Their Hearts Never Left Egypt (vv. 1-3)
A month had passed since the Israelites left Egypt. The Lord refreshed them at Elim, but we cannot remain forever at the refreshing oases he gives but must press forward with renewed hearts to our final destination. As they moved southeastward into the Wilderness of Sin, for the Lord was leading them toward Sinai, they camped in a variety of locations (Num. 33:1-12). They had seen the Lord’s wonderful deliverance at the Red Sea, but now their provisions had run out. The whole congregation, and not simply the riff-raff from Egypt, began complaining against Moses and Aaron. Their complaining or murmuring was more than a little light grumbling; it was unrest stirred up by unbelief, and unchecked, it would have led to revolt against God’s appointed leadership. It is always a serious matter to doubt God’s wisdom and faithfulness, and there is no telling how a negative and complaining spirit can alter one’s personality, insult the Lord, and influence others around you to rebel against the Lord and his guidance of our lives.
Grumbling is so common that we assume it to be normal and hardly raise an eyebrow even if someone goes on a bitter rampage against the government, their children, or even the leadership of the church. This is what Israel did that day in the wilderness, for their hearts never left Egypt. One has said that it was easier to get them out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of them, and this is sadly true for most of us. Complaining reveals a heart that is dissatisfied with God’s providence and provision for our lives. The Israelites were hungry, so they undoubtedly exaggerated how good they had it in Egypt. If Pharaoh’s buffet was so wonderful, why did they cry to the Lord to be delivered from bitter bondage (Ex. 2:23)? And their present circumstances were not nearly as terrible as they made out, for they had their livestock with them and might have supplied their present need with what God had already provided. But now they wished that one of the Lord’s plagues had taken them out? It was not plain food they wanted, for that was with them in abundance, but they craved the meats of Egypt (Ps. 78:18,30). They were lusting after the food they wanted, on their terms, without having to wait upon the Lord to provide it. They would rather have lived as slaves off Pharaoh’s rations than as freemen by the Lord’s promises. It is very sad and troubling to see how quickly we can forget notable deliverances and seasons of refreshing and resume our grumbling. This is much truer in our experience, for we have so much more to remember and to celebrate!
I Will Rain Bread from Heaven (vv. 4-5)
While the people were accusing Moses of being a murderer, the Lord promised to rain bread from heaven. It is an astounding contrast. They were grumbling and likely cursing Moses and the Lord in their hearts, but he was planning an abundant feast for them! If only we believed how constantly he watches over us for good! Our anxieties would vanish, and we would more cheerfully follow him through the most barren wilderness. And this is the way to conquer a complaining spirit – to replace it with an amazed and trusting one. So certain is the Lord’s promise of bread that he with the promise gives Moses directions for the way to gather this “angel’s food” (Ps. 78:25). By this gift, the Lord will prove them, whether they will obey him or not. What is the test? For my part, I think it lies on two parts. First, will they trust the Lord to provide? He is about to show them something remarkable about the way we are to live – going to bed with nothing in your pantry but trusting that the Lord will provide breakfast. Second, will they respond to his goodness by obeying him? Already they had enjoyed preservation during his war on Egypt and at the Red Sea and Marah. The test of bread from heaven will last throughout the next forty years. Israel will live by God’s goodness; he will prepare their every meal for them. Will his goodness lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4)?
Will it lead us there? Ours is such a discontented society that we are like children complaining because there is no chocolate ice cream, but only vanilla. There is ice cream for virtually everyone but the most indolent and drugged, yet we complain about the flavor, or that others have more than we. Higher yet, we have God’s richest dealings with us by giving us the true bread from heaven (John 6:32), our Lord Jesus Christ, but are we content with his blood and righteousness? We often treat his gospel as if it were stale food, when in fact it is the constant theme of angelic singing. If Israel ate angel food in the wilderness, we drink daily of the nectar of life that flows from the very throne of God, the living water of his Spirit (John 7:38; Rev. 22:1). It is ours for the taking and enjoyment – peace and fellowship with God, the power of his indwelling Spirit, guidance in our pilgrim way, hope against all Satan’s assaults, the promise of the church’s progressive growth and victory over the gates of hell, and the assurance that our loving Father is working all the specific things in our lives together for good. His goodness to us is abundant and glorious beyond description. But we complain. Like Israel, by our complaining we shout “death to our parents” for not being everything they should be, or to the preacher for being a man of like infirmities with ourselves, when God has set before us such a bounteous feast that the sinless angels have stood and sung with amazement for two millennia! Let the Lord’s goodness lead you to repentance, child of God. Let his goodness stop your mouth from grumbling by filling your heart with amazement.
