Lessons from the Manna
“Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.”— Exodus xvi. 4.
IT seems to us that it must have been a very difficult thing to supply food for the hundreds of thousands, I shall not be incorrect if I say the millions, who were in the wilderness; but, difficult as that was, the commissariat was not so difficult as the education. To train that mob of slaves into a nation under discipline, to lift up those who had been in bondage, and make them fit to enjoy national privileges, this was the Herculean task that Moses had to perform. And their God, who loved the children of Israel, and chose them, and determined to make them a peculiar people unto himself, undertook to teach them, and he used their food as part of the means of their education. Animals are often taught through their food. When they could not be reached in any other way, they have been instructed by their hunger, and by their thirst, and by their feeding. And the Lord, who knew of what a coarse nature Israel was composed, and how the people had degenerated from the old stock during their long bondage, took care to teach them by every means, not only by the higher and the more spiritual, by the typical and symbolical, but he also taught them by their hunger and by their thirst, by the supply of water from the rock, and by the manna which he rained from heaven.
We will try to see, to-night, what the Lord taught them, and we will do more than that; we will try to learn what they learned, and somewhat more. May the Holy Spirit himself be our Teacher, and as he has often taught us the divinest lessons by the bread and wine, preaching to our very hearts by what seemed the lowly ministry of food and drink, so may he, to-night, teach us by that angels’ bread, wherewith Israel was fed in the wilderness long years ago!
First, I invite you to consider how the Lord taught these people by his gift; and next, how he taught them by making this gift a test to them; thirdly, I shall have to show how he teaches us lessons as to temporal things; and lastly, how he instructs us as to our spiritual food.
I. First, then, dear friends, let us consider HOWTHE LORD TAUGHT THESE PEOPLE BY HIS GIFT.
He wanted them to know him; his great desire was that they should know Jehovah their God. If they knew God, they would know all else; for, after all, “the proper study of mankind” is God; and when man knows his God, he knows himself; but if he thinks that he knows himself while he knows not his God, he is greatly mistaken.
God desired, then, to teach them himself by the gift of the manna: and he taught them, first, his care over them, that he was their God, and that they were his people, and that he would lay himself out to provide for them. Think of the care that God had over them, over each one of them, for each man had his own omer of manna. No woman, no child, was forgotten. Every morning, there was the sufficient quantity for every man, according to his eating for that day. There was no more; and there was never any less; so carefully did God watch over each individual. The individuality of the divine love is a great part of the sweetness of it. God thinks of every separate child of his as much as if he had only that one. The multiplicity of his elect does not divide the loaf of his affection. He has an infinite affection for each one, and he will take care of the details of each chosen life. He will see your omer just filled, precisely, to an ounce. He will give you all you can possibly require; but he will give you nothing that you can lay by to minister to your pride.
And this care was shown every day. The Lord taught them the continuity of his remembrance by its coming every day. If he had sent one great rain of liberalities to refresh his inheritance, and had bidden them gather up the vast store, and carry it with them in all their journeyings, they could not so well have learned his care as when he sent it fresh every morning. Besides, they would have had the burden of carrying it, and they were free from that, for the heavenly supplies were always close at hand, exactly at the spot where they pitched their tents, and tarried. Every morning, there was the manna precisely where they needed it, and that without any man’s shoulder being made raw by carrying his food in his kneading-trough. The Lord teaches you and me, in the same way, that he not only cares for each one, but cares for each one each day and each moment, tracking our footsteps, and meting out the full supply of the hour according as the peculiar necessity arises. “He is always thoughtful, always thoughtful of me,” thou mayest say of thy Lord; “always thoughtful of all the brotherhood, of the whole company of the redeemed, but none the less thoughtful of each one because there are so many myriads to be cared for every moment of every day.” Was not that a sweet lesson for the children of Israel to learn as they gathered their daily bread?
