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J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson XI


Read Exodus XVI.
Numbers XI. 7-9.
Psalms LXXVIII. 24, 25.
See R.V.

§ 1. The Fright of the Israelites

Remember last scene? The vast host of Israel singing their glad Te Deum  on the farther shore of the Red Sea, Moses and his warriors chanting the psalm, Miriam and her maidens breaking in with the refrain, "Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He hath cast into the sea."

Should not you think they would never cease to remember and thank and trust God after that? What time elapsed before today's story? (v.  1). Yet it seems sufficient to make them forget and doubt and rebel just as before the crossing of the sea. What did they murmur for now? Had they begun murmuring before this since the crossing of the sea? (xv. 23). Do you think Moses had a pleasant time as leader? Do you think there was any excuse for the people's fright about food? Of course they ought to have trusted God, but I am afraid we should have been very much frightened ourselves. Why do you think God let them get so frightened? Any purpose in it? Surely it was part of the purpose of that whole forty years' training. By means of this He would teach them—

(1) That they were utterly helpless without God;

(2) That they might trust God for everything.

I think it was because of this discipline that we find so much afterwards in the Psalms and Prophets of the trusting and thanking God. God taught the Israelite people their lessons in a most marvellous way, not by books or classes, but by the wonderful "object-lessons" of experience. Just watch one of these object-lessons to-day.

§ 2. Their First Object‑lesson

Shut your eyes and make a picture. A great, hot dreary desert by the sea—the sun beating down on the hot wastes of sand. A great crowd of men and women and boys and girls—more than in all——(mention some large town near you), the children crying for something to eat, the pale, weak women fainting on the ground, the strong, gaunt-faced men looking in each other's faces with a terrible fear creeping over them.

No wonder they were afraid. There were hundreds of thousands—provisions almost finished, nothing but rocks and stones and barren fields around. What should they do for their wives and little children? What an awful day it was in that camp in the wilderness! So the day went on, and things grew worse and worse, till at length a fierce "bread riot" rose round the tent of the leader. "Bread! Bread! give us bread! Oh, would to God we had died in the plagues! Ye have brought us out of Egypt to kill this whole assembly with hunger!"

Surely an awful picture, an awful responsibility for Moses. What lesson first did I say God wanted to teach?—That they were utterly helpless without God.  Do you think this would teach it? Can you see any human hope for them, anything they could do to escape? Repeat again before we go on, and keep clearly in mind this first lesson they were learning.

§ 3. Their Second Object‑Lesson

Now shut your eyes again, continue the picture and find out their second lesson. The same plan, the same murmuring, angry crowd, but a quick change in the scene. Moses, who has been praying to God in his tent, comes out with God's message—and as he comes, the people look to the great Pillar of Cloud on the edge of the wilderness, and behold the glory of a beautiful light is shining on it to comfort them. And Moses speaks to them the message of God. What? "At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord."

There is a deep hush, the people listen breathless! They cease the crying and complaining and begin to hope. They are waiting eagerly, anxiously all the afternoon—four o'clock —five o'clock—six o'clock—no food. The suspense is growing terrible. Then suddenly in the late evening, like a distant cloud approaching, they see a great flight of birds darkening the air and flying low, a great migration of quails, which they can strike down and eat. What a delightful relief! for the present. That is sufficient for the moment. But what of to-morrow and all the morrows? So they go to bed that night not knowing where they shall get their breakfast in the morning, and in the morning they awake, and draw aside the curtains of the tents, and gaze eagerly out, and behold—what? Colour? Taste? Called in Psalms (Psalm lxxviii. 24, 25), "corn of heaven . . . angels' food."

And then they knew God had not forgotten, and they got up wondering and gathered the strange sweet food, just enough for one day. Then they wondered what would happen next day, for that night there was not a particle of food left for that vast crowd. But next morning there was the white bread from heaven again. And so night after night, over and over again for forty years, they had to go to bed without knowing where to get their breakfast in the morning, and morning after morning for forty years—perhaps not always, but as often as it was needed—the white food lay shining on the ground. Now what lesson should that teach them?—That they might trust God for everything.  Were not these valuable lessons? Was it not a wonderful way to teach them? Repeat together now the two lessons taught them. (Now get the chapter read, Exodus  xvi.— it should not be read before the two picturings—and question the children on the facts of it carefully. Then go on to point out how soon Israel forgot, and how ungrateful they were. Ask— ) "Do you think we should be so ungrateful—so forgetful?"  "Oh, no."  "Well, I am not so sure. But I shall repeat my question again in a few minutes, and see if you are all of the same opinion. Meantime I want to tell you something like it that happened only last year."

