Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield

Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield
Newcomerstown, Ohio, USA
December 28
Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield
Retired Protestant Pastor and Theologian, credentialed in the United Church of Christ; licensed by the Moravian Church . Education: BA, MA, M.Div, Thd. Public Service: NY State Office of Executive Development, Management Intern; Federal Exec. Branch: Executive Office of the President, Budget Examiner, Bureau of the Budget; Interior, Director of Energy and Minerals, Bureau of Land Management; Non Profit: Ford Foundation, Deputy Director, Energy Policy Project; Congressional: Director, Office of Special Projects; Director, Division of Energy and Materials, General Accounting Office. Private industry: Vice President, Grow Group, Inc.; Chief Executive Officer, US Paint; Owner, the Energy Center, St. Louis. Christian service: Pastor, First Congregational UCC, Ottawa, Illinois; Pastor, St. Paul's UCC, Port Washington, Ohio; Pastor, Moravian Church, Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Interim Pastor, the Baltic Parish UCC, Baltic, Ohio; starting 08 2014: Interim Pastor, St. John UCC, Strasburg, OH


Rev. Dr. Monte Canfield's Links

OCTOBER 21, 2009 8:20AM

Manna: Bread for Life. But is it enough?

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"Gathering of Manna" by Nicolas Poussin (The Louvre, Paris)

The first essay in this series is Birth of the Israelite Nation. The second is Torah: Instruction for Living. This is the third in a series of essays that cover the origin of the Israelite nation and conclude with a discussion of the Ten Commandments.

Today we will look at a small part of Chapter 16 of Exodus in some detail because it forms the foundation of the relationship which God will have with his people throughout the entire time of wandering in the Wilderness.

The issue is TRUST. Will the people trust God? Will God trust the people to believe that he can provide; and, therefore, will they keep his commandments? The object of the issue is FOOD; the necessary nourishment to sustain life.

After God made the bitter water sweet at Marah and led the Hebrews to the oasis at Elim where they rested a short while, they set out from Elim and came to the Wilderness known as Sin.  (It does not mean "sin" as we know the word.)

This was about a month and a half after they left Egypt. There they complained again; this time because there was no food.  They accused Moses and Aaron of leading them out to die; and they longed for the "flesh pots" and bread of Egypt.  There, at least, they had meat and bread.

This time Moses did not "cry out to the Lord," but God heard the people's complaint. God said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.  In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instructions or not." 

Moses passed this word on to the people, telling them that, in this way, they shall know that it was God who brought them out of Egypt, and that they shall see God's glory.

He also cautioned them against complaining about him and Aaron, since, when they did that, they were actually complaining against God: "Your complaint is not against us, but against the Lord."  Then Moses had them look toward the wilderness, not Egypt, where they saw God's glory in the cloud.

That evening a great cloud of quail covered the camp, so they had meat to eat.  And the next morning all the surfaces of the wilderness were covered with a fine flaky substance which they could use like flour and eat.  They did not know what it was, but Moses told them it was "the bread the Lord has given to you to eat."  They called it "manna."  man huh in Hebrew means "What is it?"

Then Moses gave them God's specific instructions to gather no more than each family needed.  They did not follow the instructions, some gathering more, some less.  But, miraculously, when they measured it all had enough, but no more. 

They were told to use all of it and not try to store it.  But they disobeyed, only to find it had bred worms by morning and was foul.  It could not be hoarded.  Moses was angry at them for continuing to disobey God's instructions.

Part of the gathering instructions included gathering twice as much the day before the Sabbath and none on that day of rest. They actually did what they were told, and the extra did not spoil.  Even so, the people went to gather more of the manna on the Sabbath, but found none. 

This time the Lord was angry, telling Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions?  See!  The Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day."  Apparently God's anger had some effect, for we are told "So the people rested on the seventh day."

The remainder of the chapter describes God's command to keep some of the manna in a jar to remind future generations that God took care of them in the wilderness.  We are told that the Hebrews ate manna in the wilderness for 40 years.  ("40 years" can mean in Hebrew either a literal 40 year period or simply "a long time.") Later, in Joshua, we learn that on the day the Hebrews ate the produce of the Promised Land the manna ceased.

