The first mention of manna in the Bible is in Exodus 16. God had used Moses to bring the Israelites out from Egypt, the most powerful country in the world. God did many miracles through Moses — the ten plagues — each of which was an attack on one or more of the gods of Egypt. These plagues showed God’s supremacy over all the so-called gods of Egypt. Then, when Pharaoh finally relented and let the people leave Egypt, God blew the sea apart with a strong east wind. Israel crossed Yam Suph (the Sea of Reeds) on dry land in one night. According to Exodus 15, the water of the sea “stood up and coagulated”— probably meaning it froze in place that one night. Then the sun came up, and the water collapsed on Pharaoh and his mighty army.
Now, Israel was in the howling wilderness. They ate all the cattle and other food they had brought with them — and then they were hungry. I doubt that Moses had even thought of what they would eat in the desert. When the people came to him hungry, he went to God. God told Moses he would feed the people in the morning.
When they all woke up the next day, there was the manna. The word manna actually means, “What is it?” When the people saw this strange looking white stuff on the ground around the camp, they asked, “What is it?” and that became manna’s name. They would say, “Let’s go get some ‘what is it?’” God gave them rules for gathering the manna. They were to get enough for one day. Those who disobeyed that rule saw that the manna was rotten and full of maggots the next day. So they had to trust God for their “daily bread,” as Jesus taught us to trust in his teaching on prayer.
Every day they were allowed to gather enough for that day alone — except on the day before the Sabbath. Then, they could gather two days worth — and it would not rot. So Israel had to learn to trust God. Then a jar of manna was placed in the Ark of the Covenant, so Israel would never forget what God had done for them.
The manna tasted like “wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). Psalm 78 refers to manna as “grain from heaven” and “the bread of angels.” Yet it was Israel who ate this bread for nearly 40 years in the desert. When they became tired of the manna and complained to Moses, God gave them quail to eat. He was able to provide every day for from 2 million to 5 million Jews in the desert. The Quartermaster General of the Army said that amount of food would require two trains of boxcars a mile long every day — and that’s just the beginning! God is more than able to take care of our needs. The manna stopped after Israel entered the Land of Canaan and began eating the fruit of that land. (Joshua 5:12)
Manna was an amazing miracle from God. But a greater miracle was to come. Jesus himself said (John 6) that he is the “true manna” that God provides for us. He taught the Jews after he miraculously fed 5,000 men with their wives and children.
He said, “I am the true Bread that comes down from heaven. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. Anyone who eats of this bread will live forever.”
Manna was a temporary fix to keep Israel alive in the desert. And as great a miracle as that was, the miracle of giving us Jesus is even greater. He is the “Bread of Life.”
He said, “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die.”
How blessed we are to have Jesus to save us forever.
Mark Berrier is the minister of Central Christian Church in Sherman. He earned a doctoral degree in divinity from Dallas Christian College.