They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”[a] For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer,[b] according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”
27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. 35 The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.) (Exodus 16)
Where sin is not forsaken, it increases. As sinners we are often deceived by sin in thinking that we can manage our sin, and keep it tidy. We are deceived when we think that we can keep a little sin without fighting against it. Permitted sin is nurtured sin, and nurtured sin grows into a beast we cannot handle by ourselves or without repentance. Israel began with a little sin that we saw last week. Just a little grumbling to Moses. But at the beginning of chapter 16 it is quickly increasing, as they grumble against Moses, Aaron, and God, and they even go so far as to accuse Moses of bringing them out in the wilderness to kill them with starvation, and proclaim that it would’ve been better to never have been delivered out of Egypt, and so remain slaves there. A little bit of grumbling that is not fought against and repented of, turns into great grumbling and even accusation against God. Discontent with God’s providence, that is not fought against, and repented of, will increase into accusations against God.
We often think of grumbling as a small or insignificant thing. It’s one of the smaller sins on the list, so we think. Everyone does a little grumbling, right? But if it is permitted to remain in our lives, it grows into a great thing, and that is because the very heart of a little bit of grumbling is no small thing. It is ultimately distrust of God. It is distrust that what He is doing is good for you. It is ungratefulness toward God, not being thankful for what He has given you, because you want something different than what He has given you. That is no small sin. It is deceptive because it is first a sin in our hearts, which can be concealed for a time. Bitterness and grumbling of heart, can be kept hidden, not from God, but from others, for a time. But it cannot remain and will not remain hidden. How could a nation of people whom God delivered with mighty acts of power and judgment upon the greatest empire on earth, and who were brought through the mighty Red Sea on dry ground turn around, and ultimately, accuse God, who delivered them, of trying to kill them? Distrust and unbelief of heart. Unrepented grumbling and ingratitude.
There are a number of sins that begin with these sorts of attitudes of the heart, and it’s so important that we fight against those attitudes of the heart, before it turns into all out rebellion. If you let sin fester in your heart, nothing good will come of it.
By way of application, I think it is important that we not allow grumbling attitudes from our children, as parents. As parents, it can be tempting to just take the easy way out when our children grumble and complain. They are doing what we ask, but they grumble just a little bit while doing it. It can be tempting to take the easy way out and let it go. But out of love for our children, that needs to be confronted in them, in some way. For their sake, to not let them think that a little complaint is no big deal. We don’t want to be deceived into thinking that allowing a little grumbling and complaining in our homes is no big deal. We should teach them gratitude in all things. Because a little bit of grumbling that is allowed, means there is only a little bit of thanks that is given. There is not room for both grumbling and gratitude in our hearts. And where sin is not forsaken, it increases.
Back in our text, notice as well that sin and unbelief can cause one to recall former times incorrectly, with false fondness. The Israelites complain that it was better for them in Egypt. They talk about the meat pots and the bread they ate to the full in Egypt, and how it would be better to be back there than to die in the wilderness. This is clearly not true. They wrongly remember their slavery as a better time than following God in the wilderness and being His people. The fact is that it is better to be poor and hungry with God than to be wealthy and full in Egypt. In the case of Israel, it would in fact be better to die in the wilderness than to serve their Egyptian slave masters. But in their ingratitude and sin, their memories were influenced with falsehoods. Do they not remember how they cried out in their bondage and oppression in Egypt? God heard their cries and delivered them! Yet, what they recall is a false memory of how good it was. This is another reason why we must guard our hearts against these sins of ingratitude and grumbling. Our memories can be falsely influenced to think that former times of sin were more comfortable and better times. Or even if we long for previous times of God’s blessing, it is sin if we are ungrateful grumblers against where He has us now. Longing for the past is a dangerous game. Growth often requires discomfort, trials, and times of testing.
God’s response to Israel is amazing. The text tells us that God heard their grumbling. Our grumbling cannot be hid from God, even if it is grumbling in the heart, for God knows what is in the heart of man. Yet, God meets the grumbling of Israel with His grace. God is mercifully patient with this people. He knows they are weak. Instead of wiping them out or severely punishing them, God is gentle with them, and He meets their grumbling with grace. He hears their grumbling and greatly provides for them.
How amazing it is that God does not give His people what their sins deserve. I’m sure you can think of a time in your life when you had a bad attitude in your heart, or even one that came out in grumbling and complaining, and yet God responded graciously to you, and provided for you in some way that you did not deserve. In this we see how God’s kindness should lead us to repentance. It is a humbling thing to receive mercy in the face of your grumbling.
God’s response to Israel was not to rain down fire and brimstone from heaven, but instead to rain down bread from heaven (and quail, too). This is a double-sided provision. The people have sin and God has grace. The people also had a legitimate need for food, and so God had provision. God has grace for our sin, and provision for our need. He has more grace than we have sin, and He has more provisions than our needs. May this cause us to go to God in humble prayer, instead of ungrateful complaint.
