What Is It?
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. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” – Exodus 16:14-15a (NRSV)
I opened the first of my Christmas gifts that year and turned to my wife in confusion. “It’s…a compass?”
We lived in Chicago. I had not recently taken up orienteering.
“There’s a theme,” she assured me. But as I opened more presents, the theme seemed to be “things I have no use for.” A pocketknife. Quick-dry shorts.
I smiled and said thanks.
The Israelites are starving. So hungry they’re ready to turn back to the enslavers in Egypt. And Moses assures them: God is going to give you a gift.
The next morning, there’s dew on the ground at their camp. And when the sun dries it, a fine flaky substance is left behind.
Moses says, “There it is! A gift from God!”
The people look at him confused and ask, “What is it?”
Within a couple months of unwrapping that compass, I was planning my first backpacking trip. And over the past 15 years, I’ve carried it down hundreds of miles of trail to some of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been.
It turns out that the best gifts are the ones that confuse us, that show up just before we know what to do with them and teach us who we’re going to be.
Like that “bread” that the Israelites developed a taste for. The food that made them into God’s people. The gift that guided and sustained them through the wilderness toward what was next.
Confusing One, give me the gift I’m almost ready for.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.