Manna and Maggots

Exodus 16:1-36

Chapter 16 of Exodus is like a bag of potato chips, one chip after another is so pleasing to the taste buds. It is hard to eat one chip without going on to the next and the next and the next until the bag’s empty. But I will restrain myself and keep some tasty chips for next Sunday.

There is a five-fold pattern to the crises of the Exodus Experience: Journey, Need, Grumbling, Intercession and Deliverance. Again, Journey marks the beginning of a new crisis in Exodus 16:1—

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.

Exactly one month after Israel left Egypt they are led father away from all the associations of their accustomed life in Egypt. From the waters and the palms of Elim they marched deeper into the savage recesses of the desert. Here cut off, from all natural modes of sustenance, the hearts of the people are tested by God.

Moses had lived in the vicinity of this desert for forty years. He knew that only a miracle, a series of daily miracles could meet the vast needs of two and one half-million people. In this, Moses’ faith was superior to Abraham, who left the Promised Land when famine came.

Led by a man of faith and under the shadow and light of the marvelous fiery cloud, one wonders how this people could be agitated by the fear of not having their needs met. Yet we read in Exodus 16:2-3—

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

A FOOD CRISIS leads to a FAITH CRISIS. The supplies of food from Egypt are exhausted. Suddenly, Egypt seemed all peaches and cream. Sad to say—most people would rather live as enslaved people than to die free. They cling to THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL and won’t let go! Like these Israelites, many professing Christians put their belly before God. Paul states in Philippians 3:19—

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

The Israelites minds were on fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic, which filled their pots in Egypt—THE WHOLE COMMUNITY GRUMBLED, murmured, complained because their “god”—their stomach has not be appeased.

How serious an offense is grumbling? It’s one of the worse because grumbling shows a lack of gratitude and trust. It is an act of rebellion, which damages one’s relationship with God.

This sin is aggravated by an oath—they take the Divine name “IN VAIN”—IF ONLY WE HAD DIED BY THE LORD’S HAND IN EGYPT! What an awful outbreak of rebellion and slander against God.

The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are being lived out in the Exodus Experience. The two petitions present in Chapter 16 are: “Lead us not into temptation, testing, trial” and “Give us this day our daily bread.”

How simple it would have been for the Israelites to pray these petitions, but they did not trust God enough to ask. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 21:22, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” How much better it is to ask in prayer than to grumble!

God responds to Moses with nary a word of anger. Although God is displeased with Israel ungrateful attitude, His love for them causes Him nonetheless to meet their physical needs when His faithful servant Moses asks in prayer. But in doing so, God tests the hearts of these people, curious, slow, little-suspected, but continuous, in this giving of daily bread. We can write the words, “Marvelous Grace of Our Loving God,” over Exodus 16:4-5—

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

A plentiful supply of bread from Heaven for these murmuring Israelites was indeed a witness to the grace of God fully manifested. Yet, God’s grace is appropriated by faith and God tests faith to discover whether it is genuine.

We might ask, “Why does God test the Israelites over and over?” Perhaps it is more important to ask why the Israelites repeatedly tested God. The LORD had already demonstrated He would care for them even in difficult situations as the Ten Plagues, crossing the Red Sea, destroying the Egyptian army, providing fresh water in the desert. It should have become progressively easier for the people to trust God—this time for food. Since they did not, God would continue to teach them trust through testing. The result will often be that, when the miraculous can no longer be discerned in one’s life, there will be a profound experience of the absence of God altogether.

Some people go through many trials in their life because they refuse simply to trust God with their lives and His recourse is to keep trying to get their attention with crisis after crisis.

Jesus said child-like faith in necessary to enter the kingdom of God The forty years in the desert turned into a trip to the grave for the grumbling adults who left Egypt, but for their children it was an adventure of faith. At the end of the forty years, the children were courageous and strong adults who wholeheartedly trusted Yahweh—ready to enter the Promised Land.

With eyes of faith, the children were able to see the glory of God when the adults missed it. Exodus 16:68—

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

The glory of God appeared to them so they would know that the provision of food was a gift from God Himself. Material and spiritual well-being are more closely linked than we often care to admit. The discernment of the people of God has often become so clouded by the lack or abundance of material things that they cannot see that God is much involved in their everyday lives.

Today “AN ACT OF GOD” is determined by insurance policies and the daily occurrences of God’s sustaining graces go unobserved. For all practical purposes, the connection of God with daily affairs has disappeared. A wicked generation desires the manifestation of Exodus 16:9-10, but it will not happen again until Christ returns in all His glory—

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, `Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked towards the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

COME [DRAW NEAR] BEFORE THE LORD, FOR HE HAS HEARD YOUR GRUMBLING. One would expect thunder, fire and lightning to come blazing and flashing from THE CLOUD and consume every complainer. Instead, they receive more of God’s grace. In order for grace (unmerited favor) to shine, it must be against the dark background of sin. A darker background than grumbling could scarcely be imagined. Exodus 16:11-12—

The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, `At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'”

Again and again God proves Himself saying, “YOU WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD.” This is the purpose for giving bread. He would supply the food, but the people were not allowed to become lazy—they would have to work gathering and preparing it. Exodus 16:13-16—

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: `Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'”

QUAIL is a well-known migratory bird in this region. They usually fly in vast numbers in the spring to the northern regions and return in the fall. Possibly because of their prolonged flight over the Red Sea or strong winds, they landed exhausted on the ground. The quail came in evening and the dew in the morning. When the dew evaporated, beneath it appeared thin flakes like frost on the ground of the desert floor.

