From the Pastor's Study
In the account of the giving of the manna (Exodus 16), we learn that when the people went out to gather manna each morning, they always gathered what was sufficient for the day. The only exception was that on Friday, the day before their Sabbath, the collected enough for two days, for on Saturday the manna did not appear. We read in Exodus 16:18 that those “who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone gathered just as much as they needed.”
We often view the giving of the manna for six days (but not seven) as the means by which God taught his people that they didn’t have to work every day of the week, for he would provide them with enough for the seventh. The day of rest is a day when we can experience the fullness of God’s provision without having to labour for what we need, and that rest we experience one day every week is a foretaste of what eternal life will be like.
What caught my attention this time I read through that passage is not that the manna appeared only six days every week but that it was always in sufficient quantity for each individual and each family. There was no want, but, at the same time, there was no excess. Paul uses the example of the manna in 2 Corinthians 8:15 to explain to the churches that God provides his people with sufficient resources so that when one part of the church has a need, the other part can help meet that need. He said this in relationship to an offering he was gathering for the needy Christians in Jerusalem who were suffering the effects of a famine. It seems that what Paul is saying is that an excess in one part of the church may indicate a need in another part and that those who have the excess should see it as an opportunity to help those who are struggling.
When Jesus taught his disciples the “Lord’s Prayer,” he included the line, “Give us today our daily bread.” That is the way the translators have decided to translate the Greek word for “daily.” However, as is well known among scholars, the Greek word that is translated as “daily” is rather unique, and its exact meaning is not entirely clear. Several options have been put forward over the years:
- Jesus is saying that we should ask God only for what we need today and not worry about tomorrow. This fits well with what he says a little later in Matthew 6 about not worrying about what we need for tomorrow.
- A second option, equally possible, is that the word that is translated as “daily” could also mean “for tomorrow.” This is not a normal translation, but if that is what Jesus meant, that would mean that as we pray this prayer at night, we can sleep soundly, trusting that God will take care of us when we wake up. We don’t need to worry about tomorrow because we have already trusted God to take care of it.
- A third option doesn’t have to do with time so much as it has to do with quantity. “Give us what we need for the time when we need it.” This could be a request for food and clothing and housing on that particular day, or it could be a request for life’s necessities whenever the need arises.
However we translate the request, it does seem to bring us back to the giving of the manna. Everyone received what they needed for the day, and they could sleep well knowing that manna would appear on the morrow (except for Saturday, of course). Throughout their wanderings in the desert for 40 years the Israelites never had more than they needed but they never had a need either. In the same way, Jesus is teaching us to ask God for whatever we need for the time that we need it.
And we do just that. Whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to give us what we need for when we need it. But the question is this: do we trust that God will answer that prayer? This is where I struggle a little. Maybe we all do. It is one thing to ask God for what we need, and it is a completely different thing to live with confidence that he will supply it. But if we ask, shouldn’t we also live with confidence?
Perhaps Jesus’ instruction to pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” is not so much for us to move God to action but rather to move us to trust. When we request of God what we need for the time that we need it, it is not because God hasn’t already committed himself to do so. He is our covenant God, after all, through Jesus Christ. Rather, when we make this request of God, we are being encouraged to think about what who God is and why we can trust him. As is often the case in prayer, it is often more about us trusting God than it is about us informing God of what we need. The account of the manna and the request in the Lord’s Prayer both are there to teach us that we can put our trust in God to provide us with all that we need when we need it. When he does, there will never be too little or too much. What God provides will be just right.