Bible Studies in Israel’s Wilderness Wanderings
The Daily Provision of God
By Fraser Gordon
Last time in our study of the “Church in the wilderness” we looked at “bitter waters”. We were in Exodus 15 and saw that the Israelite nation had come through the Red Sea and God had provided a wonderful miracle there for them. Straight after that they were led out into the wilderness for three days and they didn't have any water to drink. God led them to water that they were not able to drink because it was bitter. We talked about the fact that bitter experiences come into our lives and they are part of God's leading for us and for our benefit. So they went through that trial and God showed them a tree which was a picture of the Cross of Christ which, when it was cast into the waters, they became sweet. From there they went to Elim and there they put their feet up and had a bit of rest and relaxation among the palm trees and the wells of water.
So in chapter 16 you have the next part of the journey. They have had rest and refreshment, and then under God's leading they are on their way again. This chapter is all about God's provision once again for them. Remember it was His job and responsibility to provide for them.
What? More Grumbling?
Exo 16:1-3 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. (2) In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. (3) The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."
So again we see that the continual grumbling and complaining, which was to happen all through their wilderness wanderings, occurred again. It just went on and on, but God was really gracious to them despite that. Then they said in verse 3: “Oh that we sat by the pots of meat.” They are continually remembering Egypt and the things that Egypt had for them. Here they are saying that they had an abundance of meat, pots full of it back in Egypt! “We had bread to the full, and everything we needed was back there. Why did you bring us out here to kill us?” It is interesting to note that when they looked back to Egypt they forgot the whips. They forgot all the hard labour that they had to do---and it was hard labour! Things got worse and worse for them. They now had to make bricks without any straw, so they were scattered all over the land to find it. But now these hard times are seemingly forgotten. All they can remember is the little delicacies for the belly; the pots of meat and bread to the full. So the second little cloud comes upon their horizon, and straight away you see this continual complaining and grumbling and the reminiscing about the niceties of Egypt. They forgot that they were under incredible oppression back there. They were just slaves!
A provision and a test
God gave them Manna and tested them to see if they would obey Him or not. He always wanted them to learn something about themselves. Turn to Deuteronomy 8, and we will have a look there at what God says about testing.
Deu 8:1-3 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. (2) Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (3) He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Here we are told that God was testing Israel to know their hearts whether they would keep His commandments or not. Would they remember what He had done for them? Would they humble themselves and as a nation come to know what was the condition of their hearts? It is exactly the same for us. God will allow all sorts of things to come into our lives so that we can come to the knowledge that we are rotten apart from Lord Jesus Christ and our hearts are desperately wicked. He is continually bringing things into our lives so that we might learn that our dependence has to be upon God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Without the trials and the hard things we don’t actually know this. So God has to allow these things to come and test us. Verse 2 says that He tested Israel for forty years that they might know what was in their heart, whether they would keep His commandments or not. In verse 3 it states that it was God who humbled them and allowed them to hunger. This means that God led them out into the wilderness for this specific purpose; that in all this they would come to trust that God would provide for them. He fed them with Manna which they did not know that He might make them know that that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is God's continual purpose for our lives that we should not depend upon the things of the world. As it was for Israel, so it is for us. He is continually trying to make us understand that we must forget the things that are behind us and look to Him to provide for us one day at a time. Do you remember when Christ was tempted in the wilderness that it was when He was incredibly hungry that the devil came to Him and said “Can you not turn stones into bread?” Jesus quoted this very verse out of Deuteronomy when He replied…”Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”. But where the Israelites failed, Christ did not. He was just as hungry as Israel was, but He showed, as the perfect Man, perfect dependence upon His Father. He was resting in God and depended on every word that came from the mouth of God. So God was trying to bring the Israelite nation to the point where they relied upon God Himself to meet their need. But, just like us, they fail and they fail. In verse 4 it says “Your garments did not wear out nor did your foot swell these forty years.” God's care for them was incredible. “Your garments did not wear out.” That would have put an end to all shopping! It is a miracle that is quite often overlooked, that their garments didn't actually wear out. If you think about the heat and the sweat and everything that they went through for forty years and yet they had still had their clothing. This is a picture of God providing for them in the wilderness. He provided their food, He provided their water, and He also clothed them. Their feet didn’t swell and their sandals didn’t wear out, so they only needed one pair of shoes for the entire forty years. The picture here for the Christian is exactly the same; any man or woman that has come into a relationship with Christ is clothed with a robe of righteousness. And that robe doesn't decay, it doesn't wear out and it doesn’t break down. It endures for eternity. We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ forever. So all through the Old Testament you have these wonderful little pictures of what God was doing for Israel and what God does for us in a spiritual sense.
