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by Meg Jenista
“Moses said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”’
So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. ‘Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a Sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’
Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” Exodus 16: 23-40
This is the first use of the word “Sabbath” in Scripture. It’s a whole new concept for Israel–for a people who have been barely even rescued from generations of slavery, for a people whose captivity has taught them the narrative, “you’ve got to scrabble for everything you’re going to get.” The narrative that “no one else is going to take care of you. You had best take care of yourself.” A narrative that taught them not to trust, never to rest. A narrative that taught them to hoard what they had because it all might be taken from them the very next day. Slavery taught the people of God to construct their lives around false narratives.
So is it any wonder that when Moses said, “collect just enough for today,” the people squirreled away a portion. For a rainy day. Is it any wonder that when Moses told them, you don’t need to collect on the seventh day, the people still went out looking anyway. Trying to get a jump on the week ahead. These are actions born of slavery’s false narratives.
If we remember that scripture casts each of us as slave to sin, redeemed by Christ, we also know what it is to construct our lives around false narratives.
-The narrative of slavery to greed tells us, “You don’t OWN enough.
– The narrative of slavery to accomplishment tells us, “You haven’t DONE enough.”
– The narrative of slavery to popularity tells us, “You aren’t COOL enough.”
– The narrative of slavery to comfort tells us, “You aren’t SECURE enough.”
– The narrative of slavery to perfection tells us, “YOU aren’t enough.”
Here’s the thing about the life pattern God gave to the Israelites –
God heard the false narratives operative in their lives. God responded by giving the people a chance to recalibrate according to truth.
When they hoarded the manna, it grew nasty, “full of maggots and began to smell.” God was training the people in this truth–you cannot trust the manna.
When the people stepped out their front doors six days out of seven there was manna spread like dew on the ground, just waiting there for them. God was training the people in this trust–you can trust the God who gives the manna.
When the people couldn’t help themselves and had to go searching for manna on the seventh day, God was training the people in this truth–you can stop your scrambling and trust that what you have is enough.
Sabbath was given to Israel, as a gift of truth to counteract false narratives. Sabbath is still given to us today for the same reason. because we still need to learn that we cannot trust the manna. We cannot trust in jobs or accomplishments or skills or financial securities. None of these last forever and they will not save us. We still need to learn that we can trust the God who gives the manna. The God who always guides. Always loves. Always strengthens. And always provides. Don’t go looking for manna today. God has given you everything you need and it is enough.
Meg Jenista is the pastor of DC Christian Reformed Church in Washington, DC.