Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. Exodus 16:1-4
I’m reading about these Israelites and the fact that they are complaining…again. Honestly, it’s a little bit annoying. I do not enjoy listening to others complain. I don’t even enjoy listening to myself complain! Of, course, the irony is that when it’s me I’m always convinced there is some reasonable explanation for it, but that’s another issue.
I find myself sitting here and reading and wondering what their problem is. Was it not enough to see firsthand all the plagues that God brought about to free them from Israel? Was it not enough to actually pass through the Red Sea—with water walled up on both sides of them—and then see God bring the water crashing down on their enemies? How could they doubt so much?
But as I consider it I realize, they aren’t doubting, they are afraid. The difference is subtle, I think, but it’s real. I don’t think they are doubting that God is real or that he is powerful, they have seen that for themselves. But there is still something frightening about leading your families out into the desert with no real plan.
Where are we going? When will we get there? How will we sustain ourselves in the meantime?
It can be frightening to rely on someone else for your daily bread. It can be frightening to not be in complete control and need another to provide for you what you can’t provide for yourself. The real issue the Israelites are facing is the issue of surrender. Submission. They don’t need more faith, they need to apply the faith they already have. They don’t need to believe in God more, they need to place less trust in themselves.
Why does God give manna only for the day if not to push them into reliance and a surrender of control?
The Israelites didn’t really miss their old lives of slavery. They probably didn’t even have “pots filled with meat” or all the bread they wanted. We can be excessively creative with the way we remember our past. But they undoubtedly felt more in control—even as slaves. They knew what was expected, they knew the daily routine. There is a sense of security that comes with just knowing what’s next and how to navigate the day. When God throws us into unknown circumstances and stretches us to unknown outcomes we remember what’s always been true: we are not in control.
The illusion of control and security can be comforting…and addicting. It can also foster a deep sense of trust in self. For all the ways I know that trusting in me is a bad idea, still I run back to it time and again. So sometimes God leads us into the desert and then says, “I’ll give you what you need for today. Tomorrow we’ll take care of tomorrow and its needs.”
It’s not the way we like to live, for sure, but sometimes it’s the best way, the needed way. If today you find yourself in the desert, if today you find yourself with no sense of how tomorrow will play out, you may just be right where God wants you. It can be frightening when God leads us out with no real plan from our perspective. But these are times we have to choose, complaining and fear and a fighting for control. Or surrender and trust.