Deliverance as Assignment
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around 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." 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. 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." 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, 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?" 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." Then Moses told Aaron, "Say to the entire Israelite community, 'Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.'" While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. The Lord said to Moses, "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.'" That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 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. -Exodus 16:2-15 Read the whole chapter.
As we consider this continued story of deliverance of a God who delivers people, of a God who is delivering his people, we look at the lessons that we learn from this and particularly in today's text of the feeding of the people of Israel when they were hungry. There are a lot of things that are going on right here. But one of them is that God is mindful of the needs of his people and he gives them a gift. Now God could have just as easily said, 'Go and build an enormous silo. I will pack it to the top and you'll have enough food to last you for next year or however long.' But yet, God's plan was that they would depend upon God and rely upon God on a daily basis. That in the morning there would be that manna on the ground that they would collect and eat. And in the evening there would be quail so the people wouldn't go hungry. God demonstrated God's love and compassion because the people were grumbling. They were complaining. Moses and Aaron were the obvious and most readily at hand targets for the complaining. So they heard it and Moses said, 'Wait a minute. You're not complaining against us. You're complaining against God because God's the one that made this happen. Who are we? So if you've got an issue you need to take it up with God.' But we're told that God heard their grumbling, their complaining. And God said, 'Alright Moses, here's what we're going to do. Here's what we need to go and tell the people.'
But receiving a gift isn't an easy thing. We're much better at giving gifts. Because often we know that when we receive a gift, it means we need to do something. It means we need to receive it. It means that we may feel obligated or beholden to the giver of the gift. Well, sometimes there are just other things that come along with gifts that we don't think about. I used to think that it was the best school carnival game ever when I was growing up and then my opinion changed when I had children of my own. Most of you may be familiar with this. It's the ping pong toss, where they give away the prize of a live goldfish. Sounds like a great prize to a kid. I like the idea. My kids love the idea. We avoided those like the plague because guess what? When you bring a goldfish home in a plastic bag of water, you suddenly need a bowl, and food, and to keep this poor little creature alive so that you don't break your children's hearts. And so it's easier to say, 'maybe not'. Gifts come at a price sometimes.
It's been almost 16 years ago this coming week that Oprah became the sensation of talk shows by giving away 276 brand new Pontiac G6S to the members of her audience. The tried to think of all of the things that they could. They had the packages with bows and the keys taped down inside the box so that if they shook them, they wouldn't hear car keys jingling. They had plans that they would pay the titling and the plates. But the only thing that each of the audience members would have to pay for was the gift tax which for many of them would amount to somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000. Now everybody was excited and what a great gift to receive. But then some of the those audience members when they heard what they would have to pay for this gift opted to say, 'No thank you'. I never did hear how many of that was but basically one of the producers said they had three options. They could accept the car, pay the taxes, and take their car home. They could have the car sold, collect the money, pay the taxes out of that, and keep whatever cash was left. Or they could simply refuse it.
Well, we find the people of Israel in a similar position of God providing a gift, an extravagant gift. A gift that not only kept them alive at that moment but for the next 40 years. And why was this gift so important? Why did God give the gift the way that God did? Now I don't think that God gives gifts with strings attached. But I think the people were probably still leery: 'Well, wait a minute. Are we sure we want this gift? Because what does that mean that we have to do in relationship to God.' And God did have some requirements, or expectations, on the part of the people. That the people were to go out and gather it and prepare it. God didn't just drop it in their laps or spoon feed it to them so they had to do nothing. And yet even in their hunger, the people were complaining saying 'We had it so much better back in Egypt. We didn't go hungry. We sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill. We had all the bread we wanted.'
And God says, 'I'm giving you a gift of your freedom.' They've had a month of freedom under their belts at this point. And now they're hungry and they can think about nothing but going back to the way that things were. How often is it in our lives that we're quick to go back to what was? How often do we know of, or experience, people who are in hurtful, even abusive relationships, they continue to go back again and again and again. It'll be different this time. How often do we get that news that we need to exercise more, we need to eat better. And we do for a little while then we go back to the way things were. How often do we hear about in the news with this epidemic of heroin abuse that people receive that life-saving dose of Narcan that brings them out of their overdose immediately, only return to that addiction and overdose again and again and again until that time when someone isn't there to deliver that life-saving medication?
