Lesson 21 – God Supplies Manna
But Moses said to the people,
"Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the HOLY ONE will accomplish for your today."
Bible Background(taken from Journey through the Bible, Christian Board of Publications, 1995, p. 69)
The freed Israelites, led by Moses, make their way toward Sinai. For Moses, the Exodus is only partially over, for the freed slaves have not yet worshipped God at the mountain of revelation. (See Exodus 3:12.) As the people break camp and begin the trek to Sinai, they are quickly in trouble. Moses must lead them along a route where water can be found, but if Moses follows the familiar routes to the mountains of southern Sinai, he and the people will surely confront Egyptian military outposts. The first step must be to disappear quickly into the wilderness, hoping to find sufficient food and water somewhat off the beaten track. But the first water found is not drinkable. The people complain to Moses, and Moses turns to God. God shows Moses how to treat the water with a particular kind of wood, and the water becomes usable.
These stories of the leadership Moses gives during the forty years in the wilderness have a few major themes. One of these is God's direct guidance of life in the wilderness. That guidance did not, however, ignore what Moses had learned, either in the household of Pharaoh in Egypt during his youth or in Jethro's household in the land of Midian. We can see from Exodus 18 that Moses is entirely willing to learn new things from his father-in-law. He organizes the Israelite males into descending groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and designates leaders for each of the groups, just as Jethro suggests that he do.
The storytellers are showing us, however, that it is God who is directing this entire operation. The people complain to Moses, and Moses sometimes becomes exasperated with them and complains bitterly to God. God is the head of this caravan, and God alone knows how to preserve the life of this unruly group. We should also remember that those who left Egyptian slavery included a group called a "mixed crowd" in the NRSV (Exodus 12:38), persons who simply wanted to escape slavery and were not in the least interested in some higher purpose to be fulfilled by this march to freedom. They just wanted food and drink and shelter and not too much work to do! Small wonder, then, that there should have been difficulty in keeping this crowd in order and their commitment to freedom strong.
The people need food as well as water. And our storytellers concentrate attention on one remarkable miracle in the wilderness: God's gift of manna. It is well known that a particular kind of tamarisk tree, found especially in the western Sinai Peninsula, produces a secretion that plant lice eat. This material solidifies in the cool of the night and can be gathered in the morning. It has a sweet taste and can sustain life. This product of tamarisk trees no doubt lies in the background of our story of God's gift of manna.
But see what the narrators have made of that knowledge! They have used the experience of manna to show God's love and bounty, and God's power to preserve their lives under any imaginable circumstances. So God rains manna down from heaven, and everyone has all the food necessary for life. It is a gift that is equally available to all: Those who gathered too little found that in fact the little they gathered was just the right amount. And those who gathered too much found that there was none left over. In fact, those who tried to store up the food would discover that it would spoil. Only on the sixth day could they save enough for the seventh day, the Sabbath, for on the seventh day, God sent no manna. Even in the wilderness, under its trying circumstances, the people were to learn to observe the Sabbath. And this is even before the giving of the Ten Commandments with the requirement that the Sabbath be strictly observed.
Two other themes stand out in the Bible's picture of Israel's life in the wilderness. The first is that over and again the people complained and murmured and refused to show gratitude to God for their deliverance from slavery. When things got hard, all they could think of was how secure their lives had been in Egypt. There, they had food aplenty, although they were slaves. This is a familiar experience. When the gift of freedom comes, some are all too ready to give it back to the first despot who offers them security.
The second theme is that God provided everything needed for life in the wilderness. There the Israelites ate from God's own table, enjoyed God's bounty daily, had food and water and protection from enemies, and had God's own intimate presence by day and night (the cloud by day and the fire by night to guide them always). Therefore, their refusal to endure an occasional hardship, their inability to put their full trust in God, was perverse and shameful.
God is loving and gracious, seeing to every need, but requiring basic allegiance and loyalty. All too often, the people turn their backs upon God, forget the promise of God for them and the world, and think only of their immediate desires. In short, they act all too much like all too many of us!
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1 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
The Israelites said to them,
"If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Then the LORD said to Moses,
"I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days."
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites,
"In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?"
And Moses said,
"When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him--what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD."
Then Moses said to Aaron,
"Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining. '"
And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
The LORD spoke to Moses and said,
"I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,
"What is it?"
For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them,
"It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'"
The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.
And Moses said to them,
"Let no one leave any of it over until morning."
But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them,
"This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.'"
So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it.
"Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none."
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none.
The LORD said to Moses,
"How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The LORD has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day."
So the people rested on the seventh day.
The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'"
And Moses said to Aaron,
"Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations."
As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping.
The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
An omer is a tenth of an ephah.
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
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