I like what Matthew Henry says, “When God plagued the Egyptians it was to make them know that He was the Lord; when He provided for the Israelites, it was to make them know that he was their God.”
So God provides bread from heaven for the people in light of their need. He also provides quail, but as the main emphasis of this passage is the manna, that is what we will focus on today. As we read, God rains down the manna to be found on the dew each morning. He instructs the people through Moses that each day they were to gather just the amount they needed according to the number of their household. They were not to keep any overnight or that would result in the manna going bad with worms and maggots. However, on the 6th day, they would gather enough for two days, without it going bad, so that they did not gather on the Sabbath that God gave the people for rest.
So this is another test that God gives the people. Will they trust God, that He will provide for them each day or not? Will they believe that He will do what He has said He will do, or will they not? We know that many of them failed this test, as we saw Moses become angry with the people for gathering more than they were told and the manna going bad. And yet, even then, the next day, there would yet be fresh manna on the dew, God providing even for those who failed the test that day. So not only does God provide food, but He also provides rest for the people on the Sabbath.
Notice that God does not arbitrarily test His people here. God does not send us arbitrary hardships. God desired to test His people to see if they would obey His Word. God was training them and teaching them to trust Him and believe Him and do what He said. This was a test that taught them everyday to take up their cross and follow Him. Everyday, look to Him. Everyday trust Him. It was to teach them to keep on trusting Him.
Similarly God is teaching us that we are to look to Him each day, and not trust upon our past decisions, or past faith, but to daily take up our cross and follow Him. We are to pray every day, without ceasing. We are to meditate upon God’s Word day and night. We are to walk in the good works that God prepared beforehand for us to do. True Christians persevere in the faith – not perfectly, and not in our own flesh, but by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit we work out what He works in us.
When Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, it seems He may be playing off of the daily provision of manna, when Jesus instructs His disciples to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” The Christian life is to be day-by-day, looking to Christ, trusting His provision in all things. But our salvation is not based upon how well we accomplish this. Like Israel, many times we depend upon yesterday’s prayers to get us through today. We fail the test. Yet, like God provided fresh manna each morning even to the Israelites who failed the day before, so God’s mercies are new for us each morning.
Ultimately, God’s mercies are new for us each morning because we have one who passed the test for us. Recall Jesus’ baptism and then being driven into the wilderness for 40 days, where He was tempted and tried. One of the specific temptations He faced from the devil was the temptation to turn stone into bread, for He was in a great fasted state, hungry in the wilderness as it were. Just as Israel was tempted to gather up more food than was for them, so was Jesus. Jesus passed this testing saying, “It is written, ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus trusted His Father. In John 4, the disciples think that Jesus is hungry and they try to get him to eat, but Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”
So in the life and teaching of Jesus, and in His passing the test, we see the idea that there is a food that is greater than physical food. Jesus’ food was to do the will of the Father. His food was every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. So while we need literal food to live, the daily bread from heaven was teaching more than just trusting God to provide physical food. It was about living upon the Word that comes from the Father. Martin Luther says that, “The manna in its primary meaning is the gospel itself.”
When we are told that man is not to live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Father, certainly there is application to Scripture, the Word of God. It is food for our souls. But what is the content of the word? What is the ultimate Word from the Father? It is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He is our food, He is the Word from the Father.
In John 6 Jesus is speaking with the Jews.
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:31-35)
So what is the manna in the wilderness about? Ultimately it was about Jesus. Jesus is the true bread of heaven sent from the Father. He is the bread of life. Psalm 78 recounting Israel in the wilderness says that God opened the doors of heaven and rained down manna on them to eat. It says he gave them the grain of heaven and man ate the bread of angels.
1 Corinthians 10 speaks to this as well, saying, “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” This is truly a staggering passage that shows us that Jesus was the spiritual food and drink of His people of old. The bread of angels that came from heaven, which was the manna, was a spiritual type of Christ. In the same way Jesus said that He is the true bread of heaven sent from the Father. What a wonderful passage to meditate upon, particularly as many of us are thinking about the birth of Jesus and the incarnation during this time of year. Spiritual food was rained down from heaven in the form of manna that was a type of Christ, a type of the incarnation, when Jesus, the true bread of heaven, would be rained down from the Father, taking on flesh, for us to spiritually eat of Him and have eternal life. What greater gift and feast is there, than to have the Bread of Heaven take on flesh to live, die, and rise for us, that we may receive Him in faith and have everlasting life? When we were needy, starving, and sinful, God provided for us, by giving us the bread of heaven.
Let us observe a few things about Christ as the true bread of heaven.
Like the manna that came from heaven being opened up, it was a gift. It came down from heaven and condescended all the way to the dew of the earth, right to where the people were. They did not climb up the mountain of God to heaven in order to go get it. It came down to them. The food that God gives us from Heaven, His Son, is a gift that came down to us. Christ, the bread of heaven, condescended all the way down to earth, all the way down to man, to sinners, to be born in a lowly manger. We do not climb up to heaven, He came down to us. It is a gift, a free gift!
