Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy Every Time

Many people hear this Bible account from Exodus 16:2-20 and think it's about special wafers from heaven called manna. But look more closely, and discover the real center of attention. God gives us a glimpse at his being and doing, teaching us that Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy Every Time! August 16, 2009.

            Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  You’ve heard that, haven’t you?  That’s not just a fire safety slogan.  It’s a Bible thing.  Before God took on human flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ, he occasionally demonstrated his visible presence with a bright cloud of smoke and fire, and when he did that for the Israelites in today’s first lesson from Exodus sixteen, that smoke-and-fire cloud got a special label – the glory of the LORD.

            What comes to mind when you hear the word “glory”?  Do you think of something dazzling, sparkling, brilliant, bright, and flashy?  Do you think of something first rate and A-one?  All of those images fit the word “glory.”  That’s what makes “glory” such a great partner with the name of the Lord.  God’s glory sums up his greatness and grandeur and sparks our awe and adoration.  What God wants for us, and especially his plan to save us from the torture and torment of which we deserve because of sin, sparkles with brightness and light.  The details of how he pulled that off demonstrate how great, how grand, how glorious (there’s that word again) he is – so absolutely exalted that the apostle rightly burst into song, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”(Romans 11:33)

            Lots of people hear this Bible account and think that the main theme is grumbling because that word occurs seven times in these verses, or they think this is mainly about special wafers from heaven called manna.  But look more closely, and discover the real center of attention.  God peals back the veil just a little and gives us, as he did the Israelites, a glimpse at his being and doing, teaching us that Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy – Every Time!

In daily care for our physical life

            From the perspective of the Israelites the situation looked pretty grim.  Sure, they had crossed the Red Sea one month earlier, but by this time their supply of food had run out.  Now they were in the desert, obviously having no time to plow and plant, hoe and harvest.  No supply train with rations trailed behind.  And we are not just talking about the need for a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder, and two grilled chicken chipotle wraps to feed a family of four.  There were over two million mouths to feed.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.  You’ve heard these Bible accounts about the Israelites before.  Do you find yourself wanting to grab them by the shoulders and shake them up, “You stupid Israelites!  Can’t you remember from one day to the next?  Are you so thick-headed that you forgot what God did for you at the Red Sea just one month earlier?  Why all the complaining?”

            But when we ask questions like that, we are forgetting that we have been there, too.  Oh, maybe we haven’t been stranded and starving in a desert, but we have stepped down into the “whine” cellar plenty of times (that’s whine with a “w-H-i-n-e”).  If you went home today and found your apartment vandalized, would you say, “It’ll be OK.  God will provide,” or “Lord, I was at church, and you let this happen?”  If you planned a big vacation but got sick and couldn’t go, would you say, “It’ll be OK.  I’ll just wait for another opportunity,” or would you be asking, “Hey, Lord, what kind of deal is this?”  When you get the last bill paid with the checkbook barely balanced, and then the next day the water heater goes out, are you thinking, “It’ll be OK.  Somehow we’ll manage,” or are you tempted to wonder, “Lord, how could you let this happen?”  And how about those times we ask, “How could you turn my family against me?  How could you load me with this grief, this pain, this fear?”  We’ve grumbled like Israelites.

            What does God do with people like that, like us?  If you were God, what would you have done to those Israelites?  Brighten the cloud, and turn up the heat?  Shoot out a few flames in their direction?  While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.  What was the Lord going to do?  The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites.  Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread.  Then you will know that I am the LORD you God’. ”   There are people who say this flock of quail was just a coincidence of nature, migratory birds which happened to stop by.  Baloney!  Enough quail for over two million people?  It had to be a miracle.  There are also people who say that certain desert trees leaked sap onto the ground which dried and could be broken into wafer-sized pieces and eaten.  Well, there are trees like that, but they only do it for a few months each year, and there certainly weren’t enough trees in the whole desert to feed even some of the Israelites for one day much less this big mob.  God gave them manna, little wafers miraculously appearing on the ground, six days a week every week of every year of the forty years of their wilderness wandering.

