Summary: Jesus is manna for the wilderness.
One month in the wilderness and the Israelites are hungry, without food. That wasn’t in the travel brochure when Moses freed us from the Egyptians. Now our feet are tired and our legs weary. Sand and stones irritate in our sandals. Snakes and scorpions infest the ground we walk. Death looms large while we ache for food.
And so stomachs growled and the people grumbled. They cried out, “What poor leaders we have! Is Moses really God’s man for us? How can he be when everything is going so badly? This is his fault. He brought us out here to starve in the wilderness.” And so the people grumbled.
We are no different. The New Testament Israel, the Church, has also grumbled in her wilderness wanderings. We grumble, collectively and individually, when we don’t get our way. When we don’t get what we want, when we want it, in the way we want it, we grumble. When life gets difficult or disagreeable for us, we grumble.
Many of us don’t remember our Egypt, when God rescued us from our house of slavery and brought us to journey toward the Promised Land. Most of us were but babies at the time we made our exodus, when God led us through the Red Sea of baptism and declared us His chosen people. It was then that He said, “I am the Lord, your God.”
Yet, like Israel of the Old Testament, we still have a strong attraction for the stew pots of slavery. That’s our old inherited, sinful nature. True freedom frightens the sinner. Living in absolute dependence on God is scary. Life seemed easier in Egypt--and certainly a lot more pleasurable than wandering in the wilderness.
Yet going back to Egypt would mean spiritual and eternal death. And so we need to be warned whenever we hunger for the Egyptian menu. We need to be warned when we want to become a pagan and live a life that mocks God, living in license instead of true liberty, greedy to wallow in the world’s filth instead of God’s holiness. We were not made alive in Christ to live such a life.
Make no mistake--we are not yet in the Promised Land! We are still making our way in the wilderness. That’s why life is still so hard. We’re still between the Red Sea of baptism and the Promised Land of the resurrection. It’s a time of testing and growth, when God calls us to trust in Him and to cling to His word and not in ourselves. But in our wilderness, God still comes to us to nourish and nurture our faith, to shape and strengthen us. It’s where God disciplines us in the art of being free.
In the Old Testament, God let His people get hungry in the wilderness. He let them feel the emptiness, the deep inner pang. He let them grumble. But He didn’t let His people starve. For they were His Israel, His people. He was committed to them. He promised to take care of them. He heard their cry, grumbling although it was.
And so God still fed them, even amid their grumbling. Every morning, God provided a thin layer of a flaky substance that covered the ground. That was their bread in the wilderness that He gave them.
That bread was unlike any other. It looked white, like coriander seed; it tasted like wafers made with honey. “What is it,” the people asked. In Hebrew, they said, “Man hu?” What is it? “It’s the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” What is it? Man-na. That’s what it is: bread from heaven, from the hand of God.
Manna was a gift from God. But as with all gifts from God, He force-feeds no one, no matter how hungry he might be. You didn’t have to eat this manna, this bread, if you didn’t want to. But in the wilderness, the alternative was death.
God’s gifts are received in His way, in the way God gives them, at the times and the places He chooses to give them. Every morning, the manna appeared on the ground after the dew dried up. If you were lazy and didn’t feel like getting up in the morning to gather your manna, you wouldn’t find any in the afternoon. The sun’s heat would have melted the manna by mid-morning.
If you got greedy and gathered more than you or your family needed that day, you were in for a foul surprise. The manna had no shelf life. The next morning, it would stink and be wriggling with maggots. It was daily bread; there was no hoarding. The manna was renewed every day, just like our Lord teaches us to pray for daily bread.
The only day that manna kept overnight was the sixth day. On the sixth day, God provided manna that lasted a day longer than the other manna during the week. And so the people gathered twice as much, because the seventh day was the Sabbath day, a holy day to rest in God’s Word. They weren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath; it was their day off. If they decided to go out and gather manna on the Sabbath, there wouldn’t be any.