Exodus 16: 2-15 (NRSV)
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?’ 8 Moses also said, ‘You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.’
9 Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, “Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.”’
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked towards the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”’
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
Hunger is primal. It is one of the things we share consistently with the rest of creation. It hooks us at the deepest core of our being. It teaches us how finite we are, because food is necessary if we are to stay alive. With every groan, our stomachs sing a chorus of our mortality. This scene shows us that things have gotten desperately bleak for the community of Israel, so much so that they have found it life threatening. Parents fearful of losing their children. There is grave, genuine concern about seeing another day. There won’t be many dry eyes at bedtime each night in this camp.
By this point, you are probably hearing Jesus' famous words ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’ from Matthew 4:4 – that was his response to his starvation and temptation in the desert. Much of the circumstances are the same. It might even lead you to casting doubt on the actions of the people we have met in this part of Exodus. That was my first reaction. Won’t they ever learn? Just have more faith! The highly quotable ‘What would Jesus do?’ Yet, I realised I wasn’t really hungry. I don’t remember ever being really THAT hungry. For some of us, hunger may not be the groan against God that we have.
However, even though that might be the case, the way in which God deals with the situation is a critical lesson about who God is for all of us. In the midst of their struggles, their life-threatening hunger, their dire outlook for the future, God listened to them. In the midst of their tears, He heard their cry. They all came before him with empty stomachs yes, but I am sure they brought more of their hurts, habits and hang ups than we are able to imagine.
And when they brought them all to God, they saw his Glory and they were filled.
God is our father, he wants us to rely on him, he wants to hear every worry, every hurt, every grumble and every groan, regardless of how primal they are. Ask and it will be given.
Lord, we come with complaint,
we come with anguish,
we come with thirst
we come with hunger
we come with tears
Meet us here, O God.
Turn our eyes upon you
and hear our every cry