Scripture Readings: Exodus 16:2-15 | Psalm 105:1–6, 37–45 | Philippians 1:21–30 | Matthew 20:1–16
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.
Today we continue our travels through the book of Exodus, following the unfolding story of the faithfulness of God as He rescues and redeems the people of Israel. So far we have seen how the LORD was moved with compassion at the sufferings of the Hebrews, and so He raised up a man named Moses: sending him to confront Pharaoh, and to demand His people’s release. We have seen God’s fearsome power at work, as He sends plague after plague, culminating with the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. We saw God part the sea to save Israel from destruction at Pharaoh’s hands, and God’s decisive act of deliverance: washing away Egypt’s army. And so now we have come to a new beginning: a new phase of Israel’s journey. They are finally out of Egypt, finally free from their old oppressors… now they are headed into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. But their newfound freedom turns out to be much harder than Israel had imagined. Now they were confronting new dangers they were not prepared to face.
Exodus 16:1 “[O]n 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.” Not exactly a hopeful view of their situation.
Just over two weeks into their Exodus, the Israelites were despairing. Grumbling against Moses and Aaron, they say they’d be better off dead… longing for the life they’d had back in the land of Egypt. Back when they had plenty of meat and bread… back when life was familiar and safe.
Two weeks… how quickly we can forget the goodness and mercy of God. How quickly we can turn back to our old ways of life, even when they brought us nothing but misery and grief. With no food in sight, four centuries of oppression and suffering were forgotten. Along with Pharaoh’s brutal execution of their children, attempting to wipe out any hope for their future. Gone too was their memory of God mighty acts to save them: the plagues, parting of the waters… providing a way of escape when all hope was lost.
They had all witnessed first hand the saving love of the Living God… in a way no other nation on earth had ever experienced. Mere months before they were simply slaves crying out for mercy. Now they were free, with no one to hold them back from the new life God had in store for them. But what could they do when their path led them through a land completely empty of food? What were Moses and Aaron thinking? How could God treat them so poorly? How were they ever going to survive if they kept on following Him?
Faced with the undeniable danger of running out of food, Israel again could not see any possible way forward. Their trust was stretched to the limit… and so they grumbled and complained… something we can all be tempted to do in times of crisis. And I mean really, who among us would have acted differently? It’s not like they were upset about nothing, after all. We’re talking about one of the most basic needs there is. Israel needed food! They needed a whole lot of food! But it turns out they also needed to learn where too turn in their times of need. That instead of giving up and grumbling, they could instead continue to trust the One who had rescued them, the One who was still with them.
In spite of their doubts and complaining, God responds to their needs, both the lack of food and lack of faith, by graciously providing: “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.” Miraculously, the LORD provides the Israelites with food… with a strange, unfamiliar substance they could turn into bread, but which they could not store up and hoard… it needed to be received daily.
The Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton writes this about the impact this daily offering was intended to have: “Each day God would furnish a fresh supply of manna for His people. In this way God is teaching them about a relationship of trust, an attitude reflected later in the words of Jesus: ‘do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink… do not be anxious about tomorrow.’ The Israelites are to trust Him to meet their physical needs one day at a time. Tomorrow is His concern and problem, not theirs.” Along with the miraculous food, God was teaching the Israelites to trust Him. To believe that He would be faithful to them, always. Not only through those dramatic acts of deliverance in the past… but by supplying daily everything they would need to follow Him.
Up until this point, Israel’s relationship with the LORD had been somewhat limited to witnessing His saving work, and following His lead. Now God was taking that relationship into a deeper level: forming a pattern of life for His people dependent on His ongoing grace, inviting them to trust Him with the very basics of life. They were still to look back and remember those great acts of God’s redeeming love, but now they were also to look ahead and expect to find His grace each day. They were now to become a people who placed their whole hope in their Saviour, even in the face of some very real challenges.
We too are being invited into this deeper walk with God, into a way of life where we can bring all our cares and concerns before Him, and in this way, to learn how to rely upon His love. We’re invited to turn to God, not only when we’re at the end of our rope, but to actively look to Him each day, for our sustenance and strength.
This past year we have all seen our world dramatically change before our eyes. Many things that once seemed safe and familiar have now been severely shaken, and it can be tempting to look back and grumble at all that has been left behind. We too can easily forget the saving grace we have received, and how our Saviour has been there for us, in our every hour of need. But despite the very real challenges that lie ahead of us, God is calling us to be a people who can face the future in hope. A people who expect to find the mercy of God each day, and who know where to turn, when we can’t find our own way.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Our Lord Jesus has taught us to pray… inviting us, in our times of need not to give up or to grumble, but to cry out in faith to our merciful heavenly Father. Through prayer, through seeking to share our lives with the Living God each day, we too can learn to rely upon His faithful, constant love. We too can learn to look with hope to where our LORD is leading us, eager to receive and share His grace with our world. Through Jesus Christ we have been set free for this brand-new life with God; guided by His Holy Spirit into God’s Promised Kingdom. In Jesus, the true bread from heaven, God has provided everything we need, and He asks us now to trust Him with everything we are… with our yesterdays, todays, tomorrows, and forever. Amen.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 186-187.