The land flowing with milk and honey… it sounds like a title Kanye West or Common would use for their next hip-hop album. It certainly doesn’t sound like the place God promised the Israelites as they departed their prison in Egypt and began a trek through 40 years of sand fleas, sunburns and under-stimulated taste buds.
For those of you unfamiliar with the biblical story, the phrase "land flowing with milk and honey" was the description God used while commissioning Moses to lead His "chosen people" out of captivity in Egypt. God was painting a picture of the future home of the Israelites, a home rich in resources and natural land.
However, what God’s people did not know about this "promised land" was that they would never enjoy its richness. Because they were unwilling to cooperate with God and take the risky steps of obedience, the escapees would be forced to wander in the desert for 40 years. Thus, the sand fleas and sunburns I mentioned above. But where do the under-stimulated taste buds come in?
[Before Milk There was Manna]
The wandering Israelites were eating something called manna every day, for 40 years straight. What is manna? Well, it wasn’t the tastiest of meals, at least not for every meal, 40 years straight. Can you imagine? I remember, while growing up, complaining if my mom made the same thing twice in one week. Meatloaf again?
While the Israelites grumbled in the desert, God provided a means by which they would not die of starvation. At first, the manna (which appeared every morning as frost-like flakes—eat your heart out Tony the Tiger!) was surprisingly flavorsome. But after a while it got old, and the people began to lash out at God and Moses, saying, "You promised milk and honey but have led us out here into the desert to rot and die." But that was far from what God was doing. God was simply providing a necessary element of life for a season until he could bring about his promised blessing.
Manna-before-milk stories surface in our lives continuously, sometimes even without our knowledge. For modern-day children of God, this is a huge truth to grasp because while we often complain about a season of work that isn’t exactly what we hoped for or when we walk through personal or family crises, we desperately seek to resolve the inner, as well as the outer, conflict as soon as possible. The manna begins to get old. Some start taking the resources God brings their way to sustain and provide for granted.
What person really wants to deal with an unsympathetic boss, rebellious kids, monotone professors or a close-minded partner? Not anyone I know, including myself. However, these are situations and the relationships (the manna) that we should be allowing to change, mature and strengthen us. The day of a land flowing with milk and honey will come soon enough. We need not worry about that. The day we reach the border of that land is in God’s fore-vision. We must be busy concerning ourselves with preparation so that on that day we will be ready to enter rich and flowing land. And this is really where the testing of discipleship comes in. Can Christ-followers be content to trek the desert path and learn what it means to be thankful and obedient? Can they step into the tumultuous and often draining circumstances and bring about a sense of direction and peace?
Sadly, the Israelites lacked the perspective and humility to use the manna season as preparation and training for their hearts and minds. When God brought them to the border of Canaan and showed them the milk and honey, the beauty and the richness, they retreated in fear, partly because they had not used the season of manna as a time for learning and preparation. If they couldn’t learn gratitude and trust in the desert, alone with God, how were they ever going to be thankful and trust Him to provide a land that was already inhabited by another people?
Use your manna seasons to trust God and grow in your level of gratitude. Don’t waste your time grumbling and miss an incredible opportunity—the opportunity to embrace the learning experience and prepare for the tougher road ahead.