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Would that We…

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

September 24, 2023

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Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Exodus 16:2–15 (ESV)

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At 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 grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” 13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

As I have read through scripture over the years, I am often amazed. Sometimes I am amazed at the awesome power of God. Other times I am amazed at the faith of the people. Then there are times where I am amazed at the ridiculousness of humanity. This is probably the reason I love scripture the most. It shows just how ridiculous we can be at times.

I believe in Scripture. I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe that all of Scripture can teach us something, but by saying that scripture does not always tell us the good things. I will not speak of scripture as some people do, I believe that Scripture is inspired, but I believe that humanity wrote the words. I believe both God and humanity wrote scripture in cooperation, because often the voice of the author is seen through the words. As you read through passages throughout the Old Testament you will see people from the same period writing inspired words that often seem to contradict each other. Many of my friends through the years would look at this and due to the way, they were taught to regard scripture, they turned away from the church because they could not believe in a God that contradicted himself.

It is in those moments I love scripture even more. Ezra and Nehamiah tell Israel to put away the foreign influences and come back to righteousness. This encouraged the righteous men to turn away from their foreign wives and children, so they could strive toward a pure uncorrupt righteousness. Yet a prophet from the same era wrote the opposite. He said God hates divorce. Seemingly one side is saying it is ok, and the other says no. How can this be inspired text? It should encourage you to go deeper. To look beyond and wrestle with the words. We should turn away from the things that pull us away from God, but as we turn, we should draw those we care about into a deeper life as well.

When I look at scripture, I do not believe that God dictated the exact words the authors penned, but he inspired them to write. He inspired them to observe the world around them, and to speak into what they saw. He inspired them to be honest about situations, and to express hope even when things do not seem to be going how they expected them to go.

This is where we are today. Over the past few weeks, we have been walking with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. We went with Joseph into Egypt, and observed how quickly humanity can forget their own history and begin to cast blame on others for their own problems. We saw Egypt enslave Israel, after they forgot that Israel was their salvation.

We then began to observe the life of Moses. Moses saw the brutality, he tried to ease the burden in himself and was rejected by those he tried to help. Moses responded to that rejection by running. He ran away from Egypt and his own people for forty years, until God called out to him through Moses’ own curiosity. Moses then went back to Egypt, spoke to pharaoh, and over the course of ten plagues, Moses let the twelve tribes of Israel out of bondage and into a hopeful future.

Last week Israel was on the shores of the sea, trapped between pharaoh’s army and chaotic waters. They were in a place where certain death surrounded them.

I reflected on that scene a great deal. I have never been to the lands spoken of in scripture. I have never had to face death before or after me, but I have been in a place where no good option seemed to present itself. I have been in those places throughout my life. Where I will pray, and it seemed as if my prayers were unheard. Then seemingly out of nowhere a path was made. Someone spoke to me, someone provided a helping hand, maybe I received a job offer, or a check came in the mail at an unanticipated time. Something happened beyond my own control, a path was made, and I could walk forward.

I explained it last week as Moses lifting his hands. He lifted his hands in praise. He lifted his hands in prayer. He lifted his hands to help. Or maybe he lifted his hands in desperation. No matter how we look at it, the only way Israel could move forward was when his hands were lifted.

We move forward when humanity and God come together. Where our will and that of the Father become one. When we recognize that I cannot do it myself, and yet I continue to lift my hands in service, while I lift them in prayer.

Israel watched as the waters of the sea divided before their eyes. They watched a dry path form along the course that had only moments prior had been filled with waters of chaos. They watched as God opened a door in front of them while protecting them from behind. It amazes me.

They crossed the sea using the path God had created. They walked in celebration into the wilderness before them. They walked, and they walked for over a month, in the Wilderness of Sin. We did not read about this wilderness in today’s passage, but it is in the first verse of this chapter. It is the wilderness on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula. I always wondered why it was called Sin, and it is derived from the Hebrew word also used for Sinai, which is not exactly the most positive word since it means hatred.

They are wandering through the Desert of Sin as they travel toward the Mountain of God. I like the image this creates because we can identify with it so well. When I reflect on my life there are often moments leading up to the most significant events within my life. I have reflected on those moments. There are moments where God seemed so close, I could feel the presence, almost in a physical sense. Then there were times of void. Times where darkness filled my soul, nothing mattered, and no one cared. In those voids, I could not see forward, I could not sense God, I could not. But as I reflected on the eras of presence and void, I began to realize something more. Looking back as I was wandering through what I perceived as void, God was still with me leading me toward that next moment where I could again sense the light.

That to me is what the wandering through the wilderness of Sin is. They are in between, the high emotions of one event have diminished and they are again walking in the ordinary time. What is the point and what is the purpose?

They are on the path to the next big thing. They are on the path to the Mountain of God. They are journeying toward the great revelation. They are on the way, but right now they are without. Without knowledge, without hope. I know in my head that the wilderness of sin is not exactly a metaphor for life, but in my heart, in my spirit, it seems as if it is. I know in my head that Sin here does not refer to the theological treaties we have developed around that word, but in my heart, I feel it does tie together. So often we think of sin as being a transgression against the law of God, but they have not even received the law yet. They do not even know what sin is in a legal sense. Which makes me wonder if we might possibly misunderstand sin in general. Could it be that sin might be less about acts of righteousness, and more about relationship?

