Sunday, March 24, 2019

Joshua 5. 9-12: Desert. Food.

Desert suggests an inhospitable place, a place where survival is not a sure thing. Certainly the Israelites felt that way about the desert through which they wandered. They remembered Egyptian food with longing: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 11:5) And yet they were provided food - quail and manna - for all the years between Egypt and the Promised Land. But there came a time when the manna ended (Joshua 5:9-12).
Ercole de Roberti. The Israelites Gathering Manna  Probably 1490s. London: National Gallery.
Because it's hard to show a negative, there are few (any?) works of art that show the Israelites on the first morning they did not gather manna. In the 15th century painting above, they gather the small pellet-shaped manna on a morning with a very clear blue sky. At the left, Moses and Aaron encourage the people to gather the food they will need for the day. But one day, the manna ended.
The end of daily manna did not mark the end of God's providence. Instead, it marked the end of a particular kind of providence. Instead of the daily ration of manna and quail, the people were provided a land whose agricultural produce would feed the people. But there were differences. When God was providing daily manna, the people didn't have to do anything in order to eat other than wake up and gather what was given to them.

Once they were in the land, that changed. The land might have been productive, but the people had to make it produce. They would need to plant crops, tend, and harvest them. They would need to save seed for the following year. They would need to tend the land itself, not allowing the nutrients in the soil to be depleted but instead doing everything they could to care for it. If they were not attentive to the task, they would not have food.

Ironically, it was possible that they would have less food available to them in the land flowing with milk and honey than they did in the desert. Though the menu would be more varied.

A Note for Lent:
The season of Lent is often observed by fasting from various foods - meat, oil, chocolate. But fasting is only a spiritual discipline if you have food which you can voluntary sacrifice. Hungry is not the same as observant. The relationship between food and deserts continues in our modern term food desert. Defined as those places that lack access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, food deserts lack grocery stores, farmers' markets, and other providers of healthy food. In food deserts people rely on convenience stores or quick-stop marts that stock foods high in processed sugar and high-fat foods. If those are your only food options, however, that is what you eat.

For thoughts on the gospel reading (Luke 15) paired with this text from Joshua, click here
For something you thought you'd never see in the desert, see this week's Art&Faith Matters Facebook page. 
For additional thoughts on Luke 15, click here.

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