"When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat." - Exodus 16:15
The theme of God's faithfulness continues this week as we follow the Israelites on the Exodus. Only recently escaped from the Egyptians, they fell prey to the barren desert. How could they escape from this desert enemy with its threat of starvation? The Lord's response was swift and adequate. He rained bread from heaven in the morning and gave them meat to eat in the evening. For 40 years, the Israelites ate their food from His table.
From Marah, the Israelites came to Elim which means "oaks." They found 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees at Elim. Jewish traditions saw a correlation between those numbers and the 12 tribes and 70 elders of Israel. The chronology indicates about a month had passed since the Israelites had left Egypt. This was long enough for them to use up the provisions they had brought. They suddenly faced the possibility of starvation. Hunger is a degrading force. Without food, people will grow dull and listless. We may not excuse the Hebrews, but we can at least understand why they reacted to hunger as they did.
1. The Manna Promised
Food was scarce. The people had quickly forgotten the servitude of Egypt. All they could remember was the food available to them in Egypt. They remembered eating "bread to the full." In the Old Testament, "bread" frequently was used as a figure of speech for all kinds of food. An abundant supply of food for slaves was doubtful, but that was how they remembered it. Their stomachs made them grumble bitterly against Moses and Aaron. Again we see the frailty of human nature. They were all eager for freedom when it cost them nothing; but when it began to make demands upon them, it was too expensive. Doesn't this have a direct application to our lives? First, as Christians we are called to serve Christ. The freedom of salvation through Jesus Christ comes with a call to duty. We do not earn our salvation, but we are called to work for His Kingdom. Secondly, this week of all times reminds us the freedoms we enjoy in our country come at a price. Unfortunately, many people are good at demanding their freedoms but do nothing to protect or promote those freedoms. As soon as there is a demand, they are no where to be found.
In response to the people's grumbling, God again dealt with merciful patience. He promised them "bread from heaven." The main emphasis was upon the manna, although there was also a reference to supplying quail for meat. The statement "that I may prove them" (v. 4) refers to a testing which was a major purpose behind God's providential care. God was certainly meeting their need. They were also being tested to see if they would trust God with their daily needs. Even though they had murmured against Moses and Aaron, their actual complaint was directed "against the Lord."
2. The Manna Provided
The brief reference to the quail (v. 13) is followed by the much longer account of the giving of manna as well as the special provision for following the Sabbath. The manna fell with the dew at night and could be seen in the morning as "a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground." (v.14). It would seem such miraculous provision would have led to an open and obedient response on the part of Israel. They continued to disobey. They kept too much manna in their greed, and it spoiled. When they failed to make provision for the Sabbath, they found none. The grumbling Hebrews were asking for bread for their hunger. God not only satisfied their hunger; He gave them quail to please their palate. All of us who have eaten quail know it is the best-tasting meat. The provision of manna for the people continued throughout their years in the desert. They ate it until they reached Canaan. To serve as a reminder of God's provision, an omer of manna was to be put in a gold jar and kept for future generations.
Manna is an analogy for God who is the "true bread from Heaven." As manna nourished their bodies, Christ nourishes our soul. He feeds us with the bread of life. Manna was given freely for all regardless of the good and bad. Christ is given to be Savior of the whole world. For the one who starves, starves by their own fault - because one will not stretch out one's hand to gather the bread of life.
PRAYER: Father, in troubled and uncertain times, may we turn only to you. We thank you for always being our rock and our refuge - help us remember that! May our hearts be untroubled and find peace from this assurance. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: In uncertain times, God certainly remembers His promises.
Grace and Peace,
Kirk Greenfield is the pastor of Wallonia Baptist Church. He also works for the KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He, his wife, and three daughters reside in Princeton. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.