Sunday, August 12, 2007

Exodus 16:1-35 - The Lessons of the Manna

Contextual Notes:
The Israelites have been liberated from slavery, delivered through the Red Sea from Egypt’s army, celebrated with the great song of Moses, and a major transition takes place in the book and in the journey. Now the party’s over, and life gets daily. The first time the children of Israel run out of water at Marah. Here is the second of three times, and this time it is both water and food (Exodus 15:25-27; 16:1-36; 17:1-7). This second time, just like the first, the children of Israel turn on God and His leadership instead of turning toward Him for help.

Now leaving the awesome oasis of Elim, the two-million Israelites head into the Desert of Siyn a month into their journey on their way to Siynay (Sinai). Their provisions brought from Egypt have run out, and it is not a pretty sight.

Pray and Read: Exodus 16

Exposition: Note:

Unbelief has a short memory and comes out in murmuring (16:1-3)
Alexander Maclaren: “Our present miseries and our past blessings are the themes on which unbelief harps.”
[1] Three things are apparent in unbelieving murmuring:

1. Small-minded foolish statements. “If we had only died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!” These are the same people who cried out to God for deliverance from slavery!

2. Selective memory. “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.” Hardly. Israel was in slavery to a despotic regime which worked them like dogs and was intent on their liquidation as a people.

3. Stupid accusations. “you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” What? Moses didn’t ask for this job. In fact, he tried his best to get out of it (Exodus 3). Moses could have had a good life tending flocks the rest of his life with his wife’s family.

God’s Grace (16:4-5)

The Lord shows his patient long-suffering by responding to the rebellious, rude children of Israel with grace and love instead of what they deserved.

Four times the text mentions the peevish complaints of the congregation of Israel, and each time the Lord responds with grace and love. He works in spite of the bad attitudes and know-it-all teenage-style braggadocio.

a. Alexander Maclaren: “The farther men stray from Him, the more tender and penetrating His recalling voice. We multiply transgressions, He multiplies mercies.”[2]

Moses’ response to grumbling (16:6-8)

Moses does not waste his time responding to personal attacks and accusations. He takes the matter to God. He shows where the accusations are really directed. Moses did not need this job, and he didn’t audition for it. He was drafted and still tried to evade the call of God.

God does not distinguish between the way we treat those He cares about and Himself. Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least of these my brethren you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus took it personally when Paul persecuted the Christians: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:1-5).[3]

God’s provision and test (16:9-20)
To say
that a secretion of small aphids from the sap of the tamarisk tree in Arabia is the white substance of manna, without nutritional value, produced in small quantities does not explain a miracle that rained from heaven to feed over two million every day for forty years, rotting after 24 hours except on the Sabbath. Further, it only occurs May to June and only around tamarisk trees which are rare in the desert. A full season throughout the peninsula produces about 500-700 pounds of the substance in contrast to half a pound per person per day for two million plus.

Alexander Maclaren: “Greed and unbelief would masquerade then as now, under the guise of prudent foresight. The old Egyptian parallels to ‘make hay while the sun shines,’ and suchlike wise sayings of the philosophy of distrust, would be solemnly spoken, and listened to as pearls of wisdom.”[5] So many deacons, trustees, budget committee, and business meetings are hamstrung by unbelief and greed. We think that if we do God’s work with God’s money, that He cannot replace it. But there is a more sinister part to it – We think God’s money belongs to us.

The next temptation would be to be economical and save some for tomorrow. Real trust in God meant eating the whole portion knowing that the Lord would provide the next day. The temptation was both “get as much as you can, keep as much as you get.”

d. God’s purpose for this gift was to develop faith.

e. The Test: To see if they would follow instructions and to see if they would depend entirely upon Him.