I am not sure how important this sub-story within the Exodus story is when Jewish children are taught. But this indelible subplot about Manna is one that for centuries has been told to every Christian child and is one of the great stories from which Christianity has taken many lessons.  For Christians like myself it forms the basis of some of the most fundamental understandings of how people relate to God, and how we relate to Christ. 

Jesus said that "It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32) and, tellingly, a short while later, he added: "I am the bread that came down from heaven." (John 6:41)  The stories of feeding the 4000 and the 5000 also make it clear to Christians that Christ is the one who provides for the daily necessities of life. 

And the Lord's prayer incorporates the idea that we are to be satisfied with looking to God for our daily bread, or, translated literally, "our bread for each day."  So too in the Christian celebration of the Eucharist, (Holy Communion) we break and distribute the bread to all, equally, sharing so that each has enough.  The language and symbolism of bread from God is strong in many basic Christian rituals.

There are important lessons to be learned here.  Foremost is the lesson that we often must travel from bondage through wilderness in order to get to the promised land.  We wish it were not so, but the realities of life seldom allow us to go from slavery to delightful freedom.  Most of our lives are full of wilderness experiences.  

The issue is not whether we will have them, because we will.  The issue is who we will turn to and trust during those times.  The times of wilderness and crisis are the very times when we need to lean most heavily on God.  And, ironically, they are usually the times when we turn from him, choosing to try to "tough it out" on our own.  The crisis of faith often occurs in just this time between bondage and well being.  The challenge we face is not really so different from the one faced by the Israelites.

Another of the things that happened to them also happens to us.  When faced with crisis in the wilderness they looked back through rose-tinted glasses at the time of bondage.  At least in Egypt the flesh pots were full of meat, and there was bread.  Forgotten were all the evils they were subjected to in the old days.  So too we, when challenged by the desert of the transition from bondage to new freedom, sometimes look back and see only the good of the past time of bondage; forgetting that it was mostly not so good.
After all, we tell ourselves, it can't be worse than the present uncertainty.  Again, the issue is trust.  Can we trust that the Lord will provide and get us through to the good future he promises?  We have to trust the Lord to provide on a daily basis.  Such trust is often in short supply.

The Lord's instructions not to hoard but to share are also difficult for the Israelites.  Any who have been members of churches or synagogues know something about that problem.  It is clear that we are to be generous, self-sacrificing, and open in our giving to others.

Yet it is very hard to give generously when we don't have a lot ourselves; even when we know full well that we have much, much more than the vast majority of the people on the entire planet.
It is hard not to hoard, to try to gather just a little more for ourselves, even when we know that it is taking from others.  Sometimes we joke about the "starving children in Africa" when we throw away more food in a week than many of them eat in a month. 

But there is truth in the saying:  there ARE starving children in Africa, and right here in America, if we bother to look.  Yet we tell ourselves we have to be sure that we have enough.  We reason that we have gone without this or that long enough; that we are only being prudent, saving for a rainy day.  Still, the children starve.

The temptation is to try to serve two masters: God and Pharaoh, or in this case: God and our selves.  We want to put our trust in two bread supplies at once: in the bread of heaven and in the bread earned by the sweat of our brows. 

But this story and many of the stories told in the Bible teach us that trying to have it both ways leads only to anxiety.

We may not want to hear it, and we may never do anything about it, but the gospel message is that only one master, only one bread supplier is needed.  This story says, and the gospel message of Jesus says, that God knows what we need and faithfully supplies everything required for life for those who totally trust Him.  Few, if any of us, are willing to put that truth to the test!

Thus it should not surprise us that, after the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves to feed the 5000 that Mark tells us the disciples did not understand its meaning. They did not understand, we are told, because "their hearts were hardened."  Like the Israelites, and like the disciples, our "hard hearts" make us rely on our own capacities and to make our own bread, and to hoard it at the expense of others.

Nor should it surprise us that the Israelites tried to hoard the manna and to harvest it on a day for which God had already supplied enough.  We too always try to have it both ways.  Sometimes it works.  But it is not the way God would have us live.

One final thing I think we need to get out of this story about the manna is the fact that, when God is in control, food abounds even in the wilderness.  The wilderness, feared from the beginning of time by God's creatures as an area of death and desolation, is, after all, also part of God's creation. 

