Provision By The Numbers
We are all waiting on something. Our underlying anxiety, or let's be honest, my underlying anxiety, is that I won't get what I need. Somehow God won't come through. Can He be trusted? Whether you are waiting for that soul mate to show up, that prodigal to come home, this round of chemo to eradicate the metastasizing cancer, that job offer to make the rent, that pregnancy test to show positive, or the adoption to go through, our fear is that the journey will end in disappointment and death, on a physical or soul level.
So something has bothered me about the details of God's provision for the wilderness generation for a while and I had to look into it again. While in the wilderness God rains down manna for six days, and on that sixth day they gather enough for the seventh day as well. That seventh day was the day to stop, to Sabbath, and experience a taste of the Eden to come, God's presence and rest. Then on the first day of the week, the manna shows up again. I'm good with this scenario.
The scenario that was gnawing at me was the Sabbath year. And then I read Leviticus, because I'm a nerd, and I want to understand how things work in God's economy. The commandment mandates letting the land lie fallow every seventh year. The resemblance to Shabbat, the weekly Sabbath when no work is done, is more than coincidental: The seventh year of “release” (shemitah) is called a “Sabbath of the land.” Think of the implications of this for an agricultural society. Think of the implications of this for a people coming from 400 years of slavery, knowing that it was a famine to begin with that even got them into Egypt. This is a sabbatical from work for virtually everyone, to drop the plow and devote themselves to a life of spirituality. And it didn't stop there. All the produce of the land that grows by itself must be free to all (even animals have equal access), and all loans are to be forgiven, allowing people sunk in debt an opportunity to start over.
"For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest." Leviticus 25:3-5
I can work out the details of a day of rest. Day old manna, it works. Year-old produce? Not so much. It's why I don't buy the five pound bag of spinach from Costco. Realistically, how does that work? You stop on year seven, and somehow you're still eating? Who can afford not to work for an entire year? The wilderness generation didn't go into some hibernation for a year where they didn't need to eat. How does this work two weeks into the Sabbath year? Isn't everything rotting at this point? Do they just start to lower expectations and subscribe to imperfect produce? That's round one of provision by the numbers, but it doesn't go far enough for me.
That's year seven. If somehow the God Who can make sandals last for forty years (more on that to come) can make the fields produce enough for the community for a year, then maybe it works. Maybe. It still takes some imagination for me. But what about year eight? Let a field lie fallow for a year and now you have some significant work to do. That eighth year is not so much about producing fruit as much as it is about rebuilding the land to produce fruit again. (Just think of the 2019 New England Patriots for reference.). Maybe I'm overthinking this (of course I am) but when I start thinking about the numbers, I'm thinking you're not really getting the fruit and needed sustenance until year nine.
Well, there were some bothered mathematician farmers amongst that generation of Israelites who were thinking this whole thing through 3,500 years ago and asking the same questions, and God anticipated the questions and already had the answer.
"You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in." Leviticus 25:20-22
Before my mom died 17 years ago, she bravely fought her battle with breast cancer for six-and-a-half years before that. What an amazing community of friends and family that showed up for us! When she was going through rounds of chemotherapy, there was a season where the meal train come through every night, for a long time. And thank goodness for that. My mom was the cook. My dad was a one-trick pony in the kitchen with his signature dish being what he called, "Spaghetti and Specials." The "specials" were cut up Hebrew National hot dogs. He tried.
So every night, without the advent of the internet and cool community organizational sites like "mealtrain.com" or "takethemameal.com," people just showed up with their casseroles and chicken dishes. We were soooo taken care of. And then the night came. It was 5pm and no delivery. Then 5:30pm. Then 6pm. We all kind of looked at each other not knowing exactly what we were supposed to do. The "manna" came so predictably that this was new territory for us. It looked like the manna had stopped but we were nowhere near the Promised Land. We piled into the car and headed down the road to the one place that was a staple for any Jewish family, Chinese take-out.
It was at the intersection of Maple Hill Road and Mountain Laurel Way in our hometown of Diamond Bar, CA, our car came to the stop sign and paused. Coming up the road, at that same intersection, was one of our friends. She stuck her head out the window, flailing her arms, trying to get us to stop. Remember, these were the days with no cell phones and text messages. She was yelling, "I'm sorry! I'm late! I have dinner for you!"
I still tear up thinking about that moment today. In that moment, God saw us, again. I carry that memory today trusting that THAT God sees me and will show up and provide for our needs. It wasn't the ninth year miracle, but it was just as significant to us in that car that night.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah are banking on God's promise to have a son that will lead to them becoming the patriarchs of a great nation. They wait for 15 years (FOR 15 YEARS!!!), and God shows up and assures them that He is faithful to provide for what He promises (Genesis 15:4-5), and then it is another 10 years (ANOTHER 10 YEARS!!!) before He Isaac comes along (Genesis 21:1-3). Give me 25 years of waiting and I'll give you 25 times I mess that one up and take God's provision into my own hands. But God provided.
Does God see my need? As my anxiety races days, weeks, months, and years ahead, the One Who sees the beginning from the end has already anticipated every need. It's never our timing friends, always His. So until the fruition of all you hope and yearn for, on this side of heaven, or the other side, may your faith be strengthened in knowing He is writing a great story in AND through YOU.
He is faithful. He is good. He can be trusted.