But Jehovah taught them, next, his greatness. He had taught them that in Egypt by his mighty plagues, and at the Red Sea, when he branded the breast of the waters with his mighty rod. But now he gently taught them his greatness, his exceeding greatness, first, by the quantity of the manna. There was enough for them all. How much it required, I leave arithmeticians to calculate; I cannot go into that question to-night. But, remember, that quantity fell every morning for forty years. What a great God is he who could feed the canvas city of his chosen people for forty years at a stretch, and yet without his stores being ever drained! His greatness was also seen by the mode in which he fed these myriads. Usually our bread springs up from the soil, but these people were in a waste howling wilderness. Wonder of wonders, their bread came down from the sky! Shall men live on air? Will you sustain a population on mist, and cloud, and dew? Yet out of a seeming vacuum came a constant plenty. Every morning the earth was covered with the heaped-up food of all that multitude; and they had nothing to do but to go out and gather it. What a God is this whose marchings through the wilderness were so marvellous! Jehovah, thy paths drop fatness! Wherever thou dost put thy foot, the wilderness and the solitary place are glad for thee. If thou dost lead thy people through a desert, it is no desert to them. The heavens supply what the earth denies. Behold, the greatness of your God, ye who are fed by his care!
And, next, they learned his liberality combined with his greatness, for every day they were fed; but not fed as Joseph supplied the people in Egypt, when he took from them all their stores to buy the corn, and at last took themselves to be bondsmen unto Pharaoh, and their lands to be Pharaoh’s freehold, that they might live. No; there was never a pretence of paying for that daily bread. The richest man had his omer filled, but he paid not a doit for it; and the poorest man had his omer just as full at the same price. There was “nothing to pay”; no manna-tax was ever exacted of the Israelite’s hand. Oh, the liberality of God! His cry is, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk.” Do you notice how Jehovah’s invitation grows? He says at first, “Come ye to the waters,” but he corrects himself before he gets through with it, and says, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The Lord is infinitely good, essentially. He is growingly good, experimentally. The more we trust him, the more we discover of his liberality. He “giveth liberally, and upbraideth not.” He scarcely upbraided Israel despite their frequent murmurings, but the manna fell continually; and the abundance of it must always have struck the people. God’s liberality never stinted them. Oh, yes, I have no doubt that it is quite right to weigh out the bread, and to weigh out the meat, so much bone and so much fat to be allowed to every prisoner in the gaol, and possibly to every pauper in the poor-house! But that is not God’s way of going to work. Though we deserve to be in prison, and though we are all of us pensioners on his bounty, yet he gives each one his omer full. If a man has a large appetite, he may eat as much as he likes, and the manna seems to grow while he is eating; and if he has a small appetite, though he may have gathered much, yet still he will have nothing over. God supplied the manna bountifully, yet exactly according to the capacity of the receiver.
This brings me to say that the children of Israel also learned God’s immutability, for they had been fed with manna all through the wilderness. Some old man may have said, “I remember going out the first time to gather my omerful. I was astonished at it; and my neighbours kept calling out, ‘Man-hu? Man-hu? Man-hu?’ They were all wonderstruck; they did not know what to call it; so they asked, ‘What is it?’ They called it, ‘Man-hu?’ And now,” said he, “I have been out all these years. Thank God, I have never had a swollen foot, so that I could not go out to gather it. It has always been just as white, and just as round, and just as plentiful, and just as near my tent as at the first. I used to live over on the left side of the camp, and I moved to the right; but I always found that the manna was equally plentiful in every direction wherever I went. And it is so now,” the old man would say, “it is so now; and it is just as sweet, and just as plentiful, and just as freely to be had for nothing by every man who chooses to go out and gather it. Blessed be God, he changes not, and therefore we sons of Jacob are not consumed! If he had changed, the manna would have failed us, and we should have been consumed with hunger.” Jehovah still lives, O child of God! Thou hast just buried one very dear to thee, but the Lord liveth still; he never fails. It may be that thy income is getting shorter; the brook Cherith is drying up, and the ravens have not been with the bread and meat lately. Still Jehovah lives; and there is a widow over at Zarephath, who will have her commission to take care of the Lord’s servant. Jehovah lives; his eye is not dim, his ear is not heavy, his arm is not short. Therefore trust thou in the unchanging God, and be not afraid. The manna shall fall from heaven till thou shalt eat the old corn in Canaan.
