My son looks at me blankly as I offer him two options in response to his wail of, “I’m hungry. Huuuuuuuungry!” Knowing that his default is going to be fruit snacks, I calmly reply, “That’s not how we ask. But if you are asking, we have carrots and pretzels.”
I’m not sure how facial expressions get passed along through the years, but his five-year-old face squirrels up into an exasperated teenager as he begins thinking through his own response. He falls quiet, trying to scrape together a quality rebuttal. I wait. My husband walks into a silent battle of the wills, as my son explains, “Mom is telling me I can only eat two disgusting things.”
What followed was a series of complaints about having to eat terrible things and how unrelenting I was. I continued moving around the kitchen, waiting for him to re-acknowledge the hunger that brought him to this crisis in the first place. I put out a bowl of pretzels for when he had finished lamenting, although it took a few minutes. He did remember his manners when he came back. Whether he was really thankful for the pretzels is up for grabs.
As I was laughing to myself about it later, the situation reminded me of the children of Israel. Tired, harassed, frustrated, hungry. AND, miraculously saved, cared for, provided for, and led. But, by Exodus 16, we find them romanticizing the past and accusing God (and Moses) of leading them out just to starve them to death. “[In Egypt] We sat around pots of meat and ate as much as we wanted” (verse 3). Amazing that these are the details they remember among the heavy loads of brick-making!
Make no mistake. God is clear that he says he will provide for them in a huge way, meeting their daily needs for food. However, Moses communicates this great message of provision with a caveat: ”Why are you grumbling against us?” (verse 7).
What follows in verse 11 is something interesting—and short. “The Lord spoke to Moses.” That’s the entire verse. The whole thing. Five words. What is this? I had to investigate.
The word “spoke” in verse 11 is “dabar.” Dabar has a multitude of translations, the most common being “spoke.” My curiosity continued, especially because the word also has this root meaning: “to lead, to guide, to bring into order”. The presence of the living God appears to the assembly of Israel the following day, and the Lord “dabar’s” to Moses. And subsequently, to the children of Israel.
In my research, I began to wonder. What if God was not just talking, but bringing order to Moses and to the people he was leading? What if God was really saying, “Listen, Moses. Don’t worry about defending yourself or your leadership. Let me lead you, and them?” What if he was also bringing Israel into order—promising his good leadership to them as well?
I think of myself. A minister, working mom and wife, community member. As much as I love surprises, the days where the wheels are flying off the bus make me long for the simpler days of pots of meat. Then, there are also those days in which I feel the call to lead. Days where my lips are smiling as I say to the group around the table, “God will take care of us,” but my heart is saying, “But don’t blame me for this crazy mess we are in!”
Are those the days when I need the Lord to “dabar?” Ugh. Of course. I find myself there. I wonder if I might find you there as well. Are there days where you need the Lord to bring you to order, too? The days where you feel pressed to defend your work choices, parenting choices, leadership choices? Or, even worse, the days where you are in the crowd with me, grumbling about how great your ministry, church, company, or life used to be?
Five words. God’s unbelievable faithfulness not just to a crowd of people wondering what is next and how to live life differently, but also to their new leader. The reminder to not put up our dukes when people are frustrated. To submit and surrender to a God who is calling us and wants to lead us, too. A call to remember that God’s spirit will and does provide—and lastly: at home, work, ministry, or wherever, God does the heavy lifting.