what the f—?

Sure. The wilderness-themed meditations that I’m following each Lenten week were bound to come back to the Exodus story more than once—it’s the largest, longest wilderness tale in the Bible. I’m a little surprised that the passages are back-to-back, but not a lot. After all, the crafters of these meditations chose related themes, and those work best side by side.

Like the Numbers passage, this week’s excerpt (from Exodus 16: 1 – 4, 13 – 15) begins with Israelites, wandering, wilderness, and complaints. It’s hard to get away from the ‘complaining Israelite’ motif no matter where you land in the story—the threnody of “you’ve brought us here to starve to death!” makes good storytelling, I suspect.

But this episode’s answer is a little different.

God said to Moses, “I’m going to rain bread down from the skies for you.

The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was.
—Exodus 16: 4,15 (The Message)

Wilderness prepares, wilderness provides room for thought, wilderness forces a human to understand the limits of personal control,

wilderness offers opportunities for creative problem-solving, and assessing the world through new frames.

I’ve always wondered about the word bread here. Someday I’ll study ancient Hebrew, and see if I can suss out whether this bread is different than all the other bread-words, and so stuck in the limits of English, or is the same bread-word, and stuck in the limits of God’s trying to squeeze yet another idea into a size that fits into human brains.

Still, God says: I will rain bread.

There’s not a version of “rain bread” in our space-time continuum where that works-works. (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is clearly in another dimension.) Rain: little bits, gravity-assisted. Bread: whether rolls or loaves or flat, these are objects with substance, frequently larger than a hand. Whatever God had in mind, it was unlikely to be showers of sourdough loaves.

In fact, it’s an intriguing and amusing speculation as to why this ‘bread’ came in the form it did. No answers, of course—this is ‘volume of angels dancing on a head of a pin’ territory. But “fine as frost” is as unrelated to even matzot as one can imagine. Frost melts on the tongue. How would one collect such a substance? To the tune of two quarts per person? Huh.

It’s not at all surprising that the morning this bread first rains down, everyone looks at it and says, “What the heck?” (I also want to know the Hebrew here, because I think there’s likely cussing involved. Bible—and Shakespeare—translators seldom want to cuss.)

OK, I will rain bread. What the sam-hill?! That’s what you needed… and asked for.

When I’m wandering around, dry and crispy, looking for… what? Well, to be honest with myself, I don’t know what. So how do I know when I’ve seen the it that God’s provided?

Especially when it looks like nothing I’ve seen before in my life?


Wilderness is full of the unexpected as well as the unknown. And some of that turns out to be blessing.

Maybe the secret is: pay particular attention the moment I start to say, “What the f— is that?!”

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