Food for Thought-Hunger Games in the Wilderness-a Sermon on Exodus 16:2-15


I really do feel for Moses. I talked a couple of weeks ago at how difficult it must have been for him to initially relate the story of the burning bush to his family and fellow shepherds. Can you imagine explaining to a group of disbelieving Midianite relatives or shepherds? Shepherds you don’t really fit in with in the first place. They are professional shepherds since they could walk, you are an over educated culturally confused Egyptian claiming to be Jewish who’d never seen a sheep until you arrived in Midian fleeing murder charges. One day you tell them God spoke to you through a burning bush (which didn’t burn) and now you’re the one designated to lead the mission to free the Israelites from Pharaoh? People haven’t changed that much over the past three or four thousand years. If it sounds strange to us, it’s probably going to sound crazy to them as well.

Now all of that has been vindicated. He was the guy God called. Despite his meekness of speech and initial reluctance, the Exodus happened. God made massive demonstrations of his power to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. The Nile turned to blood, there plagues of frogs and locusts, and eventually the angel of death passed over and killed every first born Egyptian. To follow this up, God caused an immense natural body of water to divide itself, making it possible for the Israelites to flee an approaching Egyptian army. The army was subsequently destroyed when the divided water came back together, crushing and drowning the Egyptian army. You have to admit it, this is pretty amazing stuff. If you’re one of the Israelites on this initial stage of the journey to the Promised Land, you’ve seen God do things than no one else had ever seen or would ever see again. There should be no doubt in your mind about God’s seriousness of purpose or God’s ability to deliver and deliver big on God’s promises. Wouldn’t you agree?

Yes. I would. And this is why I feel for Moses, as a leader and simply as a human being. You would think that by this time his resume and God’s actions would speak for themselves. But that’s not the case. What the Israelites have seen and witnessed isn’t enough. Yesterday, God was killing Egyptian children and the Pharaoh was drinking blood from the polluted Nile. It seems, that no matter how dramatic and meaningful yesterday was they’ve forgotten it. Call it what you will, they’ve stopped connecting the dots, they are no longer thinking straight, they’ve simply ignored the realities of the past and can’t see anything beyond right now. That stinks, especially for Moses.

They might have been on the road for 60-90 days. At some point, relatively soon after they left Egypt, scripture tells us, “the whole congregation”, which means basically everybody started to complain against Moses and Aaron. Here’s the kicker. The complaints are not simple concerns. One might expect, “we’re hot, we’re tired, there’s never enough water.” Those are the kind of complaints one might and would even rightly expect. We’re dealing with human beings in hot, dry, and arid land. People will complain.

But that’s not what they said. Listen again to their words. “If we had only 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.”

If you God, is what they are saying, had only killed us in Egypt, we would be better off, because there was bread in Egypt. Now Moses, you are trying to kills us with some kind of starvation death march. This is why I feel for Moses. He can’t win. Can you just imagine his level of frustration? He risked his life by going up in front of Pharaoh, he’s helped facilitate these massive displays of God’s power, with his brother he has helped organize every aspect of their journey and now they accuse him of trying to kill them with starvation? They have the nerve to publicly say it was better in Egypt. So not only have they forgotten what God has done for them they’ve completely idealized and romanticized what being a slave was about.

It would be like someone managing to escape from Auschwitz, Dachau, or Bergen-Belsen any concentration camp you can name and when they were far enough way but have to struggle between German and allied lines saying something like this to the person risked their life to free them, “Those Germans and SS guards sure were nice guys. Why have you brought me out here to the cold forests of Poland only to die of hunger and starvation? Why didn’t you kill me at the camp? At least they gave us rotten bread to eat on the way to the gas chamber. The gas chamber would be better than this.”

Do you see how ridiculous they are being? How insanely stupid they sound? How they have lost all sense of proportion and context?

This complaint to Moses reveals two important facts. First, they have trust issues with Moses. Secondly, they don’t trust God. Ultimately, it is really just about God. Because if they don’t trust Moses, that’s just the visible sign that they don’t trust God. And as Billy Joel said, it’s a matter of trust.

They think they are out there to play the Hunger Games. That’s not the case. Through Moses, God explains how he is going to provide for them on a daily basis. It involves giving them bread on a daily basis. I seem to remember us saying something earlier about, “give us this day or daily bread.” Well lo and behold this is where Jesus took it from.

God is going to provide bread from heaven each and every day they are on the road. There will only be enough for that given day. On the day before the Sabbath, so they can rest on the Sabbath, God will provide and extra portion, so they are getting two days worth on that day. There will be enough for everyone. No one will get more than they need but everyone will get exactly what they need. This is crucial to God’s plan: what they are getting will only last for one day. Anything leftover will rot away that night. So no one is allowed to stockpile or hoard food. They will get more on the following day.

Why is God doing it this way? Why is God using this daily bread option? Because they are going to have to trust him that something will be there tomorrow. The only way this is going to work is if they trust God. We only have enough food for today. This bread will only feed us today. We have no leftovers, supplies, or any for tomorrow. The only way we are going to survive is to trust that God will do tomorrow (provide for us) the same way he did today. We have to trust God (and his people on the ground, Aaron and Moses).

How many times in our own life have we reenacted this Israelite drama? You may not have seen a plague of frogs or Silver Lake split so you can walk across it but you have seen God at work in your life. God has done amazing things; sometimes spectacular and at other times exquisitely simple. Regardless of how grand or how small, God has moved in your life. How easy is it for us to forget how far God has brought us and what God has done in our lives? It is as easy as it was for the Israelites.

How easy is it for us to offer effusive praise and love to God on one day then doubt God’s love or presence in our lives the next? It is as easy as the last breath you took. So what do we do? How do we avoid playing the mental Hunger Games like a group of wandering Israelite pilgrims?

The first thing we do is look around. We remind ourselves of what God has done in our lives. Are you alive this morning? I hope so. There are no zombies in God’s house. Do you have food on your table? I doubt any of us are going hungry. Do you have family and friends who love you? Yes, because many of them are sitting right here beside you. I could go on. But I am here to tell you this morning that those things are evidence of God’s action, presence, and blessing in your life. You life is your Red Sea, you food is your manna from heaven. You family and your life is evidence that God has spared you from the Pharaoh’s of this world.

Now if all of that mercy, goodness, and grace surrounds you, let me ask you this: Did God bring you that far to let you down tomorrow? Did God walk with you up to this point to forget about you? We didn’t come this far to forget. We did make this journey to stop here. We didn’t overcome all of those in our lives to give up now. Fear and doubt may have knocked at your door. Will trust answer?

In the words of the old African American spiritual, “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired”:
I don’t feel noways tired
I’ve come to o far from where I started from
Nobody told me the road would be easy
I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me.

We know the road’s not easy. Yet, he didn’t bring you this far to leave you.

The second thing both we and the Israelites need to do is understand the difference between our “shoulds” and our “musts”. We all know what we should do. But can we do what we must do? We know we should trust God. We see that God has a track record. We are living proof of God’s unbroken winning streak in keeping us alive. And we must not forget it. That is why we must remind ourselves by looking around at our world and our lives. That is why we must remind ourselves by coming to church and re-telling the stories of God’s goodness and saving works. This is why we sing the old hymns that talk about what God has done because we must remind ourselves for a coming tomorrow when we are prone to forget.