Do you not think, beloved, that from this gift the children of Israel also learned God’s wisdom? If they were not sensible enough to know it, he had given them the best food that he could give them. In that hot climate, if they had eaten flesh-meat continually, they would often have been ill. When the Lord did allow them quails in answer to their cravings, while the meat was yet in their mouths they were taken with deadly sickness. It was unwholesome for them to have flesh-meat; this manna from on high was the best thing for people living in tents, journeying from place to place, over a burning sand, beneath a scorching sky. The Lord had adapted the food to the people; yet they said, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” The very name they gave to it showed that it was just the right sort of food for them, easy of digestion. God had adapted their food to their position in the wilderness; no doctor could have drawn up a dietary table that was equal in wisdom to the one prepared by God for his people while they were in that condition.
And he showed his wisdom, too, in the quantity provided, it was always the right measure. “He that gathered much had nothing over;” the manna seemed to shrink to the right quantity. “He that gathered little had no lack;” the manna seemed to swell and increase so that there was exactly enough to an ounce for all those multitudes. Oh, the infinite wisdom of God! How I have often admired his promptness to a moment, his exactness to a drachm, for with him there are no more small mistakes than great ones! He never errs in any sense or way; but he hits the mark precisely in all that he does.
And then, once more, the Israelites must have learned his goodness, because he had not supplied them with tasteless food. According to the Apocrypha, which is not to be received as Scripture, but still is often valuable in some respects, each man tasted the manna according to his own liking. There was something about it that enabled the mouth to give its own flavour to it; and their marchings through the wilderness, and their weariness, would often add a sauce to it that made it exceedingly sweet to them. It was like wafers made with honey, not at all unpalatable. It was, as I have already told you, like fresh oil, by no means disagreeable to an Eastern. God did not give them beggar’s food, spare scraps and broken victuals. He had said, “I will rain bread from heaven for you,” and he kept his word. The least bit of heaven’s bread must be delicious to the taste. “Man did eat angels’ food,” said the psalmist; and that cannot be bad food which falls from the table of cherubim and seraphim, such food as spirits might partake of if they might partake of any, light, and pure, and ethereal, and spiritual, as far removed from the grosser forms of materialism as food well could be, a godlike food for a godlike race if they had but been worthy of their destiny, and had been willing to learn what God was so ready to teach them.
II. Notice, dear friends, in the second place, HOW THE LORD TAUGHT THESE PEOPLE BY MAKING THIS MANNA A TEST TO THEM.
Their position was in many respects a very pleasant one. They had not to work for daily bread, they had only to go out and gather it. There it was, but here is the point for us to observe. It was given every day; they never had any store. A man who gathered manna for twenty years might say, in language that I have often heard, “I ain’t a bit forrarder, I am just where I was twenty years ago,” as if it was not getting forwarder to be twenty years older, and to have had twenty years of mercy. Yet there was no store of manna; all up and down the wilderness there was not a single bank in which people could put their money, there was no such thing as a dividend to be received by anybody, and nobody could be laying up anything. Each Israelite had what he wanted for the day; he kept on having just so much and no more, and this was a test. Could he endure that test?
And then, again, as there was no store for the whole of them, and they did not get any richer, so there was no opportunity for greed, for it was given to every man. He who thrust out his two hands to rake up the manna, when he returned to his tent, had an omerful for himself, and his wife, and his eight children, but he had not any more. He thought the next day, perhaps, that he would sweep away by the half -hour together if he could, as long as the dew was remaining, and get an extra quantity; but when he examined it, he had exactly as much as he and his family could eat, and no more. The rest was all gone, evaporated, and nothing was left over and above what he needed; and his poor palsied neighbour, who could only get a little together in his basin with his hand, found that, somehow, he had enough, for God made it to grow in the basin, and when he looked at it, there was just enough for the day’s supply.
