This morning we begin the Exodus journey of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Last week, we set the stage for the journey by listening to Moses’ song of praise to God in Exodus 15 for all he had done to bring them out of Egypt and into the relative safety of the wilderness.
Today we find ourselves in Exodus 16, just one chapter later. Immediately after the song of praise, the people stepped off into the unknown. But let’s put a geographical context and time frame on this story. Exodus 16:1 (NIV) says, “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.” So now we have a location and a time. So far they have travelled from Goshen where they lived in Egypt, across the Red Sea and through the Desert of Shur. Now they are in the Desert of Sin, somewhere between Elim and Sinai. We also know that it is fifteenth day of the second month since they came out of Egypt. We know exactly how long that is because the Jewish calendar is very precise and not the same as ours. Theirs does not have 12 months of unequal length. It has thirteen months each with 28 days. So each month is exactly four weeks. If you do the math, you will discover that are 364 days in the Jewish year which means that somewhere in there they have to add an extra day which they did. But every month is 28 days. If it is the fifteenth day of the second month since they left Egypt, that means that they have been on the road for precisely forty-three days. It’s not very long but it’s long enough for doubts to be raised in people’s minds and for them to begin to second guess their decision to leave the comforts of Egypt for the unknown of the wilderness.
That’s what’s happening in Exodus 16:2-3 (NIV) where we read these words: “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’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'”.
What’s happening here? What’s happening is today’s pitfall. The people who have seen God bring them out of the slavery of Egypt are starting to grumble. They don’t like what’s going on because what’s happening is that they’ve run out of food. That’s a problem. In fact, it’s a big problem. They brought all kinds of provisions into the wilderness with them out of Egypt. They brought flour and corn and sugar and salt and probably fruits and vegetables. But it’s now forty-three days later and those things are all gone. They still have their flocks of sheep and goats but if they start eating the animals there would soon be nothing left. So while eating the animals might be short term solution, it would also spell long term disaster.
But why are they grumbling? They are grumbling because they have not yet learned to trust God. That’s going to be one of the big learnings on the Exodus journey. They are going to learn to trust God for their every need. But remember that this is going to take forty years and they are only 43 days into the Exodus journey. We can’t expect them to smush forty years of learning into a month and a half.
But they still have a genuine problem. They aren’t just whining. The issue is that they don’t want to starve to death. Who can blame them? So what do they do? They dream about the good old days. Remember when we were back in Egypt. Maybe we should go back there. There is lots of food in Egypt. Let’s go back to Egypt.
Guess what? They were right on some things. There is lots of food in Egypt. Did you know that Egypt is by many people considered to be the best place in the world to live. That, of course, is putting politics aside, thinking strictly of climate and resources. Think about it. It is a constant temperature all year round. In the winter it might go down to 17C which isn’t all that cold and in the summer it might get up to the 35C which isn’t really all that hot. The weather in Cottam is far more extreme than that. The Nile River flows right through centre of the land and everyone lives around it so it provides year round water for drinking and irrigation. In the spring the Nile floods which does two things. First, it brings fresh soil from upstream which acts as fertilizer for the farmers and, second, it washes all the garbage out into the Mediterranean Sea. There is plenty to eat and drink. On top of that Europe, Asia and Africa are all close by if you want to go on vacation. What more could you want? It really might be the most livable place in the world.
Who can blame the people for remembering the good old days when they had lots to eat, potfuls of meat and all the fresh water they could drink. “Let’s go back to Egypt. That’s what we should do. I mean, we’d have to put up with slavery and bondage and all of that but at least we’d have enough to eat.”
Do you remember the famous line that was spoken by Patrick Henry during the American Revolutionary War? He said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” That’s a great line, an inspiring line, a line to remember. Someone should put it on a bumper sticker. Give me liberty or give me death. That’s kind of what the Israelites said when they were still living in bondage in Egypt and they pleaded with God to rescue them. It was easy to say then because death seemed so much more agreeable than slavery. But that was before their children were hungry and there was nothing to feed them. Give me liberty or give me death is a fine turn of a phrase until you actually have to face it and live it. When that happens, sometimes slavery doesn’t look so bad after all.
The enthusiasm for freedom that the people experienced in Exodus 15 when they first escaped Egypt lasted exactly forty-three days. It took exactly forty-three days for their euphoria to turn to despair.
The same thing happens to us. When someone first comes to Christ, it all seems new and different and exciting. That person is enthusiastic and can’t wait to share their new found faith with everyone all the time. I sometimes call that the obnoxious phase of the Christian walk because they can really be in your face. But then that initial enthusiasm wears off when they realize that faith is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s a life long journey along the road to faithfulness and sanctification. And it’s not always easy.
In the Gospel of John, there were lots of people who wanted to follow Jesus, We read about some of them in John 6:60-70. Jesus had just told them what it takes to be faithful. He said that they had to do come to the heavenly Father through him and that they had to live by the Spirit. That was a hard teaching for many people because it was very clear about what was expected of his disciples. The reaction of many of those who, until that point, had been following Jesus is found in John 6:66 (NIV) which says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” I guess they had just reached the forty-three days and Egypt was looking pretty good. Go back to the old ways. This faith stuff has suddenly developed drawbacks.
