Wealth in the Wilderness

In Exodus, chapter 16, the people of God are wandering in the wilderness of Sin (literally and figuratively!). They begin to grumble and complain about food, contrasting their current situation with their life in Egypt. Whenever I have read this passage in the past, I have assumed that the Israelites lacked food– that they were starving in the desert–and that their grumbling had some merit. After all, they are in a desert. Their complaints about water make sense. Surely, their complaints about food have the same ring of desperation.

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But a few chapters earlier, and a few chapters later, we get a better picture of the true situation of these wandering bands of Israelites. As they left Egypt, they demanded from Pharaoh that they be allowed to take their flocks and herds! This would suggest that they had sheep, cows, and goats with them–meat and milk in some quantity. They may have had other animals as well– chickens, pet dogs or cats, oxen or horses. The need for water was greater– not only water for the people, but for their animals– but the complaint about meat seems to have had nothing to do with actual need. If anything, their complaint might have been about grazing land for their animals– but they never bring this complaint before the Lord. Either there was enough grass, even in the wilderness, or they had brought grain to feed their flocks. And there was grain for bread–just a few short chapters later, God gives directions for the sacrifices– sacrifices that are to involve rams, bulls, and three different types of bread, cakes, and wafers made with wheat flour!

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The Israelites have provisions. They have taken enough food for the journey up to that point, and more. They complain, not that they ARE starving, but that they believe they will starve. God answers their complaint by sending quail– enough that they got sick of it– and bread from heaven (manna). The manna continues to fall without fail every day (except the sabbaths) for 40 years, throughout all their moving; in every location and season, on rocky mountainsides and dusty plains.

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God’s amazing and miraculous provision should have produced thanksgiving and worship. Instead, the people got sick of the quail, and continued with their complaining and grumbling for an entire generation as they wandered around the wilderness.

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How many times do we complain about “needs” that are not needs at all? I find myself worrying about bills getting paid, or the car making “odd” noises, or an aching shoulder. I find myself thinking back to days when I had more money or free time, and far fewer aches and pains. It is tempting to ask God for a return of “the good old days.” But God’s plan for the Israelites didn’t involve pots of meat that came with chains attached. God’s plan for my life doesn’t involve my immediate comfort, but my eternal character. And even in times when I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness, God never leaves me. I have been poor, but I have not starved. I have been sick, but not left to die alone. I have been lost, but never abandoned.

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There is wealth in the wilderness–the riches of God are available to those who will trust Him. Like manna, God will provide what only He can, and enough to see us through each day. He doesn’t promise that we will have “pots of meat” or easy circumstances. Instead, if we open our eyes, we will see miracles of grace, showing us how much God loves us and cares for us.

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God’s people complained a lot, but rarely did they celebrate God’s provision or offer thanks. May we learn from their story, and praise the God who sends quail and manna to the very ones who doubt His mercy and love!

Unwholesome Talk

My husband and I visited the local Fair in the neighboring county last week.  We love to visit local fairs and festivals (see Pass It On).  We love the pageantry, tradition, history, celebration, food, and general enjoyment.  We also love to see the exhibits– crafts, home arts, commercial exhibits, artwork, produce, and animals.

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Our visit last week began as the fair was “waking up.”  It was after dawn, but still early in the day.  The animals were being fed and/or groomed– some were getting ready to be shown; others were happily munching away as ribbons earned earlier in the week fluttered above their pens.  There were turkeys and rabbits, draft and work horses, ducks, pigs, shaggy highland cattle, newly-shorn sheep, calves, pigeons, roosters, racing horses, jersey cows, goats, geese, and baby chicks.  And there were noises–crowing, lowing, neighing, and squawking, quacking, cooing, oinking and snuffling.  Lastly, the noises of people– classroom groups of children exclaiming over the various animals; their teachers and chaperones reminding them of the rules (“Don’t touch!”, “Stay together”, “Don’t run!”); older couples reminiscing; owners and volunteers and caretakers discussing the tasks of the day.

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As the day wore on, the noises changed.  On the midway, announcements blared.  Game booths and vendors hawked their wares and prizes.  Even the animals were noisier– more restless as the crowds grew larger and the heat of the day became oppressive.  The roosters were drowned out by the cackling of hens.  The quiet “good morning” on the lips of strangers passing by turned into harried questions; “Where did you get that corn dog?”  “How much did you pay for it?”  “Do you know where we can get some ice cream?”  “Don’t they have any restrooms around here?”  “Who’s giving out the canvas bags/yard sticks/free popcorn?”

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This wasn’t universal–the announcer for the harness races was amazing.  Between races, he gave information about the racing program– how to read it, what the various terms meant, and how to use the guides to understand more about the horses, their training, their pedigree, the drivers, their records, and much more.  What a wealth of knowledge, and what a great opportunity to listen and learn!  And near the dairy barn, a young teen dressed in a cow costume (who had to be roasting from the heat) danced around, mooing and ringing a bell calling people to visit the dairy booth, where other teens cheerfully gave away recipe books, magnets, pens, and information.

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What a contrast to some of the comments from fair-goers and workers.  Some were sullen, some were rude, and some irreverent.  Some of the language was not just unwholesome, it was discouraging, disparaging, and mean.  Again, this was not universal; nor was it unique to this venue.  Go almost anywhere in public, and eventually, you will hear crowing, cackling, snuffling, and quacking by bitter, impatient, and self-involved people.

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Unwholesome talk– rude remarks, snide mumbles, bellowing guffaws, complaints, sarcasm–it starts out small, dripping out of our mouths before we even notice.  But each drip flows into a stream, and then a river, until our words pour out in anger and malice and one-up-man-ship.

Ephesians 4:29 New International Version (NIV)

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Psalm 19:14 New Living Translation (NLT)

14 May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

 

 

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