Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Exodus 15:22-16:36
Before all worlds, God was a community. God was a family. God was a society. God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And while our God was completely satisfied in His own fellowship, in His own communion, in His own society, He created this world. And while this was completely unnecessary in one sense: He did not need this universe, He did not need creation. Nevertheless, it was not merely arbitrary either, it was not thoughtless or meaningless. God created because He wanted to, because of Who He is, because of how He is. In other words, God created because He is a community, because He is a family, a society.
Many societies fear change. Sometimes friends feel threatened when new friends join the fellowship. Communities seem fragile, and change is sometimes seems like the great enemy. We fear new things, new people, new obstacles, and we naturally tend to cling to what is familiar, what we’re used to, the old ways. When things get dangerous, uncertain, unpredictable, we long to go back, back home, back to familiar faces, back to the way things used to be, back to the good old days. It seems safer, more reasonable, less dangerous.
But the sheer fact of creation flies in the face of this sentiment. Or it at least questions whether safer, reasonable, and less dangerous is to be preferred. If the old ways really were better, then it would have been better for God not to create. But God sets the standard of what is preferable. His goals and mission and preferences are the best goals, mission, and preferences. And for all the perfection of His existence before creation, for all of its security and glory and perfection, He still chose to do something else, to do something new, to create the universe. But rather than see God’s perfection and security and freedom as at odds with His decision to create, we ought to see God’s perfection and security and glory and freedom as the reason why He created. And the categories of safety and security really are helpful ways to think about this: God was so eternally satisfied and glorified, so secure, so safe, so at peace with His own being, His community, His fellowship, that creation could only be more glory, more delight, more perfection. In other words, it was God’s community, His fellowship, the unity of the persons of the Trinity which, at least in part, drove His desire to create, to do something new. It is the community of God’s being that aims and drives for a future.
Creation itself bears some of this pattern out: The days of creation witness a God who creates new things day after day and relentlessly breaks His creations apart, rearranges, and reunites. We noted last week, that God created a world that seems dangerous and wild, but while man is in fellowship with the Creator God, man is safe and secure and may enter the Sabbath rest of God on the seventh day. God’s declaring the seventh day holy and resting from His work is an embodiment of God’s declaration that all of creation is very good. For God to rest and enjoy His work is for God to delight in all the newness, all the change, all the future that God has brought into being. For God to invite Adam and Eve into that rest is for Him to share that delight, that safety, that security, that holiness with them. For however long that perfection lasted, that fellowship of God and man and creation was a sanctuary, a safe and holy place. In that holiness, in that sanctuary, that community, Adam and Eve were like children in a nursery. All their food was provided, they were safe and secure.
The Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea are something like the birth of the nation of Israel. Israel is an infant in the wilderness, and like all babies, Israel cries because he is hungry and thirsty. And as God frequently does, He provides nourishment for infants magically.
The Text: We are looking at two episodes shortly after the crossing of the Red Sea. First, Israel comes to the bitter waters of Marah and the subsequent provision of an oasis in Elim (15:22-27), and second, Israel comes to the barren Wilderness of Sin and the subsequent provision of Manna (16:1-21). Finally, God continues to teach Israel about what it means to be a holy Sabbath people (16:22-36). A number of elements in these stories point back to the Exodus explicitly and implicitly. The explicit references refer to Yahweh’s deliverance from Egypt and the wonders He did in Egypt (15:26, 16:12, 16:32). The miracle at the water reminds us of the first and last ‘wonders’ performed by Moses in Egypt, and the “tree” reminds us of Moses’ rod (15:23-27). The time stamp reminds us that this is exactly one month since the Passover (16:1, cf. 12:1-6), and the instructions for collecting the Manna remind us of some of the instructions for the Passover: every man is to gather according to each one’s need, according to the number of persons (16:16, cf. 12:4) and they are not to leave any leftovers for morning (16:19, cf. 12:10). The complaining of Israel explicitly references life in Egypt (16:3), and Yahweh’s provision is therefore a direct answer to that complaint: they had “meat” and “bread” in Egypt and now Yahweh provides “meat” and “bread” in the wilderness (16:12). Like little kids, at least some of the Israelites do the very things that Yahweh says not to do, saving some of the food for the next morning (16:20), going out to gather manna on the Sabbath (16:27). These commands, these laws (16:4, 28) require Israel to live in freedom. Slaves must horde and worry about whether there will be another meal, but Israel must learn to live like kings. This means gathering only what they need each day, this means trusting God to provide for all their needs, and this means spending a full day resting in His provision every week. Holy people have access to the holy God, and this means living in safety, security, and peace. But perhaps the Passover/Exodus allusions imply that this holiness means learning to be open to God’s future (Dt. 8:1-5).
Ruling Well & Gratitude: The cancer of sin is a bestial tendency, leaving only a remnant of humanity at the mercy of instincts and passions. But freedom means reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:8-14). Complaining is one such sin and a lack of faith. Complaining is always sin against the grace of God, and complaining is ingratitude. And ingratitude is blind and believes lies (16:3).
Living Sabbath: This means living like children. We need to ditch childish fear and embrace childish faith in the Father (Mt. 6:25-34). Historically, the Christian Church has delighted in the Lord’s Day as a weekly Sabbath day, a day to rest and celebrate the Lord’s provision for His people, but if our entire lives are not marked by that kind of faith and joy and carelessness, we’re just pretending. Holiness is a community (Ex. 16:16). This holiness includes a code of conduct, but more fundamentally, it is loyalty to a people, a family, a society: Jesus is God with us. It is in the safety and security of that community that we are freed to pursue the future, open to whatever God does next, but also fearless and bold to pray for and enact the future. This means that our membership vows and baptisms mean far more than we like each other and ‘everybody loves Jesus.’ Our loyalty to Christ and to one another has implications for education, employment, health insurance, food, housing, everything. This cannot become a separatist colony since if this truly is the community of the Trinity, then it is ever open to the future and ever open to the world.