Lesson: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning, you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’“
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
The Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible and covered the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
In today’s reading, the Israelites had not yet reached Sinai, and were complaining (once again) to Moses that it would have been better to have died at the hand of YHWH in Egypt than to starve in the Wilderness.
Because YHWH was perceived as controlling everything in much of the Hebrew Bible, the writers of this story said that the Israelites’ deaths in Egypt would have been at the hand of YHWH (v.3) rather than at the hand of Pharaoh.
The God presented in this story is very human-like. YHWH “heard” their complaining (v.7). YHWH “spoke” to Moses (v.4) and responded (twice – one in v.4 and again in v.11) by sending the Israelites manna and quail. The fact of two responses indicates that this story is an amalgam of two traditions.
Man hu are the Hebrew words for “What is it?” (v. 15), so the name of the substance is also a play on words. “Manna” is a real thing. The New Oxford Annotated Bible says it is “the carbohydrate-rich excretion of two scale-insects that feed on the twigs of the tamarisk tree.” In Israel today, something called “manna” is sometimes available for purchase in Arab markets. It is sweet and sticky.
In the omitted verses (5-7) the Israelites were directed to collect manna each day, collect two days’ supply of manna on the sixth day, and not to collect manna on the Sabbath. This shows the story was written (at least in part) by the Priestly writers – for whom the Sabbath was most important.
In Numbers 11 contains another story about YHWH’s sending quail to the Israelites in such quantity that they gorged themselves and were struck by a great plague that killed many of them.
Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-16
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey. In the Acts of the Apostles and 1 Corinthians, Paul is said to have visited there. In Ephesus, there were Jesus Followers who were Jews and Jesus Followers who were Gentiles, and they did not always agree on what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Because the letter contained many terms not used in Paul’s other letters and gave new meanings to some of Paul’s characteristic terms, most scholars believe that this letter was written by one of Paul’s disciples late in the First Century. The letter was intended to unify the Jesus Follower community in Ephesus. The first three chapters are theological teachings, and the last three chapters consist of ethical exhortations.
In today’s reading, the author continued to urge the Jewish Jesus Followers and the Gentile Jesus Followers in Ephesus to be unified in Christ. He urged them to be humble, patient, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v.3).
He emphasized that there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Christ both ascended and descended (into Sheol?) so that he might come to all persons. Each person has different gifts for the body’s growth in building itself up in love (v.11-12). A perfect (i.e. complete) church is modeled on Christ himself.
Gospel: John 6:24-35
24 The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many of the stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who is described as “the Lamb of God”) died at the time lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held that night.
Today’s reading is part of a longer discussion in the Fourth Gospel that is sometimes called “The Bread of Life Discourse” that is not found in the other Canonical Gospels. Conversely, this Gospel, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, does not include an institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. (Instead, Jesus washes the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper in the Fourth Gospel.)
The account contains terms that have deeper meanings. In saying that the Son of Man will “give you the food that endures for eternal life” (v.27) the author drew upon the Jewish understanding of the Son of Man as the messenger of God (Dan. 7:13) who makes God known (Jn.3:13).
The references to “my Father” and the “I am” statement reflect the greater emphasis in the Fourth Gospel on the divinity of Jesus and his connection with the Father. All the “I am” statements in the Fourth Gospel echo the response from the Burning Bush in Exodus 3 – “I am what I am” – to Moses’ question about the name of God.