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This week we jump from the story of the burning bush in Exodus 2, 3 and 4, and the promise of God to Moses to free the enslaved Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh and the power of Egypt, to for slavery and bring them to bring them up out of that land to “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” in Exodus 3:7-8 The Exodus follows: the series of plagues which the Israelites survive but which overwhelm and break both Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians. A month has passed between the miraculous escape of the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds, and the redoubtable demonstration of the LORD’s power and purpose. In four weeks the people have gone from fear of being caught, to a bitterness and complaining desire to return back to the slavery from which they so desperately wanted to be delivered. They long for what they used to know (even if they remember it through rose-colored glasses). They are afraid of the uncertainty of the future and freedom. They don’t trust God to provide for them now, even thought they’ve already seen it.
Egypt (Mitzrayim in Hebrew) means a narrow place, as in one that holds, enslaves or traps. God promises to bring them out of such a narrow place to one wide with potential, expansive freedom and opportunity. Notice how quickly they long for what they think they remember as a “golden age” (even in slavery!) when life is uncertain. Notice how quickly they mistrust God – a matter of four weeks – from when they witnessed God’s awesome power. Notice how fear keeps them from embracing freedom. They taste the Manna – (Hebrew for “what is it?”) – bread that only God could provide. They’re grateful, yet shortly thereafter the people will begin to complain about the limited options. They want cucumbers, onions and tomatoes, even if they don’t do anything to earn what they receive now. The manna is given in a way that impedes hoarding and excess. Anything hidden, put aside for personal enrichment or advantage, spoils. They are given – all of them – everything that they can need: no more, no less. In face the manna continues, uninterrupted, until the day that they enter into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:12).
This isn’t just Israel’s story, but also our own. How often do we remember the past as a golden age, one we want to return to; even when we know it’s not exactly true? How often do we want more when we have enough, or all that we need? How often do we not embrace the freedom we have, and the consequences of it, longing for someone else to make the decisions for us, tell us what to do, and assume the challenges of freedom ranging from discernment to choice, from uncertainty to unlimited options? Jesus, in John 6, riffs on the story of Manna inviting us to a wider vision and radical trust of God.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
Download a PDF study guide of today’s text in Exodus 16