A lot of the story of Israel in the Old Testament feels like it points to God’s people being lost, rather than being free. The story of the Israelites wandering seems to dominate more than their release from captivity – their freedom.
In Exodus 16, this is the case. The Israelites feel like their fortunes have changed – not long ago, they were released from slavery in Egypt by Moses. They escaped through the parted Red Sea, and Moses and Miriam sang songs of celebration and joy that finally, Israel is free. But now? They find themselves stuck in the middle of the wilderness, and they’re very hungry. God promised them freedom, but what kind of God offers freedom which just leads to hunger and wandering?
The Israelites are struggling to see how their experiences are matching up to God’s promises. Surely even in their life before – where they weren’t even happy – they were at least fed.
But God responds to their complaining with a display of God’s promises. God delivers food to the Israelites each day – quail in the mornings, manna (a type of bread) in the evenings. And this isn’t simply an extravagant response where God pours out everything they need and more, in order to prove God can. Instead, God offers the Israelites exactly what they need each day, and only what they need for the day. In return, the Israelites have to trust that God, faithful to the promises God made, will continue to provide enough that they might live.
As we wander in the wilderness of the climate crisis, unsure of the future, it can be difficult to remember God’s promises of freedom to creation. In fact, it can be easy to forget the moment in which we have felt them delivered. When we have seen glimpses of God’s freedom, in our own lives or in the life of creation.
Within this, how do we live faithfully, trusting in God’s promises and looking for signs of provision and hope?
I think God’s offer of provision in Exodus 16 gives us somewhere to begin. In providing for them, God does not offer the Israelites excess, but offers them enough for life. God leaves it to the Israelites to decide for themselves how much is enough – when they misjudge, God gently rebukes. And, at the end of each day, God invites God’s people to once again enter into the relationship of promise, trusting that God will deliver what they need.
God’s offer to provide enough, but not excess, does not necessarily mean a denial of abundance. The narrative of abundance can be a difficult one. It is partly the narrative which has enabled the excessive consumption which has led us into the climate crisis. It has justified behaviours which have meant excess for a few and poverty for many.
But it is also the offer of God, time and time again – in the promise of freedom, in hundreds of loaves and fishes to feed a hungry crowd. These, amongst others, are offers of abundance that see not only having enough, but living in a way which brings abundant life. Here, as God’s people wait for an offer of God’s promise, God meets their need for life by offering them not only the things they need, and the relationship they need. A reminder that abundance of life means more than simply material abundance.
It is an invitation – that in dependence on God’s provision, God’s people might once again enter in to a life that sees and notices the fulfilment of God’s promises. It is an invitation to look more closely for opportunities to enter into relationship with God, leaning on God’s promises in the trust that they hold.
Practice keeping your eyes open to God’s offer of abundance today. Where are you being invited into a relationship of trust, that you might find abundant life – for yourself, and for creation?
Today’s reflection is written by Hannah Brow. Hannah is the Campaigns and Church Engagement Officer for JPIT. This her second Living Lent and she is committing to not buying anything new.