Murmuring Evil (vv. 6-8)
Otherwise, we shall fall to grumbling. It was perhaps Satan’s very first sin – along with ingratitude and pride. God is not treating me as I would prefer. It is not fair that I should have to endure this, that I cannot have what I want. Our choice is either gratitude or grumbling. To help his infant church face and turn from their sins, he promises to show them that he is the Lord who delivered them from Egypt. Well might we wonder that he must constantly show them this truth, but we are often little better. The Lord is merciful, for he never tires of calling us to remember his grace and goodness. He promises to show them his glory (v. 7) – the glory of his goodness in abundant provision of bread from heaven. What a surprising revelation – to find the Lord in the older covenant to be such an indulgent Father that it is embarrassing to contrast his giving heart toward Israel with their grumbling one toward him. Why, if one of our children complained and insinuated as Israel did, blows and starvation would be too kind, but the Lord answers Israel’s complaining with an abundant and daily gift.
He did this even though he knew that it would not humble their hearts or lead them to trust and love him. Perhaps we should remember this as parents. We do not serve and supply our children because we hope it will make them appreciate us but because we love them. It is our pleasure to provide for them, and thus it was with the Lord. In fact, his goodness did not alter them much, for as Moses and Aaron rebuked them, all their murmuring was against the Lord. They never repented of this evil. They may have railed against Moses and Aaron, but they were easy targets. They were discontented with the Lord’s provision and guidance. Nothing would satisfy them but being carried to Canaan in caravans of luxury. They would have to learn, as we do, that the way to our homeland is through faith and fighting. God will test us to see if we shall be thankful for what he provides or complain because he is not giving us what we crave and covet. Whether we are rich or poor, in pleasant or bitter circumstances, all complaining is evil. It is against the Lord’s wise government of our lives. O, we may say a word against our spouse, but it is really against the Lord. He is so high that we cannot touch him, so we smack at the low hanging fruit. The Lord knows our hearts. Will we live by faith in his word or by the cravings of our deceitful hearts?
God’s Glory in Giving Bread (vv. 9-10)
What an act of grace and mercy to these grumblers – come near to me and see my glory! The Lord is jealous for his glory, but he is never vindictive and is willing to hear and forgive. We might think that when the Lord heard their grumblings, he would answer with fire, but he instead he answers with bread. The glory cloud drew near again – perhaps it had receded somewhat – but the glory that is here emphasized is God’s voice speaking to the people, promising them bread rather than giving them judgment. Exodus is about salvation and deliverance, and the Lord is the main actor in this drama. He is our Savior. He is full of grace and pity. Israel’s sins are honestly portrayed to magnify the wonders of his kindness. They deserved wrath, but God gave them bread. They and we deserved everlasting hell, but he gave us everlasting life through his Son. This is what they were to learn from the glory cloud and the daily gift of bread. God blesses the undeserving. God blesses his complaining people. If this creates presumption and carelessness in us, we have not learned the first lessons of salvation. Their failures must lead us to repentance for our grumbling. We must be humbled for his greater grace and the gift of his beloved Son. The glory of God’s goodness was revealed in the wilderness to humble them; the glory of God’s goodness at the cross, when he crucified the living Bread for us, must humble us. May the Lord help us to repent of our complaining spirit and to look upon our crucified Savior so that we enter the glory cloud of God’s grace and there worship him for his goodness!
What Is It? (vv. 11-21)
11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 "I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'" 13 So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. 14 And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. 16 "This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: 'Let every man gather it according to each one's need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.'" 17 Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. 18 So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one's need. 19 And Moses said, "Let no one leave any of it till morning." 20 Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.
God’s Longsuffering and Faithfulness (vv. 11-14)
In providing them a feast of quail that very evening and morning bread for the next forty years, the Lord revealed the glory of his longsuffering, his patience, his slowness to provocations under our sins and discontent. Later we learn that his “longsuffering is our salvation” (2 Pet. 3:15), which is no exaggeration! We deserve to be forsaken for our grumblings against the Lord, for they disrespect his majesty and doubt his faithfulness. We provoke his jealousy in a thousand small ways each day, but he passes over our transgressions and forgives them all. We must be daily confessing our sins, however, else we forfeit this mercy (1 John 2:9). Israel had not yet forfeited it, and there were some godly men and women among them. Although they were a very small minority, the Lord would not forsake his people (1 Sam. 12:22); his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will overcome the unbelief and rebellion of the majority. And to show his glory and to give witness of his goodness, he tells them that there will be a feast of quail that evening. This was evidently a one-display of his generosity, for they had abundant meat in their numerous livestock.
