1 - 3 The People Grumble for the Second Time
1 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
The people cannot remain at Elim, however pleasant it may be. It has to travel, into the wilderness. After the redemption, the song, the trial at Mara and the rest of Elim, the real wilderness life begins now.
It is one and a half months after their departure from Egypt. It is possible that the entire stock of food they have brought with them from Egypt will then be exhausted. There is no more food, and the people express their dissatisfaction about it to Moses and Aaron.
The accusations are not soft. They blame Moses and Aaron. They present it as if they have deliberately brought the people into the wilderness to kill them there with hunger. They seem to have forgotten the slavery under which they sighed in Egypt. They only think back to “the pots of meat” and they think they “ate bread to the full” there.
So foolish is the people of God – so foolish am I – when they forget salvation, when they no longer think about the experiences they have had in Marah and Elim. In the face of adversity in faith, we often forget what God has done for our benefit and long back for the pleasures and enjoyment of the past in the world.
4 - 5 The LORD Promises Bread
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
As at Mara, God does not punish the people for their grumble. In His grace He meets them. He promises that He will make bread rain from heaven. The people have to do something to eat it: they have to gather it every day. On the sixth day they have to gather twice as much for the Sabbath. God gives the manna and the instructions to see if they will obey Him. He wants to see what is in their hearts.
Bread from heaven is a beautiful expression to indicate Who the Lord Jesus is (Jn 6:33,51). He is the true bread from heaven. In order to live in communion with God, it is important to gather the manna every day, that is to say to spiritually feed us every day with the Lord Jesus. The manna is ‘wilderness food’. The manna represents the Lord Jesus as He is described in the Gospels. There we see Him as Man on earth in the circumstances of daily life. If we do that, it will give us strength for our journey through the wilderness, that is, for our daily activities.
Heaven provides for things that are necessary on earth and that cannot be worked through man’s work. That lesson is hidden in the precept that on the Sabbath it is not allowed to gather.
6 - 12 The Glory of the LORD
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, “At evening you will know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt; 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 Moses said, “[This will happen] when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.’” 10 It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “I have heard the grumblings of the sons 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.’”
God’s action is aimed at reminding His people that He, the LORD, led them out of Egypt. They had forgotten that. We must always think about this when there are trials on our way (Rom 8:32).
The LORD wants to stop the grumble of the Israelites by showing them His glory. Moses and Aaron are His servants. Grumbling against them is in fact grumbling against the LORD. Therefore He Himself appears in a cloud to the people. This is His first appearance to them. He does not appear to them to devour them, but to impress them with Who He is.
The LORD repeats His promise that He will give food. He promises not only manna, but also meat. Only once, on the evening of that day, they will eat meat. Afterwards, they will get the manna every morning.
13 - 15 Quails and Manna
13 So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. 15 When the sons 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, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.
As God promised, so it happens. He “rained meat upon them like the dust, even winged fowl like the sand of the seas” (Psa 78:27). God gives quails two times to his people as meat to eat: here and in Numbers 11. They are birds that let themselves be carried away by the wind (Num 11:31) and are easy to catch. They are mentioned in connection with the manna (Psa 105:40).
The people first get the quails in the evening and then the manna the next morning. In the quails you can see the picture that we feed ourselves with the death of Another. The Lord Jesus speaks in John 6 in connection with the manna that we should not only eat His flesh, but also drink His blood. It means that we are feed ourselves with His death.
The manna represents Christ in His humiliation on earth, in His life on earth. We can only occupy ourselves with His life if we have first fed ourselves with His death, first have identified ourselves with Him as the One Who died for us.
Some features of the manna as a picture of the Lord Jesus:
1. The origin is heaven: “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:33);
2. the Giver is God: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16);
3. What it looks like:
a. white = pure, without sin: He “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1Pet 2:22; 2Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26);
b. small = small, humble: “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no [stately] form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa 53:2; Phil 2:5-8);
c. round = eternal existence and perfect: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1).
4. its use:
a. sweet = pleasant taste: “O taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psa 34:8a; Psa 119:103; 1Pet 2:2-3);
b. get it for free = a gift: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23; Jn 3:16; 2Cor 9:15);
c. accessible to everyone, most easily for children, because it lies on the ground: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev 22:17; Rom 10:6-10; Jn 3:16).