“Oh!” says one, “I should like that.” Well, I agree with you; I should like that. How long would you like it? I dare say, about as long as these Israelites did, and you would begin grumbling just as they did. Here was God’s test of them: every day, and no store; every man, and no greed. It is so with grace; God gives us as much grace as we want, but there is nobody here who has any grace laid up. Oh, yes! I heard one person say that she had so much grace that she had not sinned for months. Ugh! I thought I smelt something. I did not say anything; but I remembered what manna does when it is kept, and there I left the subject. I hope none of you think that you have more grace than you need, because you have not. You may, possibly, have as much grace as will last you through to-day; but you will need as much as that to-morrow morning, if not more. Oh, yes, I know that you have an iron safe, and you go and rattle your keys, and you say, “Look here; I have grace enough locked up for the next six weeks.” Go again, and you will be glad to run away from the stench, for you will find that you have locked up so much pride, and nothing else. We do not want dying grace till we come to die; be satisfied to have living grace while you live. You do not want grace to preach to-night, dear friends; you want grace to sit and hear. That may, perhaps, require as much grace as I need for preaching; but do not you ask for my grace, as I will not ask for yours. Eat your own manna. Do eat it; do not lay it up, it is not meant to be stored up, it must be eaten. This gift of the manna, every day for every man, was a test by which the Lord taught the children of Israel.
So was that Friday storing, when they said to themselves, “We get into the habit of gathering our food every morning, but here comes this Friday, when we have to gather twice as much.” I do like consistency, always doing the same thing; but here is a command to do twice as much once a week, here is a law that shifts a bit. I like systematic theology; but here is a sliding seat. Here is a double supply for Friday, and I have to store half of it up. So one man did not store it up when he was told to do so, and another man tried to store it up when he was told not to do so. Thus the Lord tested and tried them. It is a wonderful thing, that testing to which God puts us. Sometimes, when we think that we have such a surplus of faith in him, he just tests us, and we find that we have not any. The grandest life is a life of dependence upon God, for that is true independence. If you wholly depend upon God, then have you risen to independence. He who has nothing but what God gives him day by day, has a competence. He is the man who has saved most who has least, for he is saved from the worry of taking care of it. If he is still dependent upon God’s providence, and faith can keep her hold, he is the best-off man after all. You said that you envied the Israelites. Ah, well, you may; but you want faith, or else what might be a theme of envy becomes a subject of discontent. So I leave that point.
III. My time has pretty well gone, so I will only hint at what I would have said had there been time. Observe, HOW THE LORD I like TEACHES US BY THIS MANNA AS TO TEMPORAL THINGS.
First, he teaches us that our supplies depend upon him. Where did all the manna come from? It all came from God. Child of God, all thy supplies must come from God. Learn thou that. Whatever the second causes, whatever the intermediary sources, all thou art to have will come whence all thou hast had has come, namely, from God.
Learn, next, that our supplies are sure to faith. If the manna did not fail for forty years, neither will the Lord fail to supply thy needs. Thy God will give thee thy livery, if thou art his servant. He will give thee thy daily rations also, if thou servest him. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” He who carves for himself will cut his fingers, and get an empty plate; but he who waits for the great Host of all the chosen family to carve for him shall have enough, and that of the best. “My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
But learn from the children of Israel that our supplies will have to be gathered and prepared by ourselves. God sent the manna from heaven; but the people had to go out every morning, and get it in; and when they had gathered it, we read that they used to beat it in mortars, or grind it in mills, and bake it in pans, and make it into cakes. God is not the patron of idleness. He will have his people work; and his rule is, “If any man will not work, neither shall he eat,” a rule he often carries out with those who are idlers. But, beloved, we thank God for opportunities for diligence. Though labour came at first as a curse, God has turned it into a blessing.
And, once more, our supplies ought to content us, for the children of Israel had enough for all their needs. They had no superfluities; but they had all-sufficiency. They had no luxuries; but yet if they chose to think so, their daily mercies became luxuries to them. Oh, that God might teach us to trust him as to temporals!
