The Bread of Life
March 7, 1999 Exodus 16
The big idea of Ex. 13-15 about the crossing of the Red Sea was that God wants us to grow in our faith relationship to him so we will understand that we are his people and that he is our God who is worthy of glory. Actually, that is the big idea of the whole 40 years in the desert. He delivered the Israelites from destruction by the Egyptians in the crossing of the Red Sea. Then he delivered them from their grumbling about the bitter waters of Marah. There he made a decree and a law for them that tested their obedience. He said that if they followed his commands he would not bring upon them any of the diseases he brought upon the Egyptians. God announced himself as the “Lord who heals you” as he brought them to the 12 springs and 70 palm trees of Elim. It is interesting to note that God’s healing power comes first through our obedience. God prevents many diseases that we would otherwise get if we did not obey him. The first step whether in medicine or godliness is preventive. We must mind our bodies and our God. He has power over us body and soul.
1. God has the Israelites right where he wants them in order to make them into a mighty nation. There will be little interference. It is one-on-one with God in the desert. God knows they have a lot to learn. The lessons come quickly. The big idea takes a little twist here as God wants them to learn dependence upon him for their daily needs. He not only wants them to know he is Jehovah-rophe, the Lord who heals, but that he is Jehovah-jireh as well, the Lord who provides. This will take a long time for them to learn because it doesn’t take long for the grumbling to begin again. I think it is quite appropriate here that they have come into the Desert of Sin. The word, sin, is short for Sinai which is where they are headed. But is this just a coincidence?
2-3. The grumbling begins. The people seem to have learned nothing from their grumbling before God’s deliverance through the Red Sea (14:11-12), or from their grumbling about water after coming through the Red Sea (15:24). This is the 3rd complaint, this time about what they shall eat. Sadly, it won’t be the last complaint. We usually think our grumbling is justified or we wouldn’t do it. Do we complain about what we shall eat? We must remember that our garbage disposal eats better than probably 30% of the world’s population. It is as if the Israelites hold a culture of death over Moses head. They tempt death now as they did before they crossed the Red Sea. The desert is truly a test to them of God’s provision. Learning to trust God instead of ourselves is like a death to us. We must die to trusting ourselves as we learn to trust God and be his people.
Peter Pertocci said, “No man knows what he is living for until he knows what he’ll die for.” If the Israelites were willing to die for a piece of bread, then that is all they were living for. Of course, Jesus told Satan that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). (We went to the MBI Men’s Conference yesterday. They served us a box lunch. Did we go for the Word of God, which was rich, or for bread?) This is what God wants them, and us, to learn here. God says he will provide. That is what we must live by. God provided a lamb for Abraham and Isaac. He provided Jesus Christ the Lamb for us. We must trust his provision in all things.
Ultimately this generation of Israelites did get their wish to die in the desert because they refused to trust God. Every form of complaining is an affront to God about his provision. They romanticized the past by talking about pots of meat. When is the last time you romanticized the past? (Sometimes I romanticize the mansion we left in Iowa to come to Chicago [describe]. But I forget that all the work it took held me in bondage. I figured, if I spend this much time working on this house, just think what I could give in service to the kingdom of God if I left it.) The Israelites forgot that they were slaves and probably didn’t get much meat. They minimized the discomforts of being slaves. They wanted the pain of what they knew as slaves more than the pain of being free on their own to trust and serve God. So if it is pain either way, slave or free, what is the difference? It is that in freedom there is hope of deliverance. But you have to want it enough to trust God for it.
The complaining nature of humanity against God’s providence is enough for him to drive any of us into the desert for 40 years to test us. It is so human to complain because it is so sinful to complain. When we are hard pressed, we must not complain but ask God what to do, or what he wants us to understand. When we feel like complaining we must confess sin instead, and praise God for his goodness to us. When we come under the conviction of sin and know we don’t deserve anything, we complain a lot less. But it is easier to complain. Nothing is easier than faultfinding: no talent, no self-denial, no brains, and no character are required to set up in the grumbling business.
Notice the essence of their complaints. Their problem was with God (16:8) but they took it out on Moses, God’s servant leader. How often have we seen that in life?
God’s servants are not above falling either. Notice in Num. 11:10-15 about Moses complaint to God about the complaining people. One rotten apple at the bottom can spoil the whole barrel, even the ones on top. And of course the rot can also work its way down.
