Gathering the Manna 

 

As Israel were commanded to gather the manna daily, so we should begathering the strength of the word daily. Prov. 8:34 records the words of Wisdom, a personification of God's Law: " Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates" . They had to get up early to gather the manna, before the sun was up. Rising up early is a common Bible idiom for making effort. So there must be an element of effort in our Bible reading; whether it means setting the alarm clock those vital few minutes earlier each morning, or making the mental struggle to really take in the real spirit of God's word. In practice, it is so important to get off each day in a good spiritual gear. Doing our Scripture reading first thing is something which shouldn't be beyond most of us.  

Think back to when the manna was first given. Israel were there in the wilderness, laden with the gold and silver of Egypt, but with no food. They really were in a desperate hole. They even decided to return to Egypt, rather than die of hunger amid the howling winds of that desert. So we can imagine the sense of relief when that manna appeared for the first time in the ground. Our sophisticated lives, perhaps with too much of Egypt's gold and silver, are spiritually as desperate as Israel physically were in that wilderness. It is difficult for us to appreciate this as we should. We hold in our hands the only, the only thing which can feed us, which can give us the hope of survival and ultimate success on our journey. The joy they had when they found the manna should be ours; like David we should rejoice at finding the word, as one who finds great spoil. David spoke of doing that after he'd been reading the word for years; that sense of discovery really can be ours, all through our lives. But do we really have that sense of gratitude for the word, that ecstasy of elation as we learn its truths? Are we truly gathering the manna? Most of us will have to admit that familiarity with our salvation has made us somewhat weak in this direction; we treat one of God's greatest gifts to us as something ordinary.  

Real Satisfaction

Israel had to be gathering the manna very early in the day, before the sun was up. That would have meant that the whole family economy was structured around that daily task of gathering the manna. Now I'm sure you can see the similarities with the place our reading of the word should have in our domestic lives. Israel would have had to change their daily routine to collect it, prepare it, to learn to live by it as their only food. It's twice emphasized in Ex. 16:8,12 that the manna would completely fill them. In the morning, said Moses, you shall be filled. So the families were to have one big meal a day. Most rural African cultures likewise survive quite happily on one big meal in the morning. The manna gave complete satisfaction; and Jesus commented on this when He said that through His word we would be completely filled, we would eat and not hunger, drink and not thirst. Now this sense of fullness isn't necessarily related to the amount of time we spend with our eyes on Holy Scripture. It comes down to our attitude. The Lord Jesus is our supreme example in this in His busy life as a working man, perhaps helping Mary bringing up the other children, constantly battling against a lack of cash, all the domestic problems of a working class family, living hand to mouth. It is doubtful if in terms of hours per day the Lord Jesus spent that long in eye contact with the word. But that word was in His mind hour by hour. And there is good reason to think that He got off each day to a real spiritual feast. Isaiah 50 prophesies of the Lord: " Morning by morning"   God awoke Him to learn His spiritual lesson.  

Ex. 16:14 describes the manna as a " small round thing" . The Hebrew for " small" doesn't really mean that; it means something which is broken open, which is complex. And so with the word, as with the manna, there was no point in just gathering it, it had to be broken open and prepared. There were a number of different ways in which the manna could be prepared, but the effort still had to be made. And so if we are to live by the word of God, just physically reading won't necessarily give us the strength we need. There must be this process of preparing it before we eat it, breaking it open so we can digest it, eating the bread from Heaven, the real essence of the Lord Jesus as revealed to us in the word. This process of 'eating' should not be equated with mere reading of the word; it goes on, or should do, in the back of our minds, all through the day. Israel complained that the manna was stodgy and tasteless. Presumably this was because they failed to make the effort to prepare and appreciate it properly. There are similarities with those who complain that God's word just isn't nourishing for them. Israel felt that they wanted something other than the manna. They were bored with it. After a few years of Bible reading, we can be faced with the very same temptation. We can merely read rather than truly feed. We seem more attracted to the self‑ help psychology of the world, to the endless tales of personal experience of one sort or another, than to some good old-time getting down to Bible reading. This isn't to say that we can't benefit from reading other literature; but our love of that word for its pure sweetness ought to grow rather than decrease. The wonder of the manna became lost on Israel. They ate the manna on the very day they made the golden calf. The wonder of that daily miracle no longer meant anything. Now it won't take you long to work out what the equivalent is in the antitype: Our doing Bible readings, and then behaving in a way which is a total denial of the spiritual food we have just eaten. Day by day Israel were gathering the manna and ate it, as they at the same time rebelled against Moses, as they yearned to return to Egypt. The routine of collecting that manna totally deceived them, and made the daily miracle meaningless. They failed to perceive the meaning of the manna.

