In today’s Old Testament reading (Exodus 16:10-22), the Israelites get their first taste of “manna” – the honey tasting flakes that would descend upon their camp six days a week for 40 years.
(On the sixth day they were to gather enough for two days. Both God and his people would rest on the seventh day.)
So this was God’s daily, divine provision for their journey.
When the people first saw the strange flakes on the ground they said, “What is it?” The question eventually became the name. The word “manna” literally means “What?” or “What is it?” I like that. The name would always remind people of that first morning of discovery. They got used to manna after a while and even tired of it. But the name itself reminded them that it was God’s gift and provision for them.
So what about our daily manna?
“Give us today our daily bread.” Interestingly, when Jesus included that petition in the Lord’s Prayer his listeners would have likely asked, “What is it?” The Greek word epiousios, usually translated “daily,” isn’t found anywhere in ancient literature outside the Lord’s Prayer. In other words, we’re not exactly sure what it means. The root meaning “come down” or “come for” actually suggests a number of intriguing possibilities, like bread “for the journey” or “spiritual” bread.
So don’t be surprised if when you’re eating your own daily manna (i.e. reading Scripture) you find yourself asking, “What is it?” While I’m grateful for biblical scholarship, even the experts don’t always agree. I’ve come to believe that the uncertainties around Scripture are actually meant to give the Holy Spirit a lot of room to work.
Speaking of the Spirit, this is what Jesus says in today’s gospel reading: “When the Divine Assistant comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me…” (John 15:26).
I’ve been reading the Bible for a lot of years. What keeps it exciting is that I try to never stop asking the question “What is it?,” even when the passage is familiar and the meaning seems obvious. And I try to always connect what I’m reading to my life in Jesus, and to our life together as his people.
But I may have to chew on the passage for a bit. If I’m patient I usually get a “nibble” — a question, a conviction, an encouragement, a connecting of dots, a highlighting of a word or phrase. If that happens I’ll usually write it down and see if anything more comes. Or maybe an insight will come later when I’m walking to church or driving.
And if nothing happens? I show up again at the same time tomorrow, because I believe the living word of God is that valuable, that potentially life-changing.
I’m curious — how does the Holy Spirit use Scripture to speak to you?