4. Now God is gracious. He lays out his plan for a perfect provision. But it is interesting to note that this is a test for them. God is going to give them everything they need and then see what they complain about next. We must see our sinfulness for what it is, a slap in the face of God. The manna would proof-test the peoples’ obedience. God’s provision is always a test of our sinfulness that hungers for more, probably at someone else’s expense. We must rejoice in God’s providence. Certainly there are inequities in life, but he leaves that to us to redistribute.
Notice that God also tested the people at the bitter waters of Marah (15:4) as he did here. He also tests them after the delivery of the Ten Commandments (20:20). God tests our fear of him to confirm our faith so we will not sin. We are tested for our own good. 16:4 is the first of many daily quizzes. Ultimately, God wants to move us up the ladder of success from the factory job in the desert, where we punch the clock and the assembly line keeps moving, to the privilege of being self-employed, where we do what is appropriate upon our own recognizance. He wants us to become reliable in our ability to rely upon him. He wants to build a testimony in us which is a monument of remembrance to successfully completing our time of testing. 16:34 tells us that God had them put some of the manna in a jar as a testimony of remembrance concerning his test of provision for the people.
It is OK for God to test us. But we are not to test God. In 17:2 and 17:7, the people test God – once again about water. After all that God has done for them, they have the audacity to ask, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
5. God’s plan was not to give them more than they needed for any one day, except the day before the Sabbath. This was before he established the Sabbath at Mt. Sinai. This was to be a test of daily devotion and dependence.
11. God is so patient with them, this time. In Num. 11:33 at another time and place, God figures they should have learned by now and brings a plague upon them. He remembered what he said in 15:26 even if the people did not. Once again, the bottom line is that God wants the people to know that he is the Lord their God.
13-18. I remember a statement that Jan Silvious made at Founder’s Week this year as she talked about how anger adversely effects our passion for souls. She said she fixed a wonderful dinner for when her husband came home that night. He looked at it and casually asked, “What is it?” She said, “That was the wrong thing to say.” I think that this may also have been the wrong thing to say about the manna. Manna means, “what is it?” It may have caused an irreverent attitude all along about the gracious provision of God. We must examine our own irreverence about God’s gracious provision to us every day. We must praise him for it because he wants us to know that he is our God. What he gives us is usually more than enough, but it is always enough.
19-21. God’s provision always tests us. If he provides what we need every day, why would we need to take, or hoard, more than our share? There is a lesson here for the social gospel that we evangelicals sometimes minimize. People and place, love and truth, must be in balance. If we took the social gospel of the liberals, and the spirit gospel of the pentecostals, and the truth gospel of the fundamentalists, we would have a closer approximation of what God really intends for us. The idea here is that they must learn not to be greedy and to share. This is a great lesson of the kingdom culture.
22-30. God’s provision is important, but nothing is more important than his worship – a day of rest in honor of God. God has to spell it out for them in big, bold letters. What might he want us to reflect on during the Sabbath? Dt. 8:3, 16 gives us a clue. We should be humbled by his graciousness to us and learn that the provider is more honorable than the provision if we expect the provision to continue.
35. The people ate manna for 40 years. This was a steady diet of God’s fruitfulness toward the people. Have you grown tired of coming to church? Is it a burden for you? We must not ever grow weary of a steady diet of Jesus. There is none other that satisfies. He is the bread of life. He is Jehovah-jireh.
Conclusion: Php. 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Illustration: My times unemployed – God provided.
He is enough, and he is everything. He is the bread from heaven. We saw the picture of our salvation in the story of the Passover Lamb. We saw the picture of our baptism in the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. We now see the picture of communion in the provision of manna – a remembrance that Christ is enough, he is all we need, he is the bread of life, he is life itself. We should never complain that Christ is not sufficient – for all our needs. We have the beginning of our spiritual life through faith in the blood of Christ and the ordinances of baptism and communion that Christ left us so we might remember and never forget. The rest is the process of sanctification as we learn to live what we remember. We have been born again and our dependence is now totally upon God. Actually, it always was, but we didn’t know it or acknowledge it. But he wants to be our God and he wants us to be his people.
