We are now to consider God's provision for the wilderness. The present chapter gives us the bread from heaven; the chapter following gives the water from the rock. The history of the wilderness we must not expect to find in Exodus — the book of redemption; the book of Numbers gives us fully that. Here, we have the provision of divine grace for the need of the people — a provision which is the necessary result of redemption. God having brought them forth out of Egypt, has made Himself responsible for them all the way through to the land to which He is bringing them; therefore, if the wilderness yields nothing, He must provide in another way. Bread shall be given them; their water shall be sure.
The manna is to us the significant type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and fully interpreted for us in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. Our Lord says:
"Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you; for Him hath God the Father sealed."
It is the Son of Man who gives us this food. Most striking it is in that Gospel in which His divine glory is its special theme. But the manna is the Son of Man down here in the world, in the scene of His humiliation. It is thus that He becomes the Bread for us; the One whom the Father has sealed; upon whom He emphatically set the stamp of His perfect approbation and delight; the One in whom, as a man, we find what is near and intelligible to us, yet, at the same time, all divine fulness bodily in the Man Christ Jesus.
In this Bread is no element of corruption. It is the food for that life which endures eternally. Not only the Life endures for ever, but the Bread itself endures unto everlasting life. We partake now of the food which we shall feed upon eternally. Although manna is the food of the wilderness, the hidden manna is kept for Canaan, and the promise is, "To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the hidden manna" (Rev. 2:17).
We must look in detail at what we have in this chapter. The children of Israel come to the wilderness of Sin. There we find them murmuring against Moses and Aaron:
"And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill the whole assembly with hunger."
The character of grace is stamped upon this gift of the manna for the people's need. Their murmuring, instead of bringing down judgment, is met by the supply for their need.
"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."
Even God's grace in this way proves us. In fact, nothing proves us more than grace. The very name, "manna" (significant in the type as it was in the history) , reminds us of how little even the people of God enter into what we have here. "They said one to another, 'manna' (what is it?): for they moist not what it was." And we find correspondingly in that chapter of John's Gospel, that when the Lord brings out in plainer language what this bread from heaven implies, many of His disciples depart from Him; so much so that He turns to the twelve and says to them, "Will ye also go away?"
The manna falls but in the wilderness; and the wilderness is only the world as faith realizes it — not as to the senses, nor the natural man. The consequence is that if faith be not in proper exercise, the wilderness, spite of a doctrine about it, is not a reality, and the food for the wilderness is neither craved nor understood. It is a solemn thing to realize this, and especially when we connect it with the eating of the hidden manna hereafter. Connection there surely is, as we find in that epistle to Pergamos which we have already quoted. In Pergamos, the Church united to the world ceased to be in the wilderness as to her practical state: thus it is to the overcomer, to him alone, that the Lord gives this promise. But the overcomer is he who realizes the world to be a wilderness, and is therefore in the place where the manna is both needed and supplied.
The promise of the hidden manna is to be fulfilled, as are all these promises, in the future state; and as the Lord has told us in the sixth chapter of John, the bread endures unto everlasting life. Thus the future is linked with the present, and we must make no line of separation in this respect between them.
Now let us look at the manna itself.
"The Lord spake unto Moses saying; I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. And it came to pass that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar-frost on the ground . . . And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat."
Thus divine grace ministers, and they are dependent absolutely upon it. No human hands bestowed this bread. God Himself showers it around their tents in the night while they sleep. It comes in the dew, the beautiful figure of the Spirit, who ministers Christ, and not Himself — the dew rises and the manna is left upon the ground. But it lies there, an insignificant thing, and small as the hoar-frost.
God's way constantly crosses our human thoughts; and if it is only our thoughts, they will make light of God's provision. Yet it feeds the hosts of Israel forty years!
We find another description of the manna further on.
"And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey" (ver. 31).
