Exodus 16 – Magic Bread Day

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Today’s PassageExodus 16

Happy Magic Bread Day! This is the chapter with the manna, and so many things about it seem foreign to me in so many different ways. I have no clue what it’s like to travel in the desert or to travel long distances on foot. I don’t know a whole lot about what’s normal for storing food without refrigeration or sealed packaging. And I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it said that someone “grumbled against” someone else outside of the Bible. But there’s one thing here that I’ve got half a clue on, and that’s people being people.

It’s human nature to get cranky when you get hungry. Why do you think we’ve got the word “hangry?” And that’s what leads the Israelites to do this thing that your Bible probably translates as “The whole congregation…grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (2). The Modern English Version renders it “murmured against,” which, as English goes, might actually be less modern. But after maybe a few weeks of hiking through the wilderness of sin, the people get to wanting food, and they vocalize their displeasure to God.

And you can tell it’s hunger at the root of their grumbling because of what they say, and how God gives them food in response. They gripe: “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (3). I don’t know to what extent they’re making a dang mountain out of a molehill; I don’t know if they’ve had to skip meals or if the eating’s just been light or what. They probably haven’t dethroned Esau as the king exaggerator, who told Jacob, “I am about to die” (Genesis 25:32) and traded his inheritance in exchange for dinner. But in all likelihood, food hasn’t exactly been abundant lately.

But their words betray a lack of faith. God promised to make a great nation out of Israel, one that would bless every single human family tree. More to the point, he promised to get Israel back to Canaan. The Israelites foresee a different future, though, one in which they don’t get back to Canaan because on the way they starved to death. In their mind, they would have been better off telling Moses the liberator to go back to Jethro’s people in Midian and let them remain slaves with food in Egypt. They don’t believe God. They don’t buy into his picture of what’s good and what’s worth walking through the desert for. That’s why, even though the narrative first identifies Moses and Aaron as the targets of their gripes, the two leaders say that God “hears your grumblings against the Lord” (7). They’re grousing at Moses and Aaron because they’re the prophets, the messengers, the spokesmen; the people’s real beef is with God.

It’s not their first beef, either. In the last chapter they whined for water, and then God gave them water. Now they give him crap for freeing them from slavery, and he gives them food. God responds to their garbage with charity, responsiveness, and generosity. Having said that, let’s change gears.

Manna is weird food because it’s always exactly what you need. Each morning, God covers the ground with it. And on any ordinary day of the week, an omer of manna will feed a person for the day, along with a little quail meat in the evening. It’ll spoil after a day, though, except on the day before the Sabbath, where a person can collect two omers for each person in his household. On the Sabbath, it’ll keep an extra day, so you don’t have to work on the Sabbath to collect it.

Point is, manna is daily bread. And I’m pretty certain that’s what Jesus has in mind when he instructs us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). He’s teaching us to learn from Israel’s mistakes. We don’t have to fuss at God to get our needs met; we don’t have to sass back or give a time. God knows what he’s doing, and he’ll take care of our days, one day at a time, even the days in the desert. If we’re hungry, all we need to do is ask.

The chapter concludes with one of the funniest verses I’ve read in a hot while. It’s a parenthetical aside: “Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah” (35). Thanks for explaining, author of Exodus! This whole time I was wondering how much an omer is, and now I know it’s a tenth of an ephah! O author of Exodus, where would I be without your clarifying remarks?

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