Centuries ago, God’s people the Israelites, spent over 400 years in Egypt. Joseph, an Israelite, had been sold into slavery by his brothers, landing him in Egypt. This was God’s provision, because through this event, He brought about relief from a seven year famine and not only stored up food sufficient for those in Egypt, but also for the surrounding nations. Egypt became quite wealthy by selling food from their storehouses. Joseph remained in Egypt, and many of the sons of Israel remained there with him. They prospered and became a large and strong group of people in Egypt.
After several generations, the new Pharaoh became nervous because of the strength of the Israelites. He had not known Joseph and was not aware of how his nation prospered under Joseph’s care. He decided to enslave the Israelites, so that they would not overtake the Egyptians. The Israelites remained slaves in Egypt for many generations.
Finally God raised up a deliverer to lead His people out of Egypt. He sent Moses to Pharaoh multiple times with plagues and miraculous signs. When God caused the death of Pharaoh’s son, he finally relented and set the Israelites free. So the nation of Israel, en masse, left Egypt. They had witnessed miraculous plagues and signs from God; they saw God part the Red Sea so that they could escape Pharaoh’s army; they saw God lead them as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. They had seen so many amazing things that their God did on their behalf. Yet soon after their release from slavery, they found themselves in the desert: the hot, dry, desolate wilderness. They were hungry. They longed for the food of Egypt. To them, it would have been better to die as slaves with full bellies than follow God hungry, to an unknown place.
I know that feeling. I think the old adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” describes it quite well. Sometimes we think that we’re better off sticking with what we know, even though it might come with bitter circumstances, than to follow God on an unknown path, into an uncertain future. We forget the things we’ve seen God do for us in the past. We lack the trust in His character that it takes to leave everything and follow wherever He leads.
Back to our wandering Israelites – God hears their grumblings for food, and He provides for their need. Every morning, He provided them with bread from Heaven. It just showed up all over the ground once the dew cleared. When the Israelites saw it, they asked each other, “What is it?” That’s where the name ‘manna’ came from – it means ‘what is it?’. God provided something supernatural, food that was other-worldly, something they had never seen before. When I consider the unfettered power and ability of God, I wonder why He didn’t just cause vegetables to cover the ground every morning, or types of other familiar vegetation. Surely in a desert wasteland this would have been equally miraculous! What was His purpose in providing food that begged the question, “What is this?”
I think about biting into a tomato – there are a hundred tiny little seeds inside. The same is true with a cucumber, peppers, green beans, squash, etc. Those seeds can be planted and can reproduce more vegetables. Maybe God wanted to be sure that the food He provided was food that could not be reproduced, except by Him. There’s no way to know for sure that this was God’s rationale. As I write, I can think of a few other possibilities for His purpose. But what I do see is the picture of grace we see in the manna:
Manna came completely from God. I don’t imagine it was hard work for the Creator of the Universe to send manna. He may have just simply said, “Let there be manna!” He was the sole source of manna – no one could study its properties and recreate it in a petri dish. There were no roadside manna stands along the way from Egypt to the Promised Land. It showed up daily, without fail. No one had to remind God to send it to them.
Manna was completely satisfying. The Israelites could gather up only what they needed for each day. They were instructed to gather two quarts of manna per person every morning, and that was sufficient for all their needs. (Which begs the image to consider – the nation of Israel was quite large! That’s a lot of manna!) If someone got greedy and gathered up more than they’d need for the day, by morning they found rotten, worm-infested manna in their Tupperware. But miraculously, the day before each Sabbath they could gather enough manna for two days, and there would be no spoiling. So every day, the necessary amount was readily available for all the needs of every person. No one went to bed hungry.
Manna was sweet. It made cakes that tasted like wafers and honey. It wasn’t salty or spicy. If it had been, the people would have thirsted for water, which wasn’t easy to come by in the desert wasteland.
The Scriptures are full of pictures. Manna is a clear picture of God’s grace. He sent manna to His people while they were complaining about the situation that He led them into, not while they were praising His goodness. While we were sinners, He lavished His grace upon His chosen people. Manna was the sustaining food that the Israelites could not provide for themselves, nor could they live without. Grace is the provision that saves us and then sustains us, conforming us to the image and likeness of His Son, Jesus. Without grace, we are hopeless sinners facing God’s eternal wrath. Manna was a sufficient meal that left every partaker fully satisfied. Grace is sufficient for every need we have: salvation first, and then like the waves of the sea, God bestows “grace upon grace” on us, enabling us to face every circumstance that comes into our lives. Manna was sweet and fragrant. By grace, Christ gave Himself up as a fragrant offering (Eph 5:2), and His Words are like honey to the lips of those who love it (Ps 119:103).
The God who led His people out of Egypt and fed them with manna from His hand is the same God who lavishes grace upon His chosen people today. “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!”