THEY SAID TO EACH OTHER in Hebrew MAN-HU—“WHAT IS IT?” There have been many attempts to identify MANNA with some natural edible substance found in western Sinai. The most widely held theory identifies the manna with a secretion from the Tamarisk tree. Certain types of insects puncture the bark and small, sticky, light-colored drops of sap crystallize on the twigs or drop to the ground. In the cool of the morning, before the hot sun melts them, these sweet particles can be gathered and eaten. There are obvious resemblances between this natural phenomenon and the biblical manna. Both appear in the morning “with the dew;” the material looks like small white flakes; the taste is sweet, “like wafers made with honey and oil; and both sustenances melt in the sun.

However, there are also differences between these two substances. Manna could be ground or milled, baked or boiled; the tamarisk secretion cannot be processed this way. Only on the Sabbath could the manna be kept for more than a day without becoming wormy. The tamarisk secretion occurs only for a few weeks in the summer, while manna was a daily provision for forty years in the deserts of the Sinai and Negev, suddenly ceasing when Israel entered Canaan. Clearly, the manna was a miraculous provision for the nation.

Numbers 11:8 states that the manna was not to be left or eaten in the form they gathered it; instead, it was to be prepared by milling and baking.

Exodus 16:17-18 reports—

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.

In the daily gathering the aged and weak might collect less than prescribed amount and the young and vigorous might collect more, there was an equal distribution, so that the excess of some ministered to the deficiency of others. Too much and too little equal enough! Paul, quoting this passage, expounds upon this principle of graciously giving for the welfare of others in 2 Corinthians 8.

But not all shared according to Exodus 16:19-20—

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Every day a fresh supply had to be gathered, and nothing could be held over. So it is with us. We must give ourselves to Christ forever, but we must ask Him daily to give Himself to us. The richest experience, the purest aspiration, the humblest self-abandonment that was ever felt, could not reach forward to supply tomorrow. Past graces will become loathsome if used instead of present supplies from heaven.

Treasures hoarded on this earth will rot according to Jesus. But those we lay up in heaven will be kept stored for us. Those who paid no attention thought they could out maneuver God! Maggots and the smell told them they were fools.

Exodus 16:21-26—

Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person— and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: `Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

Every seventh day during the forty years the Israelites witnessed a miracle—manna gathered on sixth day was without maggots or smell on the seventh! Not so with any other day!

This is the first time Israel is instructed to keep the Sabbath as a day of Rest. While the Sabbath Rest is embedded in the creation, there is no evidence that God required its observance until the giving of the manna.

A lesson for the women jumps out of this text. It is unjustifiable and inexcusable to allow the preparation of a meal to keep you from any Sunday worship service of the church! You are to prepare the meal on Saturday! That’s God’s plan, not mine! Failure to adhere to these responsibilities earns the wrath of God.

Exodus 16:27-30—

Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

Work six days—take the seventh off! Why did some of the people go out on the seventh day? Because they had not gathered a double portion on the sixth day. This tells me that the gathering of two quarts of manna per person was hard work indeed. Those who went out on the seventh day were not only lazy, but they did not trust or believe God also.

God’s people are to be mindful of a time of rest, but not at the expense of daily needs. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” declares Jesus in Mark 2:27. The Sabbath is not to be made into an oppressive system.

Moses tells the people to enjoy a Sabbath meal. Prepare it the day before. The Sabbath is a day of rest from work, not from enjoyment of what God provides. Sabbath rest stands opposed to all oppressive systems. The Israelites worked seven days a week in Egypt as slaves. With freedom from bondage, God gave them the weekly Sabbath day as well as seven annual feasts of nineteen days to rest from work. God commanded that they take at least seventy-one days off a year! Of course, these days were days of celebration to be used in worshiping the LORD as well as resting from work.

How much more are a day offs from work needed in today’s stress-filled world?

Exodus 16:31—

The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.

CORIANDER SEED is a small lobular grain that is white or yellowish gray and is used for seasoning. Its taste was as wafers made of honey or “something made with olive oil.” It could be ground in a mill, crushed in a mortar, cooked in a pot, or made into cakes according to Numbers 11:8.

Interestingly, manna is called:

1. THE BREAD THE LORD HAS GIVEN in Exodus 16:15
2. THE GRAIN OF HEAVEN in Psalm 78:24
3. THE BREAD OF ANGELS in Psalm 78:25

Exodus 16:32-36 are inserted from the end of the forty years into the chronology of the events—

Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: `Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.'” So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come.”

As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept. The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. (An omer is one tenth of an ephah.)

THE JAR OF MANNA IN FRONT OF THE TESTIMONY—that is the Tabernacle links the experience of God’s provision of daily bread with the community’s worship. Worship has to do with all of life. The manna is a reminder of how our daily lives are undergirded by the sustaining care of God and our responsibility to respond at the place of congregational worship. Also it was to serve future generations as a reminder of God’s gracious provision in the desert.

AN OMER IS ONE TENTH OF AN EPHAH indicates this was no “small” miracle repeated six days a week for forty years. If the congregation averaged only two million people over the forty years, and an OMER is equivalent of six pints. There are would be twelve million pints or nine million pounds gathered daily, which was four thousand five hundred tons. Hence, ten trains, each having thirty cars, and each car having in it fifteen tons, would be needed for a single day’s supply. Over a million tons of manna was gathered annually by Israel.

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