Friday, April 25, 2014

Manna in the Desert

Well, my lovelies.  It’s been so much longer than I wanted it to be between blog posts.  I got a new job that I love, but which is taking up a lot more of my time.  So, I’m having to learn how to parcel out my time again and stay organized.  In the meantime, I would like to post some insights I came across as I was researching and preparing my last Sunday School lesson.  If anyone wants to follow along in the Gospel Doctrine manual, it’s Lesson 14 “Ye Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure Unto Me.”

We Are More Alike Than We Are Different

When I was putting this lesson together, I came across a blog of another Sunday School teacher.  Normally, I appreciate his insights, but in this case, he was pretty annoyed with and rather judgmental of the children of Israel.  Therefore, I would like to ask that we take it kind of easy on them, mostly because we’re not so different from them in our own lives today.  At least I’m not.

Now, before you get all up in arms and offended by what I just said, let me set up the story for you.  These people had been slaves for a long time.  They’d been promised a deliverer.  Though they were most likely uneducated in a lot of ways, most, if not all, of them surely knew of Moses as the son of Pharaoh.  They’d seen him disappear into the desert, seen his name erased from the stone walls.  Then here comes this man back into Egypt, saying he would lead them out of captivity.  After plagues and horrors, then a miraculous deliverance, the Egyptians let them go.  They travel back out into the desert as Moses did, with this man they don’t quite understand.  His brother, Aaron, is his spokesman, and brings the people the word of the Lord.

They come to the Red Sea and Moses parts it before them, and they walk across dry land before the Pharaoh's men are swallowed up in the sea.  For generations these people have suffered and plodded along, only being able to do as the Egyptians tell them, barely being allowed to practice their own religion, constantly bombarded by the worldliness around them.  Then suddenly miracles start to appear before their very eyes and they're not sure what it all means.  I can imagine some of them saying, "We've never seen the Red Sea before.  Maybe it's always like that this time of year."  Surely it would have been difficult for them to know what to believe.

The Lord Provides for the Children of Israel (Exodus 15:22-27)

Three days after leaving the shores of the Red Sea, the murmuring begins, and goes in a cycle for some time to follow.  They murmur, the Lord is merciful and blesses them, they forget and murmur again, the Lord is merciful and blesses them.

So, let’s think about murmuring and what that actually means.  A little complaining, especially in the face of so much trial, may not seem like much, may even seem justified.  But it can be a hindrance to developing faith, both in ourselves and in those in our sphere of influence.

How many of you have seen miracles in your lives and been lifted up on a spiritual high?  How long did it take before you settled back down to the grind of “real life” and maybe forgot the miracle?  The thing is: freedom is a hard business.  When everything has been provided for you and suddenly you’re “free” to fend for yourself, how frightening is that?  Yes, they were out from under the harsh yoke of Pharaoh and his guards, but how would they eat? What would they drink on this trek through the desert?  Who would provide for the millions?  Can you understand their fear and reservations?

Even if they truly believed that they’d been led out of Egypt by the Lord, change (even good change) is hard.  Couple that with physical hardships.  What if Pres. Monson asked us today to take off into the desert?  What about “lesser” things that we’ve been asked to do by the prophet of the Lord?  Think of a time when you know you were prompted to do something in your life, make a big change.  You followed it.  Did things immediately run smoothly?  If not, what was your reaction?  Even if it wasn’t full on murmuring, maybe it was just an attitude of, “Seriously? After I followed you?  THIS is how this is going to go?”  Rather than humble acceptance.

Short story:  When I first moved to Utah from 1700 miles away to go to college, I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was where I needed to be.  But the first year was REALLY hard financially.  At one point, I was working three jobs, plus going to school full time just to make ends meet.  But before I got those three jobs, I had one little part time job that paid less than $8.00 an hour.  One day, I got home to my dorm, looked in the refrigerator, and realized I had no food and no money.  It was at least three days until I got paid.  Needless to say I was scared.  Did I murmur?  You bet.  I had followed the answers to my prayers and leaped out on faith, and THIS was how things were going to go?  “Did Moses lead us out of Egypt just so we could die of hunger in the desert?”  Then I humbled myself and prayed for help.  After a tearful prayer full of confusion and worry, I called my sister for help who lived a couple of hours away.  She fed me for the next six months.

So, let’s think about our immediate reactions to the trials that come on the heels of a concerted effort on our parts to follow the Lord.  Do we feel entitled to an easy time if we’re doing what’s right?

Manna (Exodus 16:2-3, 4-6, 8, 19-21, 35)

“Then the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.”

What were some of the purposes of manna?

  • To show the Lord whether His people would obey Him (to give them the OPPORTUNITY to obey)
  • To give the people daily reminders of the Lord’s power and love.
  • To teach the people that they do not live “by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

How is manna a representation  of Christ?
How is gathering nourishment daily likened to what we must do for spiritual nourishment?

Here are some of my personal thoughts on manna:  After the huge miracle of being taken out of bondage and saved from the Egyptians by the Red Sea being parted, the Israelites were roaming around the desert.  They had run out of food, and were crazy levels of scared about the future.  Of course they were praying for miracles and praying for their circumstances to change, praying for the big miracles (which did eventually happen), but in the meantime, they got manna.  At first they found it miraculous and delicious, like honey.  Their daily bread, falling like dew on the ground.  They had very specific instructions for its use as well.  They couldn’t store it up, but had to gather it daily.  Eventually, though, they started to get tired of it.  The same thing day after day.  They tried to dress it up and prepare it in different ways, but eventually, it didn't taste like honey to them anymore, it tasted like oil.  They remembered back to the delicious food they'd had back in Egypt (when they were slaves), and they began to be dissatisfied with their daily bread.  (Numbers 11:5-8) I'm sure they wondered why they were just getting enough for one day.  They couldn’t see into the future and know how long this would last.  Why wasn't He saving them once and for all and leading them out of the desert?

