Not every meal at the Surburg house is met with thanksgiving. There are several younger individuals – I won’t name names – who have strong feelings about what they don’t like. And sometimes, they are not hesitant to make their feelings known.
Now admittedly, none of us likes everything equally well. There are some things we really enjoy. There are some things that we think are just ok. And then there are some things that we really don’t like all that much. However, part of growing up is realizing that it’s not polite to express dislike in a straightforward way. There is a time, a place and way to share what you really think. However, right before dinner when the menu is announced is not the time, and this is not the way to do it: Ehhhh!!! I don’t like that!
During the wandering in the wilderness, God provided manna to Israel. Each morning, when the dew disappeared, there was a fine, flake like substance on the ground – fine as frost. Moses told the people that this was the bread from heaven and they were to gather up as much as they needed for that day. The people had never seen anything like it. In fact the name “manna” could be translated as “whatchmacallit.”
Now this was not the reaction of people who were about to sit down to a meal they could not wait to eat. But if you are hungry and facing the possibility of starvation, I suppose you eat what is available. And to be honest, it doesn’t sound all that bad. We are told that the taste of manna was like wafers made with honey. God provided this manna all during the forty years in the wilderness.
The people ate the manna; and ate the manna; and ate the manna. And one day they said, “Ehhhh!!! I don’t like that!” They said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” They did not exactly react with thanksgiving for the life sustaining food that God was providing.
In our Old Testament lesson for Thanksgiving, we learn there was a reason that God did this. Moses says, “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Moses said that God was humbling the people of Israel. He was humbling them in order to test them – to see what was in their hearts. He was testing them to see whether they would be faithful to Yahweh by keeping his commandments. In fact, God was using the manna not just in order to provide for their physical needs. He was using it to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but instead by every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh. He was using it to teach them that life was lived by relying on God – by listening to him, and by believing and trusting his word.
God had done this with food. He had also done it with clothing and their physical well being. We hear in our text, “Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.” God had seen to it that their clothing lasted and that their feet did not cause them problems. Of course, this is also to say that they didn’t get much in the way of new clothing and that they were journeying on foot during those forty years. As Moses says, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”
Moses reminds the people about this because they are about to enter into the promised land. Their situation is about to change dramatically. God had provided for them in ways that humbled and disciplined Israel. He had sought to teach them that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Yet very soon all of that was going to change. Moses says, “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
They were entering into a land of plenty. That was great. But there was also a danger that awaited them. Just before describing that land, Moses says in our text, “So you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.” They needed to do this as they entered the land for two reasons. They need to do this because it was God who was giving it to them. And they needed to to do this in the midst of plenty, because there would be the temptation to forget Yahweh.
Immediately after our text Moses says, “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
There was the danger that in the midst of plenty they would forget that Yahweh was the One who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Moses goes on to say, “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”
In the midst of plenty, the Israelites would need to remember that Yahweh was the One who had redeemed them from slavery. He had freed them – not because of who or what they were. Instead, he did it out of his grace. Yahweh did it because he had taken Abraham and his descendants into a covenant. He had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give the land of Palestine to Abraham’s descendants.
On this evening, we are reminded that God has done the same thing for you. By his grace, God has redeemed you from slavery. He has freed you from slavery to Satan, sin and eternal death. He has taken you into a covenant – the new covenant that includes all people. He did this by sending his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ to give himself on the cross as the ransom – the price for your sin. By the shedding of his blood on the cross he has established the new covenant that includes Jew and Gentile alike. Through the water of Holy Baptism he washed away your sins and made you part of his people.
And now, like Israel, you are journeying in the wilderness. You are living in a fallen world. You are making your pilgrimage to the promised land – to the new creation which Jesus Christ will bring about when he returns in glory and gives us a share in his resurrection from the dead.
But unlike Israel during their journey, you aren’t exactly roughing it. You aren’t living in tents. You aren’t eating the same manna, day after day. You aren’t wearing the same clothes day after day. Instead, you live in the most affluent culture the world has ever seen. You consider to be normal and take for granted things that most people in the history of the world have never enjoyed; things that most people in the world today do not enjoy. You may not have the most and the best, but simply by living here and now you have more and better than millions and millions of people.
And that is one of our greatest challenges. For you see, Yahweh used the conditions of the time in the wilderness to humble Israel. He used it to teach them that man does not live by bread alone. Instead, man lives by reliance on God; by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Though humbled in the wilderness, Israel soon forgot that lesson. When they entered the promised land and enjoyed it benefits, they forgot Yahweh and worshipped other gods.
As we live in the mist of plenty, that is our great challenge. We live in a world that is constantly producing new gods – new things that Madison Ave tells us are “must haves” in order to have the “good life.” The challenge for us at Thanksgiving – and during the rest of year – is to remember that God is the source of all that we have. The challenge is to remember that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
We need to recognize that real life – abundant life – is found by remembering that life is found in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the true bread from heaven which gives life. He is the One who promised, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in my shall never thirst.” He is the one who said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
When we place this One – Jesus Christ – at the center of our life, we are then ready to give thanks for all the other blessings God gives. When we see him as the greatest blessing and rejoice in the forgiveness and salvation he provides by grace, we then also rejoice in the many good things he has given to us. When we live by faith in Christ, we are then able at Thanksgiving to eat and be full, and to bless the Lord for the good land he has given to us.