It was white, the color of the full ray of light, and "God is light." In Christ alone is this perfect reflection of God found. As to its taste, "it was like wafers made with honey." It was not honey, which as such was not to be mingled with the meat-offering, which again speaks to us of Christ as the food of His people. Honey typifies the sweetness of nature which will not abide the fire, and is unsuited to the Lord's offerings. The manna only resembled the honey in its sweetness; the fire prepared it for the people's food. Just as in Christ, there was all the sweetness of nature, but a nature unfallen, pure and incorruptible. It was the reality of a manhood we can apprehend, enjoy, become intimate with; but a manhood upon which God can put the seal of His Spirit in perfect approbation of it all.
Thus the manna, as the Bread from heaven, is Christ come down into the world, a Man among men, yet the perfect expression of God in manhood; in manhood He is "God with us" — Immanuel. The title He constantly employed as to Himself was, "the Son of Man." With the cords of a Man He draws us — with the cords of love! He is "a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother," a Friend tried in adversity, who walked in paths such as ours, and whose heart is with us in the same path still.
In the preparation of this food we find, no doubt, a reference to the peculiar experiences of sorrow and trial which the Lord constantly endured, and in which we have found "a brother born for adversity."
In the gathering of it we are reminded of the Lord's words, "Labor . . . for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." They did not indeed labor to bring it from heaven; their labor was to gather it where it lay, upon the ground, and for which they had to use diligence. It would not keep; they could not lay up a stock of it for the future; every day it must be gathered. If they were not out early, when the sun rose upon it, it melted. Here is where diligence on our part is so much needed. Would that we understood it better! Manna did not fall into their mouths, but around their tents. Do we realize the necessity of diligence in the apprehension of divine things? Do we understand that the character of the Word of God is such that, however plain in a sense it may be, yet it ministers its fulness only to those who have the earnestness of heart to seek it. "If thou criest after knowledge," says the Wise Man, "and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." He adds: "For the Lord giveth wisdom," but He gives it according to the rules of His holy government.
The manna was a daily provision for daily need. It could not be hoarded; if attempted, it bred worms and stank. So also we cannot live upon yesterday's enjoyment of Christ. We must enjoy Him to-day. Our past experiences will otherwise only turn into corruption; they will feed pride; they will be a knowledge that puffs up. And how much we see of this! Constant dependence upon God, constant drawing from Him, is what He ordains as the way of blessing for us. He would thus keep us with Himself. We must realize the divine hand that ministers to us, and gives us no stock to live upon in any measure of independence of Him. And this is true of all spiritual graces, for He would have His hand and His heart to be known. He would have us near Himself, because He delights in us. And our true blessing is that in manifesting Himself to us, He at the same time weans us from our own resources, and teaches us His own faithfulness and truth. This means, gathering the manna for actual need; and the taste of it will be "as fresh oil" (Num. 11:8) — a freshness which the true ministry of the Spirit always implies.
"And when they did mete it out with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack."
You cannot have too much of Christ. Of the mere outside of the Word, one may. You can have a breadth of truth out of proportion to depth; but where Christ it is that you seek, it will ensure depth as well as breadth. We can never have too much of Christ. On the other hand, the amount that we shall possess does not depend upon the mere measure of time or effort spent in the gathering. Not the amount of time, but the amount of heart counts with God, and in which fruit is found. "There is much fruit in the tillage of the poor;" and the poor need to be reminded of this. He who knows well our need as well as our hearts, knows how to minister to the need as He sees our hearts in reality occupied with Himself. Much study may be but a weariness to the flesh; but negligence of His Word God will not own nor countenance.
And let us remember, beloved, that we are speaking now of the acquirement of food, and that Christ is that food. He Himself is the truth. All that we learn must, and will, if it be really learned, give us more knowledge of this living Person. It is food we are to gather — not mental furniture — but that which will sustain and bless us and glorify Him. It is still and ever as in the angels' words that night at Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace." Peace follows as the result of God being glorified in the highest.
This we shall find significantly told out in what is connected with the manna in the chapter before us. As soon as the manna is given, the Sabbath appears.
"And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto Me."
"Sabbath" means rest. Here, if there be any significance in the connection typically, as there surely must be, the teaching is that rest for our hearts is found in connec- tion with the appropriation and enjoyment of Christ as the Bread from heaven.
