“If only we had died . . . in the land of Egypt, when we . . . ate our fill of bread.” When we go through liberating change, we may feel that the grass is greener not only on the other side but also in the fenced-in yard where we used to live.
The Israelites’ long journey through the wilderness is fraught with peril; we can’t blame them for wanting to be assured of resources. The manna story fits into a pattern of anxious questioning. Just before and after it, the complaint is about water: the bitter water of Marah and the waterless waste of Massah and Meribah. (See Exodus 15:22-27; 17:1-7.) In the first case, God shows Moses wood to sweeten the water; in the second, God has Moses bring water out of a rock.
In Exodus, the Israelites suffer lack, complain, and have their needs supplied by God. They “test” God (17:2, 7), who also “tests” them (15:25; 16:4; 20:20). When they arrive at Sinai, they are ready to make a covenant of obedience (19:8). Later, though, they still longingly remember the abundance of Egypt: “there is nothing at all except this manna” (Num. 11:6).
Do we fail to “live worthily of the gospel” by complaining that there’s nothing to live on but miracles? A life bounded by rules and regulations seems safer and more predictable than the freedom of the gospel. A life bounded by nothing at all seems more gratifying than the way of the cross. The gospel life, formidable in its self-emptying yet shot through with the liberating presence of God, may leave us wishing for remembered or imagined alternatives. “If only we had died in Egypt!”
God of redemption, we have heard that you stand ready to meet our needs. Open our hearts to complete faith, so that we may always rely on you. Amen.
The psalmist recounts many of God’s glorious deeds. The escape from Egypt features prominently, including the Exodus story we are reading this week. God knows that the people need food and provides both meat and bread. Unfortunately, the people do not have the perspective of the psalmist, so God’s miraculous provision does not stop their grumbling. In Philippians, Paul reflects on Christian suffering. Although he would rather be with the Lord, he endures suffering so that he may help others. Other believers should expect to suffer as well. Jesus tells a parable about a landowner. No matter what time the workers go out, they are all equally paid. Likewise, those who follow Jesus their entire lives and those who meet the Lord late in life will partake equally in glory.
Read Exodus 16:2-15. When have you been confident of God’s love and presence? When have you been uncertain?
Read Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45. When do you smooth over the “bumps” in the stories of your family, your church, or your faith? When is it important to recount the complaining or mistakes along the way?
Read Philippians 1:21-30. When has the “good news to the poor” challenged you? When you feel challenged by it, how do you seek to live “worthy of the gospel”?
Read Matthew 20:1-16. How does Jesus’ idea of equality surprise you? How might a posture of generosity change your concept of fairness?
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