§ 4. Our Object-Lesson

I want to tell you not of the Wilderness or the Israelites, but of quite a different place and people that I have been hearing a good deal about of late. It is a large country, not in the East but in the West, of which we have heard a good deal in the newspapers this year, and there are great crowds of people—far more even than in the Wilderness of Sinai. Last year came on them a terrible danger, which reminded me very much of our story to-day. That great crowd were within a few months of being all starved to death. All the food they had was stored up in some shops and barns and storehouses, and would only last till about Christmas. And if something did not happen before that food ran short, this vast crowd of people, like the Israelites in the wilderness, must just wait for a few months and then all die of starvation. Was not that an awful position? And this only last year! Did you not hear of it before? Did you never hear of that country? It has a big town called New York and some mountains called——and a river called——and another town called——(Here name mountains and rivers and your own town.)

Are you surprised? Most of us thought little about it—but it was true all the same. If God had not done something for us the people all over America would have been dead of hunger, and we should all be lying quiet in the graveyard to-day. You ought to remember that. Every summer the world is within a few months of starvation. It is like as in the giving of the manna. Every day how much could they store up? (Exodus xvi. 19, 20). Only enough for a day. So with us. Every year God, as it were, says to us, "Store up just enough for the year—no more. You will get more next year—you must trust Me for that."

The world has had some sharp lessons to teach this lesson of its helplessness and dependence. You saw the horrible pictures in the illustrated papers of the dreadful Indian famine lately. The writer has heard his father tell of the Irish famine of sixty years ago, of the women dying by the roadside with their babies in their arms, and the fierce starved men wandering through the country seeking for food for their wives and their children. And there it was only one little part of the harvest that failed—the potato crop—and only in Ireland. Think what it would have been if the whole harvest everywhere had failed, and that people in England and all over Europe were unable to send help to any one. So don't you think we should easily learn the first lesson of the Israelites—that we are utterly helpless without God? We are as helpless, waiting on God's bounty, as were the Israelites in the wilderness.

Now what was the Israelites' second lesson? That they might trust God for everything.  Should we learn that? He saved us last year just as He saved the Israelites that awful day in the desert. What did He do for us? Send us manna? No; but just as great a miracle—sent harvest. Were the people very frightened? What promise had we? (Genesis viii. 22). For countless generations He has fulfilled that. It seems like saying to us every year, "Don't be frightened, my children, I will send you food; My rain and sun and dew will make it grow for you. In July go to your gardens and look under the ground for the potatoes and other crops which I have put there for you, and then go and gather up what I have hung on the fruit-trees for you, and while you gather that I shall be filling your corn-fields for you with the yellow waving corn. Gather it up and eat it up each year. I will send more next year, and next, and next, and every year, because I care for you." Is it not all very like the position of the Israelites? We are just as helpless and dependent on God.

Now I repeat the question that I asked you before—Are we ever forgetful or ungrateful as they were? Therefore we ought to remember at grace before meat and at harvest festival times how much we owe to God and how helplessly dependent on Him we are, and so learn to be very thankful and loving to Him.

That is for our bodies' food. Then for our souls, how does He feed them to make them strong and holy? The Bible is a great nourishment, strengthening us to be good (every child should join one of the children's Bible-reading Unions). Our Lord says (John vi.) that He is the Bread of Life, giving life and strength to all who come to Him for it. This He will do for you if you ask Him. Pray and He will do it for you. And especially in the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood when you are older. By this Sacrament, in a marvellous, mysterious way that we cannot understand, He feeds His children and communicates to them of the divine nature that they may grow like God. So for our bodies and souls we may learn the two Israelite lessons—(1) that we are helplessly dependent on God, and  (2) that we may trust God for everything.

Questions for Lesson XI

Recall some of the deliverances of Israel by God.

What should it have taught them? Did it? How do you know?

Try to picture in words the week of their danger of starvation.

How did they behave?

How did God deliver them?

Does anything like this happen to us every year?

How does God deliver us?