IV. Now for my last point, and I beg your patience for a few minutes only. How THE LORD TEACHES US BY THIS MANNA AS TO OUR SPIRITUAL FOOD. Here also I will only give you hints.
Every day you and I ought to go forth and find food for our spiritual life. Ah, but have you all received spiritual life? Some of you, it may be, are dead while you live, without God, and without Christ. May the Lord quicken you by his life-giving Spirit!
But if you have spiritual life, you must feed it, and God will give you manna from heaven, that is, Christ himself, with which to feed your soul. He is that Bread of life which came down from heaven, and you must feed on him. Take care that you go diligently to work to get this spiritual food. The Israelites were up betimes to gather the manna which fell morning by morning. Be not idlers with the Word of God; search it. Get up early in the morning to read your Bible if you cannot do it at other times. Steal from your sleep a happy hour to read the Scriptures. Diligently and earnestly seek the Lord, for he has said, “They that seek me early shall find me.”
Then, as I hinted in the reading, the manna was always encased in dew. They took care to gather this, for then it became sweet dew to them. May the Word of the Lord always have a dew upon it to you! The critic takes God’s Word, and he treats it as the sun did the manna. He pours a dry heat upon it, and it evaporates, and it is gone. Oh, those critics! What a mass of manna they have evaporated altogether! But the child of God takes care that he loses nothing of what God has revealed. Every word is precious to him; ay, every jot and tittle; and under the bedewing influences of the Holy Spirit he gathers Christ fresh constantly, ever new; and he finds his flesh to be meat indeed, and his blood to be drink indeed!
Again, the manna was to be sought continually. So must your spiritual food. Do not try to live on last year’s manna. Stale experiences are poor food. I know no dish that is worse than cold experience; you need to have a daily realization of the things of God. Hourly feed on Christ; for the food of years past will be of small account to you. Continually go about the meadows and feed, ye sheep of the Lord; go again and again to the still waters, drink and be satisfied.
In the case of this manna, the gatherers were pleased with littles. It was a small, round thing, like coriander seed, or like the hoar-frost. So be very thankful to get a little bit out of God’s Word. If you only find one new thought, one fresh idea, pick it up, and put it into the omer. A great many of these precious little things will make rare food for a hungry spirit. Get the food for your soul little by little.
You can imagine how they probably had to gather it. I suppose that they went down on their knees to get it, for it was always down low, just on the hoar-frost that lay on the desert sand. See them all stooping down to gather it up; and the bulk of them, I think, were on their knees gathering it. That is the way to get the heavenly food, gather it on your knees, stoop low with humility, bend to the very ground in prayerfulness, and so gather up the coriander seed; nay, I mean the heavenly manna, and go your way rejoicing.
And it was always for immediate consumption. Whenever you get a divine promise, go and pray over it, and use it at once. Whenever you see a duty, do it. Do not leave one single part of God’s Word to lie void. If anything in the Word of God is impressed upon your mind, let it get into your very soul, and let it be carried out in your practice. Eat the manna as soon as you get it, and use to God’s glory the strength derived from it.
Lastly, like the Israelites, sometimes you will get double supplies. There is a difference between us and the children of Israel, for we generally get a double supply on the Sabbath. Oh, how we ought to thank God for our Sabbaths, when the Lord is with us, or when he makes the manna to lie on the dew, and we come up to his house, and go away with our omers full! Happy Sabbaths! They become the marked days of the week, and we go from Sunday to Monday, and Monday to Thursday, and Thursday to Sunday again, thanking God that still the heavenly bread comes down to meet our rising prayers and thanksgivings.
God bless you, dear friends! May he make his Word sweeter to us every day we live! May we have good appetites to feed on it!
As for you who have never known the flavour of the heavenly food, I say again, as I said a few minutes ago, may the Lord quicken you by his own life-giving Spirit, for Jesus’ sake! Amen!