I remember a test we took one day in elementary school. The teacher gave us a piece of paper with ten items listed on it. Number one said “Read the entire test before beginning.” Numbers two through nine were a random collection of things from patting your head while rubbing your tummy to saying the alphabet out loud — backward. Number ten said “Skip numbers two through nine, write your name in the corner, and sit quietly.”
A rule follower, I read through the test before completing it. But the “sit quietly” part became increasingly difficult as I watched my classmates go through some pretty hilarious items, wandering through numbers two to nine. I am less sure on this point but seem to recall “walk like a duck” and “hop on one foot” being on the list.
It was a pretty funny way of teaching the importance of following the directions — and apparently effective since I still remember it. Actually, I hadn’t really thought about that test in years, but it sprang to mind this morning as I was reading Exodus 16:4 where God provides manna for the Children of Israel — who’ve only recently been satisfied with the water the Lord provided but are now convinced He’s led them away from Egypt to let them starve.
Verse 4 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”
When they didn’t follow instructions, the Children of Israel found themselves not hopping on one foot, but dealing with a maggot-filled, stinky mess that just hours before had been delicious food. I remember doing well on that elementary school test of following directions. I also remember so many other times in life where I’ve failed miserably in direction-following, days where I’ve wound up with a bowl full of stinky maggots because I made the wrong decision.
It’s so easy for me — and I think for all of us — to focus only on self. Oh, I’m so thirsty. I’m hungry. Nobody cares about me. I’ve been brought out into the desert to starve to death. That kind of thinking forgets the promises of a loving God who has said He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and 8, Joshua 1:9, 1 Chronicles 28:20, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5 — I think He wants us to get this point!), and who, according to Jeremiah 29:11, plans to give us a hope and a future. Our job is to believe, to trust, and to follow the instructions.