“Get up! Get up! It’s Jubilee!!” my friend Sidney shouted. I didn’t understand her at first. Three of us were on a girls’ trip marred more by rain than sunshine. I was hoping to sleep in on my last morning, but Sidney’s voice broke through the sleepiness as she woke me and our other friend, Valerie. “Y’all! It’s Jubilee!”
For those of you who didn’t grow up near Mobile Bay, Alabama, Jubilee is a rare occurrence when fish, shrimp, crabs, and even eels swarm close to the shoreline, making them easy to scoop from the water’s edge. No one can predict such a show, but when it happens, it feels like a surprise party thrown by God for anyone close enough to grab a net.
Without brushing my teeth or my hair, I grabbed yesterday’s shorts off the floor and ran outside. Schools of fish with gaping mouths crowded near the sandy edge. Giant blue crabs hung out in the shallow water. Flounders floated under the water within striking distance. After the first adrenaline rush was over, I grabbed a cup of coffee, pulled my hair back in a ponytail and returned to the wharf to gaze at the water below. A colony of shrimp way off course hovered around the pier’s post. I saw an eel dart by. The birds clamored over the water getting their share of Jubilee, too. My choice was to watch from a safe, dry distance on the wharf or to risk ruining my tennis shoes to join in the wet fun.
I couldn’t resist, thinking to myself, I can’t let a good pair of shoes ruin this opportunity! I grabbed Sidney’s net off the sand and scooped up my first giant blue crab. Because I couldn’t imagine removing it from the net with my bare hands, the crab went along for the ride as I netted a flounder. A neighbor was down on the beach helping Sid and Val with their catches. This stranger became my new best friend as he untangled my crab’s pinchers from the net. His wife announced, “I’ve got the crab boil going!” Others pulled up nearby, ready to enter the fray for their Jubilee harvest. I felt like God’s finger stirred the ocean to give us all a once in a lifetime moment.
It was marine manna.
I wonder if this crazy party atmosphere is what it felt like when God’s people in the wilderness saw manna for the first time? Not only a strange new bread, but quail descended onto the Israelite camp. What a crazy way to find food—the morning dew evaporated to leave the makings of bread they called “manna” while flocks of quail complacently awaited capture. I bet Israelite kids buzzed around camp that first morning touching the manna and licking it off their fingers while shrieking and running circles around their moms. Perhaps the teens competed to see who could catch the most quail? I bet the foodies of the camp started swapping quail recipes. After all their complaining, what a relief to see food, and what a cool way to experience God’s provision of daily bread. He spread a feast smack dab in the middle of the wilderness (Psalms 78:19).
And what an extraordinary feast! Water gushing out of a rock (Exodus 17), bitter waters made sweet (Exodus 15), quail easy to catch, and a strange new bread just waiting to be picked up (Exodus 16). Even as our rained-out girls’ trip made Jubilee morning feel like Christmas in August, scarcity and hunger made the Israelites’ picnic feel much more festive. The contrast of the desert’s harshness with a ready food source put the spotlight on the Giver, the One who spread a feast for His people wandering in the wilderness.
That is His pattern. Consider from Scripture a few of the women we see in desert circumstances. Sarah waits forever for a baby and creates a worse mess when she tries to “help God.” Samson’s mom probably thought she’d blown it as a parent when she heard of Samson’s amorous activities (hello, Delilah!). Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt her heart pierced as nails pierced her innocent Son. These situations would put me in a wilderness kind of mood.
He spreads a feast for Sarah as Isaac is finally born. Her tears, impatience, and cynicism turned into laughter, so much so, her son was named Isaac, meaning “laughter” (Genesis 21:3-7). Then there was Samson’s swan song, killing more Philistines in one act of sacrifice than all his victories beforehand. I’m not sure if his Mama was alive to see her son’s final triumph, but I can only imagine the honor his family felt as they buried an Israelite hero, Delilah or no Delilah (Judges 16). And there was no more surprisingly joyful end to Mary’s Good Friday nightmare than Jesus’s resurrection three days later (John 20). Can you imagine the hug she gave her risen Son?
Spreading picnics in the desert is what God does. How do we recognize one? Most of the time, they don’t look extraordinary, like manna and quail on the ground. They may be small touches hard to catch in a stormy season. Maybe it’s a particular Scripture passage that warms the heart in the middle of depression. Perhaps it’s the presence of a longtime friend bringing sandwiches to the hospital waiting room. Maybe a wayward child wanders into church out of the blue. These are things only God can provide in a desert of pain, sickness, or longsuffering.
It could also be something as simple as experiencing Jubilee on a rainy vacation. Even the fish and fowl do His bidding to remind us that He still holds the weather and world in His hands. So, in the rainy times, look for a Jubilee moment, a feast He’s spread in the wilderness.