20 July 2021Exodus 16:2-15
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?' (vs. 6-7)
‘Complain’ is a word we come across very often in the biblical narrative of the people of Israel making their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Indeed, in these 14 verses, the word is used seven times. Initially the complaints concern Moses and Aaron, but both they, and God, recognise that the complaints are fundamentally against their divine leader, not the human representatives.
There appears to be some unwarranted nostalgia in the claims of the Israelites, who conveniently forget the back-breaking slavery to which they were subject in Egypt and remember only that they were well fed. Anyone who has ever had the care of a small child knows that hunger can distort any realistic appraisal of what is going on!
Food in the form of quails and manna (vs 13-15) is provided, but before the meal a list of instructions is given to Moses to pass on. These suggest that coupled with the provision of sustenance comes a test of trust. The Ten Commandments have not yet been given, with their explicit instruction to "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy" (20:8) but when Moses passes on God’s instructions to the people regarding the collection of their food, he clearly tells them that the Sabbath is a holy day in which they must do no work (vs 23 and 25). So they are to put their trust in God to provide and make one day in the seven not for productive work but for worship. Note, too, the egalitarian provision of the food – each is to have what they need and no more.
A rather lovely phrase in verse 7 indicates that the provision of this as-yet-unknown food will be evidence of ‘the glory of the Lord’, responding in grace to the complaining of the people. The people then see something of God’s glory as they look towards the wilderness (v. 10). The glory of God, the cloud of God’s presence and the manna which is to be rained down from the sky seem to be beautifully interwoven. When the food does appear it defies all definition or description and becomes known as ‘manna’ from the Hebrew question, "What is it?"
- It has been known for members of churches today to complain – about their leaders or God. Could there be a link with hunger here and, if so, what might be needed?
- Modern lifestyles are very different from those of this period. How might you interpret and live by the idea of one day in seven being for rest and worship, not for productivity?
- God’s gracious response to complaining is provision of good things – are there lessons you could learn from that?
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress. (Psalm 25:16-17)