The Israelite history is a story that every person can identify with. The Israelites were a rebellious people, constantly grumbling about their predicament. So are we. But they were also a people for whom God cared and provided. So are we. Even after seeing God’s mighty hand at the Red Sea or his careful leading to the oasis at Elim, the Israelites grumble about God’s care and provision. Oh how many of us do similar things. Humanity struggles with finding contentment in their life situation and praising God in the midst of their circumstances. We are never content; there is never enough and we have a desire to always need. We seem incapable of just accepting the gifts of God for today without looking to tomorrow.
2000 years later, Jesus’ words to his disciples address this same reality,
Give us today our daily bread…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:11, 34)
If only the Israelites could have heard these words? But maybe they did. God instructed them to gather what they needed for the day. Take your daily need of quail and manna, and trust God to provide for tomorrow. The prayer and the lesson are the same.
From a physical perspective, God was telling the people to take as much of his grace as they needed for the day, but do not store it up. Grace must not be kept from night to night. It is to be new every morning, except for the Sabbath day. But here the lesson is still one of trust. Though the Israelites are instructed to gather twice as much on the day before the Sabbath, they are still called to trust God to provide keep the manna from rotting and to start his provision again on the first day of the week. This physical lesson, which tasted sweet like honey was an object lesson for the life and ministry of Christ.
If we turn to John 6, we find a situation with many similarities to that of Exodus 16. The people have seen miracles and now they are grumbling about it just as their ancestors had. It is in this context that Jesus draws upon the story of the Manna and Quail but proclaims himself the very food of heaven.
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:43, 48-51, 58)
He is the sweet taste of heavenly bread that is provided daily for the people and he will rise up again on the first day of the week and start dispensing grace again each day. The object of feeding the Israelites daily was to show them that they had a need for sustenance from God in their spiritual lives and this food couldn’t be stored up but needed to be taken daily. God wanted his people to feed on Jesus daily. He is the gift of God from heaven for the grumbling sinner. God wanted his people to come before him, in the presence of the temple and stand before the Ark of the Covenant and speak with their Lord.
This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:4)
All of these were symbols of prosperity and freshness and life when they were in the presence of God. For the rod maintained its buds, the jar never rotted as did the other manna and the stone tablets were given to lead people to life and point them to the one person who embodied all three: food, fruit and obedience in the presence of God. The ark was symbolic of Christ and all he would do: feed his people, nourish them and lead them into Loving God and their neighbor.
As Christians we are taught by God and fed by his life each and every day. We need him and we can never take enough grace to store it up, we always need to return to the God of life and get our daily allotment. Then and only then will we bear fruit that lasts and be able to keep his precepts and observe his laws (Psalms 105:40).
Let us always remember that the stories in the Old Testament exist as object lessons or a sort that point us to Christ and show us the truth of his marvelous person and work.