January 26 – Self-sufficient
Back at the start of the year we looked at roughly the same passage and discussed God’s intent for our rest through his provision. This week we’ll be zooming in on God’s provision and asking how this determines the way we relate to him, particularly in laying down our attempts at self-sufficiency. If you haven’t yet read the corresponding chapter out of None Like Him, chapter 4, go do so. It’s a hard hitting read; Jen Wilkin goes right after our most sacred American idol, self-dependence, and casts a sharp light on just how pervasive that idol’s cult is in the American church.
Now, back to Exodus 16, here we are again in the recently-liberated Israelites’ familiar grumbling episode, but in reading verses 13-21 we’ll talk less about the Israelites grumbling and more about God’s supplying of their needs. Yes, Israel complained about not having food, but they also legitimately needed food, and God supplied for that need through miraculous, very specific means. Note all of the peculiarities about the manna: it wasn’t normal loaf bread, it settled on the landscape like frost, it had to be collected before the sun got too hot, and it wouldn’t keep for more than a day. (Check out Exodus 16:31-35 and Numbers 11:7-9 for more on what manna was like.) God was clearly doing something unique in Israel.
Last time we looked at how God was working to help Israel rest, namely through instituting the rhythm of Sabbath. But that wasn’t all God was doing through providing manna. Just like God heard their pleas in Egypt, he heard about their need for food; God knows the needs of his children and he provides for them. But God specializes in providing through unexpected means. Being provided for by God will almost certainly mean abandoning your expectations on how exactly (and when exactly and what exactly) God will provide. If God did exactly what we wanted, on our time table and to our standards, then his provision would just be another form of our self-sufficiency, one in which we’ve successfully delegated work to God. And notice two more things: the bread only lasted one day (except on the Sabbath), because more than filling their bellies God wanted to create in the Israelites the muscle memory of trusting him over and over and over. And, in training this muscle memory, God expected their participation. The Israelites had to physically go out every morning, stoop down to the ground, and scoop up the manna each day.
I think these last two things, practicing trust and participating in God’s work, show us that God’s provision is meant to produce something in us. It’s a very different thing than what we might have signed up for; we maybe just wanted a meal, but God wants to mold and shape our very being. Attempting to be self-sufficient is at the root of all sin, and our need for salvation from sin unmasks us as ultimately, totally needy. But even after redemption most Christians in the West still struggle with holding onto the details and material of their lives. Completely trusting God for the provision of our lives, both material and immaterial, requires exercise, just like picking up manna day in and day out, in order to build the muscle memory of trust. In practicing this we might actually relax the death grip we have on the substance of our lives, living by and for God’s means rather than our own.
Questions for Discussion
• Can someone read Exodus 16:13-21 for us?
• Can someone (or the discussion leader) briefly summarize what has happened in Exodus up to chapter 16?
• What stood out to you from this passage?
• Why do you think God gave them bread they had to collect every day?
• Why do you think God is interested in teaching his people to trust him?
• In v.20 some people tried to keep the bread even though they didn’t need to. How does that relate to your own fears and temptations?
• In what ways do you want to grow in faithfully trusting God’s provisions?