“On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.”Joshua 5:10-12
This passage from Joshua 5 describes a time of transition in the life of Israel. Leadership had been passed from Moses to Joshua. The children of Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years. During this time God had provided for them quite miraculously with water and manna. Now the Israelites have entered the Promised Land and are beginning to take possession of it. Then we come to this pivotal verse, Joshua 5:12: “The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.”
For the Israelites, this was a time of great change. No longer would they gather manna fresh every morning, provided by the hand of God. Now they would have to plant crops and bring in the harvest. No longer would they be nomads in the wilderness; now they would be farmers, homesteaders, city builders and city dwellers. It was a difficult time. A challenging time. It was a transition that took many generations to accomplish.
We are living through a time of unprecedented change. More change has taken place in our lives in the last six weeks than has occurred in most of our lives. We have had to change our interpersonal interactions with social distancing. This has completely changed the way we communicate, interact, play, socialize. work and even worship. Every aspect of our lives has transitioned and is transitioning to something very different than we are used to experiencing. Times of transition are always difficult but especially when the transition is so profound and all encompassing. No facet of our lives has remained untouched by this pandemic.
And for some of us change can be particularly difficult for those of us over 60. I’m 67 and I will be the first to confess that I am technologically challenged. But I also know that if I am to continue to have relevancy I have to adapt and learn to connect with people in ways to which I may not be accustomed. Many of us have great difficulty coping with change.I’m reminded of the old story of the elderly woman who lived in a remote valley in Wales who went to a lot of trouble to have electricity installed in her home. Because she was the only customer in the area, installation was very expensive. Three months later, according to her electric bill, she had consumed practically no electricity at all. When asked whether the cost of installation was worthwhile, she said, “Oh, yes!” “I switch the electricity on every night to see how to light my lamps. Then I switch it off.”
This woman was afraid of change. But we don’t have to be elderly to fear change. Change disrupts society, it disrupts familiar ways of doing things.
Dr. Mary Pipher tells a story she first heard in her undergraduate days in anthropology. Missionaries who settled near a tribal culture gave the native women metal knives. Prior to this the men had made knives from stone and this had been an important source of their power and wisdom. But these new knives in the hands of the women were far superior. This upset the gender balance of the villagers, and ultimately the society was disrupted. Men’s rituals were rendered meaningless and the women’s place, while elevated, changed in ways that unsettled relationships with their families. Unwittingly, the missionaries had overturned a culture. If that can happen with a few metal knives, what about a culture in which we are all bombarded with dozens of new ways we must now communicate and interact with each other socially.
A time of rapid change can disrupt our lives, disrupt our families, disrupt our society. In such rapidly changing times we need something stable and reliable on which we can depend. And, of course, that is one of the reasons you may be reading this devotional today. We want to know that we can still depend on God.
In the wilderness, Israel was dependent on God for manna and for water, and God was faithful in providing for their needs. Now they would be planting crops and herding sheep. But they still depended on God. God’s provision just wasn’t as apparent as it had been. You and I are even farther removed from experiencing firsthand God’s daily providence, since most of us don’t even plant our own crops. Ask any farmer dependent on the weather if he or she depends on God. Urban dwellers may not be as aware as their country cousins of their need for God. As we become a more urbanized, the direct connection of creation with Creator may seem even more remote.
But we need to remember this: God is still with us, just as surely as God was with the Children of Israel 3000 years ago. In this world of rapid and frightening change, one thing does not change, God still loves and watches over God’s people.
Perhaps you’ve heard of a rock formation known as the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire. The Old Man of the Mountain was, until a few years ago, a 40-foot tall natural outcropping of granite ledges in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which looked just like the profile of an old man. Two hundred years ago, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a famous story about it: “The Great Stone Face.” The image of the Old Man of the Mountain has been represented on New Hampshire license plates and quarters and a million souvenirs. At one time it was the official state emblem. Sometime on May 1 or 2, 2003, in a heavy fog, the 700-ton face of the Old Man of the Mountain fell. It broke apart and slid down the mountain in the dark. Steven Heath, one of the residents of nearby Franconia Notch, said, “It’s something that has been a part of our lives forever. At first it was disbelief. No one could believe he came down. It’s like a member of your family dying.” Another nearby resident, said, “I grew up thinking that someone was watching over me. I feel a little less watched over now.” Another man said, “I’m absolutely devastated by this. It makes you wonder if God is unhappy with what is going on.”
Many of us feel this way with the massive disruption to our society, our livelihood, our families, our friendships and our way of life from this pandemic. It’s like a fixed part of lives has broken apart and is now gone forever. Pastor Lee Eclov of Vernon Hills, Illinois offers us some words of wisdom in this anxious time, “There are times when it seems the most dependable, reliable presence in your life disappears into the fog in the middle of the night. The next morning, that ‘mountain’ you’ve depended on is gone, and ‘it makes you wonder if God is unhappy.’ But the Bible teaches again and again there is only one Rock that will never crumble: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.’”
This is a time of transition, a time of rapid change. Some have labeled this time as “The Great Adaptation.” At times like this, we want something solid to hold on to. The same God who supplied water and manna to a nation of runaway slaves 3,000 years ago is the same God who is with you and me today. God will supply our needs as surely as God supplied their needs. We can rely on this: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever”
(Hebrews 13:8).Gracious, Loving God, thank you for your dependable and faithful love which never abandons us in spite of the many changes and challenges we may have to face. Assure us of your constant presence with us in an ever changing world through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. What has been the most difficult adjustment for you to make in the last few weeks?
2. How has your relationship with Christ deepened through this pestilence?
3. How has your relationship with Jesus steadied you against these winds of change?
4. What are some ways in which you are able to center yourself in Christ to sustain and support you through this rapid change?