Manna and the whale

It always seems that one’s best photo from a whale-watching trip is a fluke shot.

My excursion today is no exception. The massive creatures first arch their backs above the waves and then dive, lifting their tails in their parting gesture.

I am on a tour boat with a good friend off the coast of Massachusetts. We have a long history of experiencing the outdoors together, so it’s natural for us to be here on the softly swelling ocean, watching whales.

As yet another humpback surfaces, exhaling with a burst of spray, I am struck by their slow-moving dignity. They are huge yet graceful. Not in a hurry. And suddenly a word pops into my head, suggested by Scripture:

Noble.

This leads me back again to Philippians 4:8 and Paul’s list of qualities for thinking over. The word noble is also translated honorable or venerable. One commentator says it refers to “a dignity or majesty which is yet inviting and attractive, and which inspires reverence.”

That is a whale of a description if ever I read one.

Now for the manna part. This morning, I slowly read (gliding like a cetacean) through Exodus 16 and God’s provision of the mysterious substance for their food. The command to gather only as much as one could eat each day easily linked up to Jesus’s teaching to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

One Sunday, years ago, after I had taught on this concept of daily bread, a rather wealthy man took me aside and asked me, “What if you don’t actually need to pray every day for food?” I answered that the key is to be daily seeking God for something. Spiritual nourishment from his word is a good place to start. But also, we’re to seek faith-stretching situations that cause us to daily turn to God for grace, power, patience -- the list of potential needs goes on.

But today, on the ocean, I’m thinking of that Philippians list. It strikes me that it is a very practical way to live out a daily reliance on God. As the boat circles around a placid gannet – with its rather noble bearing – I wonder if I can hold onto this experience of the word. I’m temped to want to carry it forward with me, as if Paul’s list is a series of boxes to fill like collecting specimens for a museum.

We are to take only the beauty and nobility and truth (etc.) that we need for this day. Because, as we walk through our lives, we need daily reminders of this list. Past experiences lose their freshness. Just like manna.

Fundamentally, this list of Paul’s is a description of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate noble that I saw on the ocean today -- the majesty that instills reverence and still invites us. He is the loveliness that is echoed in the crown shape of the water lily I find later in the afternoon. He is the truth that guides us.

He is the manna that feeds us.

Days like this, with its extraordinary experiences, are rare. They fill us with wonder and gratitude. But we’re not to live off of the memory of them like flipping through photos in an album.

Tomorrow will have yet another moment that points to the character of our amazing Lord.

Jesus, you are the very definition of noble. We look at your dignity – as you stood unsullied in the midst of fallen people, as you responded with wisdom to your enemies, and as you accepted an unjust punishment without protest – and we are amazed. And attracted. Show us regular reminders of that quality in the world around us.

Feel free to drop me a line and tell me how this post might be prompting your own thinking. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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