Just so, if we are traveling with God, the wildernesses of our lives are also part of his creation and he is in control of them.  Through trust in him we shall find in the worst wildernesses of our lives food and water to sustain us  -- and a guide to take us by the hand and lead us out of the wilderness into the promised land.

If this story tells us nothing else it tells us that God is present in our daily lives, not just some abstract being remote from what is important to us.  We always find that hard to believe.  We even seem ashamed to ask for our daily bread.

The illusion of self reliance and total independence from others is a very strong thread woven into the fabric of this country, and we are a "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" kind of people.  Which is well and good to a point.  But the truth is that the gospel message is something quite different than American rugged individualism and pride.  

It is a message of TRUST: trust in God to provide and sustain and lead.  Not abstractly.  But concretely.  Every day.  Day in.  Day out.  If we pray "Give us this day our daily bread" do we understand that?  That daily bread is there for those who trust God to provide.  That is Good News, if we are bold enough to believe it!  

Next: Water from a Rock and Testing and Quarreling in the Desert

God bless.


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"The temptation is to try to serve two masters: God and Pharaoh, or in this case: God and our selves." Or, more often than not, Pharaoh and ourselves.

I like your point that most of life is the wilderness. That is so true. We wander and wander, unsure and unsteady, bitching and moaning.

You're a great teacher, Monte.
"So too we, when challenged by the desert of the transition from bondage to new freedom, sometimes look back and see only the good of the past time of bondage; forgetting that it was mostly not so good."

I especially liked that -- so true. A really destructive human tendency to look back to the "good ole days". Which weren't.


(A niggle: In their book of the same name, Woolley and Lawrence call it the "Wilderness of Zin".)
I am not sure how big a story this is when Jewish children are taught.

Exodus is an integral part of every Jewish child's instruction. There are many other tales similarly used to depict G-d's providence (one well-known tale is of the Maccabee's retaking of the temple and the lighting of the menorah after that. A small amount of oil, only enough to last one day, burned for eight days) but I think you would be hard-pressed to find a single Jewish child who did not know the story of Exodus. It is integral to the Passover celebration.
I have found in my own life and times that the most generous people are the poor. Probably because we know first hand what it is like to be without.
I have the unfortunate habit of saving your posts for "later, when I'll have time to digest them" and not getting back to them for days, so what I say here goes for all three entries in this series so far.

I appreciate so much your narrative retelling of the familiar story. Too often even those of us who are familiar with it get bogged down in the details that are different from our own lives and times and lose sight of the thread running through it.

As a parallel to that problem, I offer this story I just heard yesterday: A colleague is having his Sunday school students write, by hand, all 95 of Luther's theses to post on his church door for Reformation Sunday. Will those kids understand the contemporary relevance of the Reformation, or will they learn that Luther was verbose and boring on the power and efficacy of indulgences, a topic they certainly don't understand?

Thank you for weaving the story so skillfully. Blessings to you and Sue.
Many great points and lessons here, thanks.
"Just enough for today, every day." is never easy to get used to.
Thanks, Pilgrim, for your comments. I like the twist "Pharaoh and ourselves." Yes, that one too. So much of our life is wilderness that sometimes many of us feel like that is the only world there is. It is hard to break the pattern of complaint, especially when some of that complaint is valid, isn't it?

Hey, B1, really good to have your comment. We always tend to stay with, or yearn to return to, the old ways. As an alcoholic after I quit drinking and clearly KNEW that I should never go back there were times when I yearned for the old ways and the old days. It took literally years for that feeling to pass. I don't know why your authors called it "Zin" when every modern commentator and all of the reputable English Bible translations use "Sin." I suppose the translation from the Hebrew might allow a Z or an S for the same sound in Hebrew, but I am not a Hebrew scholar.

I think, Bill, that I was unclear as to what "story" I meant. I really meant to say the story about the manna, the sub-story within the story of the Exodus. Christians make a big deal of it because of Jesus' comments about the Bread of Heaven and the use of that metaphor implicitly in our main sacrament, the Eucharist. I think I will change the wording in the post to make that clearer. I appreciate how important the Exodus is to the Jewish faith, integral to the Jewish identity I should think.

Ric: I think that you are really on to something. Some of the most generous people in the church are often those who have very little. And they often, since they have little money, give enormously of their time and talent.

