11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)  

Gen 22:14   So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide.

Present Day: I write this particular study (for those who might come across it in the years ahead) in the early months of 2020, the year we suspect will go down in history as either the Year of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic, or the Year of the Great Coronavirus Panic. If I had written about God’s provision a few months ago, I guess most Christian readers would have read it with a big yawn. After all, we live in an age of immense abundance and so have no fears of running short. That was a few months ago. Since then we have seen reports of panic buying in both the UK and the USA, so much so, and creating so much government concern, that we even saw the American President on television at a press conference appealing to his people not to panic-buy.

Abraham: It is the incident involving Abraham going to sacrifice the miraculous child of promise, Isaac, that provokes the first reference to God being a provider. In his case it was simply the provision of a ram to use instead of his son, prefiguring Jesus being our lamb who is offered instead of us. But a Provider is one who supplies something to meet a need, whether it be Jesus to replace us at the Great Judgment or simply physical needs being met to preserve and continue life. It is the latter we will consider in this study.

Manna: It is the need of Israel in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land that has the Lord providing in a most incredible way with this miraculous “bread from heaven” (Gen 16:4), that appeared as ‘thin flakes like frost’, (v.14) “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (v.31)  I called it miraculous because

– it appeared every morning, except on the Sabbath,

– if you collected too much of it, the excess went off the next day,

– on the sixth day you collected twice as much to cover the Sabbath – which didn’t go off!

– it continued coming for forty years until they went to enter the Land.

It was supposed to have been a provision for a month or so until they entered the Land but when they refused and ended up wandering the desert it continued for the next forty years. No doubt, as they had herds of cattle and sheep they sometimes supplemented it with meat but it was God’s basic provision for them throughout that time.

Joseph: Special provision is meeting needs in special times of need and so the onset of a famine would be such a time. I suspect we rarely think of the story of Joseph in Genesis as a story about provision, but it is 100% that. God knows that in a couple of decades a famine is going to strike the whole of what we refer to as the Middle East. The story of Joseph is the story of God choosing a man who will be open to His prophetic leading and come up with divinely inspired wisdom so that in seven good years of abundance, cereal is saved in large quantities in order to feed the nations in seven years of famine. Whether we say God caused the famine or God simply knew it would happen, is really irrelevant. The key issue is that He provided for the world through His wisdom, a multiple provision if you like:

– the amazing circumstances that brought Joseph to power, that a number of times involved ‘the favour of the Lord’ opening the way up for him,

– the gift of interpretation of dreams that opened the door into the palace,

– the gift of wisdom to know how to handle the revelatory dreams,

– seven years of great abundance,

– grace and insight to understand God’s purposes and deal kindly with his brothers.

Elijah: During another such time,  through the life of Elijah, we see multiple examples of the Lord’s provision:

  1. Famine ushered in by the word of the Lord through Elijah (1 Kings 17:1)
  2. The famine would not have taken hold when the Lord tells Elijah that He will provide for him by ravens bringing food (1 Kings 17:4-6) while he lived in seclusion to the east of the Jordan
  3. When his supply of water there runs out the Lord instructs him to go north of Israel to Sidon where a widow will provide for him (1 Kings 17:7-10)
  4. She has run out of flour and oil but the Lord miraculously provides for her, and him! (v.12-16)
  5. A while later her son dies and Elijah restores him (v.17-24)
  6. In dealing with the prophets of Baal (v.19-41) fire consumes Elijah’s offering
  7. When it is all over, by Elijah’s word the rain comes (v.41,45)
  8. When Elijah flees Jezebel’s wrath, the Lord sends an angelic provider (1 Kings 19:5-8)
  9. The Lord also provides him with a successor (1 Kings 19:16)
  10. Yet he still brings a convicting word from the Lord to Ahab that brings him to repentance (1 Kings 21:17-29)
  11. Later Elijah challenges Ahaziah’s messengers about his unbelief (2 Kings 1:3-5)
  12. Again and again he receives protection against arrest (2 Kings 1:9-15)
  13. He gets a word condemning the king who dies (2 Kings 1:16,17)
  14. God sends a chariot of fire to take him home (2 Kings 2:11)

Summary: So how, in what situations full of uncertainty above, did God provide for Elijah, thus bringing certainty by His provision?

