The Manna

Having delivered the people of Israel from their Egyptian bondage, the Lord led them into a region of deserts, waterless tablelands, barren mountain chains and valleys where streams ran dry—the Sinai Peninsula. By bringing them into this trackless wilderness, the Lord took from them every natural resource and in particular bread—such bread as is the product of man’s own industry. It thus seemed as though they were doomed to perish from hunger. The carnal Israel so judged. They said, “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth in this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger”. The Lord immediately put the rioting of this unbelief to shame. “Then the Lord said to Moses, behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you . . . And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said onia to another, it is manna. For they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, “This is the bread that the Lord hath given you to eat!” (Ex. 16:4, 15, 16).

It is the manna that forms the subject of this essay. We arrange our remarks under these two points: (1) The purpose of its being sent; (2) Its typical significance.

(1) The purpose of its sending is set forth by the following language contained in one of the final discourses of Moses: “. . . . And he fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee to know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live”. (Deut. 8:3). The meaning of this scripture is perceived only through a thoughtful consideration of the language here employed. There are two interpretations of this text. The one: Man does not live upon bread alone, i.e., all by itself, solitary, but he lives also by the will of God. Here the contrast is inspired and uninspired earthly bread, such bread as man obtains from the soil through his own industry, so that what, according to this interpretation, the scripture under consideration is held to teach is that ordinary bread cannot nourish life irrespective of God’s will or that he can support life without it or without any means at all. This, certainly, is very true. Ordinary bread, apart from the operation of the word or will of God in it, avails nothing at all. But the context shows that this is not the point to the reasoning of the sacred narrator, not the truth that was meant to be demonstrated by the working of God with which we here have to do.

So we come to the other interpretation. It is this: Man does not live by bread only i.e., by the earthly, nature, but he lives only by the word that proceeded out of the mouth of Jehovah or, as we have it in the original, by every outgoing of the mouth of Jehovah. With this construction upon the text, the contrasts which it presents are: common bread on the one hand and the word of God and the manna on the other. Such are, assuredly, the contrasts, as is evident from this: The Lord, so we read (Deut. 7:3), suffered His people to hunger, that is, through leading them into a trackless wilderness, He deprived them of ordinary bread. In the place thereof He gave them the manna; and by His Word as operative in it, He fed them. Thus the truth set forth, the point to Moses’ argument, is this: Man’s life, his bread of life, is not that ordinary bread at all. Such is the vain imagining of the carnally minded, who say to bread, to the earthly, Thou art my God. Man’s life is Jehovah. It is by His Word that he lives. So, to be pitted against God is certain death. It is, therefore, the part of true wisdom to keep His commandments to walk in His ways, and to fear Him even though the result be that a man lose his earthly bread. For, if Jehovah is man’s life and not that earthly bread, what will it profit a man, though he gain the whole world, and have not God.

So then, the point at issue here is not whether common bread, as uninspired by the Word of God, supports man’s natural life, (it does, certainly) but whether this bread, even as so inspired, is man’s true life. And the teaching here encountered is that it is not. Man’s true life is the Lord, every outgoing of His mouth, as dwelling in the true manna, which is Christ. It was with the view to preparing His Church for the revelation and reception of this truth that the Lord fed the people of Israel with the manna—the bread from heaven—during the period of their residence in the wilderness.

But why did this doing of God—His suffering the people to hunger and His feeding them with the manna—so wonderfully demonstrate to them that man lives not by bread only but by every outgoing of the Lord’s mouth? Firstly, because it was a bread that the Lord rained for them from heaven. Thus it was not from below but from above. It was not brought into being by the ordinary working of God’s providence i.e., it was the product not of the earth—a bread that man obtained from the soil by his own labor—but of a special working of God’s power. It was one of His wonders, a new thing, which, in the language of Scripture “thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know”. It was therefore so remarkably evident that to live by it was to live by a bread whose appearance could be explained only by the fact that the Lord had spoken, by a bread that was the product of His creative word, and thus an outgoing of His mouth.

But now it seems that there is found in the place where for the first time the bread of heaven was given by Jehovah to His people, a substance—the juice or gum of a sort of tamarisk tree—that resembles this bread in color and form and also bears its name. On the ground of this fact, modern rationalist have denied the miraculous character of the manna of Holy Writ. What the Israelites collected and used was, it is said, merely the natural product of the region where they for a season sojourned. What this reasoning shows is that the natural man is utterly incapable of spiritually apprehending the things which are of the Spirit of God. The plain testimony of the Scriptures is to the effect that there was a miracle performed in the matter. How were the people of Israel made to know that man lives by the outgoing of the Lord’s mouth if not by the production of the manna by His wonderworking power, if not by this bread from heaven? Yet it is not amiss to take the stand that this natural manna formed the natural substratum of the manna from heaven, that, in bringing into being as a substitute for common bread, the Lord took some natural production of the desert and miraculously increased and modified it and so performed a miracle identical to that which Christ performed when he availed Himself of a few loaves of bread and fishes to provide a hungry multitude about Him with a miraculous supply of bread.

There is contained in the books of Exodus and Numbers a rather detailed description of the manna. It is stated that it fell upon the ground round about the camp by night with the dew; that it consisted of small whitish particles, compared to hoar-frost, coriander seed, and pearls; that it melted when exposed to the heat of the sun, and tasted like wafers made with honey, or like fresh oil, that the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortar, or baked it in pans, and made cakes of it. Num. 10:7-9; Ex. 16:13-14.

