Chapter & verse: Exodus 16
Francis Brienen finds God’s provision in the wilderness
The book of Exodus has provided rich pickings for film directors through the years. It is easy to see why. There is plenty of material that is full of imagination and drama: the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the wanderings in the wilderness, and, of course, the giving of the Ten Commandments. But Exodus is much more than a series of dramatic stories. It is first and foremost a story of becoming – of a people becoming the people of God. The book begins with slavery and bondage to Pharaoh and ends with freedom and bonding with God.
That journey of becoming starts here, with the manna and quails. In this story, the people receive a new identity; they are called the ‘congregation of Israel’ four times – a term that is rare elsewhere in Exodus. From now on they will be in a new relationship and live by a different order.
But that is not how it feels in the second month of being in the desert. They are hungry. How can that be if they are God’s people? Soon, the murmurings start. They wish they had stayed in Egypt. At least there was food to eat. It is not easy to feel God near when material needs are not met. Faith in God’s leading erodes with the desert sands.
God’s response can feel surprising, perhaps even jarring. God decides to test them. Why would a God who has just led his people out of slavery want to put them to the test? The tension between God’s leading on the one hand and God’s testing on the other is not easy to resolve. The story says that its purpose is to see whether the people will follow God’s instructions. There is a lot to learn for the people of Israel, not least that the same God who led them out of slavery can be trusted to care for them still…
Francis Brienen is Deputy General Secretary (Mission) for the United Reformed Church
This is an extract from an article that was published in the February 2019 edition of Reform