Connections 09.20.2020: What Is It?

Exodus 16:2-8, 11-15

God had brought the people out of Egypt and across the sea. They had begun their journey toward Mount Sinai.

Now they needed food. God promised to send them bread from heaven. God kept God’s promise.

When the people first saw the food God had given them, they didn’t know it was the food God had given them. In fact, they didn’t know what it was. So they asked, “What is it?”, thereby giving the mysterious substance its name (the Hebrew phrase translated “What is it?” sounds like “manna”).

Moses answered their question: “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

The people didn’t recognize God’s blessing when they saw it. To be fair, they’d never seen anything like it. They had to learn what it was. They had to learn to see it as food. They had to learn to use it as food. They had to expand their definition of bread. They had to learn to regard the manna as the blessing it was.

I wonder how often we fail to recognize God’s blessings? I wonder how often we cry out to God for help and God sends us help, but we don’t avail ourselves of God’s help because we don’t know God’s help when we see it?

Why might that happen?

It could be because the help God sends isn’t what we had in mind when we asked. It could be because we haven’t learned to expect God to act in unexpected ways. It could be because we aren’t prepared to deal creatively with whatever God provides us. It could be because we don’t think we deserve any help from God. It could be because we think we deserve better help from God.

Or it could be because grace can look so odd that if we aren’t looking for it through eyes of faith, we’ll miss it.

Ask yourself: had you been among the Hebrews on that first manna morning, and had you heard Moses explain that the white flaky stuff was bread from heaven, would you have said, “Yeah right!”, or would you have said, “Sounds right to me!”?

Maybe we need to develop the kind of trust in God that lets us see grace where others see strangeness, that lets us see wonder where others see weirdness, and that lets us see opportunity where others see oddness.

Don’t get me wrong. No one there that morning except Moses and Aaron knew what the white stuff on the ground was. They all asked, “What is it?” Everyone there had to learn how to see the manna as food. They all had to learn how to cook and serve it.

I know the Bible doesn’t say so, but I believe that over the next forty years, during which God gave the people manna every day, some of them served it the same old way day after day after day, while others came up with so many different ways to prepare it, they could have written a manna cookbook.

Lord, give us faith to see your grace as the wonder-filled opportunity it is. Give us faith to become manna gourmet chefs. Amen.


  • How do you evaluate the people’s complaint about being hungry? Was it legitimate? Should they not have complained? What might you have done had you been in their place?
  • In what way was the gift of bread from heaven a test for the people? Do our blessings test us? If so, how?
  • Moses and Aaron told the people that their complaints were against the Lord rather than against Moses and Aaron. How can we find and honor the line between realistic/appropriate and unrealistic/inappropriate expectations of our Christian leaders?
  • What blessing have you experienced that you didn’t immediately recognize as a blessing?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


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