Our whole lives are made up of all kinds of "manna," situations when we receive just enough to get us by for the next moment, the next day or the next week.  The air in our lungs can only sustain us until we take the next breath; the food we eat can only sustain us until the next meal; the sacrament we only take on a weekly basis.  We can't do any of those things in one lump sum to sustain us for all time.  So we receive here a little, there a little, grace upon grace, because by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
I think back over my life in the past few years since I moved to Utah.  Nothing has turned out like I thought it would.  But I can look back and see the small tender mercies, the little pieces of manna that got me through to the next day.

Bread or Stones

S. Michael Wilcox gave a beautiful talk at BYU Hawaii a while back in which, among other things, He discussed how the Lord deals with us when answering our prayers or pleas for assistance. Rather than paraphrase, I would like to quote a chunk of that talk here:

“Sometimes we don’t understand the Lord’s answers because the answers that we are getting may not be the ones we particularly want. And so we go to another letter I call Bread or Stones.

“In Luke, the eleventh chapter, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, He introduced it with a parable, and then He said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, (meaning being human, imperfect) know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give (good things, give) the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (9-13)

“Now the Lord’s prayer is introduced with a phrase; the Savior says your father in Heaven knows what you need before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8). We are also counseled in the scriptures to tell the Lord our desires. Now that may cause a problem. I know what I desire and God knows what I need. I am always hoping that those are the same. But what if what I need and what I desire are not the same?—and the Lord says, “Mike, you get to choose what you need and what you desire.” I’m afraid in my worse moments I may say, ‘Well if it’s just the same to you Father, I’d like what I desire, rather than what I need.’

“C.S. Lewis calls the desired need the ‘expected good’; and, the needed good he sometimes called the ‘given good.’ All things given from God are good; and, sometimes if what I desire is different from what I need, if what I expect is different from what I’m given, I may, if I’m not careful, turn the given bread into a stone. I may turn the given fish into a serpent. I may view the given egg as a scorpion because it is not what I anticipated, what I asked for, what I hoped for—what I desired.

“What we must understand about our Father in Heaven is that He only gives bread; He never gives stones. He only gives fish; He never gives serpents. He only gives eggs; He never gives scorpions…A stone, when you want bread, is something useless. God does not give useless things.”

Let me reiterate: the Lord NEVER gives stones, only bread.  In thinking about that, why then would we turn away from the Lord whenever we feel like things “haven’t gone our way”?  Why wouldn’t we turn to Him in gratitude, knowing that somewhere in all of it, there is bread, and “all things shall work together for our good.”

Tie Back To

Not too long after the beginning of the manna years, the Lord wanted to create a covenant with His people.  He wanted to establish again His religion among them.  The word religion originally meant “to tie back to.”  So, the Lord literally wanted to tie His people back to Him through covenant because He loved them so much.  The original commandments and laws given to Moses also contained the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, those things which would lead to eternal life and exaltation.  But after seeing the truth gleaming in the golden calf, Moses and the Lord realized that the people were not yet ready for a higher law.

So, new tables of stone were written with the ten commandments and the law of Moses, excluding any ordinances of the higher priesthood.  The people would have to prove themselves worthy of the higher law.  But in the meantime, they were protected from committing more grievous sins by only being given the lesser law.  These basic ten commandments went on to become the basis of most of civilized society.

Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith said: "...Israelite jurisprudence, formulated and proclaimed by Moses through divine guidance, has had a greater uplifting power upon the nations than the combined influence of all other ancient nations. Greek and Roman influence and culture have given to the world much in the arts, but the moral and religious influences, the love of right and justice over wrong and oppression, the love of home and the unity of the family have come from the inspired teachings of the prophets of Israel and these would have been abundantly greater had the people remained humble and obedient to these inspired teachings and had they been fully willing to forsake the pleasures and evils of the world." (The Restoration of All Things, p136)

The Take Away

So, what’s the take away from this lesson?  How can we apply the experiences of the children of Israel to our own lives?

President Eyring said: “It won’t be easy to remember. Living as we do with a veil over our eyes, we cannot remember what it was like to be with our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in the premortal world; nor can we see with our physical eyes or with reason alone the hand of God in our lives. Seeing such things takes the Holy Ghost. And it is not easy to be worthy of the Holy Ghost’s companionship in a wicked world.

“That is why forgetting God has been such a persistent problem among His children since the world began. Think of the times of Moses, when God provided manna and in miraculous and visible ways led and protected His children. Still, the prophet warned the people who had been so blessed, as prophets always have warned and always will: 'Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.'

“And the challenge to remember has always been the hardest for those who are blessed abundantly. Those who are faithful to God are protected and prospered. That comes as the result of serving God and keeping His commandments. But with those blessings comes the temptation to forget their source. It is easy to begin to feel the blessings were granted not by a loving God on whom we depend but by our own powers.” (President Eyring, “O Remember, Remember” October 2007 Conference)

The Lord gives us direction because He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever.  He gives us multiple opportunities to remember Him and remember where we’ve come from.  The time that the Israelites spent in the desert was not a 40 year “time out” or punishment.  The Lord doesn’t deal with us that way.  It was a means to teach them to rely on the Lord for their daily bread and to allow themselves to be tied back to Him.

I’ll leave you with one final scripture in Romans 8: 35, 37-39:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, not things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He will provide us with the daily bread we need to become the strong and valiant sons and daughters He’s always wanted us to be.


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