And then in Mark 14 Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was arrested by a group of Jewish leaders supported by Roman soldiers. At that point Jesus had been surrounded by his closest followers and friends. How did they react to his arrest? We discover that in Mark 14:50 (NIV) where it says, “Then everyone deserted him and fled.” Those were the people closest to Jesus who had followed him through thick and thin, through hardships and persecutions. But even they had their limits. When the Romans came for Jesus, the writing was on the wall. It would not end well for Jesus and the remaining disciples had no desire to die along with him so even they deserted and ran away. I guess their forty-three days was up too.
So where are you in your faith journey? Are you at the forty-three day mark? You know what? All of us have been there at one time or another. All of us have wondered if this whole faith thing is really worth it. Wouldn’t it be easier if I just went back to my old ways? Then I won’t have to pitch in and help with things at the church. And I could take that money that I put into the offering plate every week and go out of dinner more often. And I wouldn’t have to worry about daily devotions and prayer. And I could sleep in on Sunday morning. There something to be said for that. That’s when, like the people of Israel, you reached the forty-three day mark of your journey to the Promised Land. Or maybe it’s not forty-three days. Maybe it’s forty-three weeks or forty-three months or forty-three years. Whatever time it is since you started this journey of faith, every one of us gets to the point where we want to go back to Egypt.
Maybe you’re there now. The initial enthusiasm of following Jesus can soon wear off. And then what? Then we dream of the way things used to be. We second guess ourselves and wonder if we made the right decisions after all. When times get tough and faith gets inconvenient, we want to go back to Egypt where the pots are full of meat and there is no shortage of water to refresh our thirty bodies. Give me liberty or give me death. That’s a great line when all is well. But when things get rough or even just inconvenient it’s a hard line to live.
So, what does God do with all of this? Let’s find out in Exodus 16:4-5 (NIV): “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I 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. 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.'”
God has a plan to meet their needs. Every night God will make bread fall from heaven – whatever that means. And every morning the people are to go out and gather enough of it for the day to feed their families. Now just so you understand, we aren’t actually talking about bread as we know it. It’s what became known as manna. But what was it like? Numbers 11:7 says that it looked like corriander seed and had the colour of tree resin. We also learn in Numbers 11:8 that it could be ground down and made into cakes. It also says that manna tasted like something made with olive oil. In Exodus 16:31 we learn that in its raw form it tasted like wafers made with honey. Today someone is bound to ask if it was vegan and gluten free but I don’t know. I suppose it was since everyone could eat it. But whatever it was, God caused this manna to be upon the earth every morning so that every morning the people could go out and collect enough of it to feed their families for the day. Presto. Problem solved. No more food shortages.
But there was a catch. It says that all they could collect was enough for that day. That was it. Why was that important? It was important because one of the key lessons of the Exodus journey was to learn to trust God and if you thought that it was necessary to collect more than you needed so that you might have some for tomorrow what does that say about your trust in God? It says that you don’t trust God very much. If you did than you wouldn’t have to put some aside for the next day because you’d trust that God would provide manna for tomorrow too. The reality is that not everyone trusted God. But remember, they’re just learning so let’s give them a break. Listen to Exodus 16:20 (NIV) where it says, “However, some of [the people] paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until [the next] morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” Yuck. That’s what happened if the people saved some manna for the next day. The only exception to this rule is on the day before the Sabbath. Because the people are supposed to rest on the Sabbath as God rested after the six days of creation, they are allowed to gather enough manna for two days and the extra manna will not go bad and maggoty as it would on the other days.
But God isn’t done yet. Not only does he send them manna. He also sends them quails. Exodus 16:11-12 (NIV) says this: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then they will know that I am the LORD your God”‘”.
Not only will the people get bread in the form of manna in the morning. In the evening, they will get quails to eat. So they have both bread and meat and more than enough of both to satisfy their needs. And that is exactly what happens. Exodus 16:13 (NIV) says, “That evening quails came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.” This is the food that God promised. Quails in the evening and manna in the morning. But just to be clear, the quails did not come every evening. It was just a one time event but the manna appeared every day except the Sabbath as we noted earlier.
GETTING TO KNOW GOD
So, what’s this all about? That’s actually pretty clear. In fact, God even says it right in the passage. Going back to the end of verse 12 God says, “Then they will know that I am the LORD your God.” That’s what it’s all about. God wants the people of Israel to get to know him. He wants them to see what he can do. He wants to give them constant reminders of both his power and his love for them. And he wants them to know that he has their backs in any and every situation. He wants them to learn to trust him. Remember that that is what the Exodus journey is all about.
