I suppose it’s time for me to start thinking of the passages surrounding Exodus 16 as Complaint Central. Previously, it hadn’t really clicked for me that the Israelites begin griping almost as soon as Moses and Miriam have finished leading the people in their triumphant Song of the Sea. Nor had it registered that manna, the magic sky bread, came as God’s response to more griping. Then, in today’s chapter, Israel continues griping. There’s something about writing about these passages, not just reading them or even merely reflecting on them, that draws one’s attention to these patterns. So: welcome to our last stop at Complaint Central, at least for the time being.
You ever go into a job interview, a meeting with a doctor, a Q&A session following a lecture, and then afterwards come up with all sorts of questions you wish you’d thought to ask? Moses certainly didn’t. God kinda jumped him with the burning-bush meeting here, but he’s got so many questions and issues that the conversation extends into a second chapter. Say what you will about Moses, but the man can raise a concern.
As a child, I was terrified by stories in which people were turned to stone. Medusa was the most horrifying of monsters to me, and the narrated portion of Conan the Adventurer’s opening freaked out my business. And it didn’t even have to be human people, or even stone necessarily! Trolls were the bad guys in The Hobbit and The World of David the Gnome, but scenes in which the rising sun turned them to stone still gave me the jibblies. I declined to see Ernest: Scared Stupid with my brother and father. And even when my brother and I rented it in high school, the numerous organic-to-mineral transmutations in Return to Oz left me unsettled. But I’ve saved the best for last: my first encounter with this harrowing phenomenon was drawn directly from today’s passage.
As the previous chapter tells us, Jonah was stuck in the giant fish for three days. Of course, he didn’t know it at the time, with no way of seeing the sun, moon, and other markers of the passage of time. Had it been three hours? Three weeks? For Jonah, one guess was as good as another. And for something in the neighborhood of seventy-two hours, Jonah was left to chill in the dark of the fish.
Today’s chapter, though. There are a few better-known passages in here, between the secret vision of the man caught up into the third heaven (vv.1-6) and Paul’s thorn in the flesh (vv.7-10). That famous saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (9) used to trouble me in high school; the paradox frustrated me. How can power be perfected in weakness? That’s like saying light is perfected in darkness, or good is perfected in evil! But it’s God’s power that shows itself as perfect in our weakness. Simply put, he does the good that we can’t. He saves us when we can’t save ourselves, and he gives us the strength to endure suffering that would otherwise overwhelm us. And he looks good doing it.