Then said the LORD to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you…
Quails also were given, on this occasion in mercy, and on a later occasion in wrath (Numbers 11:31-34); but it was the manna which was the principal gift, both as providing Israel with a continuous supply of food, and as having a permanent significance in the history of God's dealings with his Church (vers. 32-35).
I. THE MANNA PROMISED (vers. 4-9).
1. God would rain bread from heaven for them (ver. 4). He would spread a table for them, even in the wilderness, a thing they had deemed impossible (Psalm 78:19). He would give them to eat of "the corn of heaven" (Psalm 68:24). He would thus display himself as Jehovah, - the God of exhaustless resources, - able and willing to supply all their need (cf. Philippians 4:19). He would remove from himself the reproach wherewith they had reproached him, that he had brought them into the wilderness, "to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (ver. 3). He would testify of his loving care for them (cf. Deuteronomy 1:31).
2. The supply would be continuous - "Every day" (ver. 4). The regularity of the supply would be a daily proof of God's faithfulness - another of the Jehovah attributes. We have a similar proof of the Divine faithfulness in the constancy of the laws of nature on which our own supplies of food depend; in particular, in the regular succession of seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, which God has promised to maintain (Genesis 8:22; cf. Psalm 119:89-92).
3. The gift of quails and manna would be a manifestation of his glory as Jehovah (vers. 6, 7; also ver. 12 - "and ye shall know that I am Jehovah your God"). His Jehovah character would be revealed in it. Note, in addition to what is said above, the following illustrations of this.
(1) The gift of manna was an act of free origination. Compare with Christ's multiplication of the loaves, brought in John 6. into close association with this miracle.
(2) So far as natural materials were utilised in the production of the manna (dew, etc.), it was shown how absolutely plastic nature was in the hands of its Creator.
(3) The gift of quails was a further testimony to God's supreme rule in nature.
(4) It was a special feature in this transaction that God was seen in it acting solely from himself - finding the law and reason of what he did in himself alone. He interposes with a simple "I will" (ver. 4). It was neither the people's merits nor the people's prayers, which moved him to give the manna. Merits they had none; prayers they did not offer. But God, who brought them out of Egypt, and had bound himself by covenant with their fathers, found a reason in himself for helping them, when he could find none in them (cf. Deuteronomy 9:4, 5). He showed them this kindness for his own name's sake (cf. Psalm 106:8); because he was Jehovah, who changed not (Malachi 3:6).
4. The gift of manna would prove a trial of obedience (ver. 4). God bound himself to send the manna day by day, and this would be a test of his faithfulness. But rules would be prescribed to the people for gathering the manna, and this would be a test of their obedience. God's design in giving the manna was thus not merely to supply the people's natural wants. He would also train them to dependence. He would test their characters. He would endeavour to form them to habits of obedience. A like educative and disciplinary purpose is to be recognised as bound up with all God's leading of us. Gifts are at the same time trusts. They impose duties upon us, and lay us under responsibilities. There are rules to be observed in the use of them which test our inner dispositions. There is a law of temperance in the use of food. There is a law of modesty in dress. There are the laws relating to the acquisition and expenditure of money - honesty in acquisition,, economy in use, liberality in giving (cf. Deuteronomy 15:7-12), devotion of the first fruits of income to God. There is the supreme law, which includes all others - "Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). There is no action, no occupation, however seemingly trivial, which has not important relations to the formation of character. "The daily round, the common task," etc.
II. THE PREPARATORY THEOPHANY (vers. 9-13). Moses summoned the people to draw near before the Lord. Then, as they came together, and looked toward the wilderness, lo! "the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud." It is a suggestive circumstance that it is Aaron, who by command of Moses, collects the congregation (ver. 10). Moses, according to his wont, had probably withdrawn to pray (cf. Exodus 14:15). In this, as in other instances, Moses might be taken as an example of secrecy in prayer. His prayers are never paraded. They are even studiously kept in the background - a proof surely of the Mosaic authorship of the book. When they come to light, it is often incidentally (Exodus 14:15). On one notable occasion an intercessory prayer of his was not made known till near the end of his life (Deuteronomy 9:25). We know of his prayers mostly by their results. This appearance of the glory of God to Israel may be viewed: -
1. As a rebuke of the people's murmurings. Unlike the "look" from the pillar of fire with which the Lord discomfited the Egyptians (Exodus 14:24), it was a look with as much mercy as anger in it. Yet it conveyed reproof. It may be compared with the theophany which terminated the dispute between Job and his friends, and caused the patriarch to abhor himself, and to repent in dust and ashes (Job 38:1; Job 42:6); or to the look of sorrow and reproof which the Lord cast on Peter, which caused him to go out, and weep bitterly (Matthew 26:75). How abashed, humbled, and full of fear, those murmurers would now be, as with mouths stopped (Romans 3:19), they beheld that terrible glory forming itself in the cloud, and looking down full upon them!
