Daily bread

All they could remember was Pharaoh’s bread. And the deeper they journeyed into the wilderness, the sweeter Pharaoh’s bread became in their memory. It had been six weeks since they had left Egypt, and supplies were running low, dangerously low. The parents started skipping meals so there would be a little more for the kids — enough was a word they hadn’t used in a while. And the lower the fill line sank in the jars in which they kept their grain and oil, the bigger and fuller the fleshpots of Egypt grew in their memory. They didn’t remember the ruthless taskmasters or the cruel conditions in the brickyards. All they could think of was Pharaoh’s bread.

“What good is the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, when we starve on the way there?” they asked Moses. “You brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole congregation with hunger, didn’t you?” they said, united by their hunger and their anxiety. So deep was their hopelessness, they fantasized out loud, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt …”

In a strange reversal, Pharaoh, the master of the house of bondage, began to look like the giver and sustainer of life, and the Lord who had redeemed them, like a purveyor of death. They didn’t have much experience with this God who had claimed them as ‘my people’ in the powerful confrontation with the king of Egypt and had led them through the sea. Now they were no longer part of the system of labor that had fed them in the past, but they didn’t know what would be next. They were like newborn babies in the wilderness of freedom, and like babies they complained when they were hungry, and the Lord heard their complaining and said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you…”[1] Bread from heaven… who had ever heard of such a thing? They knew bread grew up from the earth. Generation after generation, they had labored long hours in the hot fields of Egypt. They had built the storage cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh with their large store-houses, they knew bread didn’t rain from heaven.[2]

All the people could remember was Pharaoh’s bread—but now they would eat bread from heaven and learn the principles of the divine economy. “Each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day,” the Lord said to Moses. “In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”[3]

‘Each day, enough for that day, for each’ was the first principle of the divine economy. In the morning, when the dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

“What is it?” they asked.

“It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat,” Moses said.[4]

So they went out to gather it, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it, there was neither lack nor surplus. Each day, there was enough for that day, for each of them. Those who tried to hoard manna from one day to the next discovered it was rotten. They once had built the storehouses for Pharaoh’s economy, now they learned to trust the God of daily bread.

The second principle of the divine economy was rest. On the sixth day they each gathered a double portion and put aside what was left over until morning. And on the seventh day they rested and ate what they had prepared the day before. They had never tasted rest before. In the world they had lived in and known, there was only the endless repetition of daily quotas; rest was a privilege of kings and queens. But the God of their ancestors who had led them out of Egypt invited this fledgling community of former slaves to share the honor of this divine prerogative.  The escapees from the house of bondage were given a new identity as people of God who trust the abundance of God’s gifts and enter the joy of Sabbath rest. The wilderness was an in-between place, an in-between time, where their lives were reordered from the world of Pharaoh to life as God’s people in the promised land. In the wilderness, in the rhythms of provision, labor, and rest, they learned to trust the fidelity of God and began to let themselves be shaped into a community of fidelity in grateful response to God.

This is not the a-long-long-time-ago, in-a-country-far-far-away kind of story. It speaks directly to our own struggles: how to receive the gifts of God without hoarding; how to live in the Creator’s rhythm of work and rest; how to know the meaning of enough measured not only by our own needs and wants, but by our neighbors’ lack of food and work and shelter and freedom and rest. Our economies more closely resemble Pharaoh’s house of bondage than the wilderness polity of the God of the Exodus who faithfully gives ‘each day, enough for that day, for each’ and invites all ‘to rest in Sabbath joy.’ Not surprisingly, we hear echoes of these same principles in Jesus’ kingdom parable. The landowner defies economic common sense by making sure each worker receives enough for that day, revealing a kingdom governed by grace.

In recent weeks our daily routines have been repeatedly disrupted by news of hurricanes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from violence. We can’t fully fathom the magnitude of loss and need so many of our neighbors are experiencing. We can only begin to imagine the wilderness in which they find themselves; the pictures and reports can be overwhelming. But then we hear stories like the one of the four bakers who were finishing their shift just when hurricane Harvey hit Houston; they were trapped in the bakery. The roads were flooded, but the power was still on. So they kept baking through the night. And the next morning, many neighborhoods were still flooded, and they kept baking all day, turning nearly two tons of flour into bread to feed people in shelters across the city. They didn’t stop until all the flour in the bakery was gone. In a moment of disruption and destruction on a massive scale, they took the gifts of God and used them to feed their hungry neighbors. And that is just one of who knows how many stories of a different kind of economy emerging in the wilderness—an economy not defined by the relentless commodification of everything, but by neighborliness and shared abundance.

I am encouraged by your generous response to our appeal to help assemble 50 clean-up buckets – given what has happened that may sound like the proverbial drop in the bucket; but to 50 families in Florida or Puerto Rico who are returning to their homes that’s one more tangible reminder that they are not alone, not left to fend for themselves.

It was in the wilderness that God’s people learned to pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” and it was in the wilderness that God’s people began to sing, “all we have needed thy hand has provided.” Morning by morning, when the dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

“What is it?” they asked.

“It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat,” said Moses.

Each day, there was enough for that day, for each of them. Each day, there will be enough for that day, for all of us.

[1] Exodus 16:4.

[2] Exodus 1:11,14.

[3] Exodus 16:4-5.

[4] Exodus 16:13-15

Looking for audio of older sermons? Check out our Sermon Audio Archive.