I had the unfortunate undertaking of entering into the insanity of the retail realm yesterday. The first errand was to return some unused construction items to a local big-box hardware store. The clerk was helpful but stressed by the large cart of items for which she had to process returns. After a few jiggles and one register transfer, all was well. I felt bad about giving her such a large task, but she handled it with grace.
The next stop was to a favorite discount store. I really love discount stores because you never have any idea if you’re going to score or strike out. To me, that’s the only fun part of shopping – the hunt. The chase. Otherwise, I’d rather embroider my own fingernails with a rusty needle than set foot inside a store.
Yes, I do realize I sound like a little princess. In my defense, I hung cabinets, built countertops, tiled, painted, hung drywall, and mudded walls with a couple of days assistance of a handyman/electrician and a few hours of work by a plumber. I’m handy as heck.
And I really hate shopping.
My next stop in retail hell was not as smooth as the first one. A security guard dressed in threatening black shrieked “Hello! Merry Christmas!” in a voice that sounded anything but merry. I would not ever steal but her glare made me feel guilty. The little red Santa cap did nothing to lighten the mood.
So, I wandered the aisles looking for e very specific style of mirror, a garbage can, curtains, and a nice present around the $25 budget set for a gift exchange among the nicest group of women you’d ever want to meet. I avoided making eye contact with anyone and stayed in my own little head space, intent in the hunt. Partially successful, I finally made my way to the checkout line and the lady in front of me turned and said with an eye roll, “’Tis the season.” She was tall, European, well dressed, in great shape, and probably completely miserable at that moment.
The very picture of success in this world.
Jolted out of my “retail fugue” I became aware of how hostile and intense emotions on the faces of those around me. I try to bring a little light into the world when I venture out, especially in any kind of store. You just never know what people are going through. I watched people and plastered a smile on my face trying to catch an eye or two and zap them with a little apparent joy. Sometimes people move away from me when I do that. I can’t blame them.
The store manager was foolish enough to make eye contact with me. Perhaps startled by the twinkliest smile I could manage, she asked me how I was doing. I replied that I was very well thank you and couldn’t come up with a single complaint.
OK. Since I hate shopping that might technically have been untrue. But trying to make people smile around me takes the edge off. Ergo, I had no actual complaints at that precise moment.
The manager’s response was tragic. “You have no idea how much I appreciate that.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. We’re frantically shopping for things we don’t need, and trying to figure out what to buy at a discount store that doesn’t LOOK LIKE it comes from a discount store, and which is probably not needed by the person for whom we’re purchasing the items (all while doing the painful calculations about how we’re going to finance this particular shopping season) isn’t Christmas. It’s torture. So what does any of this blog post have to do with Jesus?
About as much as Christmas, so far.
Lest I, too, leave you starving for spiritual sustenance I offer a little discussion about manna, inspired by the expository discussion on Exodus (session 6) offered by the incredible Chuck Missler.
Instead, they said it was manna – which means “what’s it?” Moses explained it was the bread, lechem that was promised by God though the people continued to refer to it as “what’s it,” and never actually accepted the bread-ness of it all.
Isn’t that interesting? This lack of agreement continues, as best as I can tell, through the New Testament (though in Greek) and the only time both God and people agree on what manna is (bread, specifically) is in the book of Revelation. And then, it’s called “hidden manna.” That’s remarkable when one considers how we all generally agree that the manna is a metaphor for Jesus, the Bread of Life.
There were specific rules about the manna throughout Chapter 16 of Exodus:
Exo 16:4 Then said the LORD 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.
Exo 16:5 And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
Exo 16:16 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.
Exo 16:18 And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
Exo 16:19 And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.
There is so much to unpack in this story of manna and not enough time to discuss all of it. That said, I want to point out some important ideas. I have to swim against the current that overwhelmingly claims manna is metaphorical Jesus. Bear with me for a moment and consider that manna is really something more material that provides sustenance for the grumbling mixed multitude, freshly liberated from captivity in allegorical Egypt.
First, verse 16:4 makes it clear that the way in which people gather the manna (again, NOT bread) is a test to see if they’ll follow God’s commands. Since God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, He knows exactly what everyone is going to do before they do it. So why would God need to test them? Is it to use the rebellious to demonstrate consequences of disobedience to others? It’s an interesting idea. I wonder how else it might be applied in our daily lives.
