Manna in the Old Testament
Dr. K. G. Jose
There are two major passages on the provision of manna which is found in Ex 16 and Nu 11. The problem is that both passages come in the context of improper response of Israel to the provision of God. The biblical model for the redeemed is to receive every need in prayer just as they cried for deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh. Instead, they murmur and receive blessing. The blessing of manna in the wilderness for 40 years is one of the major miracles of the Bible. It was a great memorial to be kept in the precious ark of the Lord. But this blessing ended up as a curse in the life of the redeemed. Yahweh showed His glory in the provision of manna (Ex 16:7) but the murmuring congregation saw nothing but dissatisfaction in the manna.
The great work of redemption from Egypt is the initiative of God; it is God’s responsibility to provide their needs in this journey. The people ought to follow the guidance and provision of God. This is a very important lesson in the life of every one of us that we are created in the image of God and our life is ever dependent on God. The provisions of God are extremely necessary for our life as God is the Creator and Redeemer. God’s provisions are the primary source of life. There is no substitute for the provisions of God. The provisions of God are wholistic as well.
It was difficult for them to accept shortage or adversities. They enjoy blessings and provisions and even worship and dance as a response to it at the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 15). But the lesson of accepting adversities and to wait for the Lord patiently was not learned. God conducts even the hardship in our lives, that he may bring about goodness, as we see in the life of Job, Joseph and in the lives of many other heroes of faith. God’s work in the world is as constant, comprehensive, and ordinary as the sunrise and snowfall. God doesn’t only prove His involvement in the world through the miraculous. The Bible affirms that even mundane things are orchestrated by God.
Israel did not believe God, which developed the evil heart of unbelief. It was evil because it would not permit them to faithfully submit to Him; it caused a struggle within them and led them to disobey. Israel's failure, despite God's many works in their behalf, illustrates that just believing that God exists, is not sufficient for salvation (Heb 3:12). They failed to grow, overcome, and remain faithful during their testing in the wilderness. It is very difficult to believe that the Israelites did not believe God exists after all the powerful witnesses they were given at the Red Sea and Mount Sinai. Their problem was trusting Him, being faithful to Him in the daily activities of life, as one should be in a marriage covenant. They had this problem because they really did not know Him, and they did not know Him because they did not seek Him.
In the blessed wilderness journey under the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, they exclaimed “what are we doing here? Are we lost? I thought we were going to the promised land.” That’s probably how the people of Israel felt as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. God wanted to see if Israel would obey even when the circumstances were miserable (Dt 8:2-3). When they were led under the glory of God, they felt lost. God himself led Israel through the wilderness on eternal purpose. Thus, the wilderness journey was not a mistake.
The wilderness was the classroom and the lesson was obedience. Instead of going out and gathering whatever they wanted, Israel had to gather and eat what God had provided. Survival meant waiting for God and accepting his provision. The manna served as a great lesson in faith. Every day, enough manna would fall for each person to have an omer (approximately 43 oz.), which was enough to feel satiated for one day. Jewish Rabbis explains that the manna was adapted to the taste of each individual; to the adult it tasted like the food of the adult, while it tasted like breastmilk for a baby. Being a heavenly food, the manna contained nutritious matter only and was fully absorbed by the body, so after consuming it the Israelites didn’t need to expel any waste products.
Manna became a test of their character, by the law prescribed for gathering it whether one trusted God for tomorrow, or tempting for abundance. Greed and unbelief masquerade them. Some gathered much, but measured same. But they disobeyed each command the Lord gave. They are commanded not to keep it for the next day (Ex 16:19). Some of them left it till the morning and it bred worms (Ex 16:20). Some among them wanted to accumulate the treasures of life quickly.
Again, the Lord said do not go out to gather on the Sabbath day (Ex 16:26). But the disobedient went out to gather on the Sabbath and found none Ex 16:27). God wants a happy people in His Provision and care! God grants our blessings drop by drop; that we may taste the peace of continual trust. All gifts of God are tests; they are also means of increasing faith. The proper attitude to receive blessings from the Lord is important. God has provided Manna and quail for body and sabbath rest for spirit.
Yahweh delivered them from Egypt that they may serve Him. As servants of God, they are to trust His good pleasure. Instead of receiving and learning, they received the blessings and rebelled. Every provision has a lesson to be learned of Yahweh as good and faithful. Today also people are eager to receive from the Lord but poor in learning. When our religious life is low, we tire of angels’ food, and our hearts turn back to the world we have left. Israel has settled into a routine in the wilderness as they were not qualified to enter the promised land straight away. The newness of freedom has worn off, and the hardship of wilderness set in.
A dissatisfied spirit causes displeasure to the Lord. Worse to God since they deserve no good at His hands (Lam 3:29; Pss 103:10). The evil lusting with complaining proves its injurious character. We must rejoice in the salvation granted by God. A dissatisfied spirit finds no pleasure for itself even when its wish is fulfilled. The Israelites had flesh in super abundance in answer to their foolish prayers-but it was attended with leanness in soul (Pss 106:15; death 78:31; Num 11:18-20). The name of the place was called graves of lust (Num. 11:33-34).
Grace would put our desires in order, and keep our thoughts and affections in their proper places. Thirst for God as the psalmist expressed (Pss 42:2), covet best gifts as the apostle commanded (1 Cor 12:31). They never spoke of the daily miracle that their clothes waxed not old nor concerned of the guidance and presence of God. Discontent is the spirit of this wicked world. When our religious life is low, we tire of angels’ food, and our hearts turn back to the world we have left. No matter how well the Lord provided, what He gave them was not what the people wanted. Eating bread is a test of character, even today. It was one of the greatest blessings in the journey of the redeemed; but they could not enjoy it as a blessing.
There is the story of Caesar prepared a great feast, so displeased and enraged, commanded all to shoot up their arrows at Jupiter, as in defiance of him for that rainy weather; which when they did, their arrows fell short of heaven, and fell upon their own heads, so that many of them were sorely wounded. They reach not Him, they will hit us.
We believers have the present life as a wilderness experience. The wilderness is not permanent, but it is God’s plan for our lives. Abraham wandered through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. He had his low moments, but in the end, his life was characterized by “faith” in God’s promises despite very difficult circumstances. In contrast, the people of Israel had more than just divine promises to rely upon.
In struggles, we forget all guidance and blessings in the past. Still God is turning the anger and hostility of their enemies into blessings and hope (Num 22-24). Even though God is angry with Israel, He will not permit enemies to disturb them. Remember, this entire story isn’t about how awesome the Israelites are. Whether Israel believes in God’s promise or not, He’s going to fulfill His word. We should be satisfied with what God has for us, no matter what our lot. Our Leader desires that we walk by faith. A walk of simple faith in Christ is so beautiful and so pleasing to God. God’s providence—from the simple snowfall to his plan of salvation—should cause us to praise him for who he is and how he cares for us.
Contrary to what our world tells us, we are not the masters of our own destinies. The truth of God’s providence comforts us that God cares about both everyday matters and our eternity, because He coordinates both. We must be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move. Are we not now making our spiritual wilderness journey? “Now these things were our examples ….” (1 Cor 10:6).