2. As a fitting introduction to the miracle that was to follow. It gave impressiveness to the announcement - showed indubitably the source of the miraculous supply - roused the minds of the people to a high pitch of expectation - prepared them for something grand and exceptional in the Divine procedure. It thus checked their murmurings, convinced them of their sin in distrusting God, warned them of the danger of further rebellion, and brought them back to their obedience. God's words - "I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel" - at the same time reminded them that he was fully aware of all their "hard speeches" which they had spoken against him.
3. As an anticipation of the revelation of Sinai. These chapters are full of anticipations. In Exodus 15:25, 26, we have "statute and an ordinance," anticipatory of the later Sinaitic covenant; in this chapter, we have an anticipation of Sinai glory and also of the sabbath law (ver. 23); in Exodus 18:16, we have an anticipation of the civil code of Sinai; for Moses makes the people "know the statutes of God, and his laws."
III. THE MANNA GIVEN (vers. 13-16). Quails came in the evening, and next morning the manna fell with the dew. We observe concerning it -
1. That it came in a not unfamiliar form. The "angel's food" (Psalm 78:25), wore the dress, and had the taste of the ordinary manna of the desert. We miss in the miracles of the Bible the grotesque and bizarre features which mark the supernatural stories of other books. They testify to the existence, as well as respect the laws, of an established natural order. The plagues of Egypt, e.g., were thoroughly true to the natural phenomena of that country, and made the largest possible use of existing agencies. The crossing of the Red Sea was accomplished by the supernatural employment of natural conditions and agencies. There is in all these miracles the constant observance of the two laws:
(1) Of economy - utilising the natural so far as it will go; and
(2) of congruity - keeping as closely as possible to the type of the natural, even when originating supernatural phenomena.
2. That it was a direct production of the power of God. It was in the truest sense bread from heaven, and is thus a type of Christ, the Bread of Life (see below). Yet the power exerted in the creation of the manna - and it is important to remember this - is but the same power, only more visibly put forth, which operates still in nature, giving us our yearly supplies of the good things of the earth. The annual harvest is only not a miracle, because it comes regularly, season after season, and because numerous secondary agencies are employed in its production. You plough, that is, break up the ground to receive the seed; but whence came the seed? From last year's gift. You sow it in the fields, cover it up again and leave it - to whose care? To God's. It is he who now takes the matter into his own hands, and in what remains you can but wait upon his will. It rests with him to send his rains or to withhold them; to order the sunshine and heat; to bless or blast your harvest. What man does is but to put matters in train for God's working - God himself does the rest; in the swelling and germination of the seed, in all the stages of its growth, in the formation of the blade, in the modelling of the ear, in the filling of it with the rich ripe grain, his power is absolutely, and all throughout, the only power at work. And how great the gift is when it comes! It is literally God opening his hand and putting into ours the food necessary for our sustenance. But for that gift, year by year renewed, man and beast would utterly perish. It is calculated that a year's pro duce in Great Britain alone amounts in money value to over £160,000,000. The corn crop alone was valued in 1880 at £90,000,000. It is as if God had made a direct gift of that sum of money to our nation in the year named, only it was given in a better than money form - in food. How little we think of it! Men are proud and self-sufficient, and speak sometimes as if they would almost disdain to accept or acknowledge a favour even from the Almighty. While yet, in truth, they are, like others, the veriest pensioners on his bounty, sustained by his power, seeing by his light, warmed by his sun, and fed year by year by the crumbs that fall from his table. Were God for a single year to break the staff of bread over the whole earth, where would either it or they be?
3. That it was given day by day, and with regularity. Thus the manna taught a daily lesson of dependence on God, and so played an important part in the spiritual education of Israel. Yet familiarity must have done much then, as it does still, to deaden the impression of God's hand in the daily gift. Because the manna came to them, not by fits and starts, but regularly; because there was a "law" in its coming - they would get to look on it as quite a common occurrence, no more to be wondered at than the rising and setting of the sun, or any other sequence in nature. "Laws of nature" tend, in precisely the same way, to blind us to the agency of God working behind and in them, as well as to hide from us his agency in the origination of the sequences that now flow so uniformly. We have spoken of God's agency in the production of the harvest. But there is good ground for speaking of our cereal crops as in yet another sense - "bread from heaven." These cereal plants, it is affirmed, are never found in a wild state; cannot by any known process be developed from plants in a wild state; and if once allowed to degenerate, can never again be reclaimed for human food. Not inaptly, therefore, have they been represented as even now a kind of standing miracle - a proof of direct creative interposition for the good of man. (See "The Cerealia: a Standing Miracle," by Professor Harvey, in "Good Words," vol. 2.) Yet how entirely is this retied from us by the fact that all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3:4).
4. That it was a food entirely suitable to the circumstances of the Israelites. It was light, nutritious, palatable; comprised variety by admitting of being prepared in different ways (baked, seethed, ver. 23; cf. Numbers 11:8); was abundant in quantity, readily distinguishable by the eye, and being of a granulated nature, and strewn thickly throughout all the camp, could be collected with a very moderate expenditure of labour. It was thus, like so much in our own surroundings, and in the provision which God makes for our wants, a constant witness to the care, goodness, wisdom, and forethought of the great Giver. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
WEB: Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from the sky for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law, or not.