Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I review God’s provision for the Israelites as they begin their journey in the wilderness. God is faithful during uncertainty while providing the Israelites bread from heaven. About 45 days after they begin their journey, they complain bitterly to Moses and Aaron and blame the two brothers for bringing them into the wilderness to die. There are no soldiers chasing them, no slave masters whipping them, and no Pharaohs enslaving them. Yet they complain and wish they were back in Egypt because they are hungry. Had they forgotten how God miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh and his enslavement with mighty works and wonders? They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat. Now they blame Moses and Aaron for their hunger. They blame them saying “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”. Once again, God is faithful by providing quails in the evening and mana in the morning for the Israelites to eat. God provides their daily bread. Likewise it’s important for us to know that just as God provided what the Israelites needed; God can do the same for us today.
As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on the miraculous provision of God for the people of God. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament. It tells the story of the origin of the Israelite nation. Like its name says, it tells the story of the exodus of the Hebrew people from the enslavement of Egypt. But it’s not just any departure. It’s a miraculous deliverance and redemption by God for God’s people. Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “the Bible’s entire message of redemption grows out of the covenant relationship between God and God’s people first described in this book”. So in Exodus redemption is the central message and this becomes the central theme throughout all of Christian Scripture. Many of the other themes in Exodus can be found in the New Testament Gospels also. For example, “Moses received the law on Mount Sinai; Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to give life to the people; Jesus was lifted up on the cross to bring eternal life to all who trust him. And the Passover served as a base on which Jesus developed the Last Supper”. So in these ways, there are themes in Exodus that are repeated in the Gospel record. In these ways and others, the book of Exodus is central to both the Jewish and Christian religions.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that
“Exodus begins (Exodus 1:1-15:21) with a narration of the conflict between the LORD and Pharaoh over Israel’s fate, an epic conflict between kings and God. The weapons of war are the forces of nature: The LORD summons reptiles, insects, and meteorological phenomena, including hail and darkness, in an assault on Pharaoh (chp. 7-10). Exodus ends with the LORD finally descending from Mount Sinai to enter the completed tabernacle on new year’s day (40:1-2, 7) filling the sanctuary with fire and smoke.”
Chapter sixteen deals with God’s provision for the Israelites. After about forty-five days in the wilderness, the Israelites complain bitterly to Moses and Aaron. They complain because they are hungry. God provides meat in the evening and bread from heaven in the morning for them to eat. This mana from heaven is just one way God is faithful during uncertainty to this nation now wandering in the wilderness. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review Last Week and how it connects to this week
Last week’s lesson was taken from 1 Samuel 1:9-20. As the lesson opens Hannah along with her husband Elkanah and Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah are gathered at the temple in Shiloh. After eating and drinking, Hannah arose and presented herself before the Lord to pray.
I noted that in verse ten Hannah was deeply distressed as she prayed to the Lord weeping bitterly. She is a woman without a child in a society that values women who have sons. Hannah weeps bitterly because not only is she childless but Peninnah her husband’s other wife was her rival and provoked her severely to irritate her (verse 6). I noted Dr. Theodore W. Burgh in The Africana Bible explaining that “Hannah’s antagonistic rival torments her with vicious barbs and taunts. Hannah is caught in the midst of what could be understood in contemporary street vernacular as “baby mama drama””.
I also discussed a reference from Townsend Commentary explaining that “ancient Eastern legal texts allowed an infertile wife to provide her husband her maidservant to bear children for her as his heir. Therefore, the principal wife may possess legal rights to the children of her servants”. Now, if you can’t imagine what that looks like you can watch as few episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaids tale depicts an example of what one wife owning the child of an enslaved woman looks like. This however, was not the desire of Hannah’s heart. Hannah desired a man-child birthed from her own body. Hannah is distressed, she is distraught, and she is ready for her circumstances in life to change. She was tired of being picked on and talked about. She was tired of being laughed at and scorned. Even though her husband loved her, she was tired of being treated badly about something for which she had no control. She had no child of her own and there was nothing she could do about it. Last week I referenced Dr. Theodore W. Burgh in the Africana Bible Dr. Theodore W. Burgh explaining “Hannah feels the pressure of the high value her society placed on bearing a child – particularly a male – in order to confirm her womanhood, she prays diligently to her god asking to become pregnant”.
