The Troubling Message of Manna

You know the story. The Lord had delivered the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Now they were a wandering band in the wilderness grumbling and complaining about their lack of food. In response the Lord rains down bread from heaven – which the people called manna meaning “What is it?” – so that the people would have fresh food every day. The description is given in Exodus 16:31: The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.

This giving of manna was an opportunity for the Israelites to learn wonderful truths about the Lord. They could learn that He was a God of grace and mercy who responds bountifully to a group of wilderness grumblers. They could learn that He was a God of provision who lovingly supplies for the needs of His people. They could learn that He was a God of power who is able to bring them manna day after day. The opportunities to learn to know the Lord and grow in their trust of Him were amply furnished by the Lord.

Perhaps you have had opportunities to learn these things about the Lord in your life (and possibly wilderness) experiences. You have seen the Lord display His grace and mercy in your life by His bounty. You have seen His provision in supplying what you need. You have seen His power at work in your life. The opportunities to learn to know the Lord and grow in your trust of Him were amply furnished by the Lord.

Sadly for the Israelites, these opportunities for learning were not realized. The gracious provision of the manna which tasted like wafers with honey lost its flavor. They now said, “We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna” (Numbers 11:5-6). They went even further: The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food” (Numbers 21:5). The Lord’s provision of grace had now become something to “loathe” and to describe as “miserable.” What had begun as a blessing was now the source of complaint and grumbling, no longer amazing and satisfying. Opportunities to know the Lord and grow in their trust of Him were cast aside.

It would be easy to castigate the Israelites for their lack of trust and satisfaction in the Lord and His provision, even in the face of the miraculous, except that I am too much like them to cast the first stone. What were counted as blessings in the past – like wafers with honey – have now become sources of complaint and grumbling, no longer amazing and satisfying. Opportunities to know the Lord and grow in my trust of Him have been cast aside.

That is the troubling message of manna – a loss of gratefulness so that blessings become complaint, satisfaction becomes grumbling. In the midst of the grind of life, I am seeking to become more grateful and to recapture appreciation for the grace and mercy of the Lord in the past and present. I want to be more aware of the glory in the grind. How about you?

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
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