The bread was a different matter altogether. It would last throughout the next forty years, the morning gift not ceasing until they crossed the Jordan and had eaten corn in Canaan (Josh. 5:12). When the dew lifted the next morning, left on the ground was a small, circular thing, like coriander seed and sweet as honey. The people asked, aWh !m', manhu, or “What is it?” They had never seen this before. It was God’s bread that he gives to you, Moses told them. The Lord’s response to our ingratitude and complaining should humble us and endear our hearts to him. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Murmuring is evil, but he is merciful and longsuffering. And when we find him answering their complaints with bread and meat, we must praise him. Has he not often done the same for us? Is this not the lesson of the cross of our Savior? There was no faithful man left – only grumbling sinners, ungrateful wretches, and hardened criminals against his majesty. But he gave us his Son. “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is the gospel. We deserve wrath and judgment; God gives us instead the bread of life. If we know and believe this gospel, we must praise God and devote ourselves to his service with thankful hearts.
Sufficient Bread (vv. 15-18)
With the gift came instructions for restraining their craving. They were a people on the march, so there must not be gluttony or reckless eating. Each man was to gather about 2 liters for himself and for each member of his family. Some families gathered more, some less, but all had sufficient. There is a clear parallel to our Lord’s feeding of the five thousand, which is the all the more remarkable in that it was the very sign that those grumbling Jews demanded. Jesus did exactly what God had done in the wilderness (John 6). With small scraps, he fed multitudes, and all had enough. In his case, there were leftovers. This breaks the parallel but demonstrates the vastly greater riches of grace and power we have in him and in his new covenant. God always gives us sufficient for every true need. The Israelites had to gather; the bread from heaven must be collected and properly used during the day. But he was their provider. Our Lord also told us to trust our heavenly Father to take care of us (Matt. 6:21-34). We live at his cost, and unless we trust him to keep his word to feed and clothe us, we shall be anxious. Our anxiety will prevent us from serving him courageously in the world and seeking first his kingdom – and not our bellies!
Warnings and Worms (vv. 19-21)
To drive home the sufficiency of God’s bounty and the certainty of his faithfulness, they are forbidden to store any of the bread overnight. Some broke this command, and the manna bred maggots and stank. They were to gather every morning (v. 21), before the sun was high, which was a rebuke to laziness and late sleeping, as well as an incentive to getting to bed early. The best bread from God is obtained early in the morning, through fellowship with him in his word and prayer. This is the way we enjoy communion with our Savior by the Spirit. Most spiritual weakness and depression are increased and perhaps caused by the failure to observe this simple rule. Seek the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, early, and do not stay up late entertaining oneself or otherwise preventing morning bread because of evening waste. Morning gathering is the way to spiritual health and vigor in serving Christ (Prov. 6:9-11).
But there is something else very remarkable about this provision of bread and prohibition of storage. They went to bed with empty pantries. They had to trust the Lord to feed them each morning. I want to say this delicately and carefully, but there is much about modern life that undermines this kind of trust in the Lord. Most do not feel any great urgency to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And few understand “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth.” The reason is obvious. We have mastered storage. In the process, we began trusting our storage. Extra and second helpings became expected. Stores are open around the clock. One might correctly argue that our abundance is a gift from God, but if his abundance makes us forgetful of his largesse, cold toward his goodness, unthankful and complaining, we are worse than the Israelites.
