Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that in your infinite kindness you have made us your children. We thank that because Jesus is our older brother, and we have been adopted through the blood that was shed on the cross, that we can call you Father. We thank you that you have always provided for your people, and have feasted them even when they complained and grumbled. Feed us now on your word and protect us from all grumbling that we may know and believe that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, through Jesus our King, Amen!
Notice the dating of this episode; this is exactly one month after the Passover (16:1 cf. 12:1-6ff). The people begin to grumble and complain about the lack of food in the wilderness (16:2). The question is related to identity: who are these people? Israel says they would rather be Egyptians with full bellies killed by Yahweh than his people starving in the wilderness (16:3). They do not remember Egypt clearly (Ex. 1:14, 2:23).
Bread of Angels
Yahweh says that he will test them by giving them bread from heaven; he will test them in the quota he gives each day and in the weekly Sabbath cycle (16:4-5). The Scriptures have a good deal to tell us about manna. First, we should note that in Numbers 11 a slightly different account is given of the circumstances. It notes that the manna had been given, but that Israel begins complaining after they leave Sinai, and at that point, God gives them meat (Num. 11:1-15, 31ff). There are a couple of options to understanding these passages. Either we can say that these passages are referring to the same events and that 16:13 is a summary sentence, explaining that God also (later) gave quails in the evening as well. Or, what seems to make more sense is that God gave quail to the people to eat more than one time, but not daily like the manna (Num. 11:19-20, Josh. 5:12). Many of the passages which reference manna as a regular or on-going occurrence do not list the quail as well. Deuteronomy explains that the manna was not only sustenance but a lesson that Israel might learn that man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God (Dt. 8:3). This is the same test: Does Israel understand that it was not by might or power that they were delivered but by God’s power and might (cf. Dt. 8:116-18). Psalm 78 says that during all of this Israel was testing God, not believing in God or trusting in his salvation (78:22, 32). Again, all of this is related to Israel’s identity. Are they the people of God? Are they the bride of Yahweh? One of the ways God answers this is found in how God is feeding them. God is feasting his people luxuriously with bread and meat in the wilderness. Israel is Yahweh’s royal bride, his prized possession. Israel is eating like royalty. Elsewhere manna is referred to as “the bread of angels” and the “bread of Heaven” (Ps. 78:24-25, 105:40). God is treating them like his heavenly host.
While this is the first blatant requirement of Sabbath keeping in the Bible, it was God’s pattern from the beginning (Gen. 2:3) and it was also previously established broadly in the Passover (Ex. 12:16). Both of these patterns are later referenced in the giving of the law regarding the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, Dt. 5:12-15). Here the daily and weekly test come into view: specific instructions are given for daily gathering, culminating in a double portion on the sixth day (16:16-30). The pattern here is clearly the provision of God. The mindset of beggars and slaves is to grasp and horde for fear that there won’t be any tomorrow. God requires his people to live like kings, expecting their bread to be provided every day and even a double portion for the Sabbath. This Sabbath rest is also a royal gift. Slaves do not rest; beggars cannot take a day off. But God who is the great King invites his people to rest with him. Notice that the manna does not come on the Sabbath; this is because God does not work on the Sabbath (16:26-27). What cannot be preserved overnight for six days must be preserved for the Sabbath. This means that God requires his people to work expectantly for six days believing all of their needs will be met, and to rest expectantly on one day, likewise expecting all of their needs to be met. The point is that Yahweh is teaching his royal people that he is their savior, their provider, their defender, and their King who fights for them.
Conclusions and Applications
One of the things we should notice is that we are told the manna tastes like honey (16:31). One of the things we (and Israel) know is that they have been promised the land of Canaan which flows with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8, 17, 13:5). One of the things manna means is that God is giving them a taste of Canaan now. They are entering into the blessings of Canaan even while they journey in the wilderness. Notice also that a portion of manna is saved and (later) put into the tabernacle to be a memorial kept for the generations of Israel to remember (“to see”) what God has done (Ex. 16:32-34).
This passage calls us to belief in God. Psalm 78 says that Israel’s fundamental problem was that they did not believe in God or his salvation. And faith in God has very tangible fruit: you must trust him to give you your daily bread. This may mean very practical things like making sure you tithe, trusting God to provide for all of your needs (and adjusting your priorities to make sure you are being responsible). Living like royalty means avoiding debt. The proverbs say that the borrower is slave to the lender. We live in a society that is enslaved. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but we should be a debt fighting culture because God has made us free. Finally, not only is it important that you gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day and rest from your regular weekly labors, but you ought to prepare in advance to do so; trust God that you can get done in six days what you can’t get done in seven. Live like free men and women; live like royalty. This kind of Sabbath living is only accomplished through faith in God and his salvation which ultimately expresses itself in thankfulness and gratitude. Bitterness and grumbling is unbelief; thankfulness is faith in the purposes of God. It all comes back to identity: who are you? You are Christians: Jesus has brought you out of Egypt and made you kings and priest to God. Believe it.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: in your great mercy you came to us when we were lost, filthy, and alienated from you. We hated you, and yet you loved us. We despised you, but you gave your only Son to die for us. We do not understand this mercy; we do not understand this grace. But we believe it. We believe that you are God and that raised Jesus from the dead as your Son and our Lord. We glory in this; we revel in this, and we ask that you would make us more and more thankful to you.