Exodus Day Thirty-Six
August 19, 2020, 4:00 AM

What Is It?
Exodus 16:2-4

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel
grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,
and the people of Israel said to them,
‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt,
when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full,
for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Then the LORD said to Moses,
‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.’”

“The house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." (Exodus 16:31). In Hebrew, the word translated “manna” is a noun, but it’s a noun that screams a question— What?(!) We just add “What is it?” to clarify.

Psalm 78 describes the fantastical phenomenon: God “commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.” (78:23-25)

It was swell for a while, but when you’re eating the same thing, day in and day out for forty years, I suppose it gets right old. Even early on in the wilderness journey, the people whined, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna [What?!] to look at.” (Numbers 11:5-6). Keith Green’s song, “So You Want to Go Back to Egypt?” captures this malcontent well: “What? Oh no, manna again? Manna waffles? Manna burgers? Manna bagels? Fillet-a-manna? Manna-cotti? Ba-manna bread!”

Years later, on the plains of Moab, to the sons and daughters of the wilderness generation ready to enter the Land, Moses explained the purpose of the Manna: “He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years." (Deuteronomy 8:3-4).

In the middle of the vast, barren wilderness, there must be a dependence like no other. So many people, in a strange, unforgiving environment. Looking to Moses and Aaron to lead them through the desert. Heading to who knows where? Yes, the Land Flowing with Good Stuff was the theme... but it doesn’t seem imminent. They must trust God to stay alive. This is the wilderness lesson. But there is more: Even with an unending diet of ba-manna bread, they will still ultimately die. They must receive more from God— Man doesn’t live by bread alone.

In one of his more shocking sermons in Capernaum, Jesus explained the need in John 6. He said, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” (John 6:31-35, 48-51, 58).

The point here is surely that if God can provide total well-being in food, water, clothing and health in the middle of nowhere, his Word can be trusted on eternal life. The Hand which feeds physically, can feed spiritually. If God can satisfy stomachs, he can satisfy souls. This a journey of learning. Discipleship 101. How to be a people who see. How to be a people who walk by faith. How to be a people who can trust God for what’s best when there be so many competing, distracting affections— even in a sparse wilderness. It is about keeping eye, ear and heart properly tuned in.

Isn’t this the challenge we face as followers of Jesus today? I think it is. May your journey in this worldly wilderness lead you into a greater trust of God’s total provision for you as you get closer to the Promised Land.

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