Whenever you read them, HL, I am glad that you do. This series will test everyone's ability to "keep up" but I want to get it out there fast enough that people do not lose interest while expecting that those who can't find the time will read the essays when they can. Blogs just are not set up for lengthy essays and breaking an entire work into "posts" is not the ideal way to go, but it is what we have. Anyway, I am glad you are here. If your friend is actually doing that I can only shake my head in wonder at what s/he could possibly be thinking. If these students are children it will only further prove that we adults will do almost anything to drive the joy and interest in the faith out of them, and them out of the church. This case is worse than at confirmation having the students memorize a 400 year old catechism. That to guarantees that confirmation means confirming their right to leave the church. Sad.

Thanks, yet again, cocoa, for reading and sharing your views.


Oops. Sorry about that. :-D

The fact that G-d provided for the children of Israel in the desert is important in Judaic instruction. Absolutely. Both the manna and the bringing forth of water were critical points in the story of the exodus.

Sorry I mixed up what you meant. I mean, the title of the post should have clued me in. ;-D

I need coffee.
Hi, Bill. You mixed nothing up. My wording was sloppy and could easily be misunderstood. I changed the language in the post. Thanks much.

One of my favorite films in the past decade was a small independent film written, produced, directed and starring Zach Braff from "Scrubs". Under the context that he delivers the words to his father makes the statement more powerful, but even standing alone it's true. His father tells him "things can be really good again." He replies to his father (and based on their family history in the film it has more impact), "when was this time that we were all so happy dad?" His father was so focused on what never was that he couldn't move on to what could be.

Rated and always a lesson learned.
The temptation is to try to serve two masters: God and Pharaoh, or in this case: God and our selves. We want to put our trust in two bread supplies at once: in the bread of heaven and in the bread earned by the sweat of our brows.

But this story and many of the stories told in the Bible teach us that trying to have it both ways leads only to anxiety

This is so, so true. We can't sit on the fence when it comes to God, especially in times of trouble. Sometimes He is leading you on a very narrow path out of the wilderness, and we must trust that it will lead to a freedom that is much greater than the perceived freedom of indenpendence and self reliance.
Another great post.
I believe it is inherant in our human nature to hoard. Where I am, the threat of a major eartquake is quite high, therefore, we hoard, store, prepare for the worst. While my faith is strong and I trust in the Lord, I also know that God gave us free will and the ability to make wise choices for ourselves, therefore we have individual responsibility to provide for ourselves, from the wealth and stores of life sustaining elements that keep us alive. Making wise use of this planet and everything therein, God given, is our choice and our duty. Giving thanks, daily and giving back is our obligation as children of God. Not everyone on Planet Earth is buying into that. So we believers, pray for their souls? Essential or arrogant?
Hi, Greg. Thanks for coming by. I surely like the example that you give. "...'when was this time that we were all so happy dad?' His father was so focused on what never was that he couldn't move on to what could be." Good insight and very true to life.

It does all boil down to trust, doesn't it, Anne? And that path out of the wilderness is often very narrow. It is truly difficult to submit ourselves totally to God. I think I get there from time to time but not always by a long shot. I do believe that God does, however, give us credit for continuing to try to turn ourselves over completely.

Thanks, JR. I appreciate you continuing to hang out with us on this series.

Hi, Cathy. I agree it is built in to our nature. But I also think, as do you, that when we have amassed enough to care for ourselves and our families we need to move beyond our nature and share the rest with others. Most of us do some of that but not nearly enough, and that includes me. I am always thinking about how much more we need to save so that Sue will have enough to have a good life should something happen to me. So I think about worst case scenarios and the savings never to seem to be enough. We try to tithe and usually do, but there are times when I think that we have to save just a bit more for us "to be sure." So I guess I pray for my own soul at least as much as I pray for those who seem to me to give really nothing of themselves, of their time, talent and treasure, to others.

Thanks for your comments, everybody.
RicTresa's right. I had a lesson in generosity recently with some well-off family and some not as well off, and it's not hard to figure out who gave more readily. It's so easy, when blessed with abundance, to forget what it is NOT to have--so easy to begin to complain about your blessings, as the Israelites did with the manna and eventually with the quail.

If you haven't published this stuff, you should...
I learn so much from you, Monte. Thank you.
Although this is a good lesson for all people, I wish you could get this to those on Wall Street. Sounds to me that God and Christ would be labeled socialists by today's twisted standards.