16 - 21 Gathering of the Manna
16 This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” 17 The sons of Israel did so, and [some] gathered much and [some] little. 18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. 19 Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. 21 They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.
The manna is given by the LORD, but everyone must gather it. It is not put into anyone’s mouth. Everyone may gather as much of the manna as he wants. It depends on the appetite. Each portion gathered serves for one day. None of it can be saved until the next day. This means that there must be trusted that the LORD will give it the next day. It is safer in God’s pantry than in the Israelite’s tent. It must also be gathered before the sun gets hot. That means that it must be gathered in the morning.
The spiritual application is this: Every believer feeds on the Lord Jesus by reading the Word to the extent that he is hungry. It is necessary to be busy with God’s Word every day. Preferably do it early in the morning, before all the hustle and bustle of the day comes and there is no more opportunity. The great example is the Lord Jesus Himself (Isa 50:4).
You can’t tar on what you read yesterday. If you do, it will be tarring on old food. Then there is a great danger that old experiences will be measured out widely over and over again, which is also boring for the listener. It is no longer fresh. It becomes knowledge that blows one up. Pride is nourished, it belongs to man and that stinks.
Paul applies verse 18 to the everyday life of the church: “But by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance [being a supply] for their need, so that their abundance also may become [a supply] for your need, that there may be equality; 15 as it is written, “He who [gathered] much did not have too much, and he who [gathered] little had no lack” (2Cor 8:13b-15). Here he learns a lesson from gathering the manna and says a few things about how we as Christians can materially care for each other.
22 - 31 The Manna and the Sabbath
22 Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it 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, [the] sabbath, there will be none.” 27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? 29 See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man 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 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.
On the sixth day the people must gather manna for two days. The next day it is the Sabbath. The people may then share in the rest of God (Gen 2:2-3). Peace is not an obligation, but a privilege. Only at Sinai, when the law is given, does it become an obligation.
In the Gospels, peace is connected with the acceptance of the Lord Jesus (Mt 11:28). He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Whoever has Him, has real peace and can enjoy Him in a real way.
On other days, the people must go out to gather the food. It is not allowed on the Sabbath. This suggests two aspects in our engagement with the Lord Jesus. The first is that the knowledge about Him does not fall into the laps. We will have to be busy with God’s Word, we will have to make an effort for it. The second is that this will only happen well if we realize that everything must come from the Lord. Only when we have found our rest in Him, when He is all for us, when we are not engaged in our own strength, we will be able to enjoy Who He is.
32 - 34 Manna Kept in a Jar
32 Then Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept.
An omerful of manna must be kept as a sample in a jar. This jar must be put before the LORD. Spiritually applied, it means that God looks back in all eternity to what the Lord Jesus was to Him on earth. That is also the case with us. Enjoying Him is not just for here and now. What cannot be preserved for a day in the wilderness, is preserved until eternity.
The jar must be placed “before the Testimony” – which later becomes the ark – where God thrones. As long as God travels with His people on earth, He thinks of the perfect life of His Son on earth. Again later the jar is placed in the ark: “the ark of the covenant covered …, in which was a golden jar holding the manna” (Heb 9:4). The ark is found in heaven: “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple” (Rev 11:19a).
In heaven, the manna as a reward will be the special food for victors. The Lord Jesus Himself will give them “of the hidden manna” (Rev 2:17). The victors will enjoy in heaven in a special way the fellowship with the glorified Lord as the One Who once was in humiliation on earth. The thoughts go back to the time of pilgrimage on earth and to the power that He gave to maintain and overcome all the pressure.
35 Forty Years Manna
35 The sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
Forty is the number of trial. For so many years the journey of the people through the wilderness has lasted. During that whole time of trial there is the manna: a continuing proof of God’s care. Do we see it every day? Or are we getting used to it and can we no longer see the miracle of it, as it was the case with Israel?
36 An Omer
36 (Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah.)
For everyone there is an appropriate measure to suit personal needs and responsibilities, of which speaks the number ten. Also the idea is that each person is personally part of a greater whole: it is “a tenth” part of a greater unity, “an ephah”. We should remember that we are not in this alone.