21st March, 1999


  How God sustains us
     
  Exodus 16:1-31, 17:1-7


For twenty years I have been friends with Herman Eisenberg. We are both members of the Rotary Club of Sydney. This week I asked Herman, if he had trouble leaving his birthplace in Cairo, Egypt. For in 1956, during the Suez Crisis, the Jews in Cairo were an endangered group.

He told me the Jews in Cairo were rounded up by the Arabs, fearful of the new state of Israel, founded in 1948. They were stripped of all their possessions and property and deported. As a young man, he was accused of being a spy and imprisoned. The charge was untrue, but Herman was jailed. While he was in a prison cell with twelve Arab convicts, a guard came to check his name and nationality. He replied to the guard: "My name is Herman Eisenberg. I am a Jew." The guard hushed him. "If any of these criminals hear you are a Jew you will be dead by morningl." Herman resented being told to hide his nationality, and turning to the Arab prisoners shouted, "You asked me who I am and I'm telling you who I am. I am a Jew." No one touched him.

Eventually he was released and fifty expelled Jews where deported from the port of Alexandria. As the ship left Egyptian waters, the Jews gathered on the decks and sang the songs of release their forefathers sang 3000 years earlier when they escaped from Egypt in the Exodus. He may have used the words the American Negroes sang from the Book of Exodus upon their emancipation: "Free at last. Free at Last. Thank the Lord Almighty, we are free at last!" God had sustained them and set them free. God sustains people in the wilderness.
This month's edition of 'BIBICAL ARCHAEO-LOGICAL REVIEW", seeks to answer some of the questions I raised and answered last week. "Why is there so little archaeological evidence that the Hebrew slaves toiled in the brick cities of the northern Delta area of the Nile?" I pointed out that we have in fact little material from over 3000 years ago, and that it was never the habit of Pharaoh's to include on their buildings and monuments the names and nationalities of the slaves who built them. After all, in Sydney, we do not know the names of the convicts nor their nationalities that worked on each building and road less than 200 years ago. But now there has been new evidence come to light, mentioned in an article entitled "Pharaoh's Workers."

An entire village that housed workers that built the great monuments to Pharaoh in the Valley of Kings has just been uncovered. The walls of hundreds of houses are intact, and there are written records, legal documents, and everyday implements unearthed. It is in the southern area whereas the Bible tells us the Hebrew slaves were in the northeastern part of the Nile Delta by the cities of Rameses and Pithom. The authors who have written a book on the workers of Pharaoh, say that although slaves were never given credit for their labours, the Biblical account is so true to what we now know from these other workmen and so many coincidences in detail, that the Biblical account must be true.

Slave labourers had a great variety of food, were worked under the lash of their own over-seers, but worked only in the off-season between the floods and harvest. For some it was a secure and acceptable life. Some Hebrews were to prefer slavery to die of starvation in the desert following Moses. They wanted to go back to Egypt.

1. GOD SUSTAINED THE HEBREWS IN THE WILDERNESS.

Survival was first priority. Freedom means nothing if the free perish. Thirst conjures images of cool water, and hunger of delicious food, and barren sands become mirages in the mind. Moses led the Hebrews to an oasis, Elim, and after rest, they started marching through the burning sands and wadis of the Sinai desert.

The Hebrews were fearful they would starve v1 - 10.
The further they went into the wilderness, the more they grumbled: Why did Moses bring them here to die? Where could they find food in the desert, meat and vegetables? They complained. They forgot back in Egypt, the lash of the slave drivers. They forgot making countless thousands of bricks. They forgot hauling the huge building stones. They remembered only cool drinks and good meat and fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic in their food! It all seemed so good back in Egypt. Num 1:5

V11-12 Then Moses told them that God would feed them at dusk, and in the morning God would feed them again and every day except the Sabbath. The food came from unexpected sources:

Meat came from the sky. v13-21. The Hebrew's ate quail. The name "Quail" is found only in connection with God's provision of food for Israel in the wilderness Ex.16:13; Num. 11:31-32; Ps. 105:40. Probably the quail that visited the Hebrew camp were migrating flocks. Enormous numbers of quail migrate north during the spring after wintering in Africa. When the fatigued birds stop to rest, they can be caught easily. In God's timing the birds came to provide for the needs of His people. Today, Bedouin place fine nets between the sand dunes south of the Mediterranean Sea.
Months earlier each year, Quail, flying to Africa for the winter, land exhausted from the long flight over the sea from Europe. They easily fall prey to the Bedouin. Then they fall exhausted on their return flight north. The Bible describes them as "fat". After a winter of feeding in the South the quail were flying north. The Roman author Pliny writes of their coming into Italy in such numbers and being exhausted from their long flight. This provision of nature need not be called miraculous.

