The Israelites are through the Sea, have failed miserably at the waters of Meribah, and are now out into the wilderness. Now, one key of the wilderness is this: it's wilderness. There's not much there and there certainly are no grocery stores. 7-11 has not even put in a Qwik-Stop, and Starbucks will not even do a site survey.
Into the wilderness is where the Lord God has led, though, so into the wilderness the Israelites go. It's not even as if the Lord has led them badly. From the point at which they crossed the Red Sea, there really is no other place to go but into the desolation. It is there we find them in Exodus 16 (link) as we go through the whole Bible. It is there that we find fault with them, again, as we take this journey.
What happens? First, they complain of no food. So, the Lord God sends a miraculous food that they do not know what is. They eat it, like it, and call it "manna," which is just Hebrew for "What is it?" Or, perhaps, Hebrew for "What is this yummy stuff that shows up each day?" but we've just lost that in translation. Further, their complaint has included the claim that in Egypt they "sat by pots of meat." God, then brings meat. Quail. That's a story in another chapter or two, though, so we'll focus on the manna.
The main focus here is that the manna shows up six days a week, and continues throughout the Exodus. When we get to Joshua, we'll look at the end of the manna. For now, let's look at the situation. There was manna, but you had to go and gather it. On the day before the Sabbath, you had to gather twice as much because it would not be there on the Sabbath day.
You also could not stockpile some excess manna, because it would rot by morning. Except the stockpile that you had for the Sabbath. It was a consistent, daily provision for the people of Israel. It was also a persistent daily task for the people.
There is, I think, some value for us here. We need persistent daily tasks as much as the Israelites did then. We need them as much as we need consistent daily provision. It is the habits that we build that reveal our character, after all, and that's worth noting.
Additionally, we should consider this: how quickly do we trade our praises for complaints? How quickly do we forget what our problems were when they are no longer immediate? Consider the Israelites lamenting the lost "pots of meat" in the land of Egypt.
I see it in myself. For three extraordinarily long years (seriously, they were like 500 days), I worked for UPS at their Oakhaven Sort Facility in Memphis, Tennessee. I hated that place. From the heat stroke I suffered in training to the constant noise to never being able to have a day go well enough for the next level boss (which is part of UPS management style: it will never be good enough), I worked that job for one reason: I like to eat. Grocery stores, however, do not give out free food very often, so I had to work. My wife and kids like to eat, too, and we liked having health insurance (something we had done without for 3 years prior) so I worked there.
And prayed that God would bring me out of that dark place to a land flowing with milk and honey. I drove by that place just yesterday, and thought "I miss getting to raise my voice and sort packages and be angry and aggressive and crazy." I do, honestly, miss about seven people that I used to work with, but really, I miss UPS?
After praying that I could spend my days doing pastor work and now having that? How foolish is that? It's not foolish. It's Exodus-era Israelite. I think that I was sitting by pots of meat, but really I was being worked and worked hard. Now, I was not in slavery. I could have quit any time I wanted to—the analogy breaks down there. Yet still, I wanted out. Now I'm out. Do I want back in? Is that not crazy?
Do not forget the things which God has delivered you from. The going does get tough. His deliverance may put you in a place that the wilderness is necessary to get where you are going, but do not give up.
And do not go back.
Today's Nerd Note: I do not know what became of the Ark of the Covenant, so I do not know what became of the jar of manna within it. If it is all still around, I would expect the manna to be still good. However, I don't expect it to be found soon.
Remarkable, though, is the idea that this food has such a variety of expiration dates. On the ground, it's gone with the sun. In the house on 5 days, it's gone by morning. One day it lasts a second day. Put in a jar, it lasts a long time as a memorial of God's provision.
This undercuts the theory that explains manna as the natural sap of a tree or bush in the desert. There would be consistency there. One can accept the Biblical narrative of a miracle of provision here or one can decide it's all fake, but there's no middle ground on this. This spot does not really give an option to say it was a natural occurrence mistaken for a miracle.