By J.R. Miller
Exodus 16, Numbers 11
The people of Israel had now entered upon their forty years of discipline. Daring this period they were to be made into a nation. This wider purpose should be kept in mind in all our studies of the incidents of the wandering in the wilderness. The people were to be trained to trust God and to obey Him.
The first experience recorded was at MARAH. There, in great thirst, after three days of desert journey, they came upon springs to which they eagerly rushed, only to find the water bitter, unfit to drink. A tree growing close by was cut down and cast into the waters, at once sweetening them. Thus a lesson in trust was taught--God was leading them and He would not fail to provide for their needs.
Often in life, God's children come to bitter springs. What promised to be experiences of refreshing, prove to be disappointing. Human lives have many sorrows. But always close by the bitter spring--grows the tree which will sweeten it. Many interpret the tree of Marah to mean the cross of Christ. The gospel has comfort for all in any trouble. Dr. Fairbairn speaks of the words of Christ as a handful of spices cast into the world's bitter streams and sweetening them.
After leaving Marah, the people journeyed to ELIM, where they found an oasis with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. Life is not all disappointment and bitterness. Troubles pass away. Joy comes after sorrow.
Moving farther into the inhospitable wilderness, the people soon found themselves needing bread. They had already forgotten the lesson of Marah--the kindness of God in providing for their needs--and began to murmur! Again God's answer to their ungrateful complaining was love--a new mercy. "I will rain bread from heaven for you."
"In the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, there on the desert surface were fine flakes, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they asked one another, 'What is it?' because they didn't know what it was. Moses told them, 'It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.'" Exodus 16:13-15
MANNA was a substance which fell with the dew. For forty years, manna was rained about the camps of the Hebrews, until they reached Canaan and had the natural products of the fields for food. It fell in small grains, like white frost flakes; and in taste like thin flour-cakes with honey. It was gathered every morning, except on the Sabbath, and in place of this--a double portion fell on Friday morning. If kept over-night, it became corrupt except on the Sabbath. Manna was the principal part of the food of the people all the forty years. As a perpetual memorial of this miracle, a golden pot of it was laid up in the ark.
God always has some way to provide for the needs of His people. He is not limited to ordinary means. He never works needless miracles. He did not send manna while the people were in Goshen, because there was no need for it then. But here in the wilderness, where food could not be gotten in any ordinary way, He supplied it supernaturally.
"Yes," someone says, "that was the age of miracles--but we cannot expect God to provide for us in these days--as He did then for Israel." The answer is that God's love is just as watchful and as faithful now--as it was in the days of miracles. We may always with perfect confidence depend on our Father to provide for us in some way--when we are following His guidance. Indeed, it is God who feeds us every day--just as really as it was God who gave the people the manna each morning. We do not call it a miracle when our daily morning meal is spread for us--yet it is no less God who gives it to us--than if a separate miracle were wrought each morning to feed us.
'Give us this day our dally bread.'
Back of the loaf--is the snowy flour,
And back of the flour--the mill;
And back of the mill--is the wheat, and the shower,
And the sun, and the Father's will.
Something was given to the people to do--even when the bread was supplied supernaturally. "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day." Exodus 16:4
They were not to lay up in store--but were taught to live simply by the day. When night came, they did not have a supply of food left over for the next day--but were entirely dependent upon God's new supply to come in the morning.
In this method of providing, God was teaching all future generations a lesson. When the Master gave the disciples the Lord's Prayer, He put this same thought of life into it, for He taught us to say: "Give us this day--our daily bread."
This is a most valuable lesson for every Christian to learn. We should make a little fence of trust around each day, and never allow any care or any anxiety to break in. God does not provide in advance for our needs. We cannot get grace today--for tomorrow's duties; and if we try to bear tomorrow's cares and burdens today--we shall break down in the attempt.
TIME comes to us, not in years, not even in weeks--but in little days. We have nothing to do with 'life in the aggregate' --that great bulk of duties, anxieties, struggles, trials and needs, which belong to a year or even to a month. We really have nothing to do even with tomorrow.
Our sole business is with the one little day now passing, and the one day's burdens will never crush us; we can easily carry them until the sun goes down. We can always get along for one short day--and that is really, all we ever have.
The Divine purpose in all this experience comes out here, "In this way I will test them, to see whether or not they will follow My instructions." God is always testing us. Trials test us--whether or not we will submit with humility and obedience to the experiences that are sore and painful. Life's needs test us--whether we will trust God in the time of extremity or not.
