Lessons From the Manna Story

In this life have you ever felt lost? Have you ever struggled to decide where you should go next, what decision to make? Have you worried that your factory would shut down, shipping your job to the new overseas plant? Have you ever worried that your position in the office would become redundant, that it would be outsourced, subcontracted, or eliminated? How would you supply the needs of yourself and your family? Have you struggled under these burdens, under this overwhelming weight, of having everything depending on you? Have you feared what the future would bring or felt anxiety for the uncertainties of life?

There are great spiritual lessons for our lives in the experiences of the Israelites as they sojourn through the wilderness. They faced an uncertain future in a barren land. Their most immediate question was food. An empty stomach quickly takes priority over all other concerns. But God had a plan for Israel…

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions.” Exodus 16:4

God led the Israelites into the desert to test them, placing them in an extreme situation of dependence, in order to shift their old ways of thinking, to teach them not to rely upon their own powers, but to trust completely in God to sustain them. God brought the Israelites into the barren desert, where there was no food to gather, no well-watered soils for them to plant and reap by their own hands. They could not depend on their own ability but had to trust and depend wholly upon God to sustain them. Would they trust in the goodness of God to provide for them or would they put their trust in their own plans?

These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.” So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little.  But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed. Exodus 16:16-18

God instructed the Israelites to gather manna according to their needs, not more, not less. But as the Israelites gathered some took too little and some gathered too much. For those who gathered too little God miraculously increased the amount of manna they had in their baskets, so as they opened them back at their tents they had just enough. God did not want any of his people to have too little to meet the needs of their families. It is not God’s will that any go hungry or to go without what is required to meet their needs.

Some on the other hand got greedy and wanted to indulge in more than what they needed to sustain themselves. While some others thought to gather more, to accumulate for the future, to build up an excess, to have an insurance policy, to plan for any possible contingencies. For those who gathered too much God miraculously decreased the amount of manna they had in their baskets, so as they opened them back at their tents they had just enough. God did not want any of his people to develop the habit of accumulating and storing up, of trusting in themselves instead of trusting in him, of expecting any more than what met their needs.

Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them. Exodus 16:19

In fear of tomorrow, some Israelites ate less than their fill in order to store up for the future. God did not want the Israelites to fear for the future, he wanted them to have complete confidence in him. He didn’t want them to trust in their own plans, but to trust wholly in him. As Jesus was to later teach his disciples, his followers were not to build up barns to store their accumulated wealth, they were not to trust in their own resources, they were not to build up treasures on earth where moth eat and rust destroys, but instead were to trust in God and his heavenly manna.

After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much as usual—four quarts for each person instead of two. Then all the leaders of the community came and asked Moses for an explanation. He told them, “This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” So they put some aside until morning, just as Moses had commanded. And in the morning the leftover food was wholesome and good, without maggots or odor. Moses said, “Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.” Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. The Lord asked Moses, “How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days. On the Sabbath day you must each stay in your place. Do not go out to pick up food on the seventh day.” So the people did not gather any food on the seventh day. Exodus 16:20-30

The story of the manna and the lessons it teaches are deeply intertwined with the themes of the Sabbath. Both point to God as creator, provider, and sustainer. Both call us to cease trusting in ourselves and to trust only in God. Both point to God’s intended plan for creation, a world where everyone has what they need. It is not God’s will that some go hungry in lack while others gorge themselves in excess. On a weekly basis, we get to act out what it will be like in the new creation. All rest from their labors. All is miraculously provided by God. Everyone has enough, according to their needs. The worries that we all carry about our jobs, about our investments, our plans, our toils to ensure our futures, these are all set aside on the Sabbath. On that day, in our minds, we are no longer to dwell in this world of lack, but we are to transport ourselves to the future, where the garden is restored, where the poor are fed, where no one fears, where no one experiences hunger or lack. - Michael Humphrey 

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