In verse eleven Hannah made a vow. She vowed to God that if God will remember her with a man-child she’ll give him back to God as a Nazarite until the day of his death. Elkanah loves Hanna despite the Lord having “closed her womb” (vs 5). And now Hannah believes this is something only God can fix. She made a bargain with God. If only God will bless her with a man-child, she’ll give the child back to God as a Nazarite.
I referenced Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defining “vow” as that which one has promised, particularly to God or to other persons, that binds one to them. And as much as Hannah wanted a child of her own she promised God she would return the child to God if only God remembered her with this blessing. I explained that we can look upon Hanna’s vow with compassion and understanding as a powerless woman desperately desiring to change her circumstances. However there are numerous other uses of vows throughout scripture that we can look at both favorably and unfavorably. Jonah makes a vow inside the great fish (Jon. 2:9). Jezebel vows to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2). Jacob vows at Bethel if God will keep him, that he’ll serve God. (Gen 28:20, 21). And in Acts 23:12 certain Jews vow to kill Paul.
I also noted that Hannah’s vow was specific. Hannah vowed to give God a Nazarite. Westminster defines a Nazarite as a member of a group of Israelites who vowed abstinence from eating or drinking the fruit of the vine, who let their hair grow long, and who sought to avoid contact with dead bodies (num. 6), as a way of expressing their devotion to God. Hannah’s child will be special. Hannah’s child will serve God in a specific way. This child will be set apart for service to God. Hannah like many parents today wanted her child to make a difference in the world.
I also referenced Dr. Theodore W. Burgh again explaining in the Africana Bible that “a Nazarite was a male or female who dedicated himself or herself, or who was dedicated to YHWH by others, through specific vows (Num. 6:1-21, Judges 13:7).
In verses twelve, thirteen and fourteen Hanna continued praying silently with only her lips moving. Eli the high priest notices her and thinks she is drunk. Eli said to her “how long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine”. I noted the NISB explaining that Eli’s first speech shows his inability, unexpected in a priest, to distinguish between prayer and drunkenness. He could not distinguish between the sincere prayer of a powerless woman and the antics of someone drunk with wine. Perhaps there are ways in our own lives we mistake someone’s sincerity for what we see as playful antics.
In verses fifteen and sixteen Hannah sets the record straight. Hannah tells Eli she hasn’t been drinking. She’s been pouring out her soul before the Lord. She informs Eli that she has been “speaking out of great anxiety and vexation all this time”.
After having set the record straight, verses seventeen and eighteen show Eli is at least an understanding priest. Now he recognizes Hannah’s pain and distress. Now he sees her for the woman she is and he tells her to “go in peace; the God of Israel grant you the petition you have made to God”. I thought it was important to note that so many people have been in Hanna’s situation. Unable to do anything about their circumstances, knowing only God can work it out. After hearing the man of God tell Hannah to go in peace her soul was no longer troubled. Hannah had a calm assurance that somehow God was going to work it out. She left her place of prayer, went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and she was no longer sad.
Verses nineteen and twenty closed last week’s lesson with Hanna and the others rising the next morning, worshiping God, and then traveling back to their home in Ramah. At some point Elkanah had sex with Hannah and the Lord remembered her. Hannah conceived the son she wanted so desperately and named him Samuel. Verse twenty says “she named him Samuel, for she said “I have asked him of the Lord””. Hannah got an affirmative answer to her prayers. The birth of Samuel changed her life and her circumstances.
