Late last Spring, I made a boys’ baseball trip with Caleb. On a Thursday afternoon, we watched the Atlanta Braves play baseball against the Pirates in downtown Pittsburg before getting in the car for a five hour drive. The next day, we planned to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Canada.
What we both remember about that afternoon in the car is that the further we drove, the fewer options we discovered that we had for dinner and thus the more weary we both became. It was getting late, we were both getting hungry and we wanted a break from the car. Further, we didn’t know how long it would take us to cross the border from the US into Canada.
We had had a great experience in Pittsburg. We had enjoyed the scenery on the drive and we were excited about seeing Canada. But, for the moment, being tired and hungry had certainly worked their magic on our enthusiasm.
We all know what this sort of moment is like. We all understand how easy it is for the discomforts of life to drown out and drive away the blessings of life. That is what happened to us on that afternoon. This is also what happens to the Israelites in our passage for today.
As we reach Exodus chapter 16 from a chronological standpoint, the Israelites have been gone from Egypt for roughly a month. If you think about it, this was plenty of time for them to run out of whatever food they had brought with them. It was also just about the right amount of time for the newness of this adventure on the other side of the Red Sea to begin to feel old and monotonous. Apparently, after a month, whatever excitement, enthusiasm and good will they had built up for Moses, his leadership and God’s blessings had all but faded away. Four weeks had elapsed and the Israelites were hungry, they were tired and their attitude was in the ditch. Again, as has already been said, they had allowed their discomforts in the moment to drown out their life’s blessings.
As this happens, the Israelites make two fatal mistakes in their complaining that I think are easy for any of us to make. In fact, I would suggest that not only are they easy mistakes to make but that we do indeed make them often in similar circumstances. Perhaps, they are the mistakes that we are making as a result of our own complaining in these days through which we are living.
First, in their complaints, the Israelites make the mistake of over exaggerating both the present and the past. Look at verse three. It is one of the classic statements of over exaggerating in scripture. “ ‘Oh, that we were back in Egypt,’ they moaned. ‘It would have been better if the Lord had killed us there! At least there we had plenty to eat. But now you have brought us into this desert to starve us to death.’ “
We have nothing to eat. You have led us astray Moses. We were better off in slavery in Egypt. Life was so good back then. These are all statements of the Israelites and there is a hint of truth in them but it is also an embellished truth. Yes, they had run out of provisions, but God was going to give them plenty to eat in the form of manna and quail. Yes, they were not sure where they were going but God was leading them. And, yes, they were in a challenging, new place but they sure were not enslaved or doing the backbreaking work of their Egyptian past.
Think about the way we often respond to similar moments. This is the worst thing I have ever lived through. I don’t know how my family can handle one more day of this. My kids are bored to death. That is the worst decision I have ever heard of in my life. I can’t take any more of this. This is the most challenging moment of the last 100 years. Life was so good way back when, why we didn’t have a care in the world.
Is that really true? Is that actually the way things are or were? Or, in our momentary discomforts that certainly have caused our enthusiasm about life to wane and that have brought new challenges, have we like the Israelites over exaggerated how bad things really are or how good things once were? I would say if we are honest, the answer is yes we have on all accounts.
Second, in their complaints, the Israelites struggled to see the blessings of life on a daily basis over the long haul. In Exodus 16, things ultimately level out for the Israelites. God provides both manna and quail to meet the needs of the people for food. It is a fascinating part of the Exodus story to read about in that the manna comes daily, except on the Sabbath, to provide just what the people need. Quail also arrive in abundance at least for a time to add meat to their diet. Yet, God’s provisions only satisfy the Israelites for a season. Eventually, as we get to the book of Numbers with the wilderness years continuing to drag on, the people begin to complain again. This time not about being hungry but instead about the monotony of the manna and the lack of variety.
At this point, the Israelites, remind us that we can find blessings in the moment but the real question is can we be thankful people, who continue to find the goodness in each day when something that we thought would only last for a moment seems to drag on forever?
I think that is a big question for us right now. We are in a fragile state. We all thought this little challenge with COVID 19 would be over by now. We all felt that by the Fall life would be back to normal. Now, we certainly have to say that things are getting better but they are certainly not yet normal. So, as people of faith, we must dig deep and live into the disciplines of our faith that always help us to do the right things over the long haul and even when we don’t feel up to it.
In other words, can we keep on praying when we don’t sense God is answering? Can we keep on making worship a priority even when there are challenges that go with it? Can we on continuing to put others first even when it brings us discomfort? Can we keep on seeing the good and counting our blessings, day after day and week after week when there is every temptation to express our frustrations? It is in keeping these spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, service, gratitude and others like them over the long haul, come what may, day after day, that our faith is really deepened.
I have a nephew that loved to be outside and dig in the dirt when he was a little boy. One of the things he enjoyed a great deal was coming to my parents house where there is lots of room to roam. He and his grandfather spent hours with a metal detector that my dad owns exploring every square inch of ground and seeing what they could find. Of course, what they discovered were old bottle caps, nails, fruit jar lids, a lost penny or quarter, small farm implements and the like. But, that is not how my nephew saw those things. He held on to them and kept them in a shoebox under his bed years which he referred to as his box of treasures.
Every day, even in these days, there are treasures around us. The question becomes can we have the discipline over the long haul, to look for them, to discover them and to allow the joy that those things bring us to give us hope. God is here, right now and so are God’s blessings. Amen.