  1. a) Prophetic words changing the circumstances (1 – famine, 7 – rain)
  2. b) Prophetic words to individuals (10 – Ahab, 11,13 – Ahaziah)
  3. c) Miraculous provision of food (2 – ravens, 8 – an angel)
  4. d) General guidance (2 – go east, 3 – go north)
  5. e) Fire from heaven (6 – against false prophets, 12 – against arrest)
  6. f) Other miracles (4 – flour and oil, 5 – raising dead)
  7. g) Ongoing (9 – a successor, 14 – transport to heaven)

A combination that we might boil down to revelation (prophecy etc.) and miracles (power).

And So?  I remember the testimony of a man of God who was crying out to God, “Where is the God of Elijah?” and back from heaven came the challenge, “Where are the Elijahs?” The reality is that we may add a further list to clarify the point of this series, the uncertainties coming through the threats or spiritual apostasy that Elijah faced:

– unbelief in the nation and in kings, false prophets,

– threats brought by those rulers and spiritual deceivers, and threats to his very existence,

– the uncertainties of living in times of famine and personal shortage,

– the uncertainties of his role as a prophet.

I think the conclusion to all this about Elijah must be that he certainly was a somewhat scary guy to encounter, simply because God was so powerfully with him. The trouble about that is that it can disguise the uncertainties that he himself had, most clearly seen after Jezebel threatened him. If you were Elijah you certainly would have been able to look back at triumphs but that in no way detracts from the uncertainties that went with it.  But then serving God by faith is like that.

And Us? That leaves me pondering, is it a case of the greater the faith we have, the greater God can use us? I suppose the corollary to that must be if we have little faith, God will be restricted in using us. Ah, but Jesus said you only need faith the size of a mustard seed (i.e. tiny) to be able to move mountains! (Mt 17:20) Where does faith come from? By hearing (Rom 10:17) so the more we learn to listen – and then obey the little bit we’ve heard – the more we can be used by God. Awesome! Let’s go for it!

58. Present different from Past

(We recontinue our series in John chapter 6)

Short Meditations in John 6:  58. Present different from Past

Jn 6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 

There is something that I have noted over the years that pertains to the way we either live in anticipation – or don’t. We often tend to let the past lock us in to the present. We allow things that happened in the past – in our minds at least – to be what we expect will happen in the present, and sometimes that can mean nothing happening in the present. It is probable that it was some experience and it can either have been a good one or a bad one. Because it happened ‘back there’ we assume it will happen again (and of course sometimes it does). If we failed on some point in the past, we allow the enemy to make us think it will happen again now if I try. Or we did something one way several years ago and it worked, and so we assume it will still work, but maybe not. Holding on to the past can really hinder the present.

That was what Jesus was now having to confront with these people in the crowd now. A good thing about the people of Israel was that they had a history with God. The bad thing was that it wasn’t always a good history! The tendency was to romanticise some of the past and this is what thy were doing with the subject of the manna they had received in their wilderness wanderings of the Exodus; God had blessed us and provided for us back then, why shouldn’t the Messiah when he comes do the same again?

That was a reasonable expectation perhaps, except for three things. First, the manna had been a stop-gap, something God did just while they were living in the desert before they got to the wonderful provision of the Promised Land. They didn’t need it any longer. Second, that didn’t help them in the long-run because they still died in the wilderness because of their disobedience  – despite the manna! Third, God has a better provision for us today which means receiving eternal life so that death is not the end of the story any longer.

For each of these reasons, harping on about the past was acting as a hindrance to receiving God’s blessing in the present. The modern application of this today comes when you hear the words, “But we’ve always done it like this.” Those words lock our behaviour and make our focus on deeds, actions, things we do becoming all-important while perhaps God is wanting us to grow and mature and learn to step out in creative faith to be doing things in a different way, a way that comes from waiting on Him, listening to Him, hearing His voice and then obeying the directions He gives today.  So often we do things because others did it and it was a success in the past, not because God has said it to us in the present. Death guaranteed. Let’s avoid that!

