Miracles are not just for effect
The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Shemot/Exodus 16:35)
Last week's message sought to explain how the biblical way to refer to miracles is "Practically Miraculous." I tried to correct the notion that miracles are God's acting within the creation as if he normally doesn't. On the contrary, God is continuously involved in and through the natural world. But it also isn't correct to refer to the ordinary wonders of nature as miracles as a way to emphasize that truth. Miracles rightly understood as Practically Miraculous are significant extraordinary events designed to communicate something.
This week's parsha (Torah reading portion) is a case in point. God had delivered the people of Israel from oppression in Egypt. They were to spend at least two years living in a hostile wilderness environment as preparation for entering the Promised Land. If you know what happened, due to their lack of trust in God, their time in the wilderness turned out to be forty years instead, but that's another story.
One of the many challenges they faced in the wilderness was how to acquire food. We don't know how hungry they got before they started grumbling, but knowing how I can be when I perceive a meal delay, I don't blame them. God graciously responded to their predicament by a sign and a wonder. In this case, it was a bread-like substance that mysteriously formed each morning on the ground. It was named "manna" which basically means "What is it?" The miraculous nature of this provision was in more than its appearance, but also in its uncanny awareness of the days of the week. From the first through fifth day (our Sunday through Thursday), if, contrary to God's directive, the people took more than they needed, it rotted. But on the sixth day they were to take twice as much, because there would be none on the seventh day, since that was the Sabbath. The extra portion gathered didn't rot as it would every other day.
Certainly this was truly a wonder. What made it also a sign is that God was teaching them a very important lesson through it. Moses tells us what that is years later, when he says:
Their state of desperation, God's specific provision, and the associated gathering instructions were designed by God to teach them reliance upon his word.
There's something else about Practically Miraculous apart from their teaching function that I would like to point out. The manna is a great example of this, but it may apply to almost every, if not every, other miraculous event. Practically Miraculous are not for show. They are not spectacles put on by God to wow his audience. Besides their communication function, they are extremely practical. God acts in wondrous ways because that's what is needed at the time. Israel didn't have the ability to overthrow Pharaoh through normal means, they didn't have the wherewithal to grow food in the wilderness, and we could go on. Solving impossible problems requires extraordinary methods. When God determines to act, nothing is going to stop him. Normally what God wants is accomplished through ordinary means, but when that won't suffice, it's Practically Miraculous time!
That's why you can't figure out how to do the impossible based on your current resources and abilities. How many people hear God's call to do something, but put more energy into their doubts based on what they can't do than faith in what only God can do? Also, God won't perform Practically Miraculous until they are necessary. How many people wait for miraculous provision before they actually need it? It won't happen. If it does, it's not really a miracle. But miracles will happen when God decides they are needed and we are willing to attempt the impossible as he leads. Our job is to learn the lesson of the manna: live by God's word alone.
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