As much ‘what is it?’ as anyone needs!
Exo 16:12-15 I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.' (13) That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. (14) When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. (15) When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.
God provided the very things that Israel had complained that they lacked, truckloads of meat and bread to the full for the nation. They had meat in the evening as God provided them with quails and bread in the morning from the manna. When the dew had gone up they saw a small substance as fine as frost on the ground. None of their fathers had ever seen anything like it so they did not know what it was. Manna means ‘what is it?’ If you have ever looked at frost it is incredibly fine. So whatever this thing was there wasn't much to it. Small, as fine as frost on the ground, a substance that didn't have any attraction about it; which reminds me of Isaiah 53 where it talks of Christ that there was nothing about His appearance that we would be attracted to. And you have the same thing here. God is providing something for the Israelites which looked quite plain, but it was going to be enough to meet their needs. The New Testament tells us that man ate angels’ food. There was nothing there that was really desirable to the flesh or the natural mind. So they said “what is it?”
Specifically designed to teach of the daily need...
Exo 16:16-20 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.' " (17) The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. (18) And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed. (19) Then Moses said to them, "No one is to keep any of it until morning." (20) However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
Here we see that whatever their need was they could gather enough to meet it. If you had a big appetite you could gather heaps and if you didn't eat a lot, a small amount would be sufficient. It is exactly the same for us, Christ will meet our needs. There is always enough in Him for us all, but they did have to gather for themselves and for their families.
Someone once asked a rabbi why God did not provide enough Manna for a week or for a month, or why did He not provide enough to be stored up to last for a whole year? The rabbi answered “There was a king once who had a son and he gave him a yearly allowance, so once a year the son would come before the king to receive this annual allowance. But it was actually only once a year that the king saw his son. So the king changed the way that his son received his allowance to a daily one so that the son came before him daily!” I think God deals with His children in exactly the same way. He provided for the nation daily. They had to get up themselves, go out there early and actually gather the Manna each day, and He wants us to come to him daily also. Lamentations ch.3, vs. 2 & 3 tells us that ‘His mercies are new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness!’ God wants us to come before Him each day and experience His mercy.
These verses also show us that the Manna didn’t actually last. It was only enough for that day. You couldn't store it or hoard it up because it bred worms and decayed, so a fresh supply was needed daily. Maybe the principle here is that what you get from God is good for you today, but maybe not tomorrow. You need something fresh from the Lord to share with others the next day. God arranged it in this way so that the people had to personally apply themselves, and this is what He wants of us.
Exo 16:21-22 Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. (22) On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much--two omers for each person--and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses.
So there were rules for everyday and there was a different rule for the sixth day because they were not to gather on the Sabbath. On the 6th day only, the Manna didn’t rot; it lasted for the Sabbath day as well.
Quite often my son will ask me to fire a few Bible questions to him before he goes to bed... it is just a routine thing that we do. So I asked him “What does manna taste like?” But he didn't know. So I told him it tasted like white coriander seed and like wafers made with honey. His first response was “Yum that is so nice” but when I said to him “they ate it for forty years” he decided that it wouldn’t be so nice. “Yuk,” was his actual response! The taste of it was beautiful but after forty years of the same thing Israel got sick of what God had provided for them. God never intended for them to wander around in the wilderness for forty years. It is estimated that six weeks would have been adequate for them to reach the Promised Land, but because of their unbelief they just went round and round in the wilderness. God provided for them, but His purpose was that they would go into the land of Canaan and eat of the corn and fruits of the land. But because of their unbelief and hardness of heart they spent forty years there, and Manna became another cause of grumbling.
A glimpse into the hardened heart
Num 11:4-9 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! (5) We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (6) But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (7) The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. (8) The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. (9) When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
Numbers 11:4 gives us a further insight into their hardness of heart. You have to remember that when Israel came out of Egypt, there was also a mixed multitude that came out with them and they were the cause of a lot of trouble. You could look at them as people who attend church, but were probably not believers. They were amongst the believers but not really of them. And it is this mixed multitude which was the first to complain about the hardships along the way; and they led the children of Israel into the same error.
So they have had enough of the Manna and don’t want to see any more. They keep remembering Egypt where they had fish…”now that was lovely!” “The cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, how tasty they were!” The more they thought about the things they had lost, the more their soul cried out. They said “our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.” So even though God had provided angel’s food for them and it would completely sustain them, they were absolutely sick of it. They despised God's gift and His provision for them.