55. A Lesson in Obedience

Meditations in Exodus: 55. A Lesson in Obedience

Ex 16:13-15   That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

In Numbers 11 there is a further more detailed account of what happened here that reveals the provision of Quail as a semi-judgment on the people but here the emphasis is on the manna and so we will ignore the Quail and focus on that.

The Lord has said He will provide for them and in the morning there appears what appear thin flakes of some unknown food and The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (v.31) You will see from a footnote to this verse that “Manna means ‘what is it?’ hence the link with verse 15.

Now so often when we come to this story we focus on the fact that this was God’s provision for Israel in the desert and “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.” (v.35) This was God’s supernatural food for Israel as long as they stayed in the desert. It was supposed to only be a matter of months but it turned out to be forty years. So, it was a sign of His love and provision for His people throughout their time in the desert. When they get to the Promised Land they can eat the fruit of the land but for now in a sandy wilderness, manna is their provision.

So, yes, it is right to focus on the provision aspect of this story but the detail of the account show there is a bigger issue at stake here. We see it when we look at the instructions for collecting this manna, which we have already briefly noted but which is now spelled out in more detail. So let’s turn now and look at the details of the collection of this manna.

First of all, Moses explains what it is: “Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.” (v.15) Not literal bread maybe but God’s provision that is the equivalent to their staple diet, the basics of what they need to stay alive. He then tells them (FIRST instruction) that they are each to collect it and how much to collect: “This is what the LORD has commanded: `Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” (v.16) Your footnote will tell you that an omer is about 2 litres or 2 quarts measure. A small bucketful perhaps. Note in passing that each person was to go and collect their own. It was a very personal provision.

But then something strange is recorded: “The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.” (v.17,18) They went out and gathered it and when they then came back and measured it, everyone seemed to have the same – sufficient. The apostle Paul quotes this verse (2 Cor 8:15) and appears to imply they simply shared it out and it balanced out. As a community they got what was sufficient.

Then he gives them a SECOND Instruction: “Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” (v.19) This was provision for TODAY and not tomorrow; they were to trust that the Lord would bring it again tomorrow. We are then shown what happened when they didn’t do this and tried to provide for tomorrow: “However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.” (v.20) The lesson is very clear: the provision is for TODAY and only today. It was to be collected early morning because, “Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.” (v.21)

What follows appears to have been the result of a THIRD Instruction: “On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much–two omers for each person–and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses.” (v.22) The report of the community leaders appears to have been a confirmation to Moses that the people had obeyed for Moses instructed, “This is what the LORD commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” (v.23) What was amazing on this sixth day was that, “they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.” (v.24) Then comes the clarification: “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” (v.25,26).

So note what we’re seen of this manna:  i) It came every morning, ii) if they didn’t collect it straight away it would melt as the sun got hot, iii) it was provision for that day and if they tried to keep it, it went mouldy, iv) on the sixth day they could collect two days’ worth and it would not go off on the second day because, v) on the seventh day none would be provided.

Now we need to return to what we said at the beginning of all this, that there is a bigger issue here; it is of training and obedience and learning to trust. We see this emphasised when some of the people wouldn’t stick to the rules: “Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.” (v.27-30)

So we see two sets of disobedience and two ways of correction. Initially some tried to collect two days’ worth and it went mouldy and then later in the week some went out to look for more on the Sabbath and received a rebuke. This account is a mixture of divinely supernatural provision and a training course on trust and obedience. The thing is that by the second week of this provision, we can be fairly sure that the people were complying with the rules, if not then certainly by the third week – and forty years later they were still doing it!  This is not a one-off provision such as the water at Marah, but this is a daily trusting and obedience for each and every person (adults at least).

