IT seems to us that it must have been a very difficult thing to supply food for the hundreds of thousands, I shall not be incorrect if I say the millions, who were in the wilderness; but, difficult as that was, the commissariat was not so difficult as the education. To train that mob of slaves into a nation under discipline, to lift up those who had been in bondage, and make them fit to enjoy national privileges, this was the Herculean task that Moses had to perform. And their God, who loved the children of Israel, and chose them, and determined to make them a peculiar people unto Himself, undertook to teach them, and He used their food as part of the means of their education.
Animals are often taught through their food. When they could not be reached in any other way, they have been instructed by their hunger, and by their thirst, and by their feeding. And the Lord, who knew of what a coarse nature Israel was composed, and how the people had degenerated from the old stock during their long bondage, took care to teach them by every means, not only by the higher and the more spiritual, by the typical and symbolical, but He also taught them by their hunger and by their thirst, by the supply of water from the rock, and by the manna which He rained from heaven.
We will try to see what the Lord taught them, and we will do more than that; we will try to learn what they learned, and somewhat more. May the Holy Spirit himself be our Teacher, and as He has often taught us the Divinest lessons by the bread and wine, preaching to our very hearts by what seemed the lowly ministry of food and drink, so may He teach us by that angels’ bread, wherewith Israel was fed in the wilderness long years ago!
HOW THE LORD TAUGHT THESE PEOPLE BY HIS GIFT
He wanted them to know Him. His great desire was that they should know Jehovah their God. If they knew God, they would know all else; for, after all, “the proper study of mankind” is God; and when man knows his God, he knows himself; but if he thinks that he knows himself while he knows not his God, he is greatly mistaken.
God desired, then, to teach them Himself by the gift of the manna: and He taught them, first, His care over them, that He was their God, and that they were His people, and that He would lay Himself out to provide for them. Think of the care that God had over them, over each one of them, for each man had his own omer of manna. No woman, no child, was forgotten. Every morning, there was the sufficient quantity for every man, according to His eating for that day. There was no more; and there was never any less; so carefully did God watch over each individual. The individuality of the Divine love is a great part of the sweetness of it. God thinks of every separate child of His as much as if He had only that one. He will see your omer just filled, precisely, to an ounce. He will give you all you can possibly require; but He will give you nothing that you can lay by to minister to your pride.
And this care was shown every day. The Lord taught them the continuity of His remembrance by its coming every day. If He had sent one great rain of liberalities to refresh his inheritance, and had bidden them gather up the vast store, and carry it with them in all their journeyings, they could not so well have learned His care as when He sent it fresh every morning. Besides, they would have had the burden of carrying it, and they were free from that, for the heavenly supplies were always close at hand, exactly at the spot where they pitched their tents, and tarried. Every morning, there was the manna precisely where they needed it, and that without any man’s shoulder being made raw by carrying his food in his kneading-trough.
The Lord teaches you and me, in the same way, that He not only cares for each one, but cares for each one each day and each moment, tracking our footsteps, and meting out the full supply of the hour according as the peculiar necessity arises. “He is always thoughtful, always thoughtful of me,” thou mayest say of thy Lord; “always thoughtful of all the brotherhood, of the whole company of the redeemed, but none the less thoughtful of each one because there are so many myriads to be cared for every moment of every day.” Was not that a sweet lesson for the children of Israel to learn as they gathered their daily bread?
Jehovah taught them, next, His greatness. He had taught them that in Egypt by His mighty plagues, and at the Red Sea. But now He gently taught them His greatness, His exceeding greatness, first, by the quantity of the manna. There was enough for them all. How much it required, I leave arithmeticians to calculate; I cannot go into that question to-night. But, remember, that quantity fell every morning for forty years. What a great God is He who could feed the canvas city of His chosen people for forty years at a stretch, and yet without His stores being ever drained!
Usually our bread springs up from the soil, but these people were in a waste howling wilderness. Wonder of wonders, their bread came down from the sky! Shall men live on air? Will you sustain a population on mist, and cloud, and dew? Yet out of a seeming vacuum came a constant plenty. Every morning the earth was covered with the heaped-up food of all that multitude; and they had nothing to do but to go out and gather it. What a God is this whose marchings through the wilderness were so marvellous! The heavens supply what the earth denies. Behold, the greatness of your God, ye who are fed by His care!
No manna tax
There was never a pretence of paying for that daily bread. The richest man had his omer filled, but he paid not a doit for it; and the poorest man had his omer just as full at the same price. There was “nothing to pay”; no manna-tax was ever exacted of the Israelite’s hand. The Lord is infinitely good, essentially. He is growingly good, experimentally. The more we trust Him, the more we discover of His liberality. The manna fell continually; and the abundance of it must always have struck the people. God’s liberality never stinted them. If a man has a large appetite, he may eat as much as he likes, and the manna seems to grow while he is eating; and if he has a small appetite, though he may have gathered much, yet still he will have nothing over. God supplied the manna bountifully, yet exactly according to the capacity of the receiver.
