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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, September 18, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 16:2–15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but” against the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. (NRSV)

When I taught high school theology, this passage from Exodus used to be one of my favorite lessons of the year. The book we used (Discovering God’s Word: An Introduction to Scripture by Marilyn Gustin) offered two possible explanations for these gifts of manna and quail. The manna may have been the excretions of insects that suck the sap of the tamarisk plant. It is usually found in the early morning and looks doughy, like white bread. During the time period historians posit was the beginning of the exile, quail would have been migrating over the Sinai Peninsula and settling down for the night in great numbers.

One day when I was going on (and on and on, probably) about how cool all this was, a characteristically forthright freshman asked, “Why don’t you want to believe in miracles?”

I do want to believe in miracles. And I have witnessed more than one, some for which I could hazard an explanation and some for which I could not. But I love a God who uses what is on hand. The created world is replete with wonderful feats of engineering, ingenuity, complexity, and astounding beauty. Getting humanity to notice that, in the midst of our grumbling (a word used seven times in this passage), seems at least as miraculous as parting the Red Sea.

Loving God, who provides through events ordinary and amazing and sometimes both, may we praise instead of grumble, be dazzled rather than be disappointed. Teach us to rely on your power so evident in the majesty of the natural world, the intricacy of science, and the wonder of the human heart. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning

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