August 20, 2006
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Timothy Smith
Manna and Quail
16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.Â 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.Â 3 The Israelites said to them, â€œIf only we had died by the LORDâ€™s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.â€ 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, â€œI will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.Â 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.â€Â 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, â€œIn the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt,Â 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?â€Â 8 Moses also said, â€œYou will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.â€ 9 Then Moses told Aaron, â€œSay to the entire Israelite community, â€˜Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.â€™â€ 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.Â 11 The LORD said to Moses,Â 12 â€œI have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, â€˜At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.â€™â€Â 13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.Â 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.Â 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, â€œWhat is it?â€ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, â€œIt is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. (NIV)
The children of Israel had left Egypt in their great exodus just a month before. There was a quick road to Canaan from Egypt, along the coast past Gaza, and if they had only gone as far as Gaza, they would have already been farther north than Beersheba â€“ they would have been in the promised land. And whatâ€™s more, that road would have taken them less than a month â€“ they would have been there already.
Why hadnâ€™t they taken the easy road? For people who were beginning to get hungry, and who were tired of traveling, that was an important question. But when we start thinking about ourselves, and about our needs, and about our desires, and what we want, instead of what God wants, then we run into the danger of letting sin take over in our lives. For the Israelites, who hadnâ€™t heard the rattle of an Egyptian chariot for a few weeks, the danger of being caught and probably executed by Pharaoh and his armies had already become nothing more than a bad dream. How easily we forget. And now they invented memories of the good life back in Egypt: â€œWe sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted!â€ The lacerations from the taskmasterâ€™s whips barely had time to heal, and they were acting as if the whips and the impossible work had never even happened. They had a taste of freedom, but they didnâ€™t want to work for it. They wanted the easy road.
The easy road â€“ the road up the coast to Gaza â€“ was a real road, but it belonged to and was patrolled by the Egyptians. The easy road would have been a trap. The easy road would have led them right back to their slavery. And more than that, God had promised that they would worship him on Mount Sinai â€“ which is where they were going. The easy road didnâ€™t take them where God wanted them to go. But they grumbled and complained all they way along the Sinai coast â€“ virtually kicking and screaming the whole time. If youâ€™ve ever been in a car on a long trip with a fussy baby, imagine walking hundreds of miles with a fussy nation strapped into the car seat behind you.
Were they really starving? They had huge herds of sheep and goats and other animals with them. They had milk and cheese and cream and cottage cheese â€“ and even the meat from these animals â€“ to support them. But that would have meant dipping into their own vast wealth. Instead, they complained. They claimed to be starving. God chose to use their complaint to show them something about himself.
God doesnâ€™t plan on us sinning, but he accomplishes his goals despite our sins. When we fall into a sin, we need to resist the temptation to think that we were meant to sin. God works despite our sins, and he forgives our sins. And perhaps God would have provided manna and quail for his people even if they hadnâ€™t complained, if they had simply prayed for his help. But because that didnâ€™t happen, and because they did complain, letâ€™s keep our attention focused on what actually did happen, and on God our Savior, who rescued us from our sins and who provides us with what we need. JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE. Jesus, the Bread of Life, fills our physical needs, and Jesus, the Bread of Life, fills our spiritual needs.
God knows all our needs. Whether we need a roof over our heads, or a certain number of calories of food each day, or medicine, or companionship, or the satisfaction of making a contribution in the world, or even just rain â€“ God knows our needs. And he provides for us.
What’s the most important physical need any person ever has? Is it water? Is it food? Is it marriage? Is it something else? What is it? Think about that for a minute.
Certainly God provides all these other things â€“ like the manna in the desert. A heavy dew formed each night, and as the sun evaporated that water, a whitish substance was left behind, like flakes of something that wasnâ€™t crunchy and wasnâ€™t really very sticky. It was â€“ what was it? And thatâ€™s what the people started calling it. They said in Hebrew, â€œWhat is it?â€ And thatâ€™s the word, Manna.
Maybe you get tongue-tied sometimes and say things like â€œwhatchamacallitâ€ or â€œwhatchahoojieâ€ or â€œthingumajigâ€ or â€œwhatever.â€ Thatâ€™s the kind of word â€œmannaâ€ is. It described this new stuff from which they made bread. It met the basic needs of the people.
But God promises to go beyond our basic needs â€“ and thatâ€™s what manna really was. The quail werenâ€™t required â€“ the people had plenty of protein bleating and baa-ing alongside them in vast herds. But God gave them more than they needed.
An east wind blew Quail in from the Sinai. Quail still migrate through this part of the world, and itâ€™s still commonplace to see the exhausted quail, that only fly a few feet off the ground, trotting along so slowly that a boy can easily catch them. And whether God provided special quail or worked miraculously through a naturally occurring migration, we should remember that the Bible says the quail kept coming and kept coming â€“ and that was certainly part of the miracle.
But even food, as important as it is, isnâ€™t the most important physical need that we have. The most important physical need in our lives, is life itself. And Jesus, the Bread of Life, provides us with life in a way that no one else ever could. Jesus, the Bread of Life, the true eternal Manna, gives us resurrection even from the dead.
Death is the ultimate separation â€“ it separates us from the people we love and the life we love. But Jesus Christ won the victory even over death. Jesusâ€™ sacrifice on the cross paid for our sins â€“ paid the debt we each owe for our sins. And Jesus went into the grave, and he came out again three days later. And just as surely as he has paid for our sins, he will also raise us each from the dead. And then we wonâ€™t fall back into sin and sorrow and corruption and tragedy. Then, when we are raised, it will be into joy, peace, rest, and the victory of eternal life.
II . And in the mean time, Jesus also provides for all our other spiritual needs. Do you know what those needs are?
How often do you get paid? Some people get paid every other Friday. Some people get paid on two particular days each month. Others get paid weekly, and others perhaps monthly. But what would you say if, besides your regular paycheck, you got another, little paycheck every now and then? What if every so often you got twenty or thirty extra dollars? Would you look forward to that? And what if there was an extra five dollars every single morning? Like manna! Would it come in handy? Might there be days when you would look forward as much to the little extra as to the big paycheck?
The same way that our income, our flow of money, keeps our lives going, the word of God keeps us going day to day. Itâ€™s possible to live on one meal of Godâ€™s Word per week. I suppose itâ€™s even possible to live on less than that. But weâ€™d be starving. Why would we want to spiritually starve ourselves when there is a daily feast offered to us by God?
Itâ€™s possible to live on just the one paycheck, but who would say â€œnoâ€ to some extra income? And the same way, we can get by on Sunday or Weekend worship, and one hour a week in Godâ€™s Word â€“ but who would say â€œnoâ€ to some extra manna from the Man who rescued us from our sins?
Godâ€™s word is a feast we can fill ourselves with every single day. As we read and explore Godâ€™s word, we discover that â€˜studyâ€™ isnâ€™t a dirty word, the way some people seem to think. The way a traveler studies a map, the way a child on Christmas Eve studies the presents under the tree with his name on them, the way a real fan studies the roster of his favorite team — we pour over the Word of God, and we discover at every turn that there is forgiveness for our sins.
We study Godâ€™s word and we learn from it — we learn that there is no payment we can make for our own sins. The blessings that God pours out on us, some in different shapes and sizes. Some are very small. Some are important — like the manna. Some are blessings that point us back to God’s great glory — like the quail. And then there is the greatest blessing of all, the blessing that comes from Jesus Christ, the True Bread of Life, who gave us his own flesh on the cross — he gave us himself. And with his crucified body — crucified because of our sins — he has given us eternal life. And that’s the greatest blessing of all. Amen.