Read Exodus 16:12 a few times. How do you hear God’s voice? Aggravated, almost threatening? “I heard that! Here, take this and keep quiet!” Or gentle and promising? “Yes, children, I hear you. You’ll be all right. It’s me—I’ve got this!”
I admit that I’ve always heard God’s voice as exasperated in this passage. But in working on this meditation, I began to hear something different. Our ways of reading the Bible are often conditioned by remembering the scariest passages or by things we were taught that seemed simple but had hidden biases. Perhaps the God we are afraid to complain to is more patient than we imagine.
Like the parable of Jesus we looked at earlier this week, the actions of both the Israelites and God in these stories may be more complex than they seem. As we learned yesterday, God and the people keep testing one another, probing one another’s faithfulness. The people express their uncertainty and complain about water and food. Yet mingled with this mistrustful grumbling is obedience and ultimately firm commitment: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exod. 19:8).
God’s complex behavior toward the Israelites is represented in the ambiguity in Exodus 16:12. God is committed to rescuing them and supplying their needs along the lengthy road to freedom. Yet there is that note of annoyance mixed in, almost browbeating the people with abundance until they recognize the Lord as their God. This mix of divine patience and aggravation persists throughout the stories of the Exodus wanderings.
Our spiritual journeys are likely to be complex. Our motives are mixed, our relationship with God is . . . complicated. All relationships are. Growth in trust and growth in love take place through stretches of both confidence and uncertainty.
As a meditation exercise, chart some times in your life when you have wondered about God’s care and times when you have felt confident of it.
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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