It’s somewhat fascinating how quickly the glow of God’s manifest glory can fade. And it’s not an issue with the nature of God’s glory, but a reflection of the feebleness of His people’s memories.
I’m reading in Exodus 16 this morning. The nation has just come off a time of great celebration. Walking through a wall of water has a way of turning on the party lights. They have been singing to Lord. They have been dancing to the Lord. They have been rejoicing in the Lord. How come? Because they are on the other side of the Red Sea and their enemies are not. But no sooner do the lights go out then, on the morning after the night before, the singing turns to grumbling.
Because, on the other side of the Red Sea, there’s a wilderness. A legitimate wilderness. Not much water. Not much food. And when you compare it to Egypt (if you can ignore the slavery, bondage, and oppression) it comes up kind of short. And despite having witnessed the power of God through ten mind-blowing plagues. Despite having seen the grace of God as the blood of the lamb on their door posts spared the lives of their firstborn. With seemingly no thought to the fact that they are hauling around the treasures of the land of their captivity. Having seemingly forgotten that they have just walked through a great sea. As the people start to interact with the desert, they murmur. As they walk in the wilderness, they complain. And they wonder about going back to Egypt.
Their wilderness experience is real. Their thirst is real. Their hunger is real. But what they fail to remember is that their God is real. And so, to remind them that He is real, He says He will feed them.
I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.
(Exodus 16:12 ESV)
And they wake up one morning and on the ground is God’s gracious provision, “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground” (16:14). Not quite like anything they had seen before. Not quite like anything they had tasted before. Certainly something that had never seen served up in this manner before.
When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, What is it?
(Exodus 16:15a ESV)
God met their needs outside of their expectations. God provided with a solution beyond their imagination. What they felt was their greatest need on earth was met with divine provision from heaven. And they said, “What is it?” Original word? . . . Manna.
“It is the bread God has given you to eat,” Moses tells them. Gather it. Pick it up. Digest it. As much as you can eat. It will be sufficient for the day. None will have too much. No one will have too little (16:15b-18). And the people said to one another, “Manna.” What is it?
And I’m thinking that sometimes, when I’m wandering in the wilderness, I too think I know what I need. I know what God should do and how He should do it and when it should be done. And, when it doesn’t pan out or fit into my timing, though I’ve known His past provision, I can find myself murmuring and complaining. Instead, I should be waiting and anticipating His provision. Even if that provision is “What is it?”
God has not directed where He will not lead. He has not sent on pilgrimage without thought of how He will provide. He doesn’t lead us through great victory into a wilderness experience so that we might figure out how to go it alone. No, in fact the wilderness, often, is so that He might feed us that we might know afresh that He is the LORD our God. So let’s not be surprised if God meets our needs in surprising ways. If, in the morning, we find that how He’s provided is in a way we never expected.
And we’ll praise Him, even as we ask, “What is it?” We’ll marvel in Him, even as we partake in bread from heaven. And we’ll worship Him, even as we eat the manna.
What is it . . . a reminder of God’s grace. Manna . . . a reason to give God glory!