story, the Israelites are horrible at instructions, and they still doubt the Lord’s presence and provision.

What if I saw the manna on the ground and refused to eat it because it wasn’t my Hawaiian Sweet bread I had hoped for? What if I didn’t recognize it as from God?

…Well, I would have starved. Keep your eyes open.

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