There’s a story that Captain Cook met aborigine people when he came to Australia, and he asked what that odd, large grey jumping animal was. He’d never seen anything like it. The story goes that they replied—“kangaroo.” The translator on board ship told them this meant “I don’t know,” and a legend was born. Generations of people have been told that “kangaroo” means “I don’t know.”
This is not, in fact, true. But it’s a fun story, and we use it at our house whenever we want to mess with one another, which is fairly often.
There’s a similar Bible story that, unlike this one, is true.
God and Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and toward the promised land. The process is slow. The story itself is fascinating—far more interesting and nuanced than I have been led to believe by Bible teaching I’ve heard. The trauma they still struggle with from slavery makes them unable to make decisions, to trust authority, or to ever believe tomorrow would be good.
When the people complain that Moses is leading them into starvation, and they will die there in the wilds (the Israelites knew how to do drama), God does something amazing.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
The next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat. These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs.
So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Each family had just what it needed.
Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.
After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two.
(On the Sabbath) They put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor.
The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers. -Exodus 16.4-31
They called it manna—roughly translated—“What is it?”
The thing here we need to see right now is something God makes sure to note several times.
Each family had exactly enough.
When they tried to gather more than they needed, it got stinky. When they didn’t believe God that he would give them all they needed, they chose to gather more, to hoard the manna for themselves, and the results were a mess.
Not only are flies and mold gross, but they could spread disease in the camp. Taking more than one needed was dangerous for everyone.
Look at how beautifully God exceeded their expectations—
Food “rained down”
There was enough “bread to satisfy,” not just enough
He gave “all the bread you want”
He “blanketed” the ground with food
These aren’t words of scarcity. They’re words of abundant, gracious, abandoned love that gives for the fun of it, more than we actually need. Yet, I know I distrust, too.
I know I hoard things. Maybe not bread, but certainly other things. Knowledge. Career goals. Time. Plans. As a certified Enneagram 5, I believe in my soul that there will never be enough for me to do and try and know all that I want. So I, too, gather more and more, unaware or unbelieving that God has rained goodness down on me, and all I need is to take what I need.
Taking too much leads to inability to filter, sort, and make use of it all anyway. The things I want get moldy, old, tired, and icky.
This feels particularly relevant at a time when we couldn’t even find toilet paper on our grocery shelves, because some people were certain they wouldn’t have enough if they didn’t take all they could pick up.
What drove the Israelites to gather more than they were told? Not to trust God when he said he had enough for all?
Fear. Fear from their days as slaves. Fear that “enough” had never been true and never would be true, unless they looked out for themselves. Fear that couldn’t believe the God who created them, and parted the Red Sea. This sounds a lot like fear that the same God can’t provide now, but somehow I can trust in my own ability to stock the shelves with all the things I don’t really need at the moment but want to make sure no one else has more of.
God sent enough manna for everyone to have what they needed—but some believed they had to have more than they needed, and thus, others had to have less.
God wanted to establish a community of his people who would care more for the community than for themselves. If not, he knew they wouldn’t make it in the difficult challenge of settling in the promised land. If they did create a community where each looked out for the other, nothing could stop them.
That old Garden mandate—forge relationships, be your brother and sister’s keeper—comes back again.
It’s what God has wanted from the beginning. A people who look toward the needs of others as everyone’s needs.
This season of pandemic is proving what happens when fear talks louder than the Word of God. We hoard. We take from others. We choose ourselves and our rights over the vulnerable. Unfortunately, we see people who bear the name of Jesus doing these very things.
We’re all human. We all bear the marks of trauma, especially in this time of rampant fear. God knows that. Yet God offers to rain down on us what we need. Not more than that—but why do we want more than that?
Take what we need. Leave the extra for another. Give up rights for the sake of a sister in need of protection. These are the building blocks of God’s kingdom people. We might be a people who fear at times—but we are not a people ruled by fear. We are a people beloved by a generous God. And it is enough.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.