After 400 years of slavery, they were finally free. It had taken some doing – infestations of frogs and insects, illness and agricultural devastation, and ultimately death – but God had rescued his people. He had brought them out of Egypt, he had made a way across the sea (on dry land, even!), and he had wiped out the pursuing enemy. Now he was leading them to their own land. Unfortunately – from the peoples’ perspective, at least – the path led through the wilderness.
Imagine the scene: over a million people, driving flocks and herds of livestock, carrying all they owned on their backs or on carts, walking into the barren Arabian wilderness. No paved roads, no rest areas, no fast food restaurants, and watering holes that are few and far between.
At least in captivity there had been comfort in the familiar and the certain. Beneath the whips of their oppressors, the Israelites still knew there would be food and water at the end of the day. In the wilderness, though….
Less than a month into the journey the grumbling began. What’s amazing to me is that God heard the grumbling and provided what the people wanted – water and food. I’m pretty sure He planned all along to provide those, but the people didn’t know the plan and so they didn’t trust Him to provide. And when he did “rain bread from heaven,” the people didn’t recognize it. In fact, when they saw what he provided—which looked like “a flake-like thing, fine as frost” on the ground—they asked, “what is it?” Or in Hebrew, “manna?”
How like me that is. I trust God to provide, as long as I know ahead of time how he’s going to provide. I trust him to take care of me, as long as he does that in a way I’m familiar with. I trust his timing, as long as it doesn’t take too long!
Exodus 16 tells the story of how God provided bread and meat for his people as they traveled in the wilderness. Here the idea of Sabbath is introduced, a day of rest. But Sabbath is not only about rest; it is about trust. It is about trusting God to provide, in his way and in his time. And Sabbath is not only about resting from work; it is about resting from worry.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29, ESV)
To rest is to trust God. To trust God is to rest. Neither is easy. Both are necessary.