Having been brought through the Red Sea, or baptized, by God, Israel was led through the wilderness by the pillar of fire and the cloud. Israel’s first stop was at Marah where the bitter water was made sweet by a tree that Moses threw in the water. This pictured the death of Christ on the tree, or the cross, that turned our bitter life sweet, giving us abundant life.
From Marah, Israel made its way to Elim. At Elim, there were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees. The number 12 speaks of power, authority, and government in the Bible, and water is symbolic of the Holy Spirit of the life of God. So, the 12 springs represented the power and authority of God’s life or the government of the Holy Spirit. The number 70 has appeared two other times in the Bible prior to this. The first was the 70 nations that dispersed from Noah’s sons to cover the earth in Genesis 10 and 11. The second was the 70 people that were in Egypt with Jacob. So, 70 represents a complete number of nations or people. Therefore, Elim was the place where the life of God was the power and authority of God’s government over all his people.
THE WILDERNESS OF SIN
In Exodus 16, Israel left Elim and came to the wilderness of Sin. The name Sin is not the Hebrew word for sin. The name Sin is the Hebrew word shin, which means teeth, press, or sharp. So, having left the place of God’s life and government, Israel came to the wilderness where they would be pressed. Indeed, speaking of what he is about to do, God says he will do it “that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” (Exodus 16:4)
Perhaps somewhat ironically, the picture for this Hebrew word or letter is that of the two front teeth. But, in the wilderness of Sin, God was going to provide Israel with food, manna, that it would not need teeth to it. This is appropriate since the wilderness is a place of spiritual immaturity. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2, Paul says that is the spiritually mature person that can eat solid food. Those that are spiritually immature or carnal would choke on the solid food. So, they get manna.
THE 15TH DAY OF THE SECOND MONTH
Exodus 16:1 says that Israel came to the wilderness of Sin on the 15th day of the second month. Now, Israel was led out of Egypt after the Passover on the 15th day of the first month. Therefore, Israel arrived at the wilderness of Sin exactly one month after they left Egypt. God had brought Israel out of Egypt, or the world. But, now he needed to deliver them from their own flesh. On the journey through the wilderness, God would take Israel from a people of carnal men and women to a people of spiritual men and women ready to enter the promised land.
This is significant for two reasons. First, the number 15 often alludes to man’s deliverance from the flesh. In Genesis 7:20, we are told that the waters of the flood covered the tops of the mountains by 15 cubits. Verse 21 says that all flesh died on the earth because of the flood. God’s creation and the eight people aboard the ark were delivered from the flesh by the flood. In Hosea 3:2-3, Hosea bought his wife, who had become a prostitute and was given over to the flesh, for 15 shekels. It was at this time that Hosea told his wife that she would not play the whore anymore. And, Paul says that if we walk by the Spirit, then we will not gratify the desires, or lusts, of the flesh for the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other. In Galatians 5:19, Paul lists 15 works of the flesh that are evident:
- Sexual immorality
- Fits of anger
Paul says in Galatians 5:24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Second, the 15th of the month was a full moon. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. Therefore, it is based on the cycles of the moon. On the first day of the month, the moon is a small crescent. By the 15th, halfway through the month, the moon is full. The period from when Israel left Egypt to the time it was given the manna in the wilderness of Sin was exactly one month. The one month and the full moon represent a new thing beginning. In fact, in the Passover and manna accounts in Exodus, the Hebrew word for month means to make anew or to restore.
So, while the Passover was the beginning of God bringing his people out of the world and making anew or restoring his chosen people, the initiation of the manna was God making the individual believer anew, delivering him from a carnal life to a spiritual life.
THE PEOPLE GRUMBLED
Exodus 16:2 says that the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. In verse 3, the people said, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Despite the fact that Israel saw how God delivered them with a mighty hand from Egypt, after just one month of freedom from their bondage they wished that God would have killed them in Egypt. At least there they had meat pots and bread to the full. But, is that what Israel really had Egypt? Given that Israel cried out to God in its oppression and slavery, it is hard to imagine they had the luxuries of meat pots and bread to the full. Plus, when Israel did recall what they had to eat in Egypt, it wasn’t meat pots and bread to the full. In Numbers 11:5, Israel said, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” For the fish to cost nothing, Israel must have caught it themselves every day. And, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic don’t make much of a meal. How easily Israel, and we, forgot what God did for them. In addition to delivering them from Egypt, God had just made bitter water sweet for them to drink.
