“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. (Exodus 16:16-18)
In the Exodus story, the Israelites find themselves alone in the wilderness. They’re hungry and afraid, begging Moses to return them to the land of their enslavement. It is in this moment that God sends them manna, a flakey substance like coriander seed, and commands them to gather as much as they need to feed themselves, but no more.
Some do as told, collecting only that which they need for the day. Others do not trust that enough will continue to be provided. They stash manna away for the next day, only to awake to find the excess manna rotting and writhing with maggots. But as God promised, new manna came with the morning dew.
This became a new way of life for the Israelites. When they fled from Egypt for the promised land, they left behind Pharoah’s economy of consumption and control. In the wilderness, God met them with a new economic model, one that did not reward the mass accumulation of goods, but rather an interdependence with creation.
The wilderness taught the Israelites how to shape an economic life based on the daily abundance of creation.
Defining Enough in Creation’s Economy
An omer (around two quarts) was the measure the Israelites used to determine how much was enough when gathering manna. While some Israelites collected more and some less, the Exodus story tells us that when all was measured from the jar, “those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” The amount was not uniform, but each received enough according to their needs.
Living in abundance with creation is the exact opposite of today’s modern capitalist economy. But going against the established economy is the crux of the Exodus story.
If our society was functioning more like the wilderness economy, there would be a consistent attitude of sharing. We would learn, just like the Israelites, that when too much is held by a single person, it spoils.
Our Daily Bread
In the book of Job, God says to listen to the animals and they will teach you. Look to the plants for instruction. That’s really what the Exodus story was about: nature teaching a group of people to change their mindset. They needed to leave behind their thoughts of enslavement to the empire and presumed scarcity of the wilderness. They needed, instead, to learn what nature’s food looked like and experience its sufficiency.
Right now, we can look to creation and find that there is an economy functioning. It’s not a growth economy, though things do grow. It’s not a debt-based economy, like the current one used by those in power and the banking system. Rather, it’s an economy in which all creatures have enough.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God will “give us this day our daily bread.” This is not a prayer to end hunger through the current growth economy. Rather, Jesus was praying from the perspective of a creation-based economy. That economy is not the globalized food supply chain captured by industrialized farming and corporate supermarkets today.
Our prayer is for everyone to be able to participate in a local economy in which new decisions can arrange the food supply for the well-being of all, as well as for the health of the soil and water. This vision is the opposite of wealth accumulation. Rather, it turns our attention to the daily wealth of creation. It prays that we can trust God instead of Mammon.
A Symbol That Calls Us to the Biblical Economy
At the end of the chapter in Exodus, God commands the Israelites to keep a jar of manna and pass it down from generation to generation to serve as a reminder of what they experienced in the desert — where through creation’s abundance, God provided for daily needs.
Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. (Exodus 16:32-34)
Translating this command for today, we need to have a manna jar and place it before the Lord to remind us that we trust God, not Mammon, and to know how to measure enough for all. Any faith group or congregation can place a manna jar in their midst wherever they renew their focus on living God’s way. Faced with ecological and economic unraveling in this decade of the 2020s, not only can we place a manna jar in our midst, it is urgent that we do so. The manna jar sits before us as a call to renew daily our intent before God to live in a creation-based economy, and to do so to our fullest abilities.
This daily renewal is necessarily personal, but must also be communal. We cannot live in a sharing economy based in creation by ourselves. It is urgent for congregations and faith groups to revisit the Bible and to read it economically. Exodus 16 is an excellent story with which to begin.
With growth economics failing the Earth and most of her people, now is the time for us to proclaim bravely that there is a biblical economy and that, when lived, shows us that there is enough for all.
Let the manna jar help us live the manna story anew.
Paul Taylor and Lee Van Ham | May 19, 2020
Paul Taylor is the president of the Faith and Money Network board of directors.
Lee Van Ham is director of OneEarth Jubilee in San Diego, Calif. and Mexico.
This article was originally appeared in the May 2020 newsletter of Faith and Money Network, Washington, D.C. Reprinted here with permission.