That night the Hebrews found the quail landing in great numbers all over their camp. They were to capture only as many quail as they would need for their meal that day. Those who gorged themselves or tried to keep birds for the next day became ill. Self-indulgence made them sick. The Hebrews had their flocks of sheep and goats. While they had milk and cheese, wool and hair, they were short of meat. God provided the quail. Now they could do with some sweet bread.

Bread came from the ground. V14-21 Naturalists say an insect feeds upon the tamarisk tree and secretes the white flaky substance, rich in carbohydrates and sugars. The insects produce edible, white honeydew from the Tamarisk that grows in abundance in the desert wadis. Today commercial manna farms tap manna from tree stems like rubber in Malaysia and sell it in dried flakes or fragments. 1The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey." v31 Sweetness was required and a small amount was satisfying. The miracle was not in how it came, but that it came when they needed it, as long as they needed, and where they needed it. God uses nature, but only God can brings it order. There seemed to be three rules concerning this food:

Each person had to gather his or her own sustenance. No one was able to depend upon the efforts of others. That is always so with God's grace. The virtue of the father is not imparted to the son. Each of us has to work out of our salvation with fear and trembling.

God gave enough for one day only at a time. They were not able to store food for future use except for the Sabbath. So we cannot store God's grace. Weekly church attendance when you were young does not mean you need not attend today.

The manna had to be gathered daily. God provided the sustenance, but each person each day had to receive its strength. So also with spiritual strength: God provides strength for each day, but we have to come before Him to receive it. So God's grace is fresh each morning.

Water came from the rock. 17:1-7. In the desert I have stood in huge water cisterns that could hold millions of litres - at Masada, for example. When those rare torrential rains come in the desert, the underground natural reservoirs, and the man-made cisterns are all filled. This may be the only water for several years. Sometimes the water slowly seeps underground through otherwise dry gullies and wadis, and the carefully placed well will always have a water supply. Sometimes water is absorbed into hollow rocks where calcium deposits seal the opening. Modern day shepherds, in an action called t'mile, will take their heavy staff and, by striking the rock at exactly the right point, break loose the blockage, allowing water to gush forth. It was this action Moses took when faced with a water emergency. So God sustained them for forty years with fresh meat, bread and water, in addition to their milk and cheese.

2. GOD SUSTAINS US IN OUR WILDERNESS.

For many people, life is a wilderness, where they struggle to survive. They dream of imaginary blessings of the past. Complaints are on their lips. Personal suffering can make life a wilderness. Unemployment and lack of self-esteem can make a desert. All can be barren due to meaninglessness, loneliness, and guilt. Like the Hebrews, God will sustain us if we do our part. God did not open the Red Sea to allow the Hebrews to cross until they entered the water, Neither does God hand us inner strength without requiring some effort and trust on our behalf. God feeds the sparrows of the air faithfully, but he does throw food into their nests!

It requires personal effort to gather strength. Any achievement will find a reward if the effort is expended. Spiritually you only grow strong, as you spend time and effort. It takes an effort to grow the characteristics of a saint.

We gather strength sufficient for only one day at a time. Jesus taught us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." He does not promise that an occasional day of activity in the church will sustain you through each day's pressures. You must receive your supply of strength, daily.

Jesus described Himself as "the living bread which came down from Heaven." Jesus said: "Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, just as the scriptures says, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat". I am telling you the truth, what Moses gave you was not the bread from Heaven; it is my Father who gives the real bread from heaven. For the bread that God gives is He who comes down from Heaven and gives His life to the world...I am the bread of life.

He who comes to me will never be hungry, he that believes in me will never be thirsty...I am telling you the truth: whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they died. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. The bread I give him is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live." John 6:31-51.GNB. We must keep close to Him daily to be strong.

Each day requires time to build up our strength. Christians have three sources of spiritual renewal: the communion when we take the small piece of white bread that speaks of the spiritual bread of life; the reading of the Bible which inwardly feeds us; and prayer which is a refreshment to our spirits. Communion should be a frequent spiritual feast. The early Christians and the early Methodists communed each day and on the first day of each week. Bible Study was a daily renewal of strength. Prayer was constant.

How God sustains us is a mystery to people just as the manna was a mystery to the people of Israel. They asked: "What is it?". So the spiritual resources of the Communion, scripture study and prayer are not the subjects for the microscope, the tape measure or the clock. Yet they still purvey spiritual strength to those who partake of them with faith.

Jesus declares that He is the meat sent from God, the bread of life, the living water, and that they who come to Him are sustained by God in the same way as those in the desert were sustained by God in the day of Moses. Whatever your situation, faith in the God of Jesus Christ can sustain you! Make sure you trust Him and He will sustain you. Make sure you spend time with Him daily and He will sustain you. God sustains!

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes



Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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