BREAD FROM HEAVEN TO TEST YOU
In response to their grumbling that they would die from hunger in the wilderness, God told Moses to tell Israel, “Behold, I am about to 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 they will walk in my law or not.” (Exodus 16:4)
Just like God tested Abraham, he was testing Israel. He tested them at Marah where he made the bitter water sweet. Exodus 15:25 says, “There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them.” There was no specific statute or rule given that we are aware of. The test was simply would Israel diligently listen to the voice of God and do what is right in his eyes. Importantly, God had not given the law from Mt. Sinai through Moses yet. This statute and rule, this test, was to be a continual listening to the voice of God.
So, in Exodus 16:4, when God says that he will test Israel to see if they will walk according to his law, it is the same test – will Israel continually and diligently listen to the voice of God to do what is right in his eyes.
Interestingly, there was a third test in Exodus 17. However, the table is turned in that chapter because Israel tested God about not having any water to drink.
Israel failed these tests at Mt. Sinai when they saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and heard the trumpet. They feared and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19) It was because Israel did not want to listen diligently to the voice of God but the voice of Moses that God gave Israel the law written on tablets of stone. So, the people stood afar off while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
FEEDING THE 5,000 AND A GRUMBLING CROWD
If you are familiar with the Bible, then the story leading up to the manna should remind you of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14:13-36, Mark 6:30-56, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6. Like Exodus 16, Matthew and Mark both tell us that this miracle took place in the desert or wilderness. But, John gives us the most extensive treatment of this miracle and links it to the manna. So, we will focus on John’s account.
After teaching this large group of people, Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” John tells us that Jesus said this to test Philip, even though Jesus already knew what he was going to do. Therefore, like Exodus 16 a test was involved. But, Jesus wasn’t testing the crowd. He testing his disciples to see if they believed him. Philip said it would cost a lot of money and didn’t know where they would get that money from. Andrew said there was a boy with five loaves and two fishes, but what good was that with so many people?
So, Jesus told them to have the people sit down. Jesus gave thanks and distributed the loaves and the fish, and everyone ate as much as they wanted. Even though everyone ate to they were full, there was bread left over that filled up 12 baskets. This is somewhat like the story in Exodus 16 in that the fish were like the quail the people had one time the evening before the manna came. But the manna that came every day for 40 years was like the leftovers from the five loaves that filled the 12 baskets. There was always enough manna for everyone to eat, which Jesus demonstrated by having the disciples collect more bread than they gave out. This certainly seemed to be the case since the leftovers from the five loaves filled 12 baskets.
Seeing the sign, the people exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” They knew that Moses had prophesied about a prophet to come after him. Having been miraculously fed with bread by Jesus, the crowd believed that he was that prophet.
But, the next day Jesus and the crowd got into a discussion about the miraculous feeding from the day before. Jesus said they were seeking him only because he had filled their stomachs. Instead of that kind of bread, Jesus said they should be seeking the food that endures to eternal life.
In response to seeking the food that endures to eternal life, the crowd asked what they must do to be doing the works of God. Jesus said to believe in him. In order that they might believe in him, the crowd asked what kind of sign or work Jesus would perform. It sounded like the crowd was beginning to grumble like in Exodus 16.
In John 6:31, the crowd said, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Basically, they were saying, “Moses gave our fathers bread from heaven to eat for 40 years. Jesus, you fed us for one day. If you are a greater prophet than moses, then what are you going to do to prove it?”
Jesus responded in verses 32-33, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The crowd asked for this bread always. Jesus then gave a long answer, saying that he was the bread of life and whoever came to him shall not hunger anymore. Jesus talked about believing in him because the Father sent him and because he came down to do the will of the one who sent him. Jesus said he wouldn’t lose any that the Father gave him because everyone who looked on the Son and believed would have eternal life. “So the Jews grumbled about him.” (John 6:41)
Jesus responded to their grumbling by saying, “Do not grumble among yourselves…It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” Remember in Exodus, God was testing the people to see if they would listen to his voice. But, when the people heard and saw the thunder and the lightning on the mountain, they told Moses to speak to them so they wouldn’t have to hear God’s voice. But, Jesus quoted the prophets, saying, “And they all will be taught by God.” Jesus was talking about hearing God’s voice. Jesus said, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” We can’t see God, but we can hear his voice. Those that have heard it will come to Jesus.
