Give Us Today Our Daily Manna: And Rebuke Us When We Crave Something Different
by Heather Lehman
from: Exodus 16, Numbers 11:1-15, Deuteronomy 8, John 6
“Man hu? Man hu? What is it?” I can almost hear the voices of six hundred thousand people poking their heads out of their tents and asking together, “What is it?” The old men blink and rub their eyes wondering if their eyesight has really deteriorated to this. Parents exchange startled looks while children jump up and down. “Man hu? Man hu? What is it?”
Manna – the Wilderness Feast
Israel collectively emerges from their tents, and across the wilderness the dew is drying. As it evaporates, thin wafers – bright and white – remain. Then a messenger arrives, shouting through the camp the prophet’s answer to their question. “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat” (Ex. 16:15). The message continued with instructions for gathering and storing, but they barely noticed. Bread! Bread falling from heaven with the dew?
Sweet like honey. Rich like oil. The bread of heaven fell pleasant on their tongues. Ah, they should never have doubted that the LORD would provide.
Yet the next morning, even while they rejoiced to find more manhu, or manna, across the land, they wrinkled their noses. Something smelled rank. Through the whole camp, manna stored from yesterday was smelling foul and worms had moved in overnight. They had ignored the instructions, not thinking it important to follow the rule not to store manna overnight. Now, faced with wriggling worms and a penetrating stench, the manna white across the land didn’t seem as charming.
Still, for forty years, as Israel wandered through the desert, bread fell from heaven night after night. Morning after morning, they gathered the bread, gathering only enough for that day and the Sabbath. They couldn’t stockpile. Every day they had to trust that the bread from heaven would be waiting for them. They never had too little or too much. God provided just enough for each day, they needed only to reach out and partake.
Gradually, the glad cries of “what is it?” faded to scornful grumbles of “what is this?” The old men sat between their tents and listed all the delicacies of Egypt that they could remember. “Cucumbers, cucumbers with yogurt!” one man remembered. “Fish cooked with tomatoes,” remembered another. “And leeks, onions, and garlic sizzling in olive oil,” murmured the third.
“Grandfather, what are cucumbers?” the children asked.
And the old men would try to explain, ending with a rant of how deprived these children were. Uninspired to go gather her quota of daily manna, an old woman pushed back her tent flap. “Our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Num. 11:6) No longer was manna a jubilant cry, but a disdainful mutter. Manna. Nothing but manna.
Different times God became angry with their complaining and punished them. But after years of eating manna, Moses stood before the people. The land of promise lay close by, and Moses wanted to retrace with this new generation how God had led them. Before he gave them the law, he reminded them that they are God’s chosen people. He reminisced about the plagues in Egypt, the testing in the wilderness, and then he reminded them about manna. Although they were still eating manna, he saw that they were prone to ignore how miraculous it was, and how it had sustained them through the wilderness. His voice ringing through the camp, Moses spoke. “[The LORD] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3)
The manna filled their stomachs, but their hope hung on the word of the LORD.
Manna pointed to something greater. Nothing but manna had never been a correct sentiment. In God’s perspective, manna just began the great work He was accomplishing through their testing. Manna foreshadowed greater things to come.
Bread of Life – the Soul’s Sustaining
Centuries later, the stories of wilderness manna still circulated through the people of Israel who again ate fish with cucumbers and leeks. Generations removed from the grumblers in the wilderness, the Jews of Jesus’ day looked back to manna falling from heaven as “the good old days.” Back then, life was easy. Their ancestors only needed to reach out of the tent flap and pick up the food which just fell from heaven.
When Jesus multiplied a few loaves of bread to feed five thousand men, a notion sprang up among the people. Bread once meant the possibility of bread twice. Hadn’t Moses given their great grandparents bread day after day? Surely, if what Jesus said about Himself was true, He could give them bread – daily bread.
Sauntering up to Jesus, they casually channeled the conversation to this important topic. But, they made a few significant errors.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven,” Jesus corrected them. “But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
The ring leader spoke up quickly: “Sir, give us this bread always!”
“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus wanted them to understand that He was true bread, heavenly bread. He wanted them to look past the physical bread that they labored for day after day and hunger instead for Him. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger,” He continued. “And whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:32-36).
Like the manna of the desert, Jesus offered sustaining strength for each day. He laid before them a daily feast, and they grumbled. Like their ancestors in the wilderness, the provision of God did not meet their expectations because their expectations were super-glued to the physical world.
Graves of Craving – the Glutton’s Fate
Today, I shake my head at their dullness. How could anyone forget to be grateful for sweet bread falling from heaven like snow? And how could the first century Jews want only wheat pounded to flour and baked into bread when offered the bread of life? How could they be so earthly?
I am not alone in my indignation at their dullness, for God burned with anger at the doubting, arrogant Israelites. In fact, so hot was his anger toward them in Moses’s day that a great plague struck down many who had craved what God had not provided. Kibroth-hattaavah they called the graveyard: Graves of Craving.
Bread from Heaven – Today’s Sweet Feast
Then, when I see the fierceness of God’s anger, I start to see beyond my own self righteousness. I realize that every morning the Word of God waits ready to nourish my soul, and I often approach it with apathy, flipping the pages in hope of something new and easy. I realize that every afternoon, Jesus reaches out to me in tender love saying “come to me, all you who are weary and I will give you rest” and yet, I just wish someone would give me a back rub and bring me tea.
But when the desert winds blow relentlessly, parching even my very soul, and the food of earth leaves me only craving more, I know I am desperately hungry. I remember the words Moses spoke under the burning sun. “[The LORD] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3)
And then I remember Jesus’ invitation to come and partake, to never hunger or thirst again. I lay aside my expectations for new and easy, lest I be doomed for the graves of craving. Humbled and hungry, I crawl back to the wilderness feast that sustains and nourishes the deepest part of my soul.
Man hu! I cry in delight at the feast He spreads before me in the wilderness. “What is this supernatural sweetness that falls from heaven day after day?” It is manna, the bread of heaven. Sweet as honey, rich as oil, it is all I could ask for and all that I need.
Heather Lehman is the editor of Light Magazine, an Anabaptist publication for young ladies. To find out more vsit lightmag.org.