It is easily discernable that in giving this description it was the aim of the sacred narrator to set forth the virtues of the manna. It was a food most pleasant to the taste—it “tasted like wafers made with honey or fresh oil”. It was as pure and wholesome as the dew upon which it, during the night, would fall—it “tasted like fresh oil”. That it corrupted if kept beyond a day and melted when exposed to the sun was not due to its being a light food lacking in substance. It was of such consistence that, like the corn of cultivated lands, it could be ground in the mills and did not melt when subjected to the heat of the ovens. Fact is that its nutritional value was so high as to be phenomenal. It formed the sole article of diet during the period of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. By this bread alone they lived and living by it enjoyed perfect health. And the abundance in which it was given was so immense, that there was bread enough for all. The manna of the Scriptures was truly a miracle of the first magnitude. Such being its excellencies, and being a bread rained from heaven by the Lord, thus a bread that was so plainly the very outgoing of His mouth, it was certainly calculated to make known that man lives by every outgoing of the Lord’s mouth alone.

Yet, though a bread of such virtue, and though witnessing for a truth so vital and glorious, the people of Israel in their carnality despised it. On one occasion they said, “Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick; but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all besides this manna before our eyes,” and on another, “Wherefore have ye—Moses and Aaron—brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness ? For there is no bread …. and our soul loatheth this light bread” (Num. 21:5). So, they were willingly ignorant of the all-sufficiency of the manna and thus declined to acknowledge that man’s true bread is the Lord. They lusted after foods that powerfully stimulate the sense organs: onions and leek; and after the luscious melon and the hardy foods, such as meat. Thus they wailed not for nourishment—they had this—but for sensual gratification, for the appeasement of their carnal lusts. It was, in a word, for the things below that they cried. Their loathing of the manna was indicative not of a disturbed digestion but of sick hearts.

(2) The manna was not the true bread, however a miraculous supply of food it was. Its imperfections are indicated by Christ. “Your fathers,” said Christ to the Jews, “did eat manna in the wilderness and are dead”. The reason that the fathers, despite their eating the manna, died was that the manna was for the support of the body and not of the soul. As such, however, it was a type of Christ. The truth of this statement is born out by these very words of Christ, by what He says of himself in connection with the manna and of the manna in connection with the fathers.

Being a type of Christ, the manna conveys certain points of instruction about Christ, namely, the following:

(a) As the manna, so Christ. He is bread. Hence, in His own words, “except ye eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you”. But, in distinction from the manna, He is the true bread. Hence, whoso eateth His flesh has eternal life; and Christ will raise him up at the last day.

(b) The manna was bread from heaven. Likewise Christ in His office of mediator and as to His human nature. As such He is in the true sense “every outgoing” of the mouth of the triune Jehovah, the God and Father of Christ, the heavenly offspring of Jehovah’s creative word, brought into being by His special working, and thus peculiarly the gift of God, coming freely and directly from His hand. For He was born not by the will of man but of a virgin overshadowed by the power of the Highest.

(c) As the manna on the low earthly plane, so, too, Christ on the heavenly plane, He is the all-sufficient bread of His people. For in Him, in His human nature, dwells the whole fullness of the Godhead. He is, therefore, the sanctification, the justification, the wisdom and the redemption of His people. He is their life. By Him alone do they live and live everlastingly. He is their sole article of diet while they sojourn in this wilderness and forever. For He is every word of the mouth of His God,—every word by which His people live. Every word of blessing and life dwell in Him and are spoken by the Father through Him, who Himself, too, is the word of God in whose face we see God as He is. He being the true bread, should God’s people then go to wailing for the fleshpots of this world? Do they grow in grace by what can be brought up out of these pots?

(d) The manna was plentiful. So, too, Christ, as in Him dwelleth all the fullness of which all His people receive as their need requires. No one need to envy his neighbor on account of anything at all, but all may rejoice in the goodness of God.

There are things connected with the giving and receiving of the manna, which have use for us apart from any typical reference that they may bear to the things of the gospel.

Every man had to gather according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of his dependents. And he that gathered much had nothing over and he that gathered little had no lack. Undoubtedly what took place is this. Some gathered more than was needful for them and some less. The amount, if too large miraculously diminished; if too small, it was found to have increased. The apostle Paul seizes upon this to arouse the rich in the congregation of Corinth to share their abundance with their needy brethren “that there may be equality . . .” so the apostle wrote.

It required faith to live day by day upon the word of the Lord. Unbelief reasoned that on the morrow the new supply of manna might be wanting. As if the Lord could prove Himself unfaithful! Some who, under the constraint of this doubt, used only a part of their portion, would discover to their dismay and shame that what had been hoarded had during the night bred worms and had thus become unfit for human consumption. So was it shown them that it is folly to labor to heap up treasures that cannot be used.

The manna had to be gathered early in the morning because after sun-rise it would melt and vanish away. The lesson to be drawn from this is that what is required of God’s people is that they take diligent heed to do His commandments and be about the business of their Lord with a will. Of the prophets we read over and over that they were wont to rise early in the morning to deliver their messages.

There might be no gathering of the manna on the Sabbath! Neither could there be as on this day no manna fell. But on the sixth day they were commanded to gather twice as much and to lay up the surplus until the morning. Doing so, they found that “it did not stink and neither was there any worm therein”. Some there were who nevertheless went forth on the Sabbath to gather, but they found none. The lesson that comes to us here is that God’s people receive in the six days what is needful for them that on the Sabbath day they may be freed from the necessity of following their earthly pursuits in order that there may be opportunity for them to avail themselves of the spiritual refreshments with which the Lord provides them on the Sabbath.