This week’s lesson continues with the theme of God’s faithfulness. This time God is faithful to a grumbling and complaining people. God is faithful by providing both bread from heaven and meat from heaven to a hungry people now wandering in the wilderness. Like Hannah the people are in distress and distraught, but unlike Hannah they look to Moses and Aaron with complaints instead of trusting God to provide. This week we see God’s provision despite the acts and conduct of the Israelites. They have completely given up, “thrown in the towel” and concluded that all hope is lost. But as God often does for the Israelites and for us today, God makes a way, out of no way. The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful During Uncertainty” and “Bread From Heaven”. The scripture text comes from Exodus 16:1-8; 13-15.
What Takes Place in This Passage
The lesson opens at verse one with the Israelites already delivered from enslavement in Egypt. They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai. They have been on their journey from Egypt for about 45 days.
In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron. But it wasn’t just a complaint. They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity. They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”. These are a people who have given up. There are no Egyptians around to enslave them. There are no slave masters around to whip them. There are no Egyptian solders around to slay them. Yet, they desire to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them. They have given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat. Now they see themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger. So now they blame Moses and Aaron for their hunger. They blame them saying “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.
In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan. The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven. But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites. God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs. In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction. Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread.
Verse five gives them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath. On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest. Townsend Commentary explains that “the Sabbath was stressed in the giving of manna; though the Law had not yet been given”. The NISB notes that “the Priestly writer first prescribes the Sabbath rest in the story of creation (Gen. 2:1-3) and reiterates it here in the miracle of manna and in the revelation of the Decalogue (20:8-11)”.
In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision. They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt. And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”. Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God. The NISB explains that “just as the plagues were signs for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to come to knowledge of the LORD, so also the manna from heaven is intended to bring the Israelites to knowledge of the LORD as the God who brought them out of Egypt”.
In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD. This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain. They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers. Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight.
The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen. Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground. They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”. The NISB notes that “the word mana is a Hebrew pun. What is it (hu)? But the Hebrew phrase man hu can also be translated as “it is manna” supplying an answer to the question and a name for the food.
This text helps us understand that it can be hard to trust God when our stomachs are empty. When our basic needs aren’t met it’s easy to do as the Israelites and blame whoever we can. There were hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness. They were hungry, in a foreign land, and there seemed to be no hope of feeding the massive crowds. After all, they were in the wilderness.
But that’s the thing about God. God brought them to the wilderness; and God would see them through the wilderness. I suppose there are times in our lives when we too are faced with wilderness experiences. The problem seems so big. We’re in the foreign place of having no control of our circumstances. The situation seems dire and desperate. Beloved, God brought you to it, and God will see you through it. Just as God gave them instructions for their daily bread; we too should just follow the instructions.
Key Characters in the text:
Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend).
Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel. Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20). Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend).
Mana – Food from heaven providentially provided by God for Israel in the wilderness (Ex. 16:4-36; Num. 11:4-9). It is used in the New Testament as a “type” or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as the living bread from heaven (John 6:31-65) and in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:3).
Sabbath – The seventh day of the week, set apart for worship and rest (Ex. 20:8). It is a holy day in Judaism. Christian practice has been to observe Sunday as a day for worship in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. Our daily bread.
2. Follow the instructions to pass the test.
1. The Israelites had been in their wilderness journey for about 45 days. They were in an unfamiliar place without food and had already struggled for water. Discuss other ways they could have responded instead of murmuring to Moses and Aaron.
2. Discuss potential ways people are in bondage today and willingly remain in bondage instead of seeking freedom.
This quote from the NISB sits heavy with me; “Life as a slave in Egypt was better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”. How many ways do we accept life as a slave in Egypt?
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson
Next week the lesson comes from the book of Numbers. As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see yet again the Israelites grumbling and complaining against Moses and Aaron saying “if only we had died in Egypt; Or in this wilderness”! Again, the Israelites are faithless, complaining, and murmuring. Next week we see how the Israelites had to be reminded of who God really is. This time it is Joshua and Caleb who provide the minority report among the spies that the Promised Land can be theirs. The lesson is entitled “God Hears Our Cry”.