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Week 5, Day 1

When we began our reading of the Old Testament a few weeks ago, several people expressed concern over what we might discover. We are generally unfamiliar with the story line and the characters found there. We’ve heard stories about this strange and ancient book that worry us—sometimes with good cause. The God of the Old Testament, we fear, is somehow very different from the God we find in the New Testament; and some people wondered what we would do if that turned out to be true.

So far, nothing we have read or discussed has done much to ease these concerns, for some of us at least. The bad news for today is that this is not likely to get a lot better. This ancient, foreign book has challenged millions of people, just like it is challenging us, for over 2500 years now. There are no final answers to some of the questions we are asking.

The good news is that we are in this great company of fellow seekers and students who have gone before us and are walking with us now. There’s a reason why this story has so captivated so many for so long. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find that reason, explore it and let yourself be transformed by what you discover.

The really good news has already come, and will continue to come to us, in the gems of truth and meaning we are picking up along the way. We are being generously reimbursed for our labor. Keep it up.

This week we have a story of a people who stake their whole existence on a promise—on what must have felt like a whim, a bad bet. Freedom for Israel, it turns out, means life in the desert with little water, little food, little hope that things will get better---and a lively memory of how “good” they had it back in Egypt. They sound like a bunch of whiners but remember this—they put their faith in the word of God as delivered by Moses, and now they can’t feed their kids.

So here’s a couple of questions to open the week: Have you ever doubted the wisdom of your faith—wondered, perhaps, if you maybe put it in the wrong place? Imagine yourself a poor Puerto Rican after Maria. How would you live by faith in that world?

Prayer: God, we know trust is only needed when questions can’t be answered and problems can’t be solved. As we struggle with this “freedom”, help us to find that trust. Amen.

Text for this week:

Moses returns to Egypt after meeting God in the burning bush. The story of his encounter/battle with Pharaoh and Israel’s exodus from Egypt runs from Exodus 4.18 through chapter 15, concluding with Israel on the other side of the Red Sea. As always, it is best to read the entire passage. The 18 verses we are reading this week from chapter 16 will make more sense (we hope, anyway) when we are familiar with the rest of the story.

The entire passage for this week is below.

Exodus 16.1-18

1The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ 8 And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer (1) to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’ 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.

(1) “In traditional Jewish standards of measurement, the omer was equivalent to the capacity of 43 eggs”

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