The children of Israel also learned God’s immutability, for they had been fed with manna all through the wilderness. Some old man may have said, “I remember going out the first time to gather my omerful. I was astonished at it; and my neighbours kept calling out, ‘Man-hu? Man-hu? Man-hu?’ They were all wonderstruck; they did not know what to call it; so they asked, ‘What is it?’ They called it, ‘Man-hu?’ And now,” said he, “I have been out all these years. Thank God, I have never had a swollen foot, so that I could not go out to gather it. It has always been just as white, and just as round, and just as plentiful, and just as near my tent as at the first. I used to live over on the left side of the camp, and I moved to the right; but I always found that the manna was equally plentiful in every direction wherever I went. And it is so now,” the old man would say, “it is so now; and it is just as sweet, and just as plentiful, and just as freely to be had for nothing by every man who chooses to go out and gather it. Blessed be God, He changes not. Therefore trust thou in the unchanging God, and be not afraid. The manna shall fall from heaven till thou shalt eat the old corn in Canaan.
Do you not think, beloved, that from this gift the children of Israel also learned God’s wisdom? If they were not sensible enough to know it, He had given them the best food that He could give them. In that hot climate, if they had eaten flesh-meat continually, they would often have been ill. This manna from on high was the best thing for people living in tents, journeying from place to place, over a burning sand, beneath a scorching sky. The Lord had adapted the food to the people. He showed His wisdom, too, in the quantity provided, it was always the right measure. “He that gathered much had nothing over;” the manna seemed to shrink to the right quantity. “He that gathered little had no lack;” the manna seemed to swell and increase so that there was exactly enough to an ounce for all those multitudes.
It was like wafers made with honey, not at all unpalatable. It was, as I have already told you, like fresh oil, by no means disagreeable to an Eastern. God did not give them beggar’s food, spare scraps and broken victuals. He had said, “I will rain bread from heaven for you,” and he kept his word. The least bit of heaven’s bread must be delicious to the taste.“Man did eat angels’ food,” said the psalmist; and that cannot be bad food which falls from the table of cherubim and seraphim, such food as spirits might partake of if they might partake of any, light, and pure, and ethereal, and spiritual, as far removed from the grosser forms of materialism as food well could be, a godlike food for a godlike race if they had but been worthy of their destiny, and had been willing to learn what God was so ready to teach them.
Observe, HOW THE LORD TEACHES US BY THIS MANNA AS TO TEMPORAL THINGS
First, He teaches us that our supplies depend upon Him. Where did all the manna come from? It all came from God. Child of God, all thy supplies must come from God. Learn thou that. Whatever the second causes, whatever the intermediary sources, all thou art to have will come whence all thou hast had has come, namely, from God.
Learn, next, that our supplies are sure to faith. If the manna did not fail for forty years, neither will the Lord fail to supply thy needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
But learn from the children of Israel that our supplies will have to be gathered and prepared by ourselves. God sent the manna from heaven; but the people had to go out every morning, and get it in; and when they had gathered it, we read that they used to beat it in mortars, or grind it in mills, and bake it in pans, and make it into cakes. God is not the patron of idleness. He will have His people work; and His rule is, “If any man will not work, neither shall he eat.,” We thank God for opportunities for diligence.
HOW THE LORD TEACHES US BY THIS MANNA AS TO OUR SPIRITUAL FOOD
Every day you and I ought to go forth and find food for our spiritual life. Ah, but have you all received spiritual life? Some of you, it may be, are dead while you live, without God, and without Christ. May the Lord quicken you by his life-giving Spirit!
But if you have spiritual life, you must feed it, and God will give you manna from heaven, that is, Christ Himself, with which to feed your soul. He is that Bread of life which came down from heaven, and you must feed on Him. Take care that you go diligently to work to get this spiritual food. Be not idlers with the Word of God; search it. Get up early in the morning to read your Bible if you cannot do it at other times. Steal from your sleep a happy hour to read the Scriptures. Diligently and earnestly seek the Lord, for He has said, “They that seek me early shall find me.”
Do not try to live on last year’s manna. Stale experiences are poor food. Continually go about the meadows and feed, ye sheep of the Lord; go again and again to the still waters, drink and be satisfied. You can imagine how they probably had to gather it. I suppose that they went down on their knees to get it, for it was always down low, just on the hoar-frost that lay on the desert sand. See them all stooping down to gather it up; and the bulk of them, I think, were on their knees gathering it. That is the way to get the heavenly food, gather it on your knees, stoop low with humility, bend to the very ground in prayerfulness, and so gather up the coriander seed; nay, I mean the heavenly manna, and go your way rejoicing.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “Lessons from the Manna” (Exodus 14:4) by CH Spurgeon dated 12 September 1889. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from The Spurgeon Library | Lessons from the Manna