Summary: The story of the Manna in the wilderness experience of Israel recounts their Pilgrimage to Canaan, the Provision received and God’s Purpose.
MANNA FROM HEAVEN
I’m sure you’ve noticed that many of the Old Testament stories have their counterpart or sequel in the New Testament. This isn’t surprising because the Old Testament is supremely a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It consistently bears witness to him. “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).
We must read the Old Testament with “Jesus glasses”, interpreting it in the light of he who it foreshadows and constantly bears witness to. That’s the key to understanding the Scriptures, and by using it the wonder of God’s self-revelation will be unfolded. There’s a definite confirmation of this in the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus, deep in gloom following the crucifixion of Jesus and unconfirmed rumours of his resurrection. As they made their weary way to Emmaus a stranger fell alongside them. It was going to be one of the most wonderful walks of history! The stranger was Jesus. He gave them the greatest Old Testament exposition in history – to a congregation of two!
We’re told, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was in the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). It was then that the jigsaw of the types, shadows and symbols of the Old Testament revelation came together. What a pity they didn’t write it up and reproduce it as a book! But it established the principle of how we can and must interpret the Old Testament stories. We, in the 21st century, have the advantage of reading the Bible backwards! What do I mean by that? We can go back through the New to the Old Testament and interpret it in the subsequent light of the life and ministry of Jesus. With this background, let’s think about the stories we heard of in our readings (Exodus 16:1-20 and John 6:47-58). We see first:
THE PILGRIMAGE BEGUN
The Israelites were God’s chosen people. They had been redeemed from certain death on obeying God’s command in sheltering under the protection of the Passover sacrificial blood on their houses. They were freed from the slavery of their Egyptian taskmasters. They were the people of God, the “church” of the Old Testament, the equivalent of New Testament believers in Jesus although still waiting the promised Messiah. But did they move directly to Canaan, the land given to their forefather Abraham? O no! We’re told that “the Israelite community … came to the Desert of Sin”. The way forward led through a wilderness of clay – an inhospitable, lonely place, which symbolises this world through which we must travel.
The Israelites, although chosen by Jehovah to be his people, were far from perfection. Redeemed, yes, but righteous, no! Some may delude themselves that they are sinless. C H Spurgeon came across such a person. He invited the man to his home for dinner. After hearing the claims of perfection again at the dinner table, he picked up his glass of water and threw it in the man’s face. Understandably, the visitor was highly indignant and expressed himself very forcefully to the preacher about his lack of courtesy. Spurgeon replied, “Ah, you see, the old man within you is not dead. He had simply fainted and could be revived with a glass of water!”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we might very well come to the conclusion that we share many of the Israelites’ characteristics. Within a very short time from their miraculous deliverance from certain death by the hand of God, what do we find? The old nature began to reassert itself; they began to grumble about the harshness of life in the wilderness. What was God doing to them, they thought? Had he suddenly abandoned them, so soon after releasing them from slavery? Why, O why? This was part of Jehovah’s permissive plan to put his chosen people to the test. Let’s think about:
THE PRESSURES FACED
It’s one of God’s rules for the spiritual life that testing comes before resting! God has never promised that his people will pass into victory via a rose-strewn path. When God took the nation of Israel through the desert, the people were absolutely dependent on God. They couldn’t provide for themselves. They couldn’t plant. They couldn’t harvest. They couldn’t manufacture. It was a place where nothing but complete dependence was the rule. But did they face up to the pressure? No. The first thing they did was to complain about the quality of the water. And now it was the food! Such is the perversity of human nature! “If only we had died … in Egypt! There we … ate all the food we wanted!” they wailed. In their problems they had forgotten that they were now Jehovah’s responsibility and that he had promised to take them to the promised land of Canaan.