The Israelite nation, while in the wilderness of Sin, complained to Moses about hunger. Is it not interesting that they had just recently complained about thirst in Mara? There they had seen God intervene and change the bitterness into sweetness so they could drink it. Isn’t it interesting still that just a little earlier they had composed and sang a song of rejoicing to the Lord for having saved them from Pharaoh and his army?
These are two very vivid miracles, performed almost back to back for their immediate relief, and also for their long term assurance of the leading of God. Why did they not just pray? Why did they not plead with Moses to intercede? Why does the record reveal such a hostile, complaints oriented stance? I find it most interesting that even at the edge of the Jordan, they complained rather than prayed.
Well, whatever the reasons, God did not seem to be very interested in dealing with their complaining attitude just yet. That could wait until later. In the meantime, though, He rained down bread. Why did the Lord do this? No moral chastisements, no conditional deliverance, just immediate, unfailing responsiveness to the harsh complaints of the Israelites against His servant Moses, and by extension Himself.
Well, after four hundred years in subjection to the Egyptians, the Israelites had not even formed a national conception of what it meant to be a chosen people. They would have heard, at best, the stories of Jacob and his sons, one of whom had been a great leader in this land hundreds of years ago. They would have heard the prophecies of a return to some land promised by the God of this Jacob and his fathers, a land they had never known themselves. In all fairness to the children of Israel, they were not yet the nation of Israel. They were Egyptians by identity, though not by heritage.
What a blessing then that they were so persecuted! Had they been accepted as brothers and equals rather than as foreigners and slaves, what an assimilated concept of self they would have had! They would have self-identified as Egyptians, and to a large extent, at least I believe, inseparable from its culture, history and destiny.
So the picture I see then in their Exodus is of a people who have been informed of a God whom they do not yet know and His good intentions for them, which He had yet to prove. The picture I get of God, then, is one of a suitor, wooing His bride and attempting with every word and deed to commend Himself to her affections. And this was absolutely necessary.
A preacher once mentioned that there is first deliverance, and then holiness. I agree. God needed to rescue the people, bring them to a place of safety where they could connect with Him, before making plain to them His Divine expectations of them; first His love, then His authority. This is a glorious affirmation of the doctrine of salvation by faith. The children of Israel had to believe, and trudge ahead with Moses and Aaron, before really meeting God. The cloud was there and so was the pillar, but up to that point, they took the word of Moses and Aaron that they were the emblems of the greatest monarch of the entire universe.
How telling, then, that when this complaint about hunger came, God gave them something foretelling of the kind of relationship he was going to establish with them. The small round food that the children of Israel found beneath the risen dew was not something they understood. They called it “Manna”, meaning “What?”
We know that the Manna represented the word of God. Moses himself affirmed this to the people when he said “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3
Of course, our Lord, Jesus Christ, was Himself the Word of God, which is the only necessary requirement for life. Being the word incarnate, He masterfully replied Satan’s taunt in the wilderness with Moses’ words: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Jesus Christ not only subsisted on the word of God, which He Himself singularly epitomized, He also recommended it to His disciples in John 6 : 57 and 58: “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.”
Finally, Christ promises, that not only will the Word feed us in the wilderness of this sinful world till He returns for us (Matthew 28:19,20) as it fed the Israelites for forty years until they reached the promised land (Exodus 16:35), but He will also reward the victors with more of the word.
In direct anticipation of the wilderness of the Dark Ages phase of church history, Christ once again promised that His word would be there to preserve His chosen people. This was aptly fulfilled in the history of the Waldensians, through whom God preserved the truth a time when it was being trampled and supplanted by the false church. The Bible was copied, memorized and distributed in silence for many centuries by this special people, and it has survived the flames of destruction intended to consume it from the face of the Earth.
But God has always had a different plan for His people. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Revelation 2:17. This will once again be fulfilled when the Word of God finally comes and dwells amongst us (Revelation 21:3) like he has always wanted to (Genesis 3:8, Exodus 25:8).
The children of Israel called the bread of life “What?” God’s answer came to them in the promise of the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15). He is “the bread that came down from heaven.” The people of God are in the wilderness of Sin once again, we should be hungry for His presence. May we each find the incarnate Word in the inspired scriptures, the engrafted word, which we are promised in James 1:21, is able to save our souls.