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We live in culture plagued by a vicious cycles of instant and incessant gratification. We want to quench our thirst, satisfy our hunger – and we want it our way! Our culture has become a society defined as consumer and consumeristic. In the midst of our hungers and thirsts (which are natural) somehow we get lost. The fear that there isn’t enough to go around, leads us to symbiotic anxiety and mistrust. We need to get ours or get git. In such presumed scarcity our needs are morphed into wants, desires and fantasies. We want it all, otherwise we might not get any. We want it how and when we want it, otherwise it might not be around. And yet the God of the Bible points towards a different way of life together, a community of koinonia or fellowship based upon the shared life-transforming experience of God’s love known in Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life rather than give into the anxiety of scarcity. His sacrifice changes everything, giving us a new lens through which to see the world as it truly is. How do we live this paradoxical truth by faith in a society based upon the myth of scarcity? How do we love our neighbor when we are told that our neighbor is out to get what we have? How do we testify to a life-sustaining God in a culture in which we are told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and to save ourselves, because no one else will?
Today’s passage (and the larger body of this text/story in Exodus 15:22-17:16) wrestles with several theological themes, telling basically the “same” story about God providing for the people in the desert three times: Bitter Water – Exodus 15:22-27; Manna & Quail – Exodus 16:1-36 and Water from the Rock – Exodus 17:1-16.
The Identity of God: EL SHADDAI [“God Almighty”] & YAHWEH [“I Am, or I Am who I will Be] : In Genesis El Shaddai is the name most used for God, an indication that they saw God as the provider, the creator, sustaining them in terms of food, crops, livestock and blessings. In Exodus, the name YAHWEH is increasingly used. It has a connotation of God as a Holy Warrior, God known through deliverance, freedom and exodus, who makes himself known through the salvation of the people. This passage uses both names, insisting upon both – God who has freed the people from slavery, and who sustains them in the food desert. Does God exist just to sustain us? Or does God exist to redeem and liberate us? Why do the Israelites continue to murmur, or complain about God, when God repeatedly saves them?
TIME & ECONOMY:
The people as slaves of Pharaoh must scatter day by day to look for straw with which to make their daily quote of bricks. Here the people of God scatter day by day to look for the daily quota of food that God promises to provide. The name Manna sounds like the Hebrew words for “What is it?” God provides for the people in the emptiness of the desert and in the desertion of their faith. Scientists tell us that manna was most likely the secretion of insects living on the tamarisk tree, and is said to be prized by Bedouins (desert dwellers) for its sweetness. Quails annually migrated to Europe in the Spring and returned in the fall when they can be captured.
The emphasis in the text is less on God providing for the people than it is upon time, and the fact that the people are invited to collect food 6 days a week, trusting God to provide for the Sabbath or 7th day.
We no longer have blue laws, which obligated our observation of the Sabbath. Today our economy is 24/7. There is no economic distinction between Jew, Christian and Atheist. Both in time – and in the way we live. How does our economic practice point to and reveal our spiritual priorities and practices? A question that this passage asks us as Christians is whether we have ceased to serve God as the Lord of time and have begun to serve Pharaoh [who dictated incessant work and toil] instead.
The story of Manna and Quail serves as the rhetorical foundation for many of Jesus’ sayings, as the theological background of the communion meal. Jesus is spoken of as the Bread come down from Heaven (like Manna) John 6:22-59. Jesus claims to be a sort of spiritual manna – intended to deliver the people from their hunger. God is faithful. We experience divine faithfulness in Jesus.
Murmuring is a common metaphor for the mistrustful attitude of the people of God in the desert. It appears throughout the Second Testament as well: Matthew 20:11, Luke 5:30, John 6:41, 43, 61 & 7:12, 32; Acts 6:1; Philippians 2:14; 1 Peter 4:9; Jude 16; and twice in 1 Corinthians 10:10.
Natural calamities like drought and famine are beyond our power to modify. Yet if we learn to pray the prayer in Proverbs 30:7-9 – not too little and not too much – and to conform our economic activities to the spirit of that prayer, how might we be more open to the rhythms of work and rest seen in this passage of Exodus 16?
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in this text? Why?
2. How do we live the story of the Exodus as individuals – or as a church community? How have we? How do we celebrate and remember God’s faithfulness in our individual lives and in our community life together? How could that be different? Why?
4. Theologian Walter Brueggemann develops the themes of this chapter, and the teachings of Jesus into what he terms belief in the myth of scarcity, that there is not enough to go around for all of us – whether it be food, resources, or love. How do you see that myth as the ethos of our culture?; our relationships?; our church culture? How is Jesus inviting, feeding and exhorting us to reject this myth?