Their rest is provided for before it is enjoined upon them. Thus the food for the Sabbath is given before the Sabbath is mentioned. So they rest not merely as a duty, but as a privilege. And this rest the Lord connects with the reception or rejection of Himself in a striking way in the Gospels. The Son of Man was the Lord of the Sabbath. They could not reject the Son of Man and have a Sabbath at all. Thus when His disciples gathered ears of corn upon the Sabbath, He justifies them, not because of bodily need which they might have, but by what was done in David's day, when the people over whom he was anointed king acknowledged him not. "Have ye not read," He says, "what David did, when he was an hungered . . . how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the showbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for those that were with him, but only for the priests?"
To the superficial hearer this might seem the justification of one unlawful thing by another. The whole point turns upon David's being rejected as the anointed king. Priesthood having already failed as God's link with the people, David was himself the link upon which all depended, in order that the holy things might have their holiness. David himself says: "The bread is as it were
common, though it be sanctified this day in the vessel." How much more, then, when the Son of Man is rejected — the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord of rest, by whose reception only could rest be attained. The Sabbath without Him? Impossible!
Thus the Sabbath is connected with Christ known and fed upon, realized in a love which has stooped so low, to give us the joy of companionship with Himself, and bring us in Himself to God. Disjoined from God, man lost rest, and became as it were a Cain, cast out of His presence, and so a fugitive and vagabond upon the earth. We cannot cease to be fugitives and vagabonds except as we return to Him, and find rest as having the seal of His own approbation. When God rested, it was because all was good; and when creation was fallen, rest was no longer possible. He must come in again into the world to take possession of it as His own for the earth to have its Sabbath.
Circumstances are not what make peace for us. Our Lord said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation;" it is enough that He can add, "In Me ye shall have peace." Tribulation does not take from us this peace. His peace is known in the very midst of tribulation, and thus God glorifies Himself.
Let us notice that it is not of atonement we are speaking here. True, that is absolutely necessary for the enjoyment of peace at all. But we are now tracing the record of a redeemed people — a people who have known the shelter of the blood, and are now enjoying the manna, and resting under God's gracious care. God has spread His table for them even in a wilderness, and they rest, and we likewise, under the shadow of the Beloved, and His fruit is sweet to our taste. The long Sabbath of eternity will be due, surely, not only in the knowledge that He has made peace, but is our peace.
Now this naturally connects with what we find at the close of this chapter, where we find the meaning of the hidden manna spoken of,
"And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commanded: Fill an omen of it to keep for your generations, that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt."
Although manna could not be kept even for one day's need in the wilderness, it could be kept for the land of Canaan. And so we shall find that while we cannot feed upon our yesterday's experience and make that satisfy the need of to-day, it will be for rich blessing when reviewed with our blessed Lord above.
The golden pot speaks of how God is glorified in what this manna discloses. Although the Son of Man it is who shall give it to us, although it is of His humanity here that it speaks of, we shall find Him the same above, and God will be glorified in Him forever. We shall find in the One upon the throne of glory the very One whose "face was marred more than any man's" down here for us.
We shall not only "see" the hidden manna, but "eat" of it again, as the Lord expresses it to Pergamos. Fresher than ever will be our realization of His love and the perfection of the grace manifested towards us. In fact, it is when we come to be there, that we shall have the full enjoyment of all the experiences of the wilderness. We shall know as we are known and find, then, the full interpretation and blessing of what we have learned of Him here.
But not only this, our feeding upon the manna here will have very practical relation to our feeding upon it there. It is the overcomer here, let us mark it well, to whom it is given there. It is he who has fed upon Christ here that shall enjoy Him in the future more than ever he has enjoyed Him in the past. This manna is not to supply our present need, merely. It is not a mere provision for sorrow. It is not merely to enable us to tread in courage and confidence the path towards the land; but it is what we shall find in the land itself in a fulness in which we have never yet known it.
God grant that we may not have to ask, as Israel did as to this, "Mali Na?" — "What is it?" In a sense, we shall have to ask that question — not as lost in perplexity, but as the hymn says —
"Lost in wonder, love and praise!"