This week we are looking at how God supplied the people of Israel and what provision God makes for us today. And it starts off in an interesting place. The story starts at Elim, which is a big oasis in the desert. A fertile, green place with lots of water and food. The Israelites are living large. But the first verse says, “the Israelites set out from Elim” – they left that amazing place on God’s command, and they “came to the wilderness of Sin.” How’s that for a sales pitch? Hey, I want you to leave this lush place with everything you need and go out into the wilderness of Sin. Yikes. And yet even there, God supplies what they need. It’s not what they pictured. It’s not on their timetable. It’s kind of strange. But in the wilderness of Sin, God provides.
Exodus 16:1-5, 13-21
1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The 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.” 4Then 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. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”
13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When 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.16This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’“ 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
It Used To Be So Much Better…
This passage has one of my favorite words in all of the Bible. Any guess what it is? Verse 3: “fleshpots.” “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.” Fleshpots is an awesome word. It’s kind of creepy, and it conjures in my mind an image of the Orcs from The Lord of the Rings, but still. Great word.
And it’s also a fascinating complaint. Our text says they were like 45 days out of Egypt. It wasn’t that long ago. And yet here they are remembering their time in Egypt as if it were an all-you-can-eat buffet! I’m pretty sure slaves don’t have unending supplies of great food. It hasn’t even been two months, and they’re already wishing for the good old days. Or at least, wishing for what they imagine the good old days were like.
We do that today, too. Here are some complaints about the pace of modern life:
“It is unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry.”
“[There is a] mental and nervous degeneration among a growing class of people…characterized by a brain incapable of normal working…in large measure due to the hurry and excitement of modern life…with its almost instantaneous communication between remote points of the globe.”
Can you relate to those laments about the pace of modern life? Well people definitely could relate when they were written…in the 1890’s. Maybe the good-old-days weren’t so golden after all.
It only took the Israelites 45 days to develop a false memory about their past. It only took them 45 days to start noticing what they DIDN’T have. 45 days to start complaining about what they WISHED they had. 45 days. Luckily we are much more advanced than them. I bet we could do it in 30.
Really I think this text shows that there are two different mindsets. The Israelites have what I call the “I wish/I can’t” mindset. They are literally being personally led by God via a pillar of smoke and fire every day…and yet they wonder if God abandoned them. They have seen untold miracles over the last few months…and yet they think they’re going to starve. If any generation had tangible proof of God’s existence and God’s provision for their people, it’s this one. But here they go imagining Egyptian fleshpots that they never really had.
In just 45 days, God’s tangible presence in the pillar of cloud and fire has been taken for granted. That amazing, lush oasis God led them to a couple of weeks ago? Already forgotten. That was then, this is now. What have you done for me lately, God?
And then, even when God does supply them with manna, they try to hoard it. They try to keep some leftovers. They ignore Moses’ instructions. They’re STILL wishing for something better.
It’s a good thing we would never do anything like that, right? We would NEVER take our blessings for granted, would we? We would NEVER look around, noticing everything we DON’T have rather than being grateful for what we DO have, would we? We’re not like the Israelites!
I mean, we do have a lot of challenges. As a church, we could complain that we’re not as young as we once were. Or Allie recently found out that all of her high school leaders are independently moving away – not easy to replace. Session is going to be looking at the budget this Sunday, and when we propose a budget you might lament how much we’re spending over here and how little we’re spending over there. Our building is old. Our carpet is old. Our pipes are old.
That’s our church, but what about you? What challenges are you facing? Heavier than you used to be? More stressed than ever? No free time? Hard to go on a date with your spouse? You can see the mountains but can’t find time to get there? Struggling with health? Struggling with finances? Bad luck? All alone?
Those are real problems. The Israelites in our text were actually hungry. It wasn’t a fake issue. Praying about these real problems – that’s totally fine. That’s encouraged! But what kind of attitude do we have as we do it? What kind of mindset?