The people of Israel in many ways were addicted to the life that they had known for generations. They had been slaves in Egypt: 'Well, it wasn't so bad. At least we had plenty to eat. Yeah, they made us work hard.' But yet, if they would remember they weren't happy. It was the beginning of this series that we started in chapter 3 of Exodus where God appeared to Moses in that burning bush. And God says to Moses, 'I have heard the cries of my people. I have witnessed and seen how hard their Egyptian slave masters are. And so Moses, we're going to do something about it. We're going to deliver them. We're going to set them free from that bondage and that slavery so that they can be my people.' And God has done all these wondrous signs through Moses that the 10 plagues that came upon the people of Egypt, ending with the Passover. He led them with the pillar of fire and smoke through the desert to the shores of the Red Sea and the waters parted and they crossed. They went across of dry ground and still the people's hearts were somehow tied to Egpyt.
After they crossed the Red Sea and before the passage we looked at this morning, they were thirsty and the only water they could find was bitter and undrinkable. And God instructed Moses to take a piece of wood and throw it in. The water became sweet and drinkable. And now they're hungry. Their bellies are grumbling. They think they're going to starve. And God says, 'I will take care of you.' The thing with the gift that God gives is that he requires the people to be changed, to be transformed, to let go of their past oppression, to let go of their past master to worship and honor God who has delivered them and given them the gift of life. That's how God works. It's not a coercive giving. But one in which there is a legitimate need and God responds in compassion. God gives the people what they need. God says, 'Every day, you won't go hungry because I will provide for you.'
God continues to deliver people. God continues to deliver all of us by providing. It may not be manna from the earth and and collecting on the ground in the morning or quail that fill our backyards at night. But God delivers us from fear. God delivers us from our own addictions. God delivers us from sin and doubt. God delivers us from those things that pull us down and keep us from being the people that God desires us to be. But will we receive that gift? Are we willing to accept something from God knowing that it will change our life, our circumstance, change us? Because by accepting God's desire is that we would be transformed. For the people of Israel the transformation was to recognize that God was their God. That God loved them. And that God would provide for them on a daily basis. Much like we pray in our Lord's Prayer: "Give us today our daily bread." That is a day by day, moment by moment dependence upon God. An awareness that God is there and that God loves us and is providing for us. So when God delivered us from our doubts, God doesn't want us to go back to those old fears. When God heals us and delivers us from brokenness and restores us, he doesn't want us going back to those things that have caused us to break. When God delivers us, his desire is that we too would be transformed and changed and be a people who honor him, love him, and recognize all that has been done for us.
We see this play out in the ministry of Jesus as well. When people would come to Jesus for healing, Jesus would often offer words of forgiveness and say, "Your sins are forgiven go and sin no more." Or he'd say "Now that you have been cleansed and healed go and show yourself to the priest at the temple." Jesus said, 'shhhh, don't tell anybody about this.' But often there would be things that Jesus would ask of the people that would invite them into a life that has changed because of the gift that has been given. The deliverance of the people of Israel was a gift. And God in God's great love kept on giving when the people grumbled. God said, 'alright you know what? We're going to make sure you're not hungry anymore. We're going to make sure that you know that I am your God. I will never forsake you or abandon you.' Even in the trying times that we are facing, we're not forsaken. We're not abandoned. We have a God who is there to comfort us, to encourage us, to remind us that there is nothing that we need to fear. Deliverance for the people of Israel involved in an assignment. That they would be a changed people living for God. The assignment is no different for us. God deliver us from those things that diminish us and make us less than we are. God brings his healing and his love that we too might honor him, worship him, and praise him for all that he has and will continue to do in our lives. Thanks be to God that we are loved and delivered.