Humility and the experience of character building are not what I was seeking or expecting when I gave my life to Christ. I used to pray that God would make me more like Jesus, but the instant I experienced pain or ego-puncturing I quickly backtracked and told God to disregard my request – and fast! So I can easily understand how the Israelites became disgruntled and frustrated when they expected to enter the Promised Land after Moses led them out of Egypt only to find themselves wandering in the desert for 40 years.
The Israelites were tasked during this time with trusting God, worshipping no other gods besides Him and obeying Him. After all of the miracles they had seen the Lord perform in Egypt and during the exodus, it would seem that trusting the Lord and remaining faithful to Him would be a no-brainer. But I so easily see myself in the restless Israelites in that despite all of the beautiful, merciful acts the Lord has done in my life (albeit on a smaller scale than parting the Red Sea), and even after all the ways He has blessed me so abundantly, I still find it hard to be still and trust Him during the wilderness periods of my life.
A few months ago I was so sick from Fibromyalgia that I could do little beyond the most essential everyday tasks – caring for my son, completing required work for my job, doing laundry, etc. I would lay in my bed wondering how God could possibly use me when I was in what I considered to be a weakened, ineffective position. During this time, I was forced to ask for a lot of help for things that I wanted to do myself, and I was often unable to participate in many of the activities I enjoyed.
Not having the physical, emotional or mental ability to do whatever I put my mind to as I had easily done in the past was certainly humbling. I had to depend completely on God for the energy to do the things I must do and to provide for my needs. It was during this wilderness season of my life that I read a devotional that outlined the valuable spiritual lessons the Israelites learned during their 40 years in the desert. They learned not only humility but also that adversity didn’t mean that God had abandoned them. On the contrary, God provided for their needs by giving them water from a rock, quail to eat in the evening and manna to eat in the morning (Exodus 16-17).
Manna was a bread-like substance that was perhaps naturally-occurring and multiplied supernaturally by God, or it was supernaturally provided by God to the Israelites in the wilderness. According to Numbers 11:7 (New International Version), “The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin”. Apparently the Israelites gathered the manna, ground it up and made pancakes that tasted like honey (NIV Life Application Study Bible, page 119). Though manna sustained the Israelites, they soon became bored with it and desired meat and the more flavorful foods they had enjoyed back in Egypt. I, too, often hunger for more than what the Lord gives me, especially during difficult, trying times. I don’t enjoy having to cast my complete dependence on the Lord. When He gives me manna, I often want a steak!
But at the same time, God teaches me that under all circumstances my needs are met when I look to Him and His provision. I come out of the wilderness with an appreciation for not only the manna, but for everything above and beyond the manna as well.
In Exodus 16:1, the Israelites set out from the city of Elim and went to the Desert of Sin. This desert was “a vast and hostile environment of sand and stone. Its barren surroundings provided the perfect place for God to test and shape the character of his people” (NIV Life Application Study Bible, page 119). It seems the Lord allows our “desert” periods to humble us, to teach us to depend on Him and to obey Him, and to mold us into what He wants us to become.
Taking into account the Israelites’ response to God’s provision during their 40 years of desert wandering, I must ask myself how I respond to God during my wilderness periods and travels. To not complain about illness, heartbreak, loss, betrayal, financial devastation, etc., is a tall order to be sure! It’s comforting to know that God can not only handle my whining, but He responds to it as when the Israelites complained to Moses during their desert stay and Moses took their complaints to God. The Lord not only heard their complaints but by His infinite grace He responded with love and provision (Exodus 15:22-27; 16-17:1-7).
Even when things are going well and I’m out of the wilderness, I can easily start to grumble about God’s manna for me. For this reason, I avoid going window shopping because I find myself starting to think about the things I don’t have or can’t afford. And while I don’t covet a fancy car or a mansion, I can easily become discontent and envious of people who have the freedom to travel to exotic places, who have lots of free time, and who don’t have to work as hard as we do. I can also envy those with pretty hair, perfect bodies, certain positions within the church, specific spiritual gifts that I don’t possess, and the list goes on.
The manna God gave to the Israelites was clearly seen in the material, but in those times when I feel like all I’m getting from God is the same manna over and over again, I can take comfort in the spiritual manna that Jesus offers. When I find myself dissatisfied with what God has given me and hungering for things I think will fill my soul and satisfy me, it’s time to fix my eyes back on Jesus and remember that He, the true bread of life, is the only one who can nourish and sustain me, be it physically or spiritually.
When the Jews of Jesus’ day asked Jesus what miraculous sign He would perform for them to believe in Him, they referenced the manna God gave to their forefathers during Moses’ ministry. The Jews were hoping Jesus would perform a sign greater than the gift of manna from heaven. But rather than doing a miracle, Jesus instead informed the Jews that He was the true bread of God who “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). He is the only one who can satisfy our deepest longings:
“…I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. (John 6:35)
“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
Beloved warriors, I pray that during our wilderness periods we will look only to Jesus to meet all of our deepest needs as He is the only one capable of doing so. If we look anywhere else, we will only be hungry again.
Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Fully rev. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Print.