Thursday, December 26, 2013

How A Miracle Can Go So Wrong -- Exodus 16:17-21


And the sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little.  When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat.  And Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.”  But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.  And they gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.
 
Moses gave them instructions on how to collect the manna from heaven each morning and the text says, “And the sons of Israel did so”.  One can only assume that many followed the instructions to the letter; others just heard the part that said, “Gather it”.   But no matter how much each family gathered, they always ended up with what they needed.  Those that by miscalculation or any physical inability to gather a sufficient amount had just what they needed for each member of the family.  Those that got greedy and gathered more than they were supposed to, somehow ended up with just what they needed.  No excess and no lack.   And that is what God promises us today – no guaranteed excess, but no lack for the day either.
And Moses also gave them instructions not to save any of what they had collected on one day for the next day.  It is not clear whether Moses gave them this follow-up instruction as given in this portion of Scripture with his initial directions, or whether he had noticed that some had tried to save manna for ‘tomorrow’.  But nevertheless, even after this instruction, the text tells us at least some (although again it is not clear whether all behaved in the same manner) did not listen to him and they tried to store some manna for the future.  I think that one of the most difficult things to learn, as Christians, is that our God provides sufficiently for the day, and will provide again tomorrow sufficiently for that day when it comes.
Anyway, for those that did not listen, the manna that was saved contrary to the instruction of God’s anointed leader, had by morning, bred worms and became foul or moldy.  The account reminds me somewhat of what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount after He had taught us how to pray.  In Matthew 6:19-21, we read (NASB version):
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Sometimes we tend to very easily forget where we are laying our treasures and thus where we are allowing our hearts to find themselves.  I feel this way especially at this season of the year as I write this on December 26th, the day North Americans refer to as Boxing Day.  Wikipedia helped me realize that Boxing Day has been commercialized just as much, if not more so, than Christmas has been.  Neither one is being celebrated by the majority, in accordance with its original purpose.  Let me quote Wikipedia on the topic of Boxing Day:
Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a "Christmas box", from their bosses or employers . . . It is observed in (most). . . Commonwealth nations . . ..

The exact etymology of the term "boxing day" is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.  The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in places of worship in order to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect "Christmas boxes" of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year . . . This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and maybe sometimes leftover food.

In Britain, Canada, and some states of Australia, Boxing Day is primarily known as a shopping holiday, much like Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) in the U.S..  It is a time where shops have sales, often with dramatic price reductions. For many merchants, Boxing Day has become the day of the year with the greatest amount of returns . . ..

Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. It is not uncommon for long queues to form early in the morning of 26 December, hours before the opening of shops holding the big sales, especially at big-box consumer electronics retailers. Many stores have a limited quantity of big draw or deeply discounted items. Because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, many choose to stay home and avoid the hectic shopping experience. The local media often cover the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began queueing up, providing video of shoppers queueing and later leaving with their purchased items.  Many retailers have implemented practices aimed at managing large numbers of shoppers. They may limit entrances, restrict the number of patrons in a store at a time, provide tickets to people at the head of the queue to guarantee them a hot ticket item or canvass queued-up shoppers to inform them of inventory limitations.

In recent years, retailers have expanded deals to “Boxing Week”.  While Boxing Day is 26 December, many retailers will run the sales for several days before or after 26 December, often up to New Year's Eve.”

No, thank you.  I avoid these ‘days’ for four reasons: First, I believe a wise shopper can find good bargains any time of the year or at least on numerous other occasions.  Second, I really do not want to be waiting in line ups and arguing about who gets the last ‘one’ of the desired product being hunted for, or being disappointed because they “ran out” of what I was looking for or had my heart set on.  Third, and importantly, because it is not what Boxing Day is all about as we learned above.  And finally, and most important, shopping for more stuff which I will ultimately leave behind is not where I want my heart to be.
So Moses got angry at the Israelites who tried to save “for tomorrow”, and rightly so.  Not only did they disobey him and God, but now, they also had to deal with the worms and the stink in the camp.  The question that arises for us as Christian leaders from this reaction of Moses is whether or not we should get angry with those who disobey God?  Of course, this opens up the whole topic of “judging” and the concept of “judge not, lest you be judged”.  I have likely said this before, and I repeat it here.  I personally believe that we should not judge people for things that God has not clearly specified His instructions or will about – but we are to draw to the attention of others, especially Christians, what God or the Scriptures have said about topics and issues that are indeed covered by them.  Enough said on that.
The text we are studying here goes on to say, that God kept on providing for them in this way (manna from heaven) morning by morning.  His faithfulness to His people is indeed worthy of our trust and reliance upon.  It is also fresh every morning.  Have you gathered His manna for you today?  Have you prepared yourself to collect the spiritual quails He is providing for you tonight?
The last phrase of this section of Scripture provides yet another interesting aspect to the story.  In reference to the manna, the text reads, “but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.”  David Guzik suggests the following: Apparently the bread from heaven had to be gathered and prepared early in the morning. This was God's gracious way of forcing a work ethic upon the nation of Israel.”  Perhaps He wanted them to collect it early, but we would be guessing with respect to His actual purpose – although what Guzik suggests complements God’s thinking and attitude towards work found elsewhere in Scripture.
It is my prayer that you and I realize God’s desire to provide us with whatever we really need (not want) for our daily lives, as He did for the children of Israel in their own desert.  It is my prayer that what God has provided for us (His word, His love, His Son) is not treated in a way that it breeds worms and goes moldy.  But rather, I pray that you and I will accept His blessings and use them to be a blessing to others.
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