Sustenance in Life’s Deserts

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. -Exodus 16:2-4

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “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.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 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. 15 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: 9-15

 

In our scripture reading for today, we find the fledgling nation of Israel participating in one of the most annoying human tendencies: complaining. It’s important to remember that mere weeks before this, the Hebrews had been slaves serving under Pharaoh’s oppressive hand in Egypt. But God had heard the people’s cries for liberation and miraculously delivered them to freedom through amazing plagues against the Egyptians and the unimaginable splitting of the Red Sea. Despite these overwhelming displays of God’s love and power, the people are all-too-ready to gripe and complain at the first struggle to find food on their desert journey. In an almost hilarious bout of nostalgia, the Israelites begin to wish that they had just stayed back in Egypt where they at least had food. It’s remarkable how quickly they begin to doubt God’s plan and power despite their recent moments of divine deliverance. In an incredible display of patience and mercy, though, God chooses to sovereignly care for His people yet again by providing quail and manna as their daily sustenance.

We can learn a lot from the very human mistakes that Israel made. Throughout our lives, we all walk through our own metaphorical “deserts” in which we are tempted to believe that God is far away and the divine plan for our lives has somehow failed. It is in these dark times that we must remember the past mercies that God has lavished upon us. If we choose to “count our blessings” (as the old hymn reminds us) rather than complain, we are much more likely to find the faith to trust that God’s powerful deliverance is at hand. However, God’s solution might not be the one we had in mind. I’m sure the Israelites could’ve imagined a more satisfying menu than quail and some kind of weird dew-bread each and every day. Yet that was their daily portion from God, and it was wholly adequate to sustain them on the journey and remind them of their daily dependence upon the Lord. May we see and celebrate God’s daily provisions and mercies in our lives while growing in the faith to trust him with all our tomorrows!