Old Testament Exodus Manna


In all the leaps and bounds of medical science, there is one machine I am sure no one has invented because no one would like to see the results: the heart tester. I am not referring to the Electrocardiogram, Echocardiogram, or Holter monitor, but rather one that tests the state of the human heart as the Bible speaks of it. Occasionally, the Bible describes the heart as the functioning muscle that pumps oxygenated blood throughout the highways of our body (1 Sam 25:37). Just imagine a machine that could test and search our hearts, as the Bible speaks of God doing so for humanity (Jer 17:10). How different would our actions be if our supposedly humble words were revealed to be pride-filled and sin-driven? How grateful we are that our hearts are hidden from others’ eyes, and the deepest parts are not revealed. How would we feel if hooked up to a machine that translated our words to reflect our true feelings?

Responses like “I’ll do whatever you want” may stem from a desire to avoid confrontation or assert dominance, while statements such as “I’m not as talented as others” might subtly seek validation or compliments. Other phrases like “I’ll pray for you” may sometimes be used as dismissive responses rather than genuine offers of support, while statements like “I’m sorry, but…” often precede excuses rather than genuine remorse. Similarly, phrases such as “I’ll take care of it; you don’t need to bother” may disguise a desire for control or avoidance of reliance on others. The heart machine may not exist in the medical field, but we see many tests that God performs to reveal our own hearts’ true results to us through the Holy Spirit, and like most doctor’s tests, no one really looks forward to hearing the results.

As we come to chapter 16 of the initial wilderness wanderings as we saw last week the testing in the wilderness. These often-overlooked passages from chapters 15 to 18 offer profound lessons of faith and testing. These narratives, which we have seen two tests the first being at the edge of the water where the Lord promises that he will fight for the people and the second test at the end of chapter 15 that the Lord will heal his people. Now we come to the third test in chapter 16 with the test of food and sabbath. As we remember last week these tests are not dealing with Israel’s physical ability but their humble dependance upon God. And as we saw with the water of Marah, the bitter water, that this revealed the people’s faltering faith and God’s enduring grace. As we come to this third test we need to be reminded of what is a helpful theme verse to remember this portion of Scripture found in Deuteronomy chapter 8, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deut 8:2). These tests are ones that are made to humble the heart and lead to obedience through faith. And as Moses writes later in chapter 16, that God did this for their good in the end (Deut 8:16). We also need to be reminded that Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, these things were recorded for three main purposes, 1) that we might not desire evil, 2) that we would take heed lest we fall, and 3) that we might be able to endure it through dependance upon our faithful God. Last week we saw that God would be their healer and this week we see the first part of chapter 16 that God will be their provider.

The Audacious Complaint (1-3)

As we move from the scene of lush palm trees and twelve springs found in Elim into the wilderness of Sin. Now this is merely the proper name of the place, although they do in fact Sin here, we need to understand our English language was not around during this time and therefore cautious to read a modern word into the proper name of a place. What we are told is about movement, that halfway through verse one we are told it is in between Elim and Sinai, that they are progressing to a particular place, the Mountain of God, as we were told in chapter 3:12 that the people will be brought out of Egypt to serve God on Mount that God appeared to Moses. But we also need to be reminded that in Exodus 7:16 the people of God were to be let go by Pharaoh so that they also might serve him in the wilderness. They are on their way to Mount Sinai to serve God but also while they are on their way they are called to serve God as well. As they are called to serve God on the mountain and on the way to the mountain about halfway via distance, we are also told that they are about halfway through their journey in relation to time, on the 15th day of the second month.

We find they now have a new problem that is before them. Now we often think that this is a lack of food problem, but we are told that they grumbled against Moses and Aaron. As mentioned before their heart is what is being tested. They should serve God humbly. Yet they approach God haughtily. They grumble, this is one of the sins that Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 10. We are told later in chapter 10 that this is grumbling against God (vs 7-8). One commentator points out that the term “grumbling” falls short in capturing the severity of the Israelites’ actions. In Hebrew, the word implies more than mere discontent; it signifies outright rebellion. When the people murmured against Moses, it amounted to nothing less than a mutiny against the authority of Almighty God. [1] I think we often overlook this great and horrendous sin, and is in my opinion the reason why Israel, alongside unbelief, spent forty years wandering in the desert (Num 14:1-2).

Now before we see what they were grumbling about we need to understand why then this is an audacious complaint. Because at the root of this sin is their questioning of the character of God. God has saved and delivered them has shown his power and his might in not only sending forth the signs and wonders, his promises of bringing them in the Promise land, his protection throughout the signs and wonders, the provision of the Passover lamb that saved them and the miracle of crossing the Red Sea, of having water provided for them at Marah. They grumble against God himself. Who has shown them his power, provision, protection, told him their purpose, and his plans, and yet they grumble against him. Now before we shake our heads in discuss at this response of the Israelites, as Paul says, we should take heed lest we fall (1 Cor 10:12). Is this not what we do, dear Christian. God’s abundance grace and faithfulness has been on display for us in our lives and the lives of others. Yet our hearts are prone not only to wander but also prone to murmur. That at the root of almost every sin is not only the act of the sin itself but the grumbling heart that is haughty and arrogant. The heart that I deserve more, I deserve better, I need, I want, or I shall get. That there is a great difference to grumble than being humble. Grumbling demands, humility depends. As John Calvin points out that the best solution was not to grumble to Moses and Aaron but to pray to God, Calvin says that in God, “they had found to be in all respects a bountiful Father.” [2] But instead of thinking God as a bountiful father they see him like Pharaoh, a harsh taskmaster.

