Chip Stapleton Highland Presbyterian Church April 23rd, 2020 Hunkered Down Devotions
Exodus 16:10-16 (VOICE)
10 While Aaron was speaking to the entire community of the Israelites, they all looked out toward the desert, and the radiant glory of the Eternal could be seen in the cloud. 11 The Eternal spoke to Moses.
Eternal One (to Moses): 12 Rest assured, I have heard the constant complaining of the Israelites. Tell them, “In the evening, you will have meat to eat; and in the morning, you will have enough bread to satisfy your gnawing hunger. Then you will know that I am the Eternal your God.”
13 That evening, quail flew in and covered the camp; and when morning arrived, what seemed to be ordinary dew was all around the camp.
14 But when the dew evaporated, it left behind a thin, mysterious, flaky substance that looked like frost on top of the dry desert ground. 15 The people of Israel went out to examine it. They had never seen anything quite like it.
Israelites (to one another): What is it?
The people didn’t have a clue what this strange substance was.
Moses: It is the bread which the Eternal has given you to eat. 16 Here are His instructions: “Gather only as much of it as you should eat by yourself. Pick up two quarts[a] of bread for each person who lives in your tent.”
The word, ‘Manna’, has become synonymous with the idea of supernatural provision or, sometimes, just getting exactly what is needed – at just the right time – seemingly out of nowhere. Today’s Old Testament reading from Exodus gives us the origin story of this phrase.
While wandering in the desert the Israelites grew hungry and angry, even suggesting that it would have been better for them to stay in Egypt – as slaves – then to be stuck in the desert with nothing to eat.
To address their needs God provides meet, in the form of quail, and bread, in the form of manna. Don’t overlook the fact that even though the Israelites were showing an incredible lack of gratitude, God does not greet them with anger, but rather faithfully meets their needs.
Today, I want to spend just a moment thinking about how God meets the needs of the Israelites. Traditionally, we think of the quail and the manna from heaven as a miracle performed by God. In my mind, this is undoubtably the case – how else could you explain it, right?
Interestingly, over the years, as I have studied and read I have come across what can only be called ‘rational’ or ‘natural’ explanations for both the quail and the manna. The article linked here discusses the Haloxylon salicornicum plant, or as it is called today by the Bedouin’s that currently occupy the desert the Israelites wandered, mann-Rimth.
I will leave you to read the majority of the details in the article, but the main point is that there is now – like there was in the time of Exodus – a natural occurring phenomenon that matches the details and descriptions of manna from the Bible.
As for the quail, one of the unique aspects of the divine provision of these birds is that they were so easy for the Israelites to catch. Science and nature, again, provide a ‘natural’ explanation. There are migratory quail, that travel over a large section of the Mediterranean Sea, and land in the same area that the ‘manna’ is found. After this extremely long flight, they are so exhausted that they cannot fly away until they have rested. This makes them ripe for being easily ‘hunted’, simply by picking them up where they lay. Click the link here to read an article about this kind of ‘hunt’ in modern times.
If you are still reading, you might be a little worried that your pastor is trying to undo or dismiss an important miracle from the Bible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I share these ‘natural’ explanations for this miracle, because I believe they point to an even bigger, and for us better, truth.
The fact that the presence of the manna and the quail for the Israelites to eat can be explained by science and nature does not in any way make them less miraculous. Rather, I think it leads us to a better understanding of the depth of God’s love, concern and provision for us.
Do we think that God was surprised at where the Israelites found themselves? Do we think he was caught unprepared by the fact that they were hungry? Do we believe that he didn’t pay attention to them or their plight until they began to complain?
I don’t think so. Instead, God knew - from the beginning of time (or even before time) – what the Israelites would need, when they would need it and where they would be when they needed it. And so, he accounted for that in the very creation of our world!
Undoubtedly, God could have simply conjured up food for them to eat. But doing it this way, in a way that leaves evidence for us to see of God’s love and provision, is so much more powerful.
Because of what we know about the manna and the quail, we know that this isn’t just a ‘story’ – God really did provide for his people. And not only that, but it was always his plan – from the very beginning to do that.
If God planned ahead to care for and feed the Israelites in their wandering through the desert, we can be assured that God has also planned ahead to care for us – through this pandemic – and through any and everything that might come our way.
Sharing God’s Love,
Prayer: God, thank you for the ways in which you provide for us. Help us to see you’re your hand and your provision in both the things that seem miraculous and those that seem ordinary. Amen.