The somewhat cryptic title of this blog post reflects what the Israelites said when they saw God’s provision of manna for them in the desert for the first time (Exodus 16). Manna sounds very similar to the question: “what is it?” in Hebrew, and seems to suggest that the Israelites hadn’t seen this strange substance before.
I was re-reading a chapter on Exodus 16 in Walter Moberley’s excellent “Old Testament Theology”, and was struck by a few quotes which I thought I’d put up here, as I found them perceptively encouraging about the nature of the Christian life:
“The striking thing about YHWH’s provision is that Israel has no idea what to make of it.” (80)
“In this depiction the heavenly bread is resistant to one of the most basic of human urges: to save up and to hoard. It is part of YHWH’s new way, into which Israel is being inducted, in which familiar categories of understanding and yardsticks of behaviour are replaced. YHWH’s principle is that Israel’s bread must each day be provided anew and collected anew. The implicit sense is of a need to appropriate the divine gift always in the present, in the here and now.” (82)
“To summarise: The manna, a divine provision, can be seen to function as a symbolic concretisation of divine grace. It testingly challenges Israel to learn to live from an unfamiliar resource; it nourishes the Israelites irrespective of their varying abilities; it resists being accommodated to conventional human desires; it is designed to enable Israel to develop a particular rhythm of life, encompassing both the working week and rest on the Sabbath. In all these ways the manna inducts Israel into the divine pattern for life.” (84)
These quotes all summed up the sense I’ve had recently that God’s provision for us comes in ways so different from what I would plan, and in a way that seems designed to force me to trust him, and cope with new and unexpected patterns.
I’ve seen a couple of times recently how much my firstborn son hates routine to be changed, and the way in which unexpected events throw him completely (sometimes even good unexpected). It is easy to see his overreaction, but the reality is that I am exactly the same with God about life. I hate the unexepected. I hate plans to be changed or overthrown. When I was single I thought I liked things to be spontaneous – the reality is that I like things to be spontaneous as long as I have spontaneously planned them in my head. I don’t like someone else’s spontaneity forced on me.
These quotes about the manna are a reminder of how freeing God’s daily grace is, and yet how scary that freedom is. I have to surrender my desire for control of my life, and submit to God’s rythmn. The Israelites had a hard job accepting that the manna would last 2 days on a Friday, and yet it did. They had a hard job accepting that Monday’s manna would not last until Tuesday, and sure enough it didn’t. God provides enough for each day – and enough for a day of rest, and he provides on a day by day basis. Which I imagine is why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow, but to trust God one day at a time.
As John Piper puts it (Today’s mercies for Today’s troubles – in one of his devotional books):
God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. This is why we tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.
The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles. Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).