But even notice their words of their audacious complaint, “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.” (Ex 16:3). It would be a task to think about this complaint in depth but let me quickly point out two things. The first is that the people would rather be full and dead than saved and hungry. They would have preferred to have died like many Egyptians with a pot full of meat and belly full of bread. Not how ridiculous does this sound. But notice one thing with me here, that they wished this would of come from the hand of the LORD. Again, notice how this is a complaint against God, and not merely about their bellies. They would of rather had God show them wrath than show them grace. What a claim. But also notice that they have a puffed-up vision of their past life. They hated their time in Egypt as they cried out for God to save them (Ex 3:23-25).

But secondly, they question the purpose of why God has brought them into the wilderness, they claim that God has brought them into the wilderness to kill them. Again, notice how this is a horrific complaint against God. That God would take delight in saving and delivering his people just to have them die in the middle of the dessert. They are complaining against God’s motives but also his power to be able to provide for them. We must again not think that we are not like these complaining people. How often do we respond when we are placed in difficult times and situations in our lives when we have the same response instead of turning to God in humble prayer, we start testing God and questioning his character. We assume that He is out to get us, or that he is not all powerful, that he does not understand, that he is not doing what he has promised, that he is not providing for us, that he does not care for us, or that he has some alternative motive. How quick we are to turn to God and grumble instead of being humble?

That we have been shown a great grace to be delivered from slavery and although we are not at our destination yet, God will lead us into places to test our hearts and show his faithfulness always giving us a chance to escape (1 Cor 10:12-13). We see this humility in the Lord’s prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, us, to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” Let this be our prayer.

The Amazing Grace (4-12)

However, look at verse four with me. After we think about what this grumbling is actually about, you think the response of God would be to scold them, prove himself, or leave entirely. Yet, what do we see. God tells Moses what he will do, that he will rain bread from heaven for his people. God’s response is grace to his people. What do they deserve, a good talkin’ too. What do they receive, grace. God promises that he will provide for them bread from heaven. This is indeed grace. As Jesus explains this is talking about him, “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.” (John 6:49–51). I encourage you to read through John chapter 6 after studying Exodus 16 because you will see the beauty of Christ concealed in the Old and revealed in the New Testament. Or even the response of the Jews as they hear of Jesus teaching was to grumble (John 6:41). God shows his grace by giving the people bread from heaven. In spite of their audacious complaint God shows them amazing grace. He provides for them bread and also meat, but as we will see more next week he provides for them a sabbath to rest.

Yet I want to show you something else in this portion, not only does God show them his grace by his provision but he also shows them who he is. The complaint is not only about bread, but a failure to understand God and his character, God seeks to be able to show his character to them. Look with me at verse 6, “at evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Verse 7, “in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.” Why does God do this, we do not need to speculate we are told in the text, because he heard of their grumbling against the Lord. Several times in this passage we see that God hears their grumbling.

That God’s Amazing grace shows his people his Awesome glory. God shows his grace to them, but also shows forth his true character to them so that they may know and see who he is. The purpose of the bread was not to fill their bellies, but that they may know that He is the LORD. As we see when Jesus is in the wilderness being tempted and tested by Satan. How different the situation, that here the people are together while Jesus was alone. The people in the wilderness are tested by God to humble their hearts and for their good. While Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan who cares not for Christ but for himself. The people still have food as we see next chapter they had livestock that could give them milk and other items, while Jesus had had nothing for forty days and forty nights. However, the people gruble and coplaint against God while Jesus, the perfect sinless man, humbled himself trusting in God and his word. As Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8, which we looked at verse two previously, Jesus quotes verse 3, “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your 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” (Deut 8:3). God tests his people to humble them and make them reliant upon God and his word. As Jesus explains in John chapter 4, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34). So not only do we see Christ as the bread from heaven, in which we feed upon him in faith. He is also the obedient son who lived the life that we should have lived.

What a contrast we have, from the audacious complaints of God’s people to the amazing grace God has shown his people. That we to have much to learn from this story of the Israelites complaining. That we have the shadow revealed to us in Christ which Jesus points out time and time again in John chapter 6.

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35–40)

Our response is to believe in Christ, the bread from heaven and the obedient son who did the will of his Father. To live by faith, and not sight as the author of Hebrews says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). The application is simple, come to Christ receive the grace shown through Jesus.

The Abundant provision (13-21)

It would be amiss to not only point out the audacious complaint and God’s amazing grace but also the abounding nature of this amazing grace. It is not that God only throws them some crumbs to stop their grumbling, as we often have done on long road trips. Notice the great provision given to his people. Quickly three things that we see; 1) there is ample supply for all of God’s people, in verse 17 we see that no one lacked anything. 2) That God also provided an appetizing supply. God gave them meat, as their complaint included the meat pots in Egypt, God provided for them something that was considered a deliciously in Egypt. He could of given them bread to survive but his grace showed forth his care for them, above their immediate need. And finally, 3) God’s abounding supply, how often would God’s people see his grace, it would be new every morning, you see this in verse four ‘a day’s portion every day.” Again, this is not merely a small amount of grace it is abounding, as you see at the end of the chapter, for forty years the Israelites could see God’s character on display in the wilderness, 12,514 days they woke up and manna, bread from heaven was ready for them to see God’s grace. “Morning by morning new mercies I see, all I have needed thy hand have provided, Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Yet this was not the response of some of the people. They do not pass the test, instead of humility they hoard and ignore God’s word. Again, a great warning for us not to desire evil, to see God’s faithfulness but also have our hope in Christ the bread from heaven. As we see in the sensible sign of the Lord’s supper “Take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you.” The heart tester always reveals a problem because we all have sinful hearts, but not only do we have the heart tester but we also have the great physician who can cure our sin stained hearts, who can wash us clean and change our grumbling complaints to rejoicing thankfulness.

[1] Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 424–425.

[2] John Calvin and Charles William Bingham, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 269.

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