The sheets are swishing in the washing machine. Toast and tea, ‘Honey Bunches’ and blueberries fill my belly. Friday’s newspaper is strewn on the living room floor. Remnants of school work–civics papers, a life science text– are plunked about the room. All awaiting clean-up. Here it is, Saturday and I’ve missed my self-imposed deadline for posting. I’ve been thinking about manna all week… wrestling with its implications. Considering what happens when manna is not enough. Likening that to the craze for ‘more’ that so often parades as spirituality…and studying this allegory of desert living vs. entering the Promised Land. I haven’t resolved all the questions in my mind but I’ll offer you my thoughts for what they’re worth… (and please know, I welcome yours in return!)*
What got me thinking about manna in the first place? It was this question of what do we hope for and where these hopes can take us that got me thinking about the Israelites in the desert. Their hearts were set on things they did not have, giving rise to cravings that were not in keeping with God’s agenda for them at that time. They always seemed to want more than what God had given.
Take for example the manna. It was a miraculous daily provision perfectly suited to sustain them for their temporary travel through the wilderness. It was tasty. It came when they needed it, in just the right quantity. It was never stale, always fresh. But it got boring, ‘same old’. Instead of gathering it each morning in grateful awe they succumbed to craving more. “Oh that we had meat to eat!” they complained.
Is this so very different from the modern distaste for the written Word of God? In liberal teaching it’s received with skepticism as the ‘product of human culture’ that must be rightly interpreted by those ‘in the know’ and never taken too seriously or held too dearly. Those who do are thought superstitious ignoramouses. In hyper-charismatic teaching God’s written Word has become passé, not meriting serious study. What’s needed is new revelation, something different, something more powerful, more relevant, more meaningful to me, today. Those who study and rely on the written Word with zeal are called ‘Pharisees’.
But getting back to the wilderness story…why this propensity to want more? I suppose the roots lie in our natures. Firstly, we were made for ‘more than this’. We were designed to live in Eden, walking and talking with God. Instead we live in an accursed world, the realm of a wicked prince… But secondly, this craving for more is inherent in us as fallen creatures. Wanting more is part of possessing a carnal nature. We shan’t shake it till we truly live in Paradise. But we can deny it its desires. We can short-circuit its cravings.
The ‘children of Israel’ demonstrate how NOT to do this. They entertained thoughts of the ‘good old days’ in Egypt—of the melons and cucumbers…They looked back to bondage instead of forward to the promised land flowing with milk and honey and they decided they were being treated badly. Their discontent matured into whining and the results were disastrous.
Fire fell, consuming many. Meat was granted, but with it ‘leanness of soul’. (Ps.106:15) God saw their attitudes as ‘rejecting the Lord who is among you’. They were not merely disdaining the ‘same old thing’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they were rejecting the sufficiency of God’s provision. So He granted them their carnal desires. They got meat, till it made them sick! And with it came a great plague. The place became known as Kibroth-hattaavah, “graves of craving”. And their story was written down for all posterity to heed.
What if instead of bemoaning their misfortunes they had actually believed better things were coming and then set their minds on them, in patient hope? What if they had chosen to live as if this wilderness lifestyle was short-term? What if they had set their eyes on the place God was leading them instead of the here and now? Our desires will be fueled or controlled according to our mindsets. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom. 8:6 What we have our hearts set on as needful for happiness will determine whether we find satisfaction or discontent in this lifetime. Fulfillment or futility.
The deep significance of this manna that God provided becomes clearer in the New Testament when Jesus likens HIMSELF to the manna that came down from Heaven. (Jn.6) He invites his followers to eat of him and find life. The manna is a type of Christ’s life given for our sustenance. No wonder rejecting it was so significant! Jesus is God’s answer to man’s need, still. There is no other source of life. There is nothing more. What are we saying when we demand more than this? When we clamor for heaven on earth? When we pout over temporary trials? When we bank on satisfaction in this lifetime. We have already been given eternal life! This life is in the Son and it is abundant though not in the way the world defines. We may live in poverty, traipsing about in sheepskins, hated and jeered (imagine!) but we will still be loved, indwelt by God Himself, provided everything needed for godliness. Is this enough or must we have… physical comfort? happiness? prosperity? plenty? Something MORE?! What do we treasure most? That’s where our hearts will be.
It’s popular Christian thinking that we can ‘have it all’, but Esau underlines the trade-off we make in so thinking. You remember, he came in hungry from the hunt and smelled that savory pot of stew cooking. He told himself he’d died if he didn’t have some. There was no patient waiting for him. He must have it now. And he traded his future hope, his very birthright, for a pot of soup, thus meriting the description of ‘immoral and godless’, since he ‘for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’. So silly he seems from our vantage point. But do I too suffer from this same short-sightedness? What do I really want? It will show in the little choices I make day to day.
I am literally quite short-sighted, and even this part of my vision is failing with age. This makes it hard to appreciate things far-off (without corrective lenses). Life can become very small when we see this way. I think this is what has happened to the Body of Christ as well. With, post-War prosperity came a satisfaction with this world’s things. And talk of the soon return of Jesus and of Heaven was supplanted by strategies to be whole and happy in this lifetime. Varying strains of Christianity took this up to varying degrees and with differing emphases, but overall, we stopped seeing death as an entrance into Life and we stopped singing songs about heaven and eagerly waiting for Jesus to come back…
By contrast Jesus lived consciously to fulfill God’s plan for Him on this earth but never as if it were his only chance at life. Then he submitted to an ‘untimely’ death (think of all the people he could have healed had he prolonged his ministry years!). He endured the deprivations of this lifetime and the tortures of dying ‘for the joy set before Him’. Heb.12:2 There was purpose in it all. He learned obedience through the things He suffered. He postponed the taste of glory for the cross, humbling himself even to death. In the same way, we are called to live purposefully and faithfully now in the midst of thwarted desires and inevitable misfortunes with a mind set on the hopes of eternity. Only with such a mindset can we hope to escape the allurements for ‘more’ that creep in on every side, even masquerading as spiritual notions. Only in this way will we avoid falling for deceptions that always appeal to our unmet desires.
Think about it, this is the lethal draw of illicit romance, of cults, and of every false teaching. Each in its own way tells us what we wanted to hear, leads us to believe things that we want to be true, and in so doing distracts or even derails us from the purposes of God for our life in the here and now, with a view to the hereafter.
Deception is deceptive. It looks good, sounds true, makes us feel alive—but it has nothing to offer the one who’s satisfied in Jesus. God’s provision of His Son, the Word made flesh, and His written Word, the revelation and record of His Son, will get us through the wilderness of this lifetime. It is enough. When the Israelites saw the flakes of manna like snow fallen from heaven they asked, ‘What is it?’ Jesus answers… ‘This is my body, broken for you.’ Take eat. Lk 22:19 ‘Whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’ (Jn.6:57) Here’s a hope we can count on. And oh the places we will go!
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. I Pet.1:13
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.
So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” II Peter3:13
[* Your comments are always welcomed, and always read ]