Exodus 16 & John 6: 24-35 – Trust

a reflection by Dan Spragg

We’ve jumped ahead a little in the Exodus story and have caught up with the Israelites as they are entering the wilderness. Moses has been back to Egypt, and God has convinced Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people leave. The plagues have come and reigned terror on the Egyptians, the Israelites have escaped through the Red Sea and the Egyptian army has been overcome and wiped out during their attempt to pursue. The Israelites find themselves in the desert, hungry and without an obvious supply of food. Has anyone witnessed the state of a toddler who has moved into the next state of being that comes following hunger? Hangry is what it’s called and it’s no joke, it’s a real thing!  It happens to those who are also older than toddlers too. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it! It’s serious stuff. The Israelites are hangry and begin to stamp their feet and think unreasonably. ‘Take us back to Egypt! At least there we had food! Never mind the reality of slavery, at least we weren’t going to die of hunger!’ Moses, at God’s instruction, uses this moment to teach them something. Moses teaches the people to trust in God. He teaches them the lesson he has learnt himself, that God is with them and God has a different agenda to Pharaoh.

The question is, for God and for Moses, how will these people learn to trust in God? How will they come to know the life God has for them? How will they come to know God’s agenda? They will learn this by experiencing daily provision and the concept of ‘enough.’ Each day God promises to provide enough food for them. There is no scarcity when it comes to God. What is needed for each day will be provided. Each day they are to gather enough for each person. I encourage you to go home and read the full chapter but here’s a summary: For five days they were to gather enough food and on the 6th day they were to gather enough food for two days. If they tried to hoard more than one day of food during the week it would rot and be eaten by worms overnight. It is here the command of Sabbath is given. On the 7th day they were to rest from their labour. What a great way to learn to trust in the provision of God. There were to be no more seven day work weeks. All they had known was work in slavery. In their new found freedom they can trust in God’s provision. They can rest, take a day to stop, to recover, to do something other than work! They are no longer a people under slavery. Sabbath was never intended to become a system of oppression with a narrow understanding and vast restrictions of what people could and could not do. As Jesus says in Mark 2:27 “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.” It’s fascinating how quickly this principle gets forgotten. Over and over it gets forgotten. Rest is good for us. We recharge mentally, physically, spiritually and we learn that it’s ok to stop – the world goes on without us, all we need is provided, God is with us. At the Burning Bush Moses met YAHWEH – I am who I am – this revelation of God was given and used to signify God as the creator of all. The source of all life. It is this God of life that seeks to bring the Israelites out of death – slavery in Egypt – into new life as a community of God. This is God’s agenda and they were to learn to trust in this.

I have three questions for us to consider today. 1. Why do the Israelites want to go back to Egypt? 2. What is it about hard circumstances that allow us to forget about the faithfulness and goodness of God? 3. What is so important about trust?

Question 1: Why do the Israelites want to go back to Egypt? Simply put, better the devil you know than the one you don’t. Egypt was familiar, they knew what they were meant to do. In some ways being in Egypt as a slave was easier than wandering in an unknown space. I was talking with a colleague in another city recently who laughed as he reflected on some of his recent experiences with what he called the ‘back to Egypt’ committee!’ The rose coloured glasses we look back through make where we used to be always somehow better than where we are in the present. Somehow our current challenges are always so much worse than anything we’ve ever faced before. Somehow, back then, in the ‘good ‘ol days’ we never faced any hardship of any kind. It’s funny isn’t it. I don’t understand the psychology of it but somehow the past has an alluring element to it. Maybe on a simple level it is a tactic we use to put off facing whatever it is we need to be facing in the present. Defaulting to what we know is just easier. The problem is, longing for the ‘way things used to be’ won’t help any of us overcome the issues and challenges we face in the here and now, so, as a tactic for dealing with current problems it’s not a very good one! To take the Israelites back to Egypt would be certain death, to lead them onwards through the unknown towards the promised vision of their future is the only option. We can never go back to where we were, we can only go forwards trusting in the hope of God’s presence.

Question 2: What is it about hard circumstances that allow us to forget about the faithfulness and goodness of God? A commentary I read this week said this: “How common it is among the people of God that a crisis, whether of daily need or physical suffering, occasions a crisis of faith. Material and spiritual well-being are more closely linked than we often care to admit”[1] For the Israelites their food crisis very quickly turned into a faith crisis. How quickly they forgot the miraculous rescue from Egypt that God had orchestrated for them. Again I think this is simply a display of our human nature. It becomes hard to see anything other than the difficulties we are faced with. Moses’ solution to this is to show them that just as God was present with them in the miraculous events not too long ago, God was also present with them in their everyday lives as well. God is located in the ordinary just as much as God is located in the extraordinary. The commentary went on to say: “Israel’s situation is not unlike a community of faith whose understanding of “act of God” has been largely determined by their insurance policies. The connections of God with daily affairs has, for all practical purposes, disappeared. The resolution is not to stress the extraordinary acts of God one more time but to keep God linked with everyday blessings.” The solution is to notice God with us in the ordinary blessings of everyday life, if God is behind these then surely God can do extraordinary things in our lives as well. We might be facing difficulties, but God is still with us, providing all we need for our daily living, and if this is true, that God is in our smaller needs, then perhaps God is able to address our larger difficulties as well. Again, it appears, we are to trust in the presence of God.

And, Question 3: What is so important about trust? And, why do we need to trust God? Why do we need to trust our leaders? Why do we need to trust one another? The easy answer to all of these is simply that we know trust to be a good thing. We know it is important. Trust seems foundational to success. Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni places trust as the primary building block of effectiveness when working with others.[2] In contrast, the absence of trust creates stagnation, suspicion, and the putting of individual preferences over others. The absence of trust creates unnecessary rivalry and in-fighting. The absence of trust leaves a void which is quickly filled with dysfunction of all sorts. We live in an age of distrust. Suspicion of government. Suspicion of religion. Suspicion of science seems to be a trend now as well. We haven’t got time to go into why this is so, but I will say that the society we have can only be the one that we have created… What is the antidote to this? Well, it is simple really. We must rebuild the presence of trust and the easiest starting point is how we ourselves live. I think for the Israelites it was as if God understood a basic need, a foundational aspect of human relationships (imagine God understanding us… *wink wink*). With the absence of trust they were simply not going to survive, let alone journey into the life God had for them. Why do we need to trust God, our leaders and one another? Because without trust we may as well give up on the whole enterprise all together! We can see what the unraveling of trust does. We cannot, we must not, continue down this path. 

God’s agenda with us is the same as it was with the Israelites. Life. The creator of life is on the side of life. When Jesus referenced this event in the Israelite history he was careful to bring it to this point. Emmanuel, God with us, is about the gift of life to us which is all found in trusting in the source of life itself. We can trust because God is ‘goodness’ itself, therefore the gift of life is good. Stepping into the gift of life each and every day may contain unknown and unplanned challenges but to resist and look backwards is not the answer. God is present in our everyday ordinary life which means that when an occasion demands an extraordinary solution, God is up to that task too. Trust. The Israelites had to learn this, and I think what we know of their continued journey tells us that they had to keep relearning this, just as we know we must do. God’s agenda for us is life, and we are to embody this agenda for one another and for the communities around us.  So let us trust in God for all we need and let trust be the building block on which we live our lives. This so that we may live fully in the life God gifts to us. Which, of course, we do not only for ourselves but as always for the sake of the communities around us. 

[1] Fretheim, Terence E.. Exodus: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p183.

[2] See, Lencioni, Patrick M.; The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.