Monday, August 13, 2012

Narrative of Enough

Yahweh still has not won the trust of these broken people.  Ten plagues, the exodus from Egypt, the crushing of Pharaoh and his armies at the Red Sea, the provision of fresh water to drink shortly after, and still the people are grumbling to Moses and Aaron.
"Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."  (16:3)
Talk about the power of nostalgia.  The Israelites recall the "good ol' days" of their slavery as if it were a continual feast.  All of these miracles have not been enough to yet erase the lasting scars of their broken chains which provided a familiarity they prefer to the unknown of following Yahweh down this uncharted path.  Sure, Yahweh has provided miraculous deliverance but can he sustain this delivered people?  Can the mighty warrior god also be the god who provides basic needs like bread in times of peace?

Yahweh's patience with this long-oppressed people continues.  There is no rebuke.  Moses does not even have to intercede for the people.  Instead, God hears their grumbling and immediately responds by telling Moses "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you."  In fact, we will hear in a few verses that it is not only bread but also meat - the very things which the Israelites mentioned in their grumbling.  Now Yahweh is just showing off.  The Lord of all creation is willing to play the role of personal chef and waiter to these former slaves if that is what it takes to replace their fear with trust.

In that effort of gradually bringing such a tortured people along to a place of trust, God now asks for a small sign of trust in handling the gracious gifts of bread and quail which have been provided.  The people are only to gather enough provisions for each day.  They are not to hoard their goods as the Egyptians did but rather they are to trust that God will continue to provide.  The only exception to this rule is on the day before the Sabbath when they are commanded to gather two days worth of provisions so that they will not have to gather on the Sabbath - a day of rest which is itself a reminder that we are not to be a people of continual work but a people who trust God to provide even when we take time to rest.  When the people follow this command and trust God to provide they find that "whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat."  When they failed to follow this command and gathered extra, they found that what they had gathered "bred worms and stank".  The Israelites have only known the hoarding ways of Pharaoh which leave the weak without enough. Yahweh is teaching the Israelites that in God's economy there is always enough when no one takes more than they need.

Like the people of Israel, Christians are a people recovering from Pharaoh's narrative of scarcity.  We too have been told that there is only so much wealth to go around and if we don't work hard enough or we aren't smart enough then we might end up without our fair share.  We may even end up without enough.  So much of our lives is spent accumulating more and more wealth so as to ensure that no matter what happens we will always be able to provide for ourselves.  But this story pushes us to see that the basic premise of God's economy is not scarcity but perfectly proportioned provision.  In fact, it is only when we buy into the notion of scarcity and begin to take more than our share that scarcity becomes a reality for others.

There are some miraculous and extraordinary stories of God's provision for Israel in the book of Exodus.  But part of what we learn from this story is that God's gracious provision is not always the vanquish of a mighty empire or walking across the Red Sea on dry ground.  God's gracious provision most often takes the form of daily bread and meat.  That every-day, ordinary quality doesn't make it any less a gift of God.  Likewise, placing our trust in God doesn't always mean doing something extraordinary.  Most days it will mean refusing to buy into the empire's narrative of scarcity, refusing to hoard what we've gained, and believing that if we will provide for the needs of others God will provide for us.

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