Moving right along through the Lord’s Prayer and its background. We started with a background about first century Jewish expectations, proceeded to a look at the Father in heaven, wondered at the word “hallowed,” and talked about competing kingdoms. Today, it’s a close-up on bread.
Matthew 6:11 goes like this: “Give us today our bread for today.” Maybe.
Before we go anywhere with this verse, there’s a little exegetical matter to deal with. The Greek word for what the NIV translates “daily” is epiousios. There word appears nowhere else in Greek literature, as far as anyone knows. And it only shows up in the New Testament in two places: here and in Luke 11:3, which is, you guessed it, also the Lord’s Prayer. So basically, what this means is that no one knows for sure how to translate it. Some have said it means “daily,” so that Jesus is praying for the sustenance he needs for today. Others say it means “tomorrow,” so that Jesus is praying for the sustenance he needs for tomorrow. Still others have said it means “of the age,” as in “give us the stuff of heaven or the stuff of when things are finally made right on the earth.”
Whatever. I’m not going to worry about this right now. I’ve got other things on my mind.
I wonder if this bread Jesus is talking about is referencing another kind of bread from way back in Israel’s history. There was another time in Israel’s past when Yahweh literally gave bread to the Israelites on a daily basis. This, of course, was the manna of the exodus (see Exodus 16). The people were completely reliant on God for their sustenance at that time (as if they weren’t at any other time, really).
But think on this a little further. What’s Israel doing at the time they were receiving manna? They’re wandering about the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years. They’re waiting to enter the Promised Land.
How does that match the previous portions of Jesus’ prayer? With Psalm 2 and Ezekiel 36? With kingdom talk? We had mentioned before in this series that the bulk of the Jews in Jesus’ day were essentially still waiting for the fulfillment and the final restoration of Israel. The Jews were still waiting for the Lord to come through on His promises. Existentially, if we can use the anachronism, the Jews remain in the wilderness despite residing in their homeland.
So the prayer becomes, “Lord, give us the bread we need to get through this period while we wait.” Like the other portions of the prayer, this is a long awaited hope for ultimate fulfillment.
The undercurrent for such a request, which we’ll find more fully in the final two verses of the prayer, is an unspoken directive aimed at the one praying. That is, as much as this is a request of the Lord, it is also a reminder to the one requesting the bread. This is a reminder that it is God who will bring about the fulfillment Israel is hoping for. It is God, and not the Jews themselves. “Give us what we need while we wait. Give us what we need while we’re made ready for the fulfillment of Your promises. And, by the way, help me not to try to make it happen on my own.”
Suddenly, though the Jews may have been getting riled up and rowdy over the first several clauses of the prayer, Jesus has now called to mind a period of wandering in the wilderness, a time of waiting, a time of trudging around. This prayer is going somewhere, and it’s not where they thought it was going when Jesus started.
More on that in the next post.