Murdough McDonald was a paratrooper in World War II. He bailed out of an airplane behind German lines, was taken prisoner with his fellow Scottish chaplain and was put in a concentration camp for many months. McDonald was put with the Americans to be a kind of chaplain to the American prisoners, while his friend was put with the British at the other end of the large camp. For some reason, the German guards would not allow the British prisoners and American prisoners to fraternize even through the high fence in the middle of the camp. But once a day they allowed the two chaplains to come and speak together-briefly, but only in the presence of guards.
Unknown to the guards, the Americans possessed a little homemade wireless radio, and they were getting news from the outside world. Murdough McDonald reported the situation: “Every day I tried to take a headline to give it to my friend through the fence. Unfortunately, the German guards spoke French and English, but we finally realized they didn't speak Gaelic. Every day I would come with a radio headline in Gaelic and give it to my friend through the fence." This went on for many months.
One day the news came over the radio that the German high command had surrendered and the war was over. No guards knew of this because all of the communication had broken down in Germany McDonald said, “I took that news to the fence that day and I gave it to my friend, and that day I stood at the fence while my friend went into the British barracks. I waited for what I knew would happen. There was a thunderous roar of celebration from the British barracks. And the most amazing thing happened. For three days prisoners of war walked around the camp singing and shouting. We were gloriously happy! We didn't complain about the food, we waved at the dogs and the guards; no guard knew what was happening. Nobody could explain it. Every prisoner of war was rejoicing and celebrating!
"On the morning of the fourth day we prisoners woke up and realized it was different. There were no guards. Apparently in the night they heard the news and slipped out into the forest; they left the gates closed but unlocked. On the morning of the fourth day we walked out of the prison as freed men."
But then McDonald said something I will never forget: "We were set free four days before by news that the war was over."
I. The Manna Explains Who Jesus Is
The Hebrew word manna means “What is it?” (v. 15), the statement of the Jews when they could not explain this new food that God had sent. “Great is the mystery of godliness,” writes Paul in 1 Tim. 3:16. “God was manifest in the flesh.” Consider how the manna pictures Jesus Christ:
A. His humility
It was small (v. 14), which speaks of His humility; for He became a baby, and even a servant.
B. His eternal nature
It was round (v. 14), which reminds us of the circle, symbol of His eternality; for Jesus Christ is eternal God (John 8:53-59).
C. His holiness
It was white (v. 31), a reminder of His purity and sinlessness; He is the holy Son of God.
D. His sweetness
It was sweet (v. 31). “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Note in Num. 11:4-8 that the “mixed multitude” that went with the Jews did not appreciate the taste of the manna but asked for the “leeks, onions, and garlic” of Egypt. They were not satisfied with simple manna. They “ground it, beat it, and baked it,” but then it tasted like “oil” and not like honey. There is a spiritual lesson here for us; we cannot improve upon the simple Word of God (Ps. 119:103).
E. His nourishment of us
It was satisfying and strengthening, for the nation lived on manna for nearly forty years. All that we need for spiritual nourishment is Jesus Christ, God’s heaven-sent Bread. We are to feast on the Bread that will never leave us hungering.
II. The Manna Illustrates How Jesus Came
A. It came from heaven
It was not imported from Egypt, or manufactured in the wilderness; it was given from heaven, the gift of God’s grace. Jesus Christ came down from heaven (John 6:33) as the Father’s gift to hungry sinners. To say that Christ is “just another man” is to deny the teaching of the whole Bible that He is God’s Son sent from heaven.
B. It came at night
The people gathered the manna early each morning, for the manna fell at night. This suggests the darkness of sin in this world when Jesus came. It was night when Jesus was born, for He came to be the Light of the World (John 8:12). And it is still night in the hearts of all who have rejected Him (2 Cor. 4:1-4).
C. It came on the dew (vv. 13-14)
The dew kept the manna from being defiled by the earth (see Num. 11:9). This is a type of the Holy Spirit for when Jesus came to earth, it was through the miracle ministry of the Spirit (Luke 1:34-35). Had Jesus not been born of the virgin, He could never be called “that Holy One.”
D. It fell in the wilderness
This world is not a paradise. To the unsaved person, it is a wonderful place, but to the Christian on his pilgrimage to glory the world is but a wilderness. Yet Christ came to this world in love to give men life. What grace!
