Manna, Like Mercy

On a sunny, but chilly, spring day at the farm, we put our energy to planting onions.

And in that moment of anticipation, we did what we always do — that is to say, we looked at the buckets full of onion sets and the long rows ahead of us, and we pondered the job before us in the light of the generations that have gone before us facing the exact same task.

Somehow, our hearts centered on a particular story from those who fled captivity in Egypt.

In the Old Testament Book of Numbers, we read of the people who wandered in the desert. These were the same people whom God had delivered from slavery — the people for whom God had provided dry land to cross the Red Sea, which he had piled up on both sides.

Was holding back the Red Sea like erecting highway sound barriers? No, much more like huge walls of protection, awesome power and peace.

Yet after a while in the wilderness, the people cried out against Moses and Aaron.

Even as God had sent manna for their daily provision, so plentiful to fill their sacks and earthen vessels, they yearned for more, and they cried out.

“Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and 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’ ” (Numbers 11:4-6).

Somehow, these people had lost sight of the goodness of God working in the midst of their need. They longed for onions, to provide flavor, or garlic and leeks to enhance their taste sensations, forgetting altogether that God had met them at their place of need and provided — in proportion far surpassing that need — the manna, like mercy, delivered fresh each morning.

So God told Moses to prepare the people to receive his blessing. And say to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.’

“Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or 10 days or 20 days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’ ” (Numbers 11:18-20).

Onions of Our Past

We consider that account, and we are often quick to question the faith of those desert wanderers. How could they have witnessed the awesome and mighty hand of God, right in their midst, and been so ready to fall away and question his faithfulness, his goodness and his love for them?

Are we so different in our day? Are we any less foolish? Do we not see his glory, his provision, his hand of abundant life open to us at every turn?

And somehow we find a way to long for the days when we were captive to our own desires and earthly satisfactions of our needs.

Do we not see the God who generously pours his blessing to every generation, calls each of us to come, see and taste the goodness of the Lord, and to experience his glory in this day, in our time?

Do we look forward to kingdom living or is our gaze fixed on “the onions” of our past?


This post originally ran on Lancaster Farming.