BY MEGAN STOLZ
Then the LORD said to Joshua: Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you. While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month. On the day after the Passover they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12)
The Israelites have only recently crossed the river Jordan into the Promised Land before they celebrate Passover. Passover is still a new holiday; it was only forty years ago that the last plague convinced the pharaoh to let them leave Egypt (see Exodus 11:1-12:51). This first Passover marked when they were able to start thinking of themselves as something new: not slaves, but a free people who control their own destiny.
Now the Israelites are adjusting to being in one place after wandering for forty years, learning how to interact with their neighbors, starting to plant roots, including literally with crops. Perhaps figuring out how to grow new foods they didn’t have in Egypt, or growing familiar foods in new ways, or adjusting to agriculture altogether.
They also must have been trying to think of this strange place as home after hearing and dreaming about it for so long. It’s one thing to talk about reaching the Promised Land; it’s another to actually arrive. Even though it’s their land, they need to get to know this new place. The annual celebration of Passover must have been a familiar comfort and a timely reminder of why they were there, what their people had sacrificed for them to come to this place. The Israelites who had been born along the journey had only heard about Egypt through stories. They got to start over in their new homeland.
God had provided for them during their wanderings. Every day, manna appeared from heaven for the people to collect, exactly enough to get each person through the day (see Exodus 16:4-35). When something appears every day for forty years, you start to expect it, even depend on it. For the younger Israelites who were born after leaving Egypt, they’ve always had manna. When they celebrate their first Passover in Canaan using “the produce of the land,” perhaps it was a relief to have something different, a little variety, after forty years of the same thing. A little exciting. It must have also sparked pride over eating food that they had grown or gathered themselves.
But then the manna stops.
Imagine how confused, frightened, and even abandoned the Israelites must have felt that first morning when they wake up and the manna suddenly isn’t there anymore. God had been taking care of them for so long, and now that support is gone.
But the manna stops because they don’t need it anymore.
Yes, God provides for us. We are indebted to God and we depend on Him. But in return, He expects us to do something with the gifts that we have. God can and does great things, but we’re not simply an audience to watch His works. We’re part of the play. It’s scary to start over or start new. It’s scary to realize that we must act and be responsible for our own lives.
None of us will escape this. For many of us, this means someday leaving our parents’ house and figuring out how to be on our own. It might mean moving to a new place or starting a new job. It might mean getting to a point to our lives when we realize we’re on the wrong path and we need to turn around and go in a new direction.
And yet, just as we put our faith in God, He puts His faith in us. He knows we fail a lot, and yet He asks us to do the work anyway. Sometimes the work is nation building. Sometimes the work is answering God’s call. Sometimes it’s redefining who we are and what we stand for.
It was time for the Israelites to roll up their sleeves and do the work of making this land their own: making the Promised Land a real place and not just a “someday” dream. We are called to build God’s kingdom on Earth. We’ve been given the gifts and tools we need, and now we need to use them. It’s a little scary, and sometimes we’ll fail, but God trusts us.
The manna stops because we don’t need it anymore. We’re ready.
MEGAN STOLZ is a writer and editor. She has an MFA from the University of Baltimore and currently runs Megan Stolz Editorial. She has contributed several pieces for Leaven in the World, and her work has also appeared in Amendo, among other places. A Californian, she now lives in Northern Virginia with her family. She tweets @megan_stolz.