Our retirement plans, to take another example, are both a bane and blessing – the former because they tempt us to lose that sense of daily dependence upon God. Much of modern life is designed around processes and programs that introduce control and diminish uncertainty. We forget what it means to trust God to take care of us. It is true that the Scriptures encourage prudence and laying up for the future, but it condemns any kind of trust in our prudence. David killed his ten thousands, but he did not trust his sword (Ps. 44:6). This is a hard line to master – the difference between using the means God has ordained and not trusting the means but trusting him. But consider this glory – Israel went to bed for forty years with nothing in the pantry except God’s promises, and they had breakfast every morning. We would enjoy his bounty and a complaining tongue would be cut out of our mouths if we remembered this truth. We truly live by God’s word alone, his promise to take care of us. If we have plenty, stores of money for many years laid up, we have more reason to devote ourselves to his praise and service, and to stand more amazed by his goodness and generosity than if manna lay ten feet deep upon our lawns tomorrow morning. And by nailing his Son to the tree, God has said that he will give all we need in this world – not all we crave – if we will seek his kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
Sabbath Provision and Directions (vv. 22-31)
22 And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD has said: 'Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'" 24 So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 25 Then Moses said, "Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none." 27 Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? 9 "See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." 30 So the people rested on the seventh day. 31 And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
The Sabbath Predates the Ten Commandments (vv. 22-26)
God is faithful to provide for us, and he does not require the normal means to do so. This is one purpose of the Sabbath, which was in force before the Sinai legislation. It was a creation ordinance; the fourth commandment was a call to remember the Sabbath as part of the very moral fabric of the universe, of our thankful worship of God, and of our trusting rest in his provision. Israel had very evidently forgotten the Sabbath. Living in anti-Christian consumerist societies, we should readily understand this. Unless one practices God’s Sabbath rest consistently and delights in it, the Sabbath will quickly be lost. If our hearts are not rejoicing and resting in God, they will not enjoy his Sabbath. And we need a civil or social law to enforce God’s Sabbath, as we see in Nehemiah’s prohibition of commerce on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:15-21), otherwise the merchants will quickly overcome the preachers and fathers. But of course, only a God-fearing people who “have the faith of Jesus and keep the commandments of God” will want or at least tolerate Sabbath incentives through social legislation. We once had them here, and our land was happier and quieter when we had them. There is no peace in the continued cycle of buying and selling, seeking to be entertained, and finding one’s own pleasure. There is no peace for the wicked, the Lord says, and he has taken away our nation’s Sabbaths (Isa. 57:21).
It is thus a spiritual disease that most American Christians have jettisoned the Sabbath from their thinking. Sunday is about a quick “worship” service, lunch out, afternoon sports and entertainment, and some home chores to prepare for the next week. If we are God’s children, we shall “keep his Sabbath,” for he has elected us to be holy in Christ (Eph. 1:3-4). His will is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), our progressive holiness, which is increasing delight in and obedience to God’s commands (1 John 2:4-6). Without holiness, no one will see the Lord – not a perfect holiness but a sincere desire to walk blamelessly in all the commandments of God (Heb. 12:14; Luke 1:6). No interest in Sabbath rest and worship is indicative of shockingly low spiritual vitality, ignorance of God’s word, and a stubborn refusal to bring our lives under his authority. Whatever we think we need, God has revealed from the beginning that we need to set apart one day in seven to rest in him, see his glory, and worship him for his kindness.
Double Provision, Trust God, Sweet Bread (vv. 27-31)
This is as true now as In Moses’ day, for we see that God enforced the Sabbath among them by giving them no manna on the seventh day. He gave them a double portion on the sixth day, which they could bake or boil. God promised that it would not spoil. Here is a remarkable thing: God fed them each day by direct miracle. He had them go to bed each evening without anything in their pantry so that they would learn to trust him. On the sixth day, he called them to a double trust – for two days. He would give no more bread until Monday. What else is this but a constantly, weekly reminder to trust God to take care of us. Distrust explains many of our psychoses, nervous ticks, and speculative market schemes. There must be a way to get ahead, to provide for oneself, to secure the future without having to trust God. Do not think that our dependence upon God is any less today than it was 4,000 years ago. Fashion and financial instruments and technology may have advanced, but these are like a man painting the walls of his house a different color to cover water spots or rot.
There remains in the heart of every man, unless it is removed by the saving operation of the Spirit, a fundamental unbelief and distrust of God. This is because our sin and guilt have separated us from him, and we feel this acutely, whether or not we are willing to admit it, for self-deception is a mask all wear. But the Sabbath for us, regardless of the times in which we live, is a reminder that God alone provides for us. He uses means – we have to work, collect the bread, store it – but without his blessing, the means will breed maggots and rot – they will be ineffectual to provide for us. And thus, whether we have ten dollars or ten million, we are in the same place. God must provide for us. We must trust him. When we do, he gives us sweet bread from heaven and pledges to be our guide until death and then receive us into glory (Pr. 73:24).
