I never really marveled at the story until yesterday.
Returning from Spring Break travels and dealing with an overgrown backyard gave my brain some exercise, and my thoughts turned to the Israelites' wandering in the desert for 40 years. A comment on this blog brought this story to the forefront.
For those who do not remember the story: God had rescued His chosen people from slavery and had brought them into the desert to reveal Himself to them and give them instructions for how to live with Him and with one another. During this ordeal, the people whined and complained about a great many things. It's not surprising given their enslavement for hundreds of years. God actually shows quite a bit of patience and restraint with them throughout the story. Throughout the peoples' complaints, God responds with great provision, culminating with perhaps the greatest one--manna.
7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin.
8The people went around
and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled
it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste
of cakes baked with oil.
9When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it. (Numbers 11)
For 40 years God provided this food.
I confess, I never marveled at this. Not in the least. It was kind of a "ho-hum" detail in the midst of the biblical account. There were other things which seemed much more exciting--much more gripping. So what if God provided a bit of food each and every day for 40 years.
But then my brain really wrestled with this:
The world of that time was not even close to the world I live in. In the part of the world I live in, food security is taken for granted. We have plenty of food. Most folks don't grow their own food anymore. With 85% plus of the population living in areas classified as urban, the connection with growing and having your own food supply is almost lost. Grocery stores provide much of our necessities. This was not so in those days. The vast majority of people (95% if I remember my history classes in seminary) were subsistence agriculturists. In other words, 95% of the population was in a continuous struggle to grow and raise their own food. 95% of the people worked in the fields from dawn to dusk simply to put food on their own tables. There was no such thing as free time for them. Life was a struggle to survive. To eat. That world was nothing like our world here today.
And you never knew when a storm would wipe out your crop. You never knew if hail would destroy your grain; your vegetables; your hay meadow. You never knew if a swarm of locust would eat your garden down to nothing. You never knew if the "heavens would be shut" and you would have times of extreme drought. These events could and did happen paving the way for hunger and starvation.
There were no means of keeping food fresh for long periods either. No refrigerators. No freezers. No canning of vegetables. You had clay jars to put things in. You could salt meat for a period of time. You could put grain into dry storage, but it wouldn't be long before infestations of weevils and other insects. You just couldn't store up enough to prevent hunger if your crops suffered catastrophic failure.
And so you dedicated your life to finding sustenance. You dedicated the vast majority of your waking hours to make sure you had enough food to feed your family. This was your life.
And for 40 years. 14,600 days. The Israelites did not have to work for their food.
They didn't have to worry about destroyed crops.
They didn't have to worry about storing things up.
They didn't have to worry about drought or hail.
Provision was made day after day after day after day.
Can you imagine never having to grocery shop for 40 years? Can you imagine the amount of time and money you would have given that you no longer had to budget for food; you no longer had to drive to the store; you no longer had to garden; or shop organic; or try to be healthy. God provided food straight to your door-step. Food which was nutritious; life-giving; sustaining; wholesome; abundant; and free. Completely and utterly free.
And if your life once revolved around the appropriation of food, what would you do with all the time you now had? What would you do given that the most basic need of your existence was fulfilled for 40 years?
The provision of God in this account is simply mind boggling; for He provided for thousands of people during this period of time. Thousands.
As the chief cook of my household, I spend quite a bit of time menu planning and then cooking. I have also begun the duties of appropriating food for our house, and I know the amount of money one spends with a family of five. I can't even begin to fathom what it would be like to have none of the concerns of buying food and wondering what to prepare. I can't even begin to comprehend what it would be like to have no need to grocery shop. I can't even wrap my head around how generous and gracious God was during this ordeal.
Amazing. Simply amazing.