That’s what we have to do to. We have to trust God.We have to understand that God loves us, that God wants only the very best for us and that God can turn any situation into a blessing even if sometimes we can’t see it at the time. But that’s sometimes the challenge – seeing the hand of God at work in our lives. When the manna appeared on the ground in the morning, the people could have said, “What a coincidence. We were hungry and we’ve just discovered a new food source in the desert.” They could have put it all up to happenstance, natural phenomena that they just discovered. But that’s not what it was. It was the hand of God at work. How do we know? Listen to the words of Joshua 5:10-12 (NIV). The situation is this. It’s forty years later and the people of Israel have crossed the Jordan River and are finally in the Promised Land: “On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.” Canaan by the way is the Promised Land.
Why did the manna stop? Because they no longer needed it. Note that it didn’t say that they no longer collected the manna. It says that there was no more manna to collect. It stopped. What started forty years earlier when the people were hungry in the desert, stopped on the very day after they ate food from the Promised Land. Coincidence? I don’t think so. It was clearly the hand of God at work.
The story of the manna and the quails ends like this in Exodus 16:15 (NIV) says this: “When the Israelites saw it [the manna] they said to each other, ‘what is it?’ for they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the LORD had given you to eat.'” This is the bread that God has given you to eat. Note that God has given it. They haven’t earned it. They don’t deserve it. They didn’t make it. It was simply provided for them much like our salvation through Jesus Christ. It too is free, unearned and undeserved but available to anyone who puts their faith in him.
And so the Exodus journey becomes a foreshadow of the story of Jesus. Both are stories of putting our trust and our faith in someone bigger than ourselves. So join us next week to find out a little more about the journey to the Promised Land. This week they ran out of food. Next week, they will have a shortage of water and we will see what God does.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, not knowing our future. Only you know for you made us for your purpose. Help us to discover and embrace what you want us to do. Help us to remember your constant presence in our lives as you touch us in tender ways.
We offer our thanks for your creation, especially for our pets: dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, snakes and guinea pigs. These are our furry and feathered friends who give us comfort and offer a special kind of love. May we all be responsible in our care of them as you have demonstrated your care and love for us.
We come with our concerns about the current conflicts in the Myanmar and the tension around North Korea. We know, O God, that you prefer peace to war. We are also aware that there are times when war is the only option. Help us to know the difference between reason and anger. Help you people to find more progressive and lasting ways to solve our differences and handle conflicts. Also protect our soldiers throughout the world with the wings of your angels and they seek to bring peace and justice to a war torn land.
We also pray for wisdom in the upcoming municipal elections. Help us, O God, to vote with our faith in you and with your word in our hearts. Help us to consider not what we want but what you want for indeed everything began with you and everything goes back to you. Thank you also for those with the courage to run for public office. Bless them, O God.
We come before you with our prayers for the sick of our congregation and community. We lift up in prayer our struggles and our hurts. Some are visible and clearly seen by the world. Some are hidden so deeply that even we are unsure that they exist until, in a surprising moment, they sneak up on us and look us in the eye. Heal us, cleanse us and, in your grace, renew us. You know that they need you now in a special way. Speak to their needs, O God.
Lord God, thank you for giving us
back our lives; for proving your love and faithfulness in spite of so much that
was against us. Never let it be said that you are without power. Remind us,
rather, that you are always ready to help us beyond our wildest expectations if
only we turn to you in our need, whether it be great or small. Our prayers, we
pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 24, 2017 / Pentecost 16 / Proper 20
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45; Matthew 20:1-16; Philippians 1:21-30
CALL TO WORSHIP
Give thanks to God and bless his name for the glory of the Lord shines around us. Sing songs fo praise and lift up the name of Jesus for God is good and God’s mercy endures forever. Let us come, with joy, to worship.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Hear us, Mighty God. Hear our prayers as we come before you in worship. Lift the blinders from our eyes and remove the stoppers from our ears. Open us, this day, to a fresh blessing of your Spirit. Renew our lives as you renew our spirits. Strengthen our faith and increase our love for one another that we may be your people, embraced by your covenant and delighted by your presence. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Your mercy, O God, is great. It is wider that our broadest hurt, stronger that our deepest sin, more gentle than cool autumn breezes. We come to you because we know that you are merciful We can confess our sins without fear of punishment. Rather we look forward to the forgiveness that only you can provide. Remind us of our sin that we may confess our wrong doings. In our confession, convict us to go and sin no more. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God’s eternal love is demonstrated in God’s profound justice. The prophets call us to faithfulness and Jesus provides the means of our forgiveness. Be assured that when we truly and humbly confess our sins we are set free from the bondage of death and cleansed by the renewing of our lives in Jesus’ sacrifice.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
This offering we give, O God of Justice, for your work in the hope that you would give to us the wisdom to know how to use it faithfully. Give us the courage and strength of character to work your justice as we share the Good News of Jesus with all creation. Amen.
COMMISSIONING This time of prayer is ended. The time of song is done. The word and the sounds and the actions of this gathering is over. Let us now go and begin to serve God as we minister to the world in Jesus’ name.