Gathering too much disobeys God's command.
Second, the gathering was to be done according to need. In other words, no gluttons allowed. Why not? If there was a never ending daily supply of manna, what’s the harm in gathering a little more?
Do you remember the toilet paper and bread crisis of 2020? Senior citizens, disabled people, and financially challenged were particularly impacted because they couldn’t make a Costco run, or drive multiple places at first light of day to score what they needed. I heard about an elderly lady who was in the store looking for a package of TP on empty shelves and burst into tears when a stranger gave her a single roll from the package in their own cart.
If we take too much, we make it harder for others to get what they need.
If we behave as it we’re hoarding something, it makes others fear the lack of whatever we’re hoarding.
The last point about taking more than one needs dovetails with verses 18 and 19. Everyone was assured that they would have what they needed, and that they were not to save any over for the next day. If anyone did gather more than was needed for that day, they’d have extra. If they had extra, they’d be in jeopardy of breaking the commandment in verse 19: don’t hold any over until morning.
It takes a great deal of trust and reliance on God to not hold over until the morning in the middle of the wilderness. Gathering extra and holding over for the future means we don’t rely on God, but rather we rely on ourselves. Guilty as charged. In fact, today’s society is all about acquiring as much as we can so that we don’t fear our future, isn’t it? I, like the wealthy young man who walked away when Jesus told him to sell everything he had and follow him, lack the courage to trust each day to itself.
Wouldn’t you rather have a fat bank account, warehouse full of food, insurance for every eventuality, than to simply pray that God will provide everything?
If we gather too much, we show a lack of faith in God’s promise to provide. And if manna is our example, it'll all turn wormy and rotted anyway.
Frankly, I fall woefully short of that kind of faith. Especially now that the governments of the world have proven they can shut everything down and create panic in a moment’s notice, and the superpowers of the world are clearly getting ready for global conflict.
Ecclesiastes has some somber warning about gathering excessively.
Ecc 5:13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
Ecc 5:14 But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.
Ecc 5:15 As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.
Ecc 5:16 And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?
Ecc 5:17 All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
And I thought the security guard at the discount store in black clothing was gloomy. Yikes.
Besides gathering too much not-bread manna, there’s also an implied command to not gather too little since one was to gather according to need (eating). There are consequences to not gathering enough.
First, a person who does not gather enough manna for their need is asking others to shoulder that burden for them, placing unnecessary demand on their time and resources and wearing them out. In fundraising circles it’s called Donor’s Fatigue. When someone keeps asking for money but their situation doesn’t seem to improve, we wonder what kind of decisions they’re making in life to keep them in that state. I know I have. Especially if they’re spending what seems like an entire work day on social media.
Finally, if one does not gather enough manna and complains about their lack, they have turned themselves into preventable martyrs who very likely have feelings of envy festering within their hearts. You may have heard statements like: It must be nice, I wish I knew what that feels like, You don’t know what it’s like to not have money. If you’ve said it, it might be time to apologize for it. If you’ve heard it, you’ve probably cringed and tried to make it look like you have less. That kind of envy doesn’t foster loving relationships.
Let me close this out since it’s getting so wordy and circle back to my shopping day.
None of what those shoppers were doing was gathering manna for their day. They were stressed, upset, frantically gathering up what they thought was necessary. I’m sure they are lovely people to a person. I’d bet that many of them will attend church on Christmas Eve and hopefully will set aside their cares for even a moment of pure worship of God, our Father in heaven, and for expressing gratitude for Jesus coming here to show us the way. I’m dubious about Christmas being his actual birthday, but I’ll set that aside for the moment because I don’t believe that getting the date right has anything to do with salvation. If celebrating Jesus’s actual birthday were key to salvation, the date would specifically have been called out and we would have been given instructions on how to celebrate it, don’t you think?
So how do we show our hearts to God when it comes to the not-bread manna in life? Ecclesiastes has something lovely to say about that.
Ecc 5:18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Ecc 5:19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
Ecc 5:20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
All that said, don’t focus too hard on gathering manna.
But when it comes to the Bread of Life, chow down like there’s no tomorrow. Because there might not be.