            Someone once asked, “Why didn’t God just dump out a semi-load of manna and let them pack up several Coleman coolers with wafers for a month or two?  Why demand an every day collection?”  An old rabbi answered with a story.  “Once there was a king who had a son to whom he gave a yearly allowance.  It soon happened that the day on which the allowance was due was the only day in the year when the father saw the son.  So, the king changed his plan and gave his son day by day that which sufficed for the day.  Now the son visited the father every morning, realizing his continual need for his father’s love, companionship, wisdom, and giving.”  God dealt with the children of Israel the same way.  He gave them a daily supply so they had a daily reminder to give him thanks.

            Today we’ll go home and feed our faces.  Tomorrow we will be in the refrigerator for leftovers.  Tuesday we’ll pick up some fresh salad and sandwich fixings.  Wednesday we’ll nuke stuff up in the microwave.  Thursday we’ll eat the rest of the leftovers.  Friday is a fish fry.  Saturday we’ll eat out at a fair or festival.  This Bible account calls out, “Don’t forget where all of that comes from!”  Most amazing of all, God supplies what we need for our physical life even though we don’t deserve it because we complain too much or get greedy for things we don’t need or begin to congratulate ourselves for being so heroic in providing for what we need.  But remember that God can remove all our earthly possessions with a gust of wind or with a swipe of his hand, but he doesn’t.  Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy – Every Time in the daily care for our physical life.

In continuing concern for our spiritual life

            Sure, it’s a miracle, but why make such a big deal about a cloud of smoke and fire providing food?  Food is food.  They ate food.  We eat food.  Humans need it to survive.  Simple facts.  No big deal.  But this was a big deal because God had a big, big reason for preserving the nation of Israel.  You know what it was.  He had made a promise that a Savior would come into the world through them.

            Yet, sometimes we may wonder, “Why them?  They kept rebelling.  Why didn’t God just blast those Israelites for their consistent ingratitude?  Why not discard them and pick a new nation?”  Answer – because God wanted to show his faithfulness in his continuing concern for their spiritual life.  What if he had promised, “I will bring the Savior into the world through the Israelites,” and then changed his mind to use the Amorites, then the Ammonites, then some other nation?  I don’t know about you, but I’d begin to wonder about the faithfulness of God.  I’d begin to wonder about his other promises.  For example, he promised you and he promised me heaven.  If he changed his mind about leading the Israelites to the promised land of Canaan, how would we know that he wouldn’t change his mind about leading us to the Promised Land of heaven?

            That’s where the history of Israel comes in.  Read your Old Testament.  It’s not just a bunch of stories for entertainment.  God wants to demonstrate his track record.  That’s why this incident called for a special revelation of the glory of the Lord.  They looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD.  The Israelites would have died in the desert without God’s intervention.  The Savior God had to come through for them.  He did.  Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy – Every Time – especially in God’s continuing concern for our spiritual life.

            Divine glory surpassed human energy and brought these Israelite to the promised land.  Divine glory surpassed human energy and gave them victories in battle.  Divine glory surpassed human energy and turned King David’s guilt because of adultery and murder into a clear conscience.  Divine glory surpassed human energy five hundred years after David and turned a rag-tag bunch of exiles into a remnant ready for the Messiah.   Divine glory surpassed human energy and caused angels to shout, “A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord … Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:11,14).  Divine glory surpassed human energy and turned a vicious crucifixion into a crown of victory.  Divine glory surpassed human energy and turned a handful of faithful followers into the church of God that reaches to the ends of the earth.  Divine glory surpassed human energy and turned our status as Satan’s offspring into God’s children.  Divine glory surpasses human energy and turns our feeble efforts at this time in history on this corner of this city into something that paves the way for hundreds, thousands, to enter eternal glory.

            God is not going to come to us in a cloud of smoke and fire.  But there is a cloud of witnesses to God’s love who have recorded what God wants us to know in the Holy Scriptures, and where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  The pages of Holy Scripture are smoking with the fire of God’s burning desire to love us.  And he does love us, not with some cute, cuddly daddy-to-child love but with the love of a Father who was willing to sacrifice his only Son to rescue and adopt criminals, to rescue and adopt us.  The Israelites couldn’t make that happen.  You and I couldn’t make that happen.  God made it happen.  Divine Glory Surpasses Human Energy – Every Time.    Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on August 16, 2009

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