None the less, do the gifts and favors of God test us. They test our gratitude. Joy tests us as well as sorrow. Some people forget God, when all things go well and they have only prosperity. Do we remember God always--as the Giver of each new blessing? Are we grateful to Him for all that we receive? These favors also test our faith. Do we still lean on Him--while we have plenty? Ofttimes one who turns to God when help is needed--fails to look to Him when the hand is full. The Divine mercies also test our obedience. Do we obey God as carefully and follow Him as closely and trustingly, when our tables are full--as when the pressure of poverty or need drives us to Him? Every day is a probation for us.
In the midst of this great mercy of manna, God taught the people to remember the Sabbath. On the sixth day they were to gather and prepare twice as much food as on other days. The reason was that on the Sabbath no work was allowed. No manna fell on that day. There are several interesting things to notice here. While on other days, any manna stored up--would rot; the extra day's portion gathered on the sixth day remained fresh and pure for use on the Sabbath. Still further, on the morning of the Sabbath, no manna fell as on other days. Thus God taught the sacredness of His own day.
He teaches us also here that in order to keep the day as it ought to be kept, we should prepare for it the day before. The people were to gather the Sabbath's portion on the sixth day. There would seem to be in this provision and preparation in advance, a suggestion of the way we may best observe our Christian Sabbath. Some of us remember certain old-fashioned times in the country, when on Saturday evening careful preparations were made for the Sabbath, so that there would be no needless work done on the Lord's Day. Wood was cut and carried in, all the implements of worldly labor were put away, boots and shoes were cleaned and blackened, coffee was ground and food cooked, so far as possible--in a word, everything was done that could be done beforehand to insure the most restful Sabbath possible. This old-fashioned custom is a good one to keep in vogue always. Very much of Sabbath enjoyment and profit, will always depend upon the measure of preparation we make for it in advance.
The Lord spoke of this manna miracle as an exhibition of His glory. "At evening, then you shall know that the Lord has brought you out from the land of Egypt; and in the morning, then you shall see the glory of the Lord!" The supply of food was an exhibition of God's glory. We may see the same glory in every evening's and morning's blessings, which a thoughtful Providence brings to us. We think only of the unusual, or the supernatural, as manifesting the glory of God. We forget that this Divine glory is shown just as really and as wonderfully in every day's new blessings. The miracle of God's daily Providence is infinitely more stupendous, than the feeding of a prophet for a few months from an inexhaustible handful of meal; the feeding of five thousand in Galilee with a few loaves and fishes; or even the feeding of a nation with manna for forty years. If the single special miracle shows glory, what does the great continuous miracle of each day's common blessings, year after year, and century after century, show?
Let us learn to see the glory of God in every piece of bread which comes to our table, in every drop of water which glistens on a leaf in the morning sun, in every blade of grass and bursting bud and blooming flower in field or garden.
One special lesson that God wished the people to learn--was trust. So He rebuked their complainings and murmurings when they found fault, and became afraid when they had hardships to meet. "The Lord hears your murmurings which you murmur against Him!" Exodus 16:8. This is startling! Does God really hear every discontented word we speak? Does He hear when we grumble about the weather, about the hard winter, about the late spring, about the dry summer, about the wet harvest? Does He hear when we fret and murmur about the drought, about the high winds, about the storms? Does He hear when we complain about our circumstances, about the hardness of our lot, about our losses and disappointments?
If we could get into our hearts and keep there continually, the consciousness that every word we speak is heard in heaven, and falls upon God's ears before it falls upon any other ear--would we murmur as we now do? We are always on our guard when we think anyone we love and honor is within hearing, and speak only proper words then. Are we as careful what we say in the hearing of our Father? We are careful, too, never to speak words which would give pain to the hearts of those we love dearly. Are we as careful not to say anything that will give pain to Christ?
There are many interesting points of analogy, between the manna and Christ.
The manna is called "bread from heaven." "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever!" John 6:51
The manna was indispensable--without it the people would have perished. Without Christ our souls must perish.
The manna was a free gift from God--there was nothing to pay for it. Christ is God's gift, coming to us without money and without price.
Yet the manna had to be gathered by the people, Christ must be received and appropriated by personal faith. "Take, eat," runs the formula of the holy communion. The bread is offered to us--but we must take it and we must eat it. So must we take Christ when He is offered to us.
The manna came in great abundance, enough for all. Just so, there is such abundance in Christ that He can supply all the needs of my soul, and of every soul who will feed upon Him. No one ever came hungry to Him--and found no bread.
Manna had to be gathered each day, a supply for that one day. We must feed upon Christ daily. We cannot lay up supplies of grace for any future. We cannot feed tomorrow, on today's bread.
The manna had to be gathered early, before the heat of the sun melted it. We should seek the blessings of Christ's grace in life's early morning before the hot suns of care and trial beat upon us.