E. It came to a rebellious people (vv. 1-3)
What poor memories Israel had! They had been away from the bondage of Egypt only six weeks and had already forgotten God’s many mercies. They murmured against Moses and against God (see 15:22-27), and they longed for the fleshly diet of the old life; yet God in His grace and mercy supplied them with bread. Verse 4 could well have read, “I will rain fire and brimstone upon those ungrateful sinners!” But, no, God proved His love toward them by raining bread upon them. See Rom. 5:6-8. Someone has calculated that to supply six pints (an omer) of manna each for two million people daily would have required four freight trains of sixty cars each. How generous God is to us!
F. It fell right where they were
How easily accessible the manna was to the Jews! They did not have to climb a mountain or cross a deep river; the manna came where they were (see Rom. 10:6-8). Jesus Christ is not far away from sinners. They can come to Him at any time.
III. The Manna Shows What We Must Do with Jesus Christ
A. We must feel the need
There is a spiritual hunger within that can be satisfied only by Christ (John 6:35). It was when the Prodigal Son said, “I perish with hunger” that he decided to go back to the father and seek forgiveness (Luke 15:17-18). Much of the unrest and sin in the world today is the result of unsatisfied spiritual hunger. People are living on substitutes and rejecting the nourishment that God freely provides (Isa. 55:1-3).
B. We must stoop
The manna did not fall on the tables or on the trees but on the ground, and the people had to stoop to pick it up. Many sinners will not humble themselves. They will not bend! They will not repent and turn to the Savior!
C. We must take for ourselves
The hungry Jews were not fed by looking at the manna, admiring it, or watching others eat it; they had to pick it up and eat it themselves. Christ must be received inwardly by faith if the sinner is to be saved. This is what Christ meant in John 6:51-58 by “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” John 6:63 makes it clear that Christ was not speaking about literal flesh and blood, and John 6:68 tells us that it was His Word that He was referring to. When we receive the Word inwardly, we are feeding on Christ, the Living Word.
D. We must do it early (v. 21)
“Seek the Lord while He may be found!” is the warning of Isa. 55:6 (NKJV). The manna disappeared when the sun became hot, and this suggests that the day of judgment will arrive when it will be too late to turn to Christ (Mal. 4). It also suggests that, as believers, we must get our spiritual nourishment from the Word early in the day as we meditate on it and pray.
E. We must continue to feed on Him
Once we receive Christ as Savior, we are saved eternally (John 10:27-29). It is important, however, that we feed on Christ to have the strength for our pilgrim journey, just as the Jews fed on the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:11ff). How do believers feed on Christ? By reading, studying, and meditating on His Word. God invites each of us to get up early in the day and gather from the Word the precious manna to nourish our souls. We cannot hoard God’s truth for another day (vv. 16-21); we must gather fresh food for each new day. Too many Christians mark their Bibles and fill their notebooks with outlines, yet never really feed on Christ.
Note that the spiritual manna (Christ) accomplishes more than did the physical manna that God sent to the Jews. The OT manna sustained physical life, but Christ gives spiritual life to all who receive Him. The OT manna was for the Jews only, but Christ offers Himself to the whole world (John 6:51). It did not cost Moses anything to secure the manna for Israel, but to make Himself available to the world, Christ had to die on the cross. How sad it is that most of the people in the world walk on Christ as if he were unused manna on the ground, rather than stooping to receive Him that they might live.
The daily gathering of the manna was God’s test of Israel’s obedience (v. 4), and it is still God’s test for His people. Those Christians that begin their day with the Bible, gathering spiritual food, are the ones God can trust and use. Alas, many Christians still hunger for the carnal diet of the world! (v. 3) And many expect the pastor or the Sunday School teacher to gather the manna for them and “spoon-feed” them. The test of our spiritual walk is this: do I think enough of Christ and His Word to start my day gathering manna?
Joshua 5:10-12 tells us that the manna ceased when the Jews entered Canaan at Gilgal, and that they ate the “old corn of the land.” The manna came down from heaven, speaking of Christ in His incarnation and crucifixion. The corn grew up out of a place of burial and death, and speaks of Christ in His resurrection and heavenly ministry. To enter Canaan means to enter into our heavenly inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:3), and this means laying hold of the blessing we have in His resurrection, ascension, and heavenly priesthood. Too many saints “know Christ according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16, NKJV) in His earthly life and ministry and have never graduated into His heavenly priestly ministry. When they do take that step, they are “eating the old corn of the land”—feeding on His resurrection power.