I can recall only once that I have been without food. Like everyone else I have fasted in preparation for tests at the doctor. I have been ill and have not felt much like eating for a day or two. And I have cut back on food when I would have liked to have more in order to lose a few pounds. But only once have I been really hungry because I had no food available, and even that time was somewhat by choice.
In the summer after my second year of college, some friends and I took a trip deep into the Montana mountains. One of the friends was from Montana, and he knew where to go to really get away from it all. We were going to a remote mountain lake which was not only beautiful, but (our friend assured us), also full of fish. We would park the car, backpack in, and stay a few days, spending our time fishing and hiking. Our friend had been there before and knew how to catch the fish, so we packed a bit of food, but had figured into the menu plan several meals of lake trout.
My friend was right. The lake was full of fish. They were jumping up out of the water all over the place. But for some reason, they were not biting on our hooks, and the four of us were able to catch a grand total of one fish.
We were in no danger of starving to death. All we had to do was walk a half a day back to the car and drive 75 miles to the nearest store. But we did not want to do that. It had taken a while to get there, it was a beautiful spot, and our camp was set up. We were having a great time, and once we left, we weren’t coming back. We had other places to go. Besides, we were sure the fish would bite the next day, and then, maybe, the day after that. So we stayed. But the fish never did bite and we did end up leaving early, and we did get hungry.
I don’t remember whether or not I prayed to catch some fish on that camping trip. I would imagine I did, because our stomachs were growling. But even so, I don’t remember being disappointed in God for not answering my prayer. After all, we were never in any danger.
But what if I had prayed and then immediately got the answer I wanted? What if we caught no fish until a quick prayer, and then, started catching fish as fast as we could bait the hook? Would that have been solid proof of God’s existence once and for all? There are a couple Bible stories in which that is exactly what happened to the disciples while fishing. Jesus comes on the scene, tells them to fish out of the other side of boat (as if that should make any difference), and immediately the nets are full.
And there are other stories, not necessarily about fishing, but about food and how God feeds us.
In Exodus 16 the Hebrews are in the wilderness, they are hungry, and unlike my friends and me in the mountains, they are desperate. They are in a desert, and there are no grocery stores or restaurants. But they had seen God’s miraculous care and protection time and again already, and they should have been trusting that God would come through for them. However, even the parting of the Red Sea was not enough to instill in them lasting faith and trust, and in no time at all they were complaining again. So in verse 12 the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people; tell them that at twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then, you will know that I am the Lord your God.” In other words, that would be proof of God’s action, and then they would know. And if the fish would have started biting for us in the mountains right after a quick prayer, then I would have known that God is real. Right?
That evening, the Hebrews’ camp was full of quail to be caught and cooked, and the next morning the ground was covered with manna, a substance like bread, bread from heaven. There had been a bit of grumbling (not even a prayer), and immediately, the people had all they wanted to eat. That same provision continued every morning and every evening, and the people had all they needed from then on until they reached the promised land. Did they then know that the Lord was their God and would provide always for them? Did that daily miracle resolve all their doubts, calm all their fears, and answer all their questions from then on? Not at all. In the very next chapter they were complaining again, this time about the lack of water. Whenever God delayed for even five minutes on something they wanted, they would forget about all the hardships of slavery, and forget all about all of God’s many previous miracles, and they would be wishing they were back in Egypt under the lash of the slave drivers. What an incredible lack of gratitude and trust!
If the fish would have started biting for us right after a quick prayer we would have all been impressed– for a while. But eventually the thought would have arisen that it might have been a coincidence. (continued…)
Exodus 16:11-12 — The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Psalm 145:15-17 — The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.
Give us Lord, a bit o’ sun,
A bit o’ work and a bit o’ fun;
Give us all in the struggle and sputter
Our daily bread and a bit o’ butter.
–On the wall of an old inn, Lancaster, England