Always Remember God’s Goodness (vv. 32-36)
32 Then Moses said, "This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: 'Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'" 33 And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations." 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. 35 And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 Now an omer is one-tenth of an ephah.
Remember, Rejoice, and Trust (vv. 32-34)
We must always remember God’s goodness and that he alone feeds us. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; everything belongs to him; all wait upon him for their food. He preserves man and beast. Our age wants desperately to depend upon predictable if complex food delivery systems, but our Father calls his people to a higher faith. Unbelievers have nothing to trust but food factories and tractor trailers and market forces. We trust our Father to take care of us; he commands work, urges prudence, and uses means, but ultimately, we are completely dependent upon his faithfulness to take care of us. And this is the reason that God commanded them to fill a pot with a half-gallon, about 2.2 liters, with the manner – and keep it forever! It would not spoil – O, how many things we have lost by our unbelief and unfaithfulness. Can you imagine what it would do to our hearts if we could see that pot of manna that God preserved in the wilderness, later in the tabernacle at Shiloh, and finally in Solomon’s temple – all to be lost by the wickedness of turning away from the Lord. But we have God’s word, which is more necessary and more reliable than any evidence we might have from our eyes (2 Pet. 1:19).
The lesson of the preserved pot of manna remains clear, even if the manna itself is lost – God takes care of us, and we must never, never forget this. We must rejoice in his faithfulness. For us, we must remember this very instance as if God fed us this way, for he did – we are the children of Abraham if we believe in Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16,26-29). Remember also God’s faithfulness in caring for you throughout life, the little reposes and seasons of refreshment he has given, so that when you are in a lean time in the wilderness, your heart may smell and still taste a few crumbs of past manna. This is the way we are to use our Father’s goodness. Tell your children all the ways the Lord has taken care of you. If you have nothing “remarkable” to relate, tell them how he has given you good health, a will to work, and a blessing upon your work so that your family can enjoy his generous provision. Always, always, child of God, ascribe greatness and goodness and faithfulness to God. We live at his cost, by his expense, and forgetfulness of this has ruined our land and smitten it with a curse of self-trust, covetousness, and feverish consumerism – at their deep and dark hearts motivated by fear of the unknown and that old pagan spirit: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” For us, let us eat and drink so we can praise God and live and reign with him forever.
God’s Living Bread Brings Us to Heaven (vv. 35-36)
The Lord’s constant goodness is magnificent! For forty years, his bread followed Israel through the wilderness, at long encampments, on military excursions, in seasons of rebellion and death – he always feeds his people. He will not forsake us. The manna did not stop until Israel was eating of the fruits of Canaan. God’s bread will bring us home! And this is much truer, much more glorious now. Whoever ate the manna in the wilderness died, but our Lord Jesus is the true and living bread from heaven. If we eat him – trust in him, follow him, depend upon him, living in union and communion with him – we shall never die (John 6:58). This is the glorious truth that the manna in the wilderness typified, but it was lost upon most of the Jews. It would have been lost upon us had not the Light of the world descended from heaven and made known the Father to us. In him, we learn how much God loves us and pledges to take care of us. Jesus Christ is the true bread who follows us all our days and will bring us to heaven. He gives a sign and seal of his saving work and nearness and power in the Lord’s Supper. To eat worthily, we must discern the spiritual significance of the bread and wine. This will always lead us to repose more fully upon our Savior, to call upon him for help, and to strive to obey him in all things. But let us never forget this one thing: that however Satan rails and accuses and roars, or our flesh resists the good impulses the Spirit of God has implanted in us, or our weariness in walking through the wilderness of this life and having to fight every inch, God’s bread will follow us all the way to Canaan. He will never leave us. He will always take of us. Let us sing and rejoice – and trust him!
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. What is murmuring?
2. Was Egypt as good as Israel remembered it? How does complaining impact our ability to see things correctly?
3. How can a complaining spirit be conquered?
4. How did the Lord prove them by the manna?
5. Have you thanked the Lord for his goodness to you?
6. What is the main evil of grumbling?
7. Why should we be embarrassed to grumble?
8. What do we learn about the Lord from the fact that he answered their complaining with bread?
9. Why do we need Sabbath laws?
10. Why should we trust, praise, and serve God more, not less, the more we he gives to us?
11. How can (and must we) remember and celebrate God’s goodness?