In verses 48-51, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
So, the crowd grumbled some more and left Jesus. They were afar off just like Israel at Mt. Sinai. Eventually, even the disciples began to grumble. Jesus asked the disciples if they would go away like the crowd. But, Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” The disciples heard the words of Jesus. They heard the voice of God and believed. They passed the test.
JESUS: THE TRUE BREAD FROM HEAVEN
The Jews in Jesus’ day equated the manna that their fathers ate with the bread of heaven. But, even Moses said in Deuteronomy 8:3, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Moses knew that the manna was physical symbol of the true bread from God which was the Word of God. The manna was to show Israel that they would live by the words from God’s mouth, Jesus.
Jesus was familiar with Deuteronomy 8:3 as he quoted it when the devil tried to tempt him in the wilderness to turn stones into bread. Further, in John 6:32-33, Jesus said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Jesus told the Jews that he was the true bread from heaven.
The Greek word “true” in John 6:32 is alethinos. It literally means not hidden. It is that which is not concealed, can be seen, or may be expressed as it really is. Something is true when it is unveiled or when a hidden reality becomes explicit. The manna was bread from heaven, but it was a concealment of the full reality of the true bread from heaven. The manna was bread from heaven, but it was a veiled look at the true bread from heaven. But, Jesus is the true bread from heaven. He is the full reality of what that the manna represented. Therefore, we can study the manna to get a picture of who Jesus is.
WHAT IS IT?
The word manna literally means what is it. Israel had never seen anything like it before and therefore did not know what it was. Moses told them that it was the bread that the Lord had given them to eat to the full.
When it comes to the characteristics of the manna, the various English Bible translations are all over the place. And, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was common in Jesus’ day, differs as well. So, I will try to look at what seems to be the common characteristics of the manna to see how they picture Jesus.
FINE LIKE FROST
The first Hebrew word used to describe the manna means fine, thin, scarce, small, soft. It comes from a root word meaning to become fine through grinding. In the Septuagint, it is translated fine and small, but the word can also mean powdered. I think the idea here is that the manna was fine like grain or powder.
Jesus said he was the grain of wheat. When wheat is ground, it can be ground in different grades – from coarse to fine. The more the ground wheat is sifted, the finer the flour that results. Fine flour has no lumps in it. It is perfectly even. Therefore, we could say that Jesus possessed all the fruit of the spirit equally. He did not have one quality more than another. But, it is different with man. Moses was known as the meekest man on the face of the earth. Solomon was the wisest man to ever live. Abraham had faith like no other. But, Jesus did not have any one trait out of proportion to another.
ROUND LIKE CORIANDER
Coriander seeds are small and round. So, the manna was also round. Something that is round has no beginning and no end. In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus declared himself to be the self-existent one. He declared himself to be eternal, without beginning or end. Also, something that is round has the beginning and end in the same place. In Revelation 1:8, Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Jesus is the beginning and the end. And, in Revelation 1:17, Jesus said, “I am the first and the last.”
The manna was white. The color white in the Bible often symbolizes either righteousness or purity. When Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, Matthew 17:2 says, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Peter, John, and James saw Jesus glorified in all his righteousness.
TASTED LIKE WAFERS MADE WITH HONEY
The manna was meant to picture that man did not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeded from God’s mouth. And, we know from John 1 that Jesus was the Word of God. Therefore, to eat the manna was to eat Jesus, the Word of God. And, he was sweet to the taste, like honey.
Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” And, Proverbs 24:13-14 says, “My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” God’s words are sweet like honey.
APPEARANCE LIKE BDELLIUM
Numbers 11:7 says that the manna had an appearance like bdellium. The only other time bdellium is mentioned is in Genesis 2:12, which says that bdellium is a precious stone. Bdellium was thought to be somewhat transparent or white. Some think of it as the sap of a tree that hardens when the has been cut. The sap hardens and becomes like a pearl, one produced by a tree instead of an animal. After the fall and before the new heavens and new earth, bdellium, or pearl, is replaced with silver. Silver speaks of redemption throughout the Bible. This gives an interesting picture of Jesus when we consider that Revelation 21:21 says that the 12 gates of the new Jerusalem were 12 pearls. The gates that were entered to receive redemption were made from the sap, or life blood, of the tree that hardened into a pearl.