What parallels are there with modern day Christian experience? It is still all about provision but that provision, in whatever form it takes, comes through the Holy Spirit. The lesson is still the same – the provision is for today. We see the failure of this so often in church life: we get blessed with one particular way of meeting with God on a Sunday, say, and so assume that that is the way for every week, instead of trusting Him for fresh direction week after week. But that is a bit challenging isn’t it, whether it is church services, Bible Studies, prayer meetings or whatever and so often we therefore fail to get the new provision for TODAY. May it not be so.

12. The lamb for eating

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   12. The Lamb for eating

John 6:53,54    Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

We’ve just seen the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent teaching by Jesus of him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Because of lack of space we did not go on to see how he extended that picture when he said, If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) We find a kind of morphing of bread into flesh in Jesus’ teaching here and we must not rush by it because it combines two great pictures.

The bread coming down from heaven was not difficult. In the time of the Exodus in the wilderness, another ‘bread’ called manna had come from heaven, provided by God for forty years to supplement the meat they would have had from their herds and flocks. The Jews were very mindful of this and had pointed Jesus to that time, but Jesus wants to take them on into realizing what they need to do with this ‘bread’ that has come down from heaven that he is now speaking about. It (he) is not just for looking at. Bread is for eating. So he turns the picture from a picture of bread to focus next on his physical presence with them, and then with what they need to do with that physical presence.

Observe the transition. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” That seems simple  – if you accept his claim that he has come from heaven. Probably in its simplest form some might have thought, ‘receive him and he is the means of receiving eternal life.’  It’s a bit like the more modern, “Ask Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.” We don’t imagine a literal heart that a physical being forces itself into; that would be silly.  In the same way we might challenge people to explain what “Ask Jesus into your heart” means, we might now ask in our explanation above, what does “receive him” mean?

Jesus gives the answer, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Step 1 – understand that this bread that I am talking about is me, my very being, my very body, my very flesh. There is coming a time when I will surrender this body to save you all but, yes, it will be my flesh that will literally die. These words create confusion  in the listeners: “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v.52)

Now back in chapter 2 when we considered Jesus’ words about rebuilding a temple in three days we considered possibilities. The possibilities here are either a) he is talking about cannibalism which is just so far from anything else that Jesus taught it needs ruling out of court straight away, or b) he is using his flesh to convey a picture truth that needs thinking about.  Jesus pushes them further with this picture: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (v.53-57)  If this is not to be taken literally, what is it to say to us?

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man” The flesh of Jesus was his body, what they saw, heard and watched. Unless you take into your life all that you have seen and heard of Jesus you won’t have real life. Flesh is what covers the bones, the skeleton and the organs. Flesh in this context, I would suggest, is the account of all that we have heard and know about Jesus. Eating it means taking in and accepting all these truths and absorbing them into our lives so that we become changed. That’s what food does.

“and drink his blood.” This was more difficult because this part of his ministry was still in the future. The body and blood speak of two parts of his ministry. The body was what did all the things recorded in the Gospels, that taught, that did miracles, that worked out the will of the Father as the kingdom of God. ‘The blood’ refers to the giving of his life as a sacrifice on the Cross. Blood poured out was a sign of life departing. Jesus’ life departed from the body as he took our sins on the Cross.

So, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” refers to us receiving (believing) and taking in (being changed by) the knowledge of his ministry for three years and then his death and resurrection for us. The result will be our receiving eternal life and a resurrection life.

What about, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”? Well if you put it as we have above, Jesus is saying, “for my works received by you will feed your faith, and my life poured out for you will be a real means of life being imparted to you when you are forgiven and cleansed.”

OK,  but what about, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Perhaps it is like Jesus says, “if you receive my ministry and my death for you, you will become one with me.” He adds, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,” i.e. this is all part of the plan of my Father so if you receive me and all my works and let them fully into your life and sustain and keep you, you will truly live and be incorporated into the living, dynamic plan of my Father, His kingdom.

He reiterates it from the original picture, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (v.58) This, that I have been speaking about, he says, is the ‘bread’ that has now come down from heaven and is different from the manna you referred to because the people still died when they ate that, but if you eat of this ‘bread’ you will live forever.

