“When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another ‘what is it?’” Exodus 16:15
Leslie recently said to me, “I was hoping by this age to have a few more things settled.” It reminded me of a similar line from an elderly lady who said she thought that life would become clearer and even easier as she aged. “It hasn’t,” she said, “and I’m soooo disappointed!”
When we’re children we’re sure that by the time we’re the age of an older sibling, or cousin, or whatever, that everything will be so much easier. I can recall a few such times in my life. When I was 6, to be able to stay up late seemed like the greatest thing I could hope for. When I was 11, looking ahead to changing classrooms every hour promised relief from the tedium of sitting in the same room all day. At age 15, I looked forward to driving. And girls. Both, I suppose, provided thrills but a great deal of extra expense.
I think the elderly lady and Leslie (who is no doubt much younger and much more thrilling) are giving voice to the same yearning. We all sense that things will be better in the future, and when they’re not we’re soooo disappointed!
The fact of the matter is that each chapter of life comes with its share of unanticipated trouble. Reach one milestone and you find that there’s simply another mile to be walked. Perhaps the single clearest and most overlooked of Jesus’ sayings is “let the days trouble be sufficient for the day.” Not only was He teaching us not to worry about the future, He was also reminding us of the uncomfortable truth that each day has trouble.
Surely what I’ve described applies to the people of Israel after they left Egypt. What could possibly be better than freedom? Generations had lived and died in slavery. I doubt it was possible to even imagine change when the lash had driven them for hundreds of years.
Yet God showed up. Through Moses He set His people free. With whatever they could carry they headed east into the sunrise of hope. Did this solve all of their problems? Of course not. Each new chapter simply provides new pages for the same old messiness of life. The exact expression changes, but the underlying cause is always there.
We recall how God rescued them. The plagues opened the door. The parting of the sea closed it behind them. Guidance to clean water satisfied their thirst. Powerful miracles! Yet the trouble kept cropping up. They were running out of food.
And that brings us to the manna. Remember the details? The word manna literally means “what is it?” The hungry people came out of their tents one morning, found a flaky white substance covering the ground, and said (in Hebrew) man hu? Literally, “what is it?” Moses replied that it was breakfast, and lunch, and supper. It was the bread God had provided for them.
As people are wont to do they’ve tried to figure out for millennia “what it is” was. I’m not interested in that. The most intriguing thing about “what it is” is that God provided it daily and you could only collect enough for the day’s meals, about an omer per person we’re told. What is an omer, you ask? It’s a tenth of a ephah, of course. All right, I’m teasing. It’s about 2 quarts.
AND you could not collect more than two quarts per person per day. I absolutely would have tried that. I like to plan ahead, save for a rainy day, plan for the worst, etc. That strategy is good in saving for retirement, for example, but I’ve learned that as a broad rule it doesn’t deepen my faith in God. It only magnifies my illusion of control. Trouble always finds a way to irrupt, even when I think I’ve covered all the bases. People in particular, and life in general, have an irritating habit of not cooperating with my plans.
To foil all the long-term planners like me, God created manna with a built-in expiration date of one day (except for what you collected on Friday morning which lasted two days). All the forward thinking Israelites discovered that yesterday’s manna dramatically spoiled overnight. It bred worms and smelled foul. If you’re like me, I know exactly what you’re thinking: “Tupperware!” It would not have mattered. God didn’t want them storing up.
Why? If they had enough to last a week, they would not have relied on God each day. He said He would provide, and He forced them to trust. And for forty years God was more reliable than Tupperware or even refrigeration.
My two greatest vertical questions are “Am I alone?” and “Does anyone care?” I’m not talking about family or society. Those are horizontal and pretty clearly answered. I’m talking about the eternal questions, the ones I ask the quiet night sky, the 2:00 am questions when the world, and the world in my head, gets quiet enough for me to hear them.
Manna answers both of them. The Bible is God’s answer, repeatedly in different stories, across history, cultures, and languages. God is consistently saying, “Terry, I’m with you, and I will provide for you.”
Whatever you think about the Bible or religion or spirituality in general, you really can’t dispute that these are the answers we find to the important questions we ask. God is with you and He does provide for you.
“One day at a time” is one of those sayings that can get irritating to people that claim to want real and deep answers. But the reason “one day at a time” has such staying power is that it sums up a powerful truth. We live one day at a time whether we want to or not. We can drag the past after us if we choose. Or we can run after the mist that is tomorrow. But we’re going to do it one day at a time.
Life does get easier, more settled, and clearer when we decide to live with trust in God. We don’t need manna any more. We have plenty of food. And Tupperware. We do need a God who can take care of us. We do need a God who is trustworthy. And we have that kind of God. He simply does not disappoint us.
So we rise each day with a prayer that says “I don’t know what today will bring, but God’s got it.” He does. Trust.
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 1, 2017