Are we complaining, and ranting, and railing, and imagining fleshpots from our past? Are we focusing only on what we WISH we had without ever noticing what we ALREADY have? That’s the “I wish/I can’t” mindset. And that’s a problem. The “I wish/I can’t” mindset does to our hearts and souls what happened to the manna when the Israelites didn’t listen to Moses’ instructions: “But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul.” I don’t know about you, but I’m generally against worms breeding in my heart. Literally or figuratively. I’m not a worms fan.
I have/I Can Mindset
I know someone who often displays a very different mindset. She does her fair share of complaining, but I’ve also seen some amazing faithfulness that shows a better mindset. The “I have/I can” mindset. She doesn’t have much money – it’s hand-to-mouth for her. It’s been that way for years and will probably always be that way. She has health issues. BUT one day she inherited a moderate sum of money. The people who cared about her gave her very sound advice – put it away. Save it for the next crisis. But she said, “No. I would rather take this opportunity to give to others. God will provide in the future just as he has in the past.” And so she spent the vast majority of this inheritance being a blessing to people who had been a blessing to her. And sure enough, another crisis came down the road. And yes, she could have easily paid for it if she had hung on to her inheritance. But she came through it OK, and her heart didn’t have worms in it. Being a blessing to others filled her heart with joy. To her, that was worth more than the money.
Now, I’m not telling you that you should live hand-to-mouth and give everything away. I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach if I said that. But I am raising the question: “What’s your mindset? And what grows in your heart as a result?”
Here’s a way to think about this. Imagine that you’re on a deserted island. Your family finds out and they’re going to try to rescue you. Now, you would prefer for them to send a helicopter…or at least a boat. But instead a cargo plane flies over and drops a crate full of supplies and a set of instructions to build a contraption you don’t fully understand. What do you do?
Do you plop down on the sand and shake your fist at the sky and refuse to do anything until the helicopter comes? Or do you start using the supplies and following the instructions, having faith that your family sent this to you on purpose?
We may not have the perfect helicopters on our islands, but we do have supplies and instructions from God. What supplies has God given you? What equipment has God blessed you with? What knowledge or ability can God use? God has supplied you with what you have, just as God supplied the Israelites. How has God supplied you? And what’s the next step in the instructions?
For instance, Allie is losing her high school leader team. But she just added a new leader. God has partially supplied her ministry by supplying that leader with the ability to influence the lives of teenagers for Christ. Hopefully God has supplied another couple of people in this church to do the same thing.
Carol is about to be gone for several weeks after her knee surgery. First off, pray for her. But also we have been supplied with faithful and caring Deacons to help be the first line of defense in pastoral care in her absence.
How has God supplied you? Maybe it’s unexpected grace in the midst of challenge. Maybe it’s experience or intellect or abilities. Maybe it’s friends or family. God has provided. God has supplied. What will you do with it? [LONG PAUSE]
Ways to Deploy
That’s a good question – what will you do with it? Because notice in our text that God supplied the manna, but the Israelites had to go gather it. The book of Numbers retells this event, and there we see that the Israelites had to mill it – it didn’t come as bags of bread from the store – they had to put some elbow grease into it. And also notice that God didn’t allow them to keep it past one day except on the Sabbath.
Taken together, I think it’s pretty clear that God wants to supply us SO THAT we can put it to use. If God has supplied you with financial means – it’s not just to keep adding zeros to your bank account, it’s to be a blessing in some way. If God has supplied you with knowledge about the Bible or curiosity about the Bible – it’s not just to feed yourself, it’s to be a blessing to others as well – join the women’s Bible study, or one of the men’s Bible studies, or Dave Blackburn’s Sunday morning class, or my class that starts today. If God has supplied you with compassion, it’s not just to sit at home feeling for others – is that helping the Deacons or visiting the homebound? How can you have the “I have/I can” mindset rather than the “I wish/I can’t” mindset?
Sisters and brothers, we have been supplied by God. Our church has been supplied, we have personally been supplied. It’s not always the perfect helicopter we wished for. It’s not always the fleshpots we imagine we used to have. We could sit around wishing for what we don’t have, reminding ourselves of all the reasons we can’t. Or we could notice what we have, reminding ourselves of all the reasons we can. Which mindset will you take into this week? Amen.