This all makes me wonder why the right wing of politics is so hell bent on capitalism when it flies in the face of the teachings of the Bible. Sure, I hoard, but I've always been one to share with those less fortunate, figuring that more will always come my way and you can't take it with you, though very little has come my way lately.

I still know that I'm more fortunate than most around the planet.
I also know that there is an element of the Christian Right that gives the rest of Christianity a bad name, but they are the ones who scream the loudest and seem to go against everything they preach about. Seems you can't have it both ways, yet that's the way they want it.

those on the right that claim to be Christian, yet also worship capitalism seem to be the very worst kind of hypocrite. At least the Wall Street crowd admit their greed and selfishness.
Thanks, Mama Lou, for your comments. I think Ric is right also. The more some people have the worse they get about sharing any of it. There are exceptions, of course, but not as many as there should be. As a pastor I never wanted to know what individuals gave to the church because I had mistakenly been given that information once at my first church assignment and was aghast at the piddling amounts some of the "pillars" of the church gave.

You are more than welcome, Lorraine. Thanks for reading.

Mike, many people have called Jesus and the disciples "communists" and "socialists" as if the idea of pooling resources and sharing equally equates with political movements. But I can't imagine Christ being happy with the greed on Wall Street or the unwillingness of some to have a true "socialized???", national health care system where nobody is left out.

How the right, and particularly the Christian Right, can take the stands that they do on social and political issues and act as if this were what the Bible teaches absolutely amazes me. They are so far from the real intent of the Bible and its teachings that you could not get there logically if you tried. As you say, it is hypocrisy at its highest.

Thanks all,

As much as we hate to admit it, the truth is that all the prophets knew, as did Jesus that when rains fall upon us, our actions through our suffering bring the spirit. I see this as if God said to you, "Look, life sort of sucks. It is a drag but there are those moments when it is great, obviously in most lives not enough. However, is some one asked you, 'hey, I'll give you decades of suffering mixed with moments of joy and then you die, who could make you such a deal as that followed by eternal life? Is that too dear a price? Even If I reincarnate you to get the kinks out, where the despot next time around is the victim and the victim is placed potentially to be the despot, just to see how tough both places are to deal with, it is still the best deal in town, no?"
Interesting observations, Professor. Many thanks for sharing them.

Bottom line for me is that we play the hand we are dealt. In the last two years I have experienced chronic, daily, but thankfully not continuous, pain from a rare incurable disease. If you had asked me when I first came into this mess whether I would put up with this pain and still really care about living I would have said, "not really."

What I have learned is that God graces me with some very good, if short, relatively pain free times each day, and that I appreciate them more since I can hardly take them for granted any more. But I am also learning that my personal pain makes me even more empathetic with others who also have to endure chronic pain.

And so, one thing does not change: Whatever God gives me I will make the very most of it. I learn that I can take far more pain than I ever thought I could. I learn that even knowing that tonight will bring pain I want to see tomorrow. And I know like I have never known before that my life really is in God's hands, because all the doctors in all the world can only offer palliative help in the form of drugs that dull the pain some of the time, but never always.

I figure God gave me 68 pretty good years, 30 of which I abused as an alcoholic, so the last two hard years are hardly the basis of complaint if I look at the whole "body of work" that is my life.


I envy those who have total trust too, Karin, to the point where I even wonder if they really do, which just proves my jealousy. I really try but it is very hard.

So you are in that boat that I am called "human being" and it is a BIG boat. We all hoard to some extent. I do, particularly to be sure that Sue will have enough when I am gone. Rationally I know that she will because I have worked on that from the day I married a woman 16 years younger than me. That was 26 years ago. But my anxiety about it is never totally gone.

Glad that you are getting some time to read these essays. Take your time. They will be here when you can read them.


"Having it both ways leads to anxiety". I like that. Monte, this takes more belief than I think I have, but I'm going to keep on trucking.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Scanner. And for perseverance. There are times even in strong believers' lives that it sometimes takes more belief than they have to keep learning about faith. We each approach faith with our own histories and with various levels of skepticism. I am impressed that you are willing to read these essays and allow them to speak to you where you are now in your own journey. That shows a maturity that not many possess.