Likewise, the manna was not a bread that was a product of the work of the people’s hands. It was given to them, to be received with open hands. So also the Bread of Heaven, which gives eternal life, is not the product of the work of our hands. It is bread that is prepared for us. It is given to us as a gift to receive with open hands. Since it is the bread of heaven, it is not possible for the bread of life to be produced by our working it and making it. It is only had by receiving it as a gift.
I think that this should affect the way we approach the Lord’s Table, in terms of application. The bread and wine is a symbol to us of the body and blood of Christ that was given for us. So I think this is something that should affect our posture in communion. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we are coming not to grab the bread, as if we were reaching up and snatching it with our hands. But rather we are receiving the bread. Now we of course are not given commands on the technical way that we are to receive the bread, but I would encourage you to receive it with palms open as the bread is placed in your hands, in order to remind you that Jesus is a gift that we receive with empty hands, that comes down to us. Again, that is not a command, but something I would encourage you to think about to be even more intentional and conscious about your relationship with Christ during the Supper.
Consider also that the manna from heaven did nothing for the people if they did not take and eat it. It was necessary that each one eat of it himself. In the same way, Christ is the bread of heaven that is to be eaten. We must, by faith, partake of Christ for ourselves. No one else can have faith in Christ for you. Boys and girls, your parents can’t believe in Christ for you, YOU are to receive Christ, and trust in Him, and believe that He died and gave Himself for YOU and YOUR sins. It is not enough to believe the facts that Jesus came and died for sins, and rose again from the dead. You must believe that He died and rose for YOUR sins. That is how you have eternal life. In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “Take, EAT, this is my body, which is FOR YOU.”
Next, God provided food AND rest for the people of Israel. He gave them manna AND a sabbath day of rest. So also, God has provided us with true food and true rest. Jesus is our true food and He is our true rest. We rest from our works by faith in Christ, Hebrews chapter 4.
Notice also the description of the manna in verse 31 of Exodus 16. It says that it was white. As a type of Christ, this shows the purity and spotlessness of Christ, that He was and is without sin.
What else does Exodus 16:31 say about the manna? It says that the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. So there was a sweetness to it. This reminds us of the sweetness of Jesus Christ. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” What more gracious word has God given us than Christ Himself? There is nothing more sweet than to taste of the Word by faith, to know that gracious word, that your sins are forgiven, that you are made right in God’s sight, and that you are loved with an everlasting love. If you are a Christian, you have tasted of this sweetness. If you do not know the sweetness of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, then have you truly partaken of Him? Have you truly eaten of the Bread of Heaven? You may eat of it today. He has come, and offers Himself to sinners today. The meal is ready today. Jesus offers Himself today, as the Bread of Heaven, for the life of the world. Will you take and eat?
In verse 32-34 we see that the LORD commanded Moses to have Aaron take a jar of manna, an omer of it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept there throughout the generations. So a jar of manna was placed in the ark, before the testimony, before the presence of God, where it was kept before the LORD without going bad. Just as the manna was laid before the LORD in the holy of holies, so Christ entered into the Holy of Holies. Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” So Christ has gone into the presence of God on our behalf as our spotless manna, testifying to His purity for His people. And in Christ, we come before God’s presence, and we can rest assured in Christ’s purity and spotlessness before the testimony.
Finally, verse 35 says, “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”
So here we see that the manna remained with them and remained as their food the entire time in the wilderness. Likewise, Christ remains with us as our daily bread for as long as we travel this earth. He gives Himself to us for all our days. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He is our bread to sustain us for all of our days. He will not cease to be our food. He is sufficient to sustain us. And because of His covenant of grace we can depend upon Him always, that His mercies are new every morning. Will you trust Him? Will you feed upon Him? He has come and given Himself to us. No matter what trials and testing you face in the wilderness He is there to sustain you. No matter the suffering and hardships you face, He is there to sustain you. No matter your sins and stumbling, He is there to sustain you. No matter your weakness and little strength, He is there to sustain you. No matter the doubts and fears of the future, Jesus is there each day to sustain you. No matter the enemies and threats you face, Jesus is there to sustain you. No matter how much you think you can’t make it, He is there to sustain you and give you life and keep you going. And He will be there to sustain you until you reach the border of that heavenly land, where you can fall into His arms, where you can see that He never left you, that He kept you, that He sustained you through it all, and that He was sufficient, and sweet to your taste, no matter how harsh your journey was.
John 6:48-51, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Christ is the bread that will sustain you all your days, for in eating of Him, you will live forever, and you will be raised again on the last day, as Jesus says in John 6:54, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” If you only eat bread made by human hands you will die like Israel did. If your food is the bread that is a product of the work of your hands, it is bread unto death. But if you eat of the bread of life, you will live forever, for you will be raised again on the last day. Christ condescended to the world in the flesh, to give Himself to the world, so that those who partake of Him, He will then raise them up to Him.
Jesus is better than the manna that the fathers ate and died. He is the bread that gives eternal life. So let us give thanks, and take and eat.