There’s an old joke. It’s not very good. It’s also not very timely, given the hurricanes and flooding that have killed and affected so many in the last weeks. But I’m going to tell it anyway.
A man lived on a hilly spot in his neighborhood, which was situated (as are many) in a floodplain. He was watching the weather. The weatherperson warned: “There’s a lot of rain coming. If we get too much, it could damage the levee and cause catastrophic flooding. The man thought to himself: I’ve got nothing to worry about. God will protect me.
Well, as the children’s song says, “the rains came down and the floods came up.” A report came across the TV issuing an evacuation order for the neighborhood the man lived in. After a few hours, there was a knock on his door. It was a policeman, warning of the impending flood. “The levee’s about to break; you’ve got to get out now.” But the man refused: “I’m not worried. God will take care of me.”
The levee began to fail, and the waters began to rise in the man’s neighborhood. Soon the street and many yards were flooded. Someone in a fishing boat came to the house, urging the man to join them as they fled the rising floods. “No thanks,” the man insisted. “God will save me.”
Well, the levee broke, the waters rose quickly, and the man’s house became swamped. He was forced to take refuge on the roof. Around this time a helicopter flew overhead and swooped low. Once again, the man refused to evacuate, shouting over the chopper’s rotor wash: “I believe in God and God will save me.”
Sadly, the man did not survive. And when he saw God, he was more than a little put out. “Why didn’t you save me, God? I trusted you!!”
To which God replied: “What more could I have done? I sent you a weather forecast, a TV evacuation order, a policeman, a boat, and even a helicopter?”
This is the part where you laugh.
Sometimes—even in the most obvious of circumstances—we have trouble identifying the good/gracious/loving way that God is acting toward us. Sometimes, we have trouble recognizing God’s provision.
The story of our scripture lesson illustrates this for us. Let’s just recap things for a moment; let’s look at what they’ve seen God do since the beginning of this Exodus story:
Moses’ staff becomes a snake and then a staff again (Exod 7:1-13)
Then there are the ten plagues:
1. The water of the Nile river became like blood (Plague 1; Exod 7:14-24)
2. The Plague of Frogs (Exod 7:25-8:15)
3. The Plague of Lice (Exod 8:16-19)
4. The Plague of Flies aka “swarms” (Exod 8:20-32)
5. The Plague of Diseased Livestock (Exod 9:1-7)
6. The Plague of Boils (Exod 9:8-12)
7. Thunderstorms of Hail (Exod 9:13-35)
8. Locusts (Exod 10:1-20)
9. Darkness for Three Days (Exod 10:21-29)
10. Death of the Firstborn (Exod 11:1-12:36)
Then there’s the parting of the Reed Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in Exod 14 (that we examined last week)
Three days after that, they arrive at Marah, where God miraculously purifies water for them to drink (Exod 15:22-25)
And just mere verses before our scripture lesson, God assures the Hebrews that he is on their side, stating that “I am the Eternal, your Healer” (Exod 15:26 VOICE).
But they are already complaining again to Moses:
The sun’s hot.
Are we there yet?
This is all YOUR fault.
It’s too far; let’s go back.
So God—in God’s endless graciousness—does something amazing: God basically rains down food six days a week for them: unexplainably large coveys of quail every evening, and some sort of bread every morning. “Manna” we call it, based on the initial reaction of the Hebrews. They didn’t recognize it for what it was and asked “Ma nah?……[Hebrew for] What is it?”
God provides for them—and does so miraculously—through this provision of daily manna and quail. But even having seen all they have seen—even witnessing such remarkable acts by their God—they still have trouble recognizing God’s provision when it comes.
Lost the Plot
The same thing happens to so many of us, so often.
Sometimes—no matter how much awareness we have for what God has done for us, no matter how miraculously God has intervened in our life, no matter how pious or religious or faithful other people think we are—we’re just not watching when God provides. Maybe we’ve conformed to our culture and so only look to ourselves for solutions. Maybe we are so blinded by our need that we can’t see what’s right before us. But for whatever reason we’re just not watching. And so we walk right past the manna of God and into the arms of pain and hurt and enslavement.
Other times we may be looking for God to act, but—like the man in the terrible, terrible joke with which I began—we have a clear expectation concerning how God will act. We are watching for God to intervene in a particular way, and our vision is so focused that we cannot see what God is actually doing. There’s manna all around us on the ground, but we won’t turn our eyes from the heavens because we are expecting a giant hand to reach down to us or some such thing.
It was the same way with Jesus. So many of our NT texts talk about how Jesus came among his own people—the very people who should have best been able to recognize the Messiah, but “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV).
Instead of seeing God’s goodness incarnate in Jesus, they said “Ma nah? What is this? This fellow doesn’t keep the Sabbath!”
Instead of recognizing God’s gracious forgiveness manifest in Christ, they said, “Ma nah? What is this? No good comes from Nazareth!”
Instead of identifying God’s love through the sending of God’s “only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV), they said, “Ma nah? What is this? This man claims to be God and must die.”
These are the people who didn’t recognize God’s provision in the incarnation:
the very people who were best versed in the bible,
the very people who were most faithful,
the very people who had every chance to get it right.
They were looking the other way and missed it entirely.
But you know who did recognize God’s provision?
Those who were hurting.
Those who were poor.
Those who were sick.
Those that no one cared for.
Those without the ability to provide for themselves.
Those the government didn’t care about.
Those the religious people wouldn’t associate with.
In Mark 2:17, Jesus says: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (ESV).
There are times in life when God shows up, but it seems so out of left field we have trouble recognizing the good/gracious/loving way God is acting toward us. But I think we’ve got a much better chance of recognizing God’s provision if we are able to diagnose just how sick we are.
But are we humble enough to admit it to ourselves?
Are we honest enough to do away with the pretense of perfection?
In commenting on their newest album, the frontman for the band “Loney, Dear” offered this thought: “I’ve learned to make my inner darkness more visible to people, because I don’t want them to see me lighter than I am.” —(Emil Svanängen, quoted on “All Songs Considered Podcast,” 9/12/17).
That, I am finding, is a challenge for all of us to rise to.