‘It is God’s desire that we live refreshing and freeing lives… lives that are first-and-foremost characterized by trusting God and filled with meaningful work that leads to wholeness and peace.’
We know this can sound very pie-in-the-sky… our culture is achievement-oriented, and it is difficult to say much that has a practical, real-world ring to it related to trusting God and finding wholeness and peace in our work.
Today we are looking at the very first moment in the Bible where the concept of our lives being characterized by Sabbath rest is found: Exodus 16, the story of God first sending the Jewish people manna.
Some background: Throughout the timeline of the ancient world, everything from the rule of the Babylonians all the way through to the Roman Empire, a period of over 2000 years, from 1895 BC to 476 A.D., the single most difficult group of people for any ruling nation to deal with was the Jewish nation.
No other culture had a 7-day week… and no other culture had the Sabbath. This was a ridiculous way to order life especially since the Sabbath also included animals and slaves. Genesis describes God’s creation of the world in terms of God working for 6 days and then having a day of rest. And it’s easy to assume that this 7-day week notion with a day of rest each week was a part of people’s lives from the very beginning. But the truth is, the creation story wasn’t even recorded for the Jewish people until sometime after their release from slavery in Egypt.
Exodus 16:1 tells us: ‘Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. 2 There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. 3 “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.’
The text clearly says ‘the whole Jewish community’ claimed that God had brought the people into the wilderness to starve them. Knowing the events that led to the Jewish people being freed from slavery, this is a patently ridiculous statement! Plus, The Hebrew word Loon that the NLT translates as ‘complained’ means to be obstinate, stubborn, pig-headed, even rebellious.
God replies, ‘Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.’
Then God acts in verse 13! That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp.
Fun fact: We don’t hear anything about these quail in Exodus again, but we do know some things about specific species of quail that still fly in massive flocks. These flocks of quail will fly until they are so tired, that once they land, they cannot move. And we know from Deuteronomy these tired quail were apparently so easy to pick up, children were sent out to gather the birds. It was apparently a ton of quail!
And the next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. 14 When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. 15 The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was. And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat.
6 These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.” 17 So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. 18 But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed. 19 Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” 20 But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them. 21 After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two. Then all the leaders of the community came and asked Moses for an explanation. 23 He told them, “This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So, bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” 24 So they put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor. 25 Moses said, “Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. 26 You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.” 27 Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. 28 The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? 29 They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day.” 30 So the people did not gather any food on the seventh day. 31 The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers.
Fun fact: Honey was one of the only sweeteners in the ancient world. Sugar wasn’t known in this part of the world yet, and almost all other forms of sweeteners came from insect secretions. Bee-keeping wasn’t yet an enterprise. Honey was a luxury.
I want to focus on God saying, ‘The Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.’ Here are some ways I see the Sabbath is a gift:
1) It gives order to life: there are 6 days to do the meaningful work that made life possible… plus, this order also included stopping and resting… a day if rest that happened often enough to become a part of a routine… the gift was regular, purposeful work coupled with regular, purposeful rest that was built into life; you could plan for it and count on it. That’s a gift!
2) Sabbath was a gift because it was something only free people could choose to do.
3) Sabbath gave the Jewish people time to think about God showing them his love and concern.
4) The Sabbath was a gift because it opened up time each week, having taken the time to think through all that God had done for them, to individually and as families and even as a nation, thank God for his ongoing care.
5) Sabbath was a gift because it gave the Jewish people the opportunity to reorient their lives around trusting God.
These are all still gifts to us through Sabbath: order, freedom, time to meditate, time to be thankful, and time to see that God is continually looking out for me, that he loves me, and I can put my trust in all that he has promised to me. We’ve been given a gift that says God is continually present with us, that he is looking out for us, that he loves us, and we can put our trust in all that he has promised us… and rest… rest both now and for eternity. What a gift.