This bread is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “a lamb without blemish or defect….. chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Pet 1:19,20), “Worthy ….to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) yet “slain from the creation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and who, “is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev 17:14) THIS is what we have to take in, chew over, digest and be strengthened in. The bread sustains and feeds us, the Lamb provides the way for it to happen. Hallelujah!

Resources seem Inadequate

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.8

Num 11:13 Where can I get meat for all these people?

In economics, the ‘economic problem’ is often expressed as ‘how to use our limited resources’. For most people that is the ongoing problem of life, how can I get by with limited resources? Living in the most affluent period of history yet, we no longer worry about needs, but more about wants. The accepted standard of living in the West in the twenty-first century is dramatically higher than anywhere else in the world or anywhere in previous history. Yet we still worry. How can I provide for my family is still a concern of many parents. The welfare state buffers us from starvation, yet there is still the need to stretch the limited resources. It is a common problem for the human race. Spiritual leaders find it a spiritual problem as well, for a Christian congregation is a naturally hungry people and leaders have to find the resources from the Lord to ‘feed’ the people otherwise their spiritual experience will be one of spiritual poverty rather than spiritual blessing. But is also applies to us as individuals. We go through a time when we begin to feel spiritually ‘dry’ or spiritually ‘barren’ and we realise we are not taking in, and the Christian life loses its zest and becomes ordinary, boring, humdrum and lifeless. We need ‘feeding’ we realise. Where can I get ‘spiritual food’?

For Moses the problem is again not one of need but wants. The people are in the desert being led by God and the Lord has provided manna for them. It is clearly a miraculous provision. It appears every morning for six days each week. They can collect sufficient for the next twenty four hours. If they collect more it goes off. Except on the sixth day when they can collect two day’s worth because on the Sabbath the Lord was not providing it – but this time every week, the extra amount did not go off! This happened week in, week out. It was a supernatural provision. It met their needs, but ‘needs’ didn’t seem enough. The people cried out for something more. They wanted meat. We read, “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!(Num 11:4-6). Now what is bad about this is that this is history repeating itself. On the journey from Egypt to Sinai the Lord had provided the manna and quail (see Ex 16) after the people had grumbled, but at least that had been the early days of their experiences with the Lord. We are now a year later (see Num 10:11 ) and they have experienced the Lord at Sinai. They are now three days travel from Sinai towards the Promised Land (see Num 10:33) when they start grumbling again.

It’s important to remember this: they had had experience of the Lord delivering them from Egypt, they had had experience of the Lord providing for them on the journey to Sinai, they had had the incredible experience of the Lord at Sinai, and with all that experience, they should have learnt by now that you don’t have to grumble about God’s provision – He is a provider!!!! God is a provider!!! Simply ask Him! But don’t grumble; that’s an indication of a bad attitude. So a question to be asked here is, when you are asking of the Lord, what is your attitude? Is your asking more of a demanding that is an expression of your grumbling, or is it the childlike request of the little child asking of their Father?

The Lord has already brought discipline on Israel in the form of fire that burnt up the outskirts of the camp. That was simply a gentle warning, but now with this ongoing bad attitude, we read, “The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (Num 11:10). This people should not be responding like this. The Lord has every reason to be upset, and His upset makes Moses concerned. He can see the Lord wanting to destroy this people again. However his pleas to the Lord have a certain self-concern about them: “He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? (i.e. me!) What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me ? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, `Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me . If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Num 11:11-15). However the Lord does not scold him. Perhaps it is a recognition by Moses that he is not the answer to Israel ‘s problems, the Lord is. It’s a place every leader has to come to!

What was the Lord’s answer? It was a twofold answer. The first part was to put His spirit on seventy elders to share the load of leadership (Num 11:16,17, 24-30) and the second part was to provide quail in super-abundance (Num 11:18-23, 31-33). Thus the Lord showed He could provide leadership and food to meet their desires.

The lessons here? First, make sure you have a right attitude towards the Lord at all times. Second, realize that as your loving heavenly Father He will provide for all your needs. That may not mean all your wants, but he will always provide for all your needs. Can we remember these things?