FELL WITH THE DEW
There are a number of passages in the Bible that say the dew comes down from the heavens – Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 33:28, Proverbs 3:20, and Zechariah 8:12. In Hosea 14:5, God says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily.” Jesus picked up on Hosea 14:5 when he said in Matthew 6:28-29, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” For Israel, God was like the dew that caused Israel to grow. It was the dew that clothed the lilies which caused their growth.
Christians are born of the Spirit. Therefore, they grow by the Spirit. Jesus told us not to worry how we are clothed since God will clothe us. Jesus told us not to worry how we would grow. Also in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The Holy Spirit clothes us with the power of God like the dew does the lilies of the field. And, throughout the New Testament, to put on the new man, to put on Christ, is to put on the Holy Spirit, like a change of clothes. Again, this is like the dew clothing the lilies of the field, which causes them to grow.
So, the Holy Spirit is pictured as dew in the Bible. And, the manna fell with the dew. Jesus was connected to the Father and received power to do the work his Father sent him to do through the Holy Spirit. This was also why Jesus regularly got away early in the morning to pray. That’s when dew falls and when Jesus maintained his connection with his Father through the Holy Spirit.
HOW THE MANNA PICTURES OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
We have looked at the characteristics of the manna that speak to the person of Jesus. But, the manner in which Israel was to collect and use the manna speaks to our relationship with Jesus. And, we must remember that the manna was given in the wilderness. The manna is for those that have not entered into the promised land yet.
God rained the manna down from heaven. The Bible says that God pours out his rain on the just and the unjust. Jesus, the true bread from heaven, is for all people. However, Israel had to go out and gather a day’s portion of the manna every day. Jesus can only profit a man when the man goes to Jesus. A man can only abide in Jesus if he goes out and gathers his portion of Jesus every day.
Each Israelite was to gather as much of the manna as he could eat. Similarly, we are to gather as much of Christ as we can every day. Some gathered more and some gathered less manna, but whoever gathered had no lack. The hungrier you are for Jesus the more you will gather. If you are not as hungry, then you will not need to gather as much of Jesus. In this way, every who goes out to gather from Jesus to satisfy their hunger will gather exactly what they need without lack.
The manna was on the ground like frost and was left there after the dew evaporated. To gather manna, one had to stoop down. To get what we need from Jesus we need to stoop down or humble ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 1:28, Paul says, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
The manna melted when the sun grew hot. Israel had to gather the manna early in the morning. Likewise, we need to go to Jesus first thing in the morning. This is the time to set our minds on Christ and prepare ourselves for the day ahead.
The manna was not to be kept until the next morning. If it was, then it would breed worms and stink. Jesus gives us what we need for each day. We are not to store things up or hoard things for the future. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The manna is daily bread. But, Jesus is the true bread from heaven that we need every day for apart from him we can do nothing. If we try to hold onto to what Jesus gives us today, then it will be worth nothing tomorrow.
The manna was only to be gathered the first six days. God was testing Israel to see if they would obey him. But, on the sixth day, each person would gather twice as much as they did every other day. Israel was not to gather the seventh day because it was a Sabbath, a day of solemn rest.
The first six days picture our time as sojourners in the earth. It’s as if we are in the wilderness. Therefore, we need to gather like the Israelites did. And, day after day, we need to eat the same thing over and over. It’s a test. Are you hungry? Will you keep coming to Jesus even if you get the same thing from every day, over and over?
While it was not the true rest, the final rest, Joshua and Israel entering the promised land is a picture of us entering the Sabbath rest, the true rest, that Christ brings. The manna ceased when Israel entered Canaan. Joshua 5:12 says, “And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land.” Instead of eating manna as they had for 40 years, Israel now ate from the fruit of the land, which they did not work for. When we enter the rest of Christ, we have access to his spiritual riches.
Israel gathered double portion on the sixth day. So, too for us when we pass the test. Then, we enter the Sabbath, the solemn day of rest, having collected a double portion on the sixth day. Jesus taught from Isaiah 61 at the beginning of his ministry to declare that the kingdom of God was here. The time for rest was here, although it won’t be fully here until Christ returns. But, Isaiah 61:7 says, “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in the land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.” When we at last enter that rest, we will have our double portion of Jesus.
Jesus, indeed, is the true bread from heaven.