We are also told that Israel went to great pains to prepare different and tasty dishes with the Manna. They gathered it; ground it between millstones, beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans and made cakes of it. They could have written a cookbook entitled “1001 Ways to prepare Manna!” Maybe Miriam could have been in charge of circulating this amongst all the women.
What else do we know about Manna? The greater picture...
Joh 6:30-35 So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? (31) Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " (32) Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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) Sir, they said, "from now on give us this bread." (35) Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
The rabbis’ taught that when God fed the Israelites in the wilderness He had this treasury or storehouse in heaven in which He kept manna. And they believed that this manna was a heavenly food and that in the wilderness God fed them from this storehouse. They also taught that when the Messiah comes He will also feed the nation with this heavenly manna out of his storehouse or treasury. So when you get to this chapter in John the Jews are saying to Jesus “what sign are you going to show us?” If you are claiming to be the Messiah are you going to open the storehouse in heaven and feed us like you did the Israelites with this heavenly manna; is this treasury going to be opened, what sign are you going to show us? And Jesus--- like He always did took a tradition of the Jews and pointed it toward Himself as the fulfilment, by feeding the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes.
Joh 6:48-51 I am the bread of life. (49) Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. (50) But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. (51) I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
So Israel had the manna in the Old Testament. Christians have a person and it is the Lord Jesus Christ, He is the living bread. God's gift to the Israelite was this little substance that formed on the dew. But God's gift to the world and to the Christian is a person and it is His Son. So when we come to the bible it is always to receive a person, it is always to receive Christ. He is the living bread that has come down from heaven and from the beginning to the end, it is all about Christ. The Holy Spirit's job is to work in our lives and take the things of Christ and show us what Christ is actually like; who He is and what He means to us today. So, let's go back to Exodus.
Exo 16:32-34 Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.' " (33) So Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come." (34) As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept.
In Exodus chapter 16 He gives the people bread and He commands them to put some aside to be laid up before all generations. It was to be placed in the Ark of the Testimony. The other two things that were there were the rod of Aaron that budded and the Law of the Testimony; all of these three things speak of God's provision for His people. However, it is also a picture of the three things that the nation rejected. They rejected His law, they rejected His leadership and they rejected His provision of manna for them. But God kept these as a witness to the nation.
When it doubt... Grumble!
Exo 17:1-6 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. (2) So they quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?" (3) But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (4) Then Moses cried out to the LORD, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me." (5) The LORD answered Moses, "Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. (6) I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
So the very same scenario of complaining is enacted again. The people come against Moses and are almost ready to stone him. Moses has had enough and wants a change of profession! You will remember Israel’s earlier test when they came to water they couldn't drink it because it was bitter. This time there was no water at all and their complaining is against Moses. But God says to him: “Look I want you to do something, I am going to meet this need, but I want you to take the elders of Israel and the rod with which you struck the river which was the rod of judgment. Everyone was to witness what was going to happen. All the elders were to come forth Moses was to take his rod. Now the rod was the same one that Moses had struck the river in Egypt with which turned the waters into blood. So here you have a wonderful picture that God is going to identify Himself with this rock. He says “behold I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb and you shall strike the rock.” When you get to the New Testament in 1st Corinthians Paul tells us what this rock was. He says that “this rock was Christ”. So you have this picture that God, even back then, was fully identifying Himself with the One who would be struck so that waters of blessing could flow and feed the millions that had need. Moses is to strike the rock and water will come out that the people may drink. The Bible is so consistent. Christ is both our bread and our water. Just as it was back then for the Israelites, so we have the same word in the New Testament. Christ as the bread of Heaven came down to this earth and lived amongst men first. However the full blessing of His coming did not come until he was struck down and made a sacrifice for us. The interesting thing that I saw in verse 6 was that He is fully identified with this rock, “I am going stand there on the rock and I want you to strike it.” The rod of judgement came down upon Christ on the cross. He was made sin for the sin of the world that you and I might receive the righteousness of Christ. And that we might receive the full blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives. So you have this wonderful picture of the rock only being struck once. Christ was only struck once. There was only one sacrifice for all time. Further on in the journey the children of Israel do not have water once again. God tells Moses to “speak to the rock.” “I want you to go to that rock and just speak to it.” The first time he had to strike it, the second time he was just called to speak to it. Jesus Christ was crucified once, once for all time, but from then on it is about coming to God for our needs in faith and believing that God hears us and will meet them. The rock must never be struck again, because Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary is never to be repeated, but we will look at this further when we get to that part of the Word.
So another test down and another, in the form of the Amaleties, soon to begin!