5. Sabbath (16:21-30)

a. To guard against laziness and complacency, one had to gather twice as much on the sixth day because there would be none on the Sabbath.
b. Even God observed the Sabbath. No manna on those days.

c. Christianity does not forbid us laying up money or other resources for future wants, but our love of accumulating, which is so strong in many professing Christians, and the habit of amassing beyond all reasonable future wants, is surely scarcely permitted to those who profess to believe that Jesus said, not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself, who pointed to lilies and birds to teach the life of faith. We too get our daily mercies to prove us.

d. The letter of the law for the manna is not applicable to us who gain our bread by God’s blessing on our labour. But the spirit is, and those of us from wealthy nations surely need not be reminded that the portion put away is apt to breed worms. Often it vanishes, or if it lasts, tortures its owner, who has more trouble keeping it than he had in getting it; or it fatally corrupts his own character, or it ruins his children! All God’s gifts are tests which are means of increasing faith and adding to joy.

Memorial (16:31-36)
Reminders of His faithfulness – An omer (2 litres/quarts) of manna was placed in a golden pot and later joined Aaron’s rod that budded and the tables of the Ten Commandments inside the ark of the covenant as a testimony and memorial of God’s faithfulness for forty years to the congregation of Israel.

Maclaren: Whether manna means ‘What is it?’ or ‘It is a gift,’ the name is equally true and appropriate, pointing in the one case to the mystery of its nature; in the other, to the love of the Giver, and in both referring it directly to the hand of God.[6]

The Manna is miraculous form of a powerful truth. God sends the daily bread. Christ said in His temptation in the wilderness, alluding to this event, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The Manna points to Christ. The Jews were not satisfied with the multiplication of the loaves and wanted a Messianic sign on the level of Moses and manna. Jesus answered in John 6:41ff that He Himself was the Bread of Life.
i. Like manna He came from heaven to a generation filled with unbelief and rebellion.
ii. Like manna, He was food, but His food satisfies forever the deepest hunger of every human, sweet as honey for the soul.
iii. The Israelite would have starved if he had not gathered or appropriated the manna for his use. So also, Christ’s salvation is available for anyone who would have it, who would appropriate it for himself, who would believe and receive His Body and His Blood.
iv. The manna was for a generation. The Bread of Life is for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

1. You can spot dissension in a congregation by listening to the banter. Is it small-minded foolishness? Is it selective memory? Are there stupid accusations? Then write off the source as one who stirs up dissent. Paul says stay away from that kind of person.

2. Don’t waste time responding to personal attacks. Turn the words and the people over to the Lord. Let Him deal with them. Let Him defend you. He can do a much better job than you ever could in the flesh.

3. Develop dependence on Christ. Individually and as a congregation, we must learn to trust the Lord to fulfill our needs as we move with Him.

4. The Lord still provides for His people. Are you in financial need? Health need? Suffering from lack in any area? Christ is your provider. Look to Him and watch Him provide your every need. Miracles come when miracles are needed and asked for. Have you asked?
5. Observe the Sabbath. Your body and the universe was created on the principle of a rest every seventh day. Do you rest? Or do you go-go-go every day? If so, you are robbing your family, your health, your employer, your mind, and yourself.

6. Layaway memories of God’s goodness for your children. Have you written down or told your children or grandchildren how God provided miraculously for you once when there was no other way? Your stories of God’s faithfulness will be a rock for them when trying times come in their own lives. If God helped Daddy or Grandma back then, then maybe He will help me now.

7. The Lord does not deal with us as we deserve. We all deserve death and hell forever, for we have all sinned, but He gives us undeserved, unearned grace, a gift we cannot work for, eternal life and life more abundantly. Won’t you receive that free gift of eternal life?

Christ is the hidden manna of Revelation 2:7. He is the Bread of Life who will sustain you for eternity. Won’t you receive Him? Won’t you let Him provide your needs? Won’t you let him defend you from attack?

Today I want to invite you to respond to the Lord as He calls you. I want you to give up your personal pride that people will see you walk down the aisle and respond to Him.

Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament,
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Exodus,
Abel Ndjerareou, Africa Bible Commentary, 106.
A.B. Simpson, Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 1, 123-4.
John H. Walton, et. al., eds., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, 92.

[1] Maclaren, “The Bread of God,” 216.
[2] Maclaren, 217.
[3] Ndjerareou, 106.
[4] Walton, et. al, eds., IVP Bible Background Commentary: OT, 92.
[5] Maclaren, 216.
[6] Maclaren, 217.