The Story of Manna in the Wilderness

In the Christian faith, we sometimes overlook the Old Testament. At best, we forget about it, and at worst we look down upon it, thinking that the “New” is somehow better! I think this temptation is even apparent in how we use our words. The adjective “old” often denotes bad or out-of-date in our culture. So without even realizing it, in using “old” to describe Genesis to Malachi, we subconsciously treat the Old Testament as secondary to the New. I had seminary professors argue that perhaps a more accurate phrase would be the “First Testament” or “Hebrew Bible!”

I say this because we often forget that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish. I’ve struggled with this myself. Yet so many passages from the New connect with the Old. Even passages dealing with Gentiles connect to God’s universal plan for salvation, outlined in the stories of Abraham and the prophets! Too often we interpret passages in the New Testament without considering the history of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and stories of characters Abraham, Moses, and David.

Yesterday’s sermon on Christ being the bread of life got me thinking on another familiar story of bread and God…

The same idea Jesus put forth in John 6 is connected to books like Exodus. Jesus references a story from Exodus 16 about the Israelites grumbling as they wander the wilderness. Just like the disciples, the Israelites want food to eat. So how will this situation resolve? Here is Exodus 16:4-5…

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

God provided for the people in the miracle of food from heaven. For six days, they were to gather bread, storing up enough to have on the seventh day (an obvious reference to the order of the week and the sabbath day of rest from Genesis 1!).

This bread from heaven was named manna, which in the ancient Hebrew sounds like the phrase “What is it?” This random linguistic detail is quite revealing of God’s miraculous power. Food from the heavens inspired awe and wonder among the Israelites. Every time an Israelite would say the word, the would be reminded of this peculiar origin story. Bread from heaven? What is this? How incredible!

When we are nourished by God, do we have the same reaction? Do we ponder the miracle? Do we see that these gifts come from God?

When Christ speaks of bread from heaven, that ought to immediately bring to mind stories of the Israelites. When we experience blessing, we need to realize that it comes from God. When we look for fulfillment, we must know that God can satisfy every hunger we could ever experience. Jesus extends this theme in John 6:49-50…

Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.

This week, I hope you experience the “what-is-it?” power of Christ! We can know the power of resurrection. Christ is the fulfillment of God’s grand work of salvation. When we encounter him, hopefully we experience awe and wonder.

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