“What’s this?” Not exactly the words a home chef wants to hear from hungry children. After trying to make do with what’s in the pantry and spending the better part of an evening working on a new recipe, those words sound ungrateful, suspicious, judgmental—even if they’re not intended that way. I wonder if God felt some of that same sting from the children of Israel.
Remember where they had come from. They had four hundred years in Egyptian captivity, toiling under the relentless sun and the more relentless hand of cruelty. But God heard their cries and worked in miraculous ways to set them free from the clutches of slavery. God even split the sea for them to cross on dry land. But wandering in the wilderness proved to be another challenge altogether. The journey was long and tiring, and it seemed to go in circles. Of immediate concern was the lack of food. How exactly do you feed an entire nation of people every day?
God’s plan was manna, or what we refer to as the bread of heaven. That sounds like a more than reasonable answer for hungry people. The trouble, of course, was that manna did not float down from God’s hand in the form of freshly baked ciabatta rolls or warm loaves of sourdough. It appeared as a pale, flaky–not to mention, unappetizing—substance on the desert floor. It required some amount of labor to even prepare each morning for human consumption. And if anyone tried to hoard enough for the next day, it tended to stink and breed worms. So to call it “bread” at all would be a stretch. The raw ingredient was so strange that when the Israelites first saw it, they asked that standard dinner table question, “What’s this?” In Aramaic, the words are “man hu”. From that point on, the name manna stuck–not only as a descriptor, but as a reminder of that initial reaction of the people.
It wasn’t exactly the most gracious response to God’s gift in the wilderness. But here’s what I love about the story. God never stopped providing for his people. He never stopped letting them wake up to another day of provision for life. He did not let their lack of gratitude determine his level of blessing. Maybe the manna didn’t look like much, but it sustained the people of God for 40 years. It kept them alive. It may not have been fancy, may not have fit with a five star dinner in a swanky hotel, but it was enough. It was always enough. That seems to be the way it goes with God.
I wonder how many times have I surveyed my life, made note of God’s seemingly simple gifts, and asked suspiciously, “What’s this?” How often do I look down my nose at the circumstances because they don’t fit the designs in my mind? Ultimately, I am called to remember that God is good and gracious even when I’m searching for a more impressive menu. That goodness and grace will always be enough.