18 April 2012

Exodus 15:22-16:12

"The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 'I have heard the complaining of the Israelites.'" (vv. 11-12)


Twice in this passage, the Israelites complain about their difficulties. They are a newly liberated people, completely unused to freedom or nomadic life, and their grumbling suggests the understandable feeling that it is almost too much for them to cope with. God is patient with them.

The first complaint is over thirst, because of undrinkable water. It seems God prompts Moses to draw on some desert survival skills that perhaps he learned as a shepherd in Midian. When Moses asks for help in prayer, God shows him a piece of wood. Moses seems to know what to do with it: he throws it into the water, which becomes drinkable. Bedouin, to this day, use particular shrubs to sweeten brackish water, by drawing the salt downwards.

The second complaint is over hunger. Again, Moses takes the concern to God, who explains what the solution will be. This time, a test or a lesson will be included in the giving: the Israelites are to learn to trust and obey God in every detail. In the abundant appearance of the mysterious 'manna', the Israelites are required to practise self-control, not grabbing as much as they possibly can, for fear of shortage in the future, but to live day by day, with a sense of trust and sufficiency. The Jewish commentator Rashi says, quoting an older source, that God brings the manna 'lovingly' to the people, who are not to gather more than their needs for the day. We might make a connection here, with the prayer Jesus teaches, "give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). In his Jewishness, perhaps Jesus is thinking of this essential sense of sufficiency, of trust and obedience that originates in the first days of the freed Israelites' journey together.

To Ponder

How does the idea of living with trust and sufficiency influence your life?

When did you last turn to God for help? What happened?

Bible notes author

Ray Gaston and Annie Heppenstall

Ray Gaston is inter faith tutor and enabler for The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and the Birmingham Methodist. Prior to that he was in parish ministry in inner city Leeds for 12 years.