The Wonder Of It All...

Back in John 6, we read how the people walked round the lake in the boiling midday sun in order to be with Christ and perhaps benefit from the physical food He might provide (1).  He tells them not to labour for the food which would perish, but for that which would endure for ever. The labouring of those people, trekking round that lake in the heat of the day, should be the effort we put in to eating the manna of God's word‑ according to how the Lord. There was a theme of urgency in Israel's gathering of the manna; it had to be gathered before the sun was up, or it would be lost. Would that we could have that same sense of urgency as we read, realizing that the rising of the sun at the second coming of will put an end to our opportunity to feed and grow. If Israel didn't gather the manna, or if they left it to another day, it bred worms and stank. The active anger of God was to be expressed against those who didn't take the wonder of the manna seriously. So our gathering of the manna / word must be taken seriously; it's not a question of skim reading familiar words, or doing mental gymnastics with it in an intellectual world of our own.  

Israel had to eat that manna until they entered the land, and then they ate the food which grew in Canaan. So our understanding of God will move into new paradigms in the Kingdom. The wonderful depths of the Bible are only like the manna, compared to the spiritual depths which we will then feed on (2) . Let's notice that in the type, there will still be the feeding process throughout the Kingdom. We need to get in the love of feeding on God's word now.  

Manna And Passover

There are a number of similarities between the record of the gathering of the manna and that of the Passover. They could seethe the manna, as the Paschal lamb could be seethed. They were to gather the manna according to the size of their families, and the collection was to be organized by the head of the house. This is all the language of the Passover. The lamb represented Jesus, and so did the manna. In John 6 the Lord says that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life; and He says the same about eating His words (v.63). So often the Lord says that we have got eternal life, here and now. He keeps on saying it in John 6. The word of God gives us eternal life. If we feed on the word properly, we are in the process of receiving eternal life, we have received it through our eating the word of life. Now this is the point of all our Bible study. We aren't seeking to inspire each other to do great mental gymnastics with Scripture. But we are inspiring each other to feed on, to eat that word, to live by it. Towards the end of John 6, we see how so many of the people just couldn't accept the Lord's teaching. They couldn't take on board the offer of eternal life, the idea of present possession of salvation, conditionally, through the power of response to His word. And as we face up to God's immense offer of salvation in His word, the question arises: Do we fully believe it? We can almost sense the lump in the Lord's voice as He quietly said to the twelve: " Will ye also go away?" . And then we feel the sigh of relief in His mind at Peter's words: " Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life" .  


Notes

(1) Why did they make such effort? Was it really because they wanted a free meal? Was their shortage of food so acute? Perhaps the bread and fishes Christ had created before tasted especially nice? Or was it just for the intrigue of seeing a miracle?

(2) This raises the issue of whether we will use the Bible in our preaching in the Millennium. We will be prophets- the least in the Kingdom will be a greater prophet than John the Baptist, the greatest earthly prophet apart from the Lord (Lk. 7:28). Perhaps as in the first century, and under the system of prophets and priests in the Old Covenant, we will speak forth God's word as inspired messages to the people, which will (perhaps) be written down by them.