Quincy Brown in his commentary on this passage reminds us of the Snickers candy bar commercials that begin with “You’re Not You, When You’re Hungry“. In each of these, grumpy people in troublesome situations are portrayed by celebrity actors. When eating a Snickers provided by a concerned friend, the character is transformed back into themselves and indicates that they are better.
Unlike being satisfied by eating a candy bar, the people of Israel were not satisfied with the side effects of their newfound freedom from slavery in Egypt. It had been two months since their great escape and the people, driven by hunger and fear of the unknown, were irritable and complained: “What is next? What are we going to eat? How are we going to make it?”
Reading this part of the narrative, it is easy to dismiss these former slaves as ungrateful and faithless. God has saved them, and here they are complaining. Indeed, a form of the word “complain” appears six times in this narrative. Yet, the biblical text does not condemn the people; God hears them and responds to their needs.
The presenting issue is food, as the people were hungry and grumbling. The text takes us, however, to two deeper issues: Would the people learn to trust and follow the Lord’s instructions for their daily life? And would they learn who was responsible for their assembly in this wilderness? The first twelve verses weave together the themes of the Lord’s presence with and for the people, his visible “glory,” and his instructions for receiving daily bread.
One of the lessons from this text is critical for our prayer life. When we pray are we looking for God to provide us with Plan A— that’s what I’ve complained about– oops that’s what I’ve prayed for. And since I expect Plan A, someone has to show me that Plan B is what God has provided. For the Israelites who prayed for Plan A, while reminiscing about the good old days of Egypt where they had plenty of food, Plan B was an unknown flaky substance that when ground-up and baked tasted like honey.
The question remains— how often are we so fixated on Plan A, that we don’t recognize Plan B, like the Snickers bar, as something much better for us?