AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
A month and a half after the Israelites left Egypt, they are out of food and full of complaints. Reflecting back on their lives in Egypt, they don’t remember oppression, beatings and degradation—instead, they talk like it was a perfect paradise.
“There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Ex. 16:3)
This is pretty rich coming from the same people who cried out to God to save them. Now that He’s answered their prayers in a super miraculous way, all they can say is “If only we had died by Yahweh’s hand in Egypt!” Is God annoyed? Just a bit. But in His great generosity, He arranges for bread to start falling in the morning and quail to come at twilight. How generous of Him.
But can the Israelites really trust this shady Character who is causing free food to rain down from the sky? It’s amazing how grabby and greedy people become when they have no trust. At this point, God feels He’s more than proven His trustworthiness so He instructs the people to only collect as much manna as they will need for the day. No saving leftovers.
When the manna starts to rain down, everyone collects what they can and its measured out so that each person receives one omer’s worth. It’s a decent portion for one day, but some people decide to eat less so that there will be some leftover that they can hide away for the next day. After all, who knows if God will be in this same generous mood the next morning? But much to their dismay, what they save quickly becomes full of maggots and starts to stink. Yuck. Apparently manna has a very short shelf life. Now Moses and God are angry with the people.
Morning was the appointed time to collect the manna, for when the sun rose in the sky, it melted away. God gave people plenty of time to get their food, but they had to align with His schedule.
On the sixth day of the week, the people were instructed to collect twice as much as usual. The next day is the Sabbath and God wants everyone to rest so He is giving them what they need ahead of time. The sixth day of the week is the only time saving leftovers is acceptable.
Well, now that God is allowing leftovers, some people decide to try storing up again. The next morning they head out to collect even more surplus food, thinking they’ve found a way to get around His dependency program. But of course there is no manna on the ground and when God sees the people standing around with their manna collecting equipment, He is angry.
Then Yahweh said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep My commands and My instructions?” (Ex. 16:28)
As Christians, we want God to constantly prove His care for us. We think trust is built by collecting memories of God saving us but as the Israelites demonstrated, memories are easy to forget. In reality trust has to do with faith in God’s Character. If we truly believe that God is good, then we won’t panic the first time He does something we don’t understand. If we don’t believe He is good, then we will question every move He makes and do everything we can to minimize our sense of dependency on Him.
The Israelites had no faith in God’s Character. Later on in the Bible, we will learn this is because they were worshiping idol gods in their tents. Because their loyalties were divided, they were unmotivated to put effort into their relationship with Yahweh. He was just their emergency Savior. When things were going well, they had no use for Him. When things were going bad, it was because He had betrayed them.
During their time in Egypt, many Jews had begun dabbling in the religious practices of the misguided Egyptians, worshiping fictitious deities and setting up idols in their homes. Even though they saw Yahweh make a mockery of the Egyptian gods throughout the ten plagues, they still chose to bring idols of those same gods with them when they left Egypt and they continued to worship these false gods all throughout their time in the wilderness. Most of us don’t realize how bad the idolatry problem was in the Israelite camp from day one. There are little hints of it—like the fact that Joshua tells people to throw away the gods of their ancestors in his last speech to a new generation of Israelites who had just settled in the Promised Land:
“Now fear Yahweh and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve Yahweh.” (Josh. 24:14)
You don’t ask someone to throw something away unless you know they still have it. Joshua was aware that even as they saw God destroying cities like Jericho in front of them, the Israelites were still holding on to the idols that their parents had brought with them out of Egypt and worshiped throughout their days in the wilderness.
Seeing His chosen people worship idols right in front of Him during the wilderness journey was a bitter memory that God never got over. Centuries later in Amos 5:25-26, He is still feeling the sting of their insulting behavior:
“Did you bring to Me sacrifices and cereal offerings during those forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? No, but instead of bringing Me the appointed sacrifices, you carried about the tent of your king Sakkuth and Kaiwan [names for the gods of the planet Saturn], your images of your star-god which you made for yourselves and you will do so again.” (Amos 5:25-26)
Once God fills us in on just how bad the idolatry problem was, all the terrifying accounts of Him striking the Israelites dead with plagues and pests take on a new meaning. Today, those who already hate God like to use His outbursts of anger in the wilderness as evidence that He is a cruel monster who delights in hurting people. Yet once we hear God’s side of the story, we realize what incredible grace and self-restraint He demonstrated not to strike all of the idolatrous twerps dead the first time they dared to say they wished He had killed them all back in Egypt where they had the good life.
From the very beginning, Israel’s treatment of God is shockingly abusive, cruel, and snarky. How could she be so brazen as to complain against Him after all He has done for her? Because she does not trust Him and has never committed her heart to Him. Today it is a similar lack of trust and devotion that fuels much of our rebellious behavior as Christians. We revere God enough to align with His requirements for salvation, but we refuse to fully commit to Him. Instead we keep worshiping our idols of money, people, and fame. We stress and obsess over how we can store up resources for our future because we don’t trust God to provide for us. We hoard and refuse to share with others because we don’t feel safe unless we have a hefty savings account. When He does something we don’t like, we are quick to accuse Him of not caring about us. When He asks us to do something we don’t want to do, we shrug Him off without a second thought.
God knows that if we have divided loyalties, we will push Him to the bottom of our priority list, and this is why He commands us to love Him and only Him with all that we are. Jesus said we must be willing to leave family and friends for His sake. He also said we cannot serve multiple masters. Devotion and trust were two lessons the nation of Israel never learned. The Church today has similar problems: her devotion is weak and she is spending far too much time worshiping every good speaker and guitar player that comes along to pay God the attention He deserves. Our church congregations are filled with carnality and many have bought Satan’s lie that they should be trying to cater to the world instead of to Christ. Petting prides has become more important than speaking the Truth. Sensual experiences are more valued than somber thinking. As the Spirit moves through our congregations, does He feel the same anger and jealousy He felt when He moved through those tents in the wilderness?
As individuals who sincerely care about pleasing God, we can’t fix the entire Church, but we can decide not to follow her bad example. Exalting sin by declaring ourselves to be an “affirming church”, exalting fallen human beings just because we like the way they entertain us on stage—we who are serious about pleasing God must not take part in any of this rot. We must keep our eyes fixed on God and ask the Holy Spirit to help us develop total trust in His good Character—trust that will make us slow to complain and slow to forget all of the great things He has already done in each of our lives. God loves human beings and has been calling them to come close to Him since the beginning of this world. Most of the souls He calls will give Him nothing more than a passing glance. May He find in us the love of David, the devotion of Job, the humility of Moses, and the boldness of Elijah. With the Holy Spirit to empower us, there is no limit to how much we can bless the heart of our Lord.