We can have both daily manna and abundant blessing when we choose right.
And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Exodus 16:35)
We’ve all used the expression ‘manna from heaven’ at some point – possibly to describe a particularly tasty meal. The irony, of course, is that after forty years, the Israelites would likely disagree with us. While our expression points to something exceptional, they no doubt tired of the ‘same old, same old’ of manna every day. At some point, they even complained and God graciously adjusted their desert diet to bread in the morning and meat at night, sending the quail to accomplish it. The Exodus, of course, is a powerful type of salvation and so its nuances contain wonderful truths that provide insight into the way God interacts with His people. The matter of manna raises a fair number of questions and some intriguing answers. It deals particularly with our response to God’s provision in our lives and the consequences.
Manna is God’s provision.
That’s it in a nutshell. While in this particular situation manna is food, it symbolically exemplifies the truth that God cares for and provides for His people. This is especially true when we are totally and completely dependent on Him. But why these simple flakes of food which fell from heaven and lasted only a day? After all, this is the God who slayed the first-born of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and literally washed Pharaoh’s army down the river. He could have provided a five-course buffet at every meal, no problem. Aside from the quirky truth that a very young friend supplied – they didn’t have water to wash dishes – God was teaching them some important lessons. These all still apply to us as children of God, and they cover every single human need. The basic principles are universal to His provision for our needs.
First, God alone is the source of ‘every good thing’ that comes. They all come from heaven and who or what we are has very little to do with it. We should look to Him alone for all that we need. Second, His provision is perfect and complete. Manna might not have looked like anyone’s favourite meal, but it contained everything the Israelites needed for health, strength, stamina, etc. It was the world’s only complete, balanced diet. When God provides, it meets our need in full. Third, His provision is faithful. Every single day, He released exactly as much as they needed at the right time. Four, His provision is for what we need, not what we want or expect. We can trust God to know the details and take care of them even though t may not happen as we imagine or have the ‘frills’ we’d like.
Manna is always supernatural provision.
This is something that is so very easy to overlook. Yet the real truth is that every single ordinary detail is, in essence, supernatural. A simple piece of toast is God’s miraculous supply. That parking spot we pray for in an emergency, or the person who happens to pop round when we need them… These things seem so altogether ordinary, yet the Bible tells us that He cares about every single tiny detail concerning us. Christ is in us and we are in Him. The Holy Spirit lives and works in and through us. This is an awesome truth – the supernatural power of God is at work in every detail every day to release manna. His supernatural provision operates in the natural, ordering things in our lives according to His perfect purposes. He does so many small things for us that we simply take for granted.
Of course, none of this precludes the reality that things won’t go smoothly. There will be obstacles and difficulties. After their dramatic liberation and protection, the Israelites were led into the desert. It wasn’t out of Egypt and into the promised land. But our trials and struggles – our desert moments – teach us dependence on God. They remind us that our manna is from Him alone and that He’s faithful. A stint in the desert is what makes still waters and green pastures a greater blessing. Manna from heaven teaches us that we must look for and recognise the daily blessings that manifest the love and care and provision of God in our ordinary lives. It also teaches us to not look beyond today and even this moment. We can trust God to take care of tomorrow. His provision is practical. It’s on time and perfect.
Our response to manna from heaven.
I paused for a moment, considering the reality of eating the same thing day in and day out for forty years. To be honest – and I think I speak for all of us here – we can understand why they went to God with an ‘enough already’ attitude and demanded meat. I love mac and cheese, but every day for four decades? Yet that’s exactly what happened. They finally tested God’s patience once too many times and He responded with an ‘enough already’ of His own. The result of their faithlessness was that they wandered in the desert for forty years – until the last person of that first generation died. Their complaining response to the manna of God’s provision cost them the promised land. But this is to God’s provision as a whole. The last straw on the proverbial camel’s back was their fear of the ‘giants’ in Canaan.
In all that time with God leading and providing for them in the desert, they still didn’t trust Him. They looked at the world rather than at God, and complained when things weren’t simply handed to them. Their problem was not the promised land – they were happy to believe God and accept that it was theirs. But they wanted it without effort. They wanted God to do all the work and hand over the completed deal. Their expectations were out of line, and so their response was one of quarrelling and resentment against God for not doing things their way. This disobedience and distrust ultimately cost them the promised land, but it was the culmination of a long journey of disregarding things God taught them. Over and over, we see self manifesting in the Israelites to their own detriment. Yet, through all this, God provided manna to meet their need.
Manna or abundant blessing.
Today’s verse points to an interesting development. They only received manna up until the point that they entered and took the promised land. Our first thought might be the idea of ‘milk and honey,’ i.e. the abundant blessing of God now that they’d reached their destination. But there’s a much deeper and more powerful explanation here. From this point on, though they did indeed step into God’s provision of abundant blessings, they had to actively participate. In the desert, they wandered along as God led them and relied on Him to feed them. They had neither the time – being continually on the move – nor the resources to grow food or stop to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Manna was therefore an essential daily provision. Up until the promised land, their dependence on God was total, but they also realistically had no choice, despite their grumbling.
At the promised land, Israel confronts their first moment of real choice – to trust God out of their own free will. They want the abundant blessings promised, but they want them without their own effort and participation. It’s ironic that while they complained about the manna in the desert, they wanted the ease it provided. It was far easier to blame God than to take responsibility and make their own choices. It wasn’t so much scorning the provision of God that kept them from the promised land. Rather, it was their refusal to choose God freely and to trust Him completely. The message is clear. While every good thing comes from God, He also expects us to participate, to put in the effort, and to choose Him no matter what. Manna is for desert times. It meets a need. Abundant blessings requires that we work alongside God and trust Him.
Manna from God is part of our abundant blessings.
The biblical manna is both literal and symbolic of God’s daily provision. As His children, we have the day-to-day manna and the abundant blessings. The first is our assurance that He will meet our every need. The second is the ‘exceedingly abundantly’ of God, but it’s dependent on our choice. The challenge today, then, is whether we are willing to step up in obedience and choose His will and purpose, no matter what. Every great and wonderful promise of God is available to us over and above our ‘daily bread’ if we are faithful and choose Him. We cannot do it ourselves. That’s an absolute truth. But we can participate and work alongside as He manifests His purposes. It’s starts with simply not taking our manna for granted. When we see Him move to provide in the little details, it’s much easier to have faith for the larger ones.
Father, forgive us if we’ve taken Your supernatural provision for granted. Open our eyes so that we may see the many ways You provide for us each day. Help us to live in the certainty that all good things are from You, and that You meet our every need and then still provide abundant blessing. Above all, empower us today to make the right choice. Give us the grace to choose You and to willingly and joyfully work alongside You as You begin to work out Your will and purpose in our lives. We know we cannot do it. Strengthen our faith in the assurance that You both can and will if we are willing to cross the river with you.