Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background Last week, we left the Israelites as rescued from the Egyptians by walking on dry land through the waters. This week, we meet up with the crew as they begin their second month of wandering through the desert. They have already experienced running from their oppressors and thirst (ch. 15) and now they are hungry. Very hungry in their bellies and in yearning for God. Hungry enough to want to die instead of continue on. They start to complain with vigor. While I sometimes want to give the Israelites a hard time about their whining, they actually do have quite a bit of reason to complain. This is scary stuff! I complain for much less and have heard many complaints for similar things. Where are they going? Where is the better life that they were promised?
It gets to the point that the people start remembering where they had been with fondness. At least in Egypt, they knew what they were going to face. The wilderness is so full of the unknown. Their complaints grow stronger. Often I forget that complaining is a way to stay in relationship with one another. They could have chosen to not be in dialogue with God. They could have just taken off back to Egypt. Instead, they lift their voices to God since God has provided before….shouldn’t God provide again?
God doesn’t disappoint. God gives them meat! Meat was usually eaten just at festivals and special occasions (no matter what they said about fleshpots in Egypt). God provides them with delicious meat and in abundance. Then God provides manna…this yummy substance that only lasts today…whatever “it” is. On top of the feeding of the body, God then provides space for the soul in a time of Sabbath each week. God covenants that God’s people will be provided for, physically and spiritually. Now, not everyone gets this the first time around. There has to be some testing of the boundaries. These people are truly human and God STILL provides! Despite the testing and the complaining, God still promises restoration. God makes sure that they rest and feed their souls. They are to worship God on the Sabbath and be full of intention. They are to not collect anything else for their bodies. Too often we forget this piece of what God provides. God provides Sabbath.
As a fellow human to the Israelites, I forget that God provides to me abundantly in both physical needs and spiritual needs, if I listen to where God is providing these resources. When I complain, God still listens to those complaints and provides anyway. I am reminded of this most presently in the way my garden still miraculously provides food and safe sanctuary for me. I am fed beyond my most basic needs. When I forget Sabbath, I am neglecting what is as essential to me as food. There are even times when I don’t recognize the rest before me but it is still good for my body and soul.
Quotes of the Week
“I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
― M.F.K. Fisher
“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.” ― Walter Brueggemann
“Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it staying at home, with a bobolink for a chorister, and an orchard for a dome. ” ― Emily Dickinson
“Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.” ― Wendell Berry
“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” –Calvin Trillin
Exodus 16:13-31 (NRSV) In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.” On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day. The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Questions for the Week
What are you hungry for?
What do you do when your soul is hungry? How do you take Sabbath?
When was the last time you took Sabbath to feed your soul as well as your body?