“And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘would that we had…’”

Just over a month prior, the people of Israel had watched as God brought the greatest empire of the world down to its knees. The God of the slave had brought the taskmasters into submission, and Israel walked out of bondage into freedom. Just over a month prior they had watched Egypt seek revenge on the shores of the sea and Israel watched as the hand of God provided a path forward. They had watched amazing things happen not years ago, but mere months. But they are walking in the Wilderness of Sin, and they are hungry. “Would that we had…” They speak. If only.

We get caught in this wilderness ourselves. We look back in life with nostalgia. Life was good back then. It was simpler. I knew where I stood. Do you know what life was really like back then?

This happens as we wander through our Wildernesses of Sin. When we are in those dark shadows of the soul. We begin to look back and reminisce about begone eras. We remember certain things about it, and we forget the rest. The people of Israel look back with nostalgia. They look back to what life was like in Egypt. They say, “When we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full.”

They are looking behind them, they are remembering one aspect of that time, they had food. But they are forgetting everything else about that era of their history. They were slaves.

They had forgotten every amazing thing that God had done for them. They had forgotten the sea. They forgot the plagues, and they forgot Passover. They forgot everything, because at this moment, in this period they were hungry. And the only thing that they could remember is that in Egypt they had food.

This tells us a great deal about human nature. We forget, we misremember, we justify. If things are not exactly how we would like, we are willing to change our understanding of history so that we can live in the comfortable delusions of our own mind. It happens all around us. Russia is looking back in their history with nostalgia. It was better back then, and they are willing to start a war to go back. Even in our own country we get caught in the same trap, where history books are being written and used in schools that regard antebellum south as being good for enslaved people. It is delusional. It is disregarding our current situation and what we can do today with the hopes of reliving a fantasy of the past.

We cannot go back. Even if we could, we would not want to. As one of the YouTube personalities I watch often says, “The past is the worst.” I say all this while being someone that really loves history. I will watch documentaries all evening, I would even imagine what life might be like back in those bygone eras. But I know that we have changed, and we made those changes for a reason. We invented automobiles and tractors for a reason. We have indoor plumbing and central heating and air conditioning for a reason. We have health care for a reason. The reason is the past was the worst and we needed newer technologies so we could survive.

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Israel was hungry. They left Egypt just over a month prior with everything they could carry. They were not prepared to make the journey. They had herds yes, but how long would a herd last when there were thousands of people needing to eat every day, in a period without modern refrigeration?

 Imagine if you were standing before this group of people. Imagine if you had been Moses. You did everything asked of you and yet here you are out in the wilderness, and the people are grumbling, they are blaming you for things beyond your control. Moses did not know what was in this wilderness, he was simply being obedient by following the Angel of the Lord. A path was made through the sea, no one stopped to think of where it would lead, it was the only option available to them at that moment. Moses, like so many of us, is caught in the throws of life.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

God knew their situation and was already preparing a way for them. We are told that God was testing them. This phrase annoys me, but I understand what it means. It angers me to think that God could do something but withholds for a time, because I need to learn something. I understand when people say things like, “If God is good why is there starvation, why is there pain, why do children get abused.” It angers me because I do not know how to answer, and I agree with them. It does not make sense from my current perspective.

But I have lived through pain. I have suffered through stresses that I would not wish on my worse enemy. I have seen things I would have preferred never to have seen. Yet when I look back on my life. When I examine where I have been and what I have become. I realize that it was the pain, the suffering, and the trails that made me who I am today.

Why did God allow them to become hungry? Why did he allow them to face that pain and uncertainty?

The wandering through the Wilderness of Sin, the journey to Sinai was preparing them from the next point in their history. It was preparing them to become the nation and the people of Israel. He was preparing them to become a people that would be His inheritance, and a light to the Gentiles. And the only way to get them to that point was to create in them a different perspective.

In Egypt, they relied on their taskmasters to provide the food for them. They were slaves yes, but they had food. Now they are free. They were free to search through all the Wilderness of Sin for food, but God wanted them to look to him as their source of life and knowledge. He would soon provide bread from heaven for them in the morning. He would provide quail in the evening. When the bread came, they did not know what to call it, so it became Manna, which literally means, “what is it?” He needed them to become hungry, so that they would be willing to eat the manna. He needed them to have within them a desire, a curiosity, a need to fulfill.

In the wilderness of sin, we face the future. We cannot go back, and we do not know what to expect as we move forward. We have no knowledge and are at the end of ourselves. We are hungry, and we do not know where our help will come from. We can stand in that place and say, “Would that we had…” we can grumble, or we can open our eyes to a different possibility. “What is it?”

We wander. We struggle. We recognize our own needs. It is at this point we make a choice. Will we go forward or back. Will we enter the kingdom, the nation of God at Sinai or go back to slavery in Egypt? We wander, we are hungry, but there is hope. Let us not get caught in the delusion of “Would that we had…” but instead in our curious hope look forward to “What is it?”.

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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