According to my New Oxford Annotated Bible, the word manna is derived from the Hebrew man hu. “Man hu?” was the question that the Hebrew people asked when they saw flaky white stuff laying around them, all over the ground. “What is it?” they asked. I believe the answer was man na. “It is what it is.”
This question and answer reminds me of the dialog between Moses and God when Moses asks God what he should say when the people ask for the name of the God who reportedly is going to save them. God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:13)
In both of these situation, the answer is a restatement of the question. What is it? It is what it is. Who are you? I am who I am.
Later, after God has been provided water and food for the people in the wilderness, we learn that God has commanded that an omer of manna be saved in a jar. (An omer is about eight cups or a half gallon.)
Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” (Exodus 16:32)
The manna is being stored so future generations will trust in this God who has recently rescued and provided for them. Like a good leader, Moses does what he’s told; he tells Aaron to do what God asks. And Aaron, like a good priest, does what he’s told. He puts the manna in a jar and puts the jar in a sacred place.
And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept through out your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. (Exodus 16:33-34)
Then the story fast forwards. The Bible tells us that the Israelites made it, by living on manna, to the Promised Land.
The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)
As contemporary people who are attempting to follow this God, a God whose primary occupation is to rescue the oppressed, this story provides us with sustenance for our journey. It suggests that God knows we can’t just believe what we’re told. We’re too fickle for that. We need evidence for ourselves.
At first, I thought that stories of early Friends was today’s manna. Our knowledge of their words and actions help us to know what it is like when God enters into history. The documents that they left behind demonstrate that God is not only an eternal presence but also lives and acts in time, through the lives of the faithful.
But, like the Israelites who learned about God through their ancestors’ stories, we need to have evidence for ourselves. The stories of early Friends are not enough. We need to see and feel manna. We need to personally experience God’s rescue and on-going guidance.
We don’t have physical jars of manna, but we have this story. This story urges us to enter into the tabernacle and stand in the power of the covenant, believing that God means for us to be God’s special people. Via our hearts, we will plunge a hand into that jar full of manna and physically experience God’s mercy and power. Later, when we leave the tent (although we will probably need to return many times), we will see God’s provision all around… manna as far as our eyes can see.
Who is this God? This God Is. This God is Being Yearning For Us, a God who comes to rescue us from non-Being and non-Yearning, from non-Fullness-of-Life. May we embrace the yoke that Jesus holds out to us. By joining in Christ’s on-going redemption of the world, we join God where God is and participate in God’s action in time.
This post is fifth in a series. This series explores how we might leave Egypt –the American Empire and travel to the Promised Land—the Beloved Community of All Peoples where peace and plenty prevail. (The previous posts include Becoming a Wilderness People, The God of our Fathers, Water in the Wilderness, and Wafers made with Honey.)