This is the second of a two-post series. You can read the first part here.
I want to tell my friend who feels overwhelmed by reading the Bible the truth of the matter: Scripture is not really optional, something that she might or might not want to read. Scripture is something she desperately needs.
How can I bear to think of anyone out in this fray, sword-less and without a shield? Not only is faith undercut, but souls starve and shrink. This is not a new idea, this concept of the very words of God being food for our souls. The Bible as sustenance resounds through the pages: bread, wine, milk, meat, manna.
The Old Testament story of manna is easily recognizable, the star player in many children’s Sunday school lessons. God’s people, slaves in Egypt, are miraculously delivered from their oppressors. Perhaps the familiarity of the story robs us of its drama, but this is no ordinary coup.
Millions of Israelites, slaves no less, the group least likely to overthrow mighty Egypt, walk free from bondage, and, what’s more, their captors shower them with gifts and jewelry as they go. This ragtag group of slaves literally plunders the Egyptians, the most powerful empire on earth at the time, and their freedom is marked with blockbuster effects: gruesome plagues that fall only on the Egyptians, a vast sea rolled back so God’s people may cross through on dry land, the defeat of Pharaoh’s pursuing army without the Israelites having to fight at all, a towering pillar of flame and a swirling cloud to guide them as they journey to their new land.
We think of the PG version of this story, the one we insist on putting in children’s Bibles, when in fact it is a dramatic jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, account of the unlikeliest of endings, where the weak are rescued from evil, and God’s power triumphs over injustice.
The Israelites live this victory. They see firsthand the miraculous deliverance of God, and yet their next scene is one of paralyzing fear. “Why did you bring us here to die?” they wail. The joy in their newfound freedom evaporates as they notice the desert around them, and their stomachs growl with hunger.
Their terror so consumes them that slavery looks better than freedom, oppression than the promise of a future. “We wish we would have stayed in Egypt,” they lament.
And God, being rich in mercy and in spite of their faithless despair, provides food for them. Manna from heaven rains down, perfectly fulfilling their need for nourishment, a daily miracle that sustains them for the forty years they wander in the desert. The people are to collect the food every morning, just enough for the day.
Hoard it, and they will find a pile of rotting maggots. Neglect to gather, and they will go hungry.
This picture of God’s provision puts me in mind of Christ himself, the bread of heaven who gives life to the world, and a parallel scene where Jesus is wandering in the desert, hungry though unafraid.
“Make yourself food,” the devil tempts him. “Turn these stones into bread.” And Jesus’ response?
“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Bread. Wine. Milk. Meat. Manna. The Word of God that satisfies all our need. Christ, as we encounter him as the living bread. Christ, as we encounter him on the pages of Scripture. Words breathed out by God and useful to his people, nourishing and equipping them to do the work he has given us to do. Must we, like the Israelites despair in our faithlessness, determined to return to whatever life we once held?
Or will we in truth see the poverty of our own hearts and come feast on the Scriptures:
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…
The warrior with her sword and the slave-set-free hungry for bread. These are the metaphors I give my friend.
It’s not that we ought to read the Bible or really should find the time. It’s that we perish without the life-giving Word. We starve in the desert unless God himself gives us food for the day. We melt with fear on the battlefield unless his grace strengthens our arms for war.
This is no moment of indecision, where we can waffle in the seeming ease of our surroundings and have the luxury to indulge in biblical illiteracy.
The reality of our need compels us to run to him. To open our hands wide to receive the spiritual food he rains down on us. To take up the sword that is given us, figure out whatever it is that keeps us from training with it, and ask that God would strengthen our wills to choose the good.
I commit to pray for my friend. She is taking her first tentative step, following God into the desert, and her initial question echoes in my mind – “Where do I even begin?” – stirring my soul with the layers of meaning in this phrase: the Word of God.
The spoken Word of God creating the universe. The written Word breathed out of His mouth. The living Word come down from heaven. My heart beats with the theme. The Word made flesh. The Word we have seen and heard and tasted. The Word that was with him in the beginning. The living and active Word. The Word who nourishes our souls. The Word who clothes us with strength for battle. The Word in whom all things have their being. Everywhere this Word.
“Begin with the Gospels,” I tell my friend who is starving for Bread. “Begin with Christ.”