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13. Raining Bread from Heaven (Exodus 16:1-36)

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Life of Moses (13)

May 13, 2018

Ed Bulkley begins his book, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology [Harvest House, 1993] with a fictional story of a young pastor who delivers a zinger of a sermon based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says that Scripture equips us for every good work, and 2 Peter 1:3-4, which promises that through the promises in His Word, God has given us all that we need for life and godliness. Everyone in the church congratulated him for such a powerful message.

But that week, a woman about 30 years old who had visited the church for the first time, came to see him. She proceeded to tell him her troubled history of being sexually abused by her father and by other men when she was a child. The trauma of her upbringing was affecting all of her life and threatening her marriage.

The pastor explained to her that he was not trained to counsel such difficult cases, but he would refer her to a professional Christian counselor who could help her. She replied that she had been to numerous Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who had recommended various therapies and prescribed various drugs. But none of this had helped. When she heard his sermon, she was hopeful that he could show her how the Bible could help her. But he didn’t know what to say. She left his office without hope.

Pastor Bulkley goes on to show how Scripture really is able to do what it promises: to equip believers for every good deed and to provide us with all that we need for life and godliness. He refutes the modern myth that it requires a trained, licensed psychotherapist to give competent counsel to troubled believers.

I believe that that story illustrates the main point of the story of God raining bread from heaven to feed His people in the wilderness for 40 years:

God has infinite supplies of grace in Christ to meet all your needs, but you must daily make the effort to lay hold of Him.

The manna which God supplied for Israel clearly points to Jesus Christ, who said (John 6:35), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Either that claim is true or it is a nice “spiritual” thought that has no application to how we actually live.

But the Bible repeatedly claims to provide what Francis Schaeffer called “substantial healing” for psychological problems and for the total person (True Spirituality [Tyndale House], chapters 10 & 11). Or, as John MacArthur argued (Our Sufficiency in Christ [Word Publishing], 1991, p. 20):

“My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord said to the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:9). The average Christian in our culture cynically views that kind of counsel as simplistic, unsophisticated, and naïve. Can you imagine one of today’s professional radio counselors simply telling a hurting caller that God’s grace is enough to meet the need? … Many Christians seeking a sense of fulfillment have turned away from the rich resources of God’s all-sufficient grace and are engrossed instead in a fruitless search for contentment in hollow human teachings.

Exodus 16 provides four main truths for us:

1. God leads you into places of need so that you will look to Him to meet those needs.

Note Exodus 16:1-2:

Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

At Elim, Israel enjoyed twelve springs of water and seventy date palms (Exod. 15:27). The Bible does not report any grumbling there, but Israel wasn’t in need there, so they didn’t need to trust God. But as soon as they headed out into the wilderness of Sin (the Hebrew word has nothing to do with the English word “sin”), the whole congregation grumbled again. This time their need was not water, but food. They accused Moses of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them with hunger. Note four practical truths:

A. When you recognize a need in your life, your choices are to grumble or to go to the Lord in thankful prayer.

Clearly, God led Israel into this wilderness where there was no food, just as He had been leading them at every step since their departure from Egypt (Exod. 13:17, 18, 21; 14:15). But the Israelites blamed Moses of bringing them into the wilderness (v. 3). So he told them (v. 6) that when God met their need for food that evening, they would know that it was the Lord, not Moses, who led them out of Egypt.

When we face a need in our lives, we can blame some person or circumstance for our problem, just as Israel blamed Moses. Or, we can acknowledge that the Lord brought us into this situation of need and go to Him in thankful prayer, asking Him to be our sufficiency in meeting our need.

Many of you know that when I first began serving this church, I faced a difficult time where some elders were trying to fire me because I opposed one of them for his pro-choice position on abortion. As I walked toward the church door for a showdown meeting that would determine my future here, I was praying for God’s peace, but I was still anxious in spite of a gracious confirmation that the Lord had given me that He would take care of me.

I was silently reciting Philippians 4:6-7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Two words in verse 6 jumped out at me: “with thanksgiving.” The Lord pointed out, “I haven’t heard you thank Me for this trial!” I paused and thanked the Lord for this opportunity to trust Him to supply my needs. At that meeting, all four of the elders who opposed me resigned and left the church. So when we face a need, whether major or minor, our only choices are to grumble or to go to the Lord in thankful prayer.

B. Grumbling reveals the inward condition of your heart.

If you’ve got a cup full of coffee and the cup gets bumped, what spills out? Coffee! If you’ve got a heart full of discontentment and a difficult person or situation bumps your life, what comes out? Discontentment, or grumbling. In other words, your grumbling is symptomatic of a deeper issue, namely, that you’re not learning how to be content whether you’re being filled or going hungry (Phil. 4:11-12). George Muller used to say that the first business of every morning should be to secure happiness in God (A. T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol [Revell], p. 314-315). A grumbling heart reveals that you’re not doing that!

C. Grumbling has a way of spreading among God’s people, so be on guard.

Verse 2 says that “the whole congregation” grumbled against Moses and Aaron. That doesn’t mean that every person was grumbling, but it does mean that most of them were. Grumbling has a way of spreading among God’s people. Someone shares a gripe about something in the church and it reminds you of something else that you don’t like. You pass on to someone else the first person’s complaint and then add yours to it. Pretty soon the complaints snowball and the whole church is grumbling.

Although grumbling is usually against some individual or especially against the leaders, it really is against the Lord (Exod. 16:2, 7, 8), who hears it all (four times: Exod. 16:7, 8, 9, 12). Of course, there is a proper way to bring legitimate concerns to church leaders. We’re not perfect leaders and this isn’t a perfect church, so if there is a problem, we need to know about it. But grumblers, as I said, reveal the state of their hearts. They aren’t looking for solutions; they’re just venting. In Exodus 15, their complaint was bitter water. God met that need. In chapter 16, it’s no food. The Lord rained bread from heaven. In chapter 17, it will again be no water. The Lord provides water from the rock. But the people kept on grumbling. So if you’re tempted to grumble, check your heart and be on guard because it spreads and contaminates many.

D. Grumblers often exaggerate how good life was when they were enslaved to sin and don’t see the eternal benefits of trusting in God.

The grumblers compared their lack of food in the wilderness with the pots of meat and bread to the full that they enjoyed in Egypt (Exod. 16:3). Hello? They were slaves in Egypt, but they make it sound as if things were great back then! But life wasn’t as idyllic as they’re making it sound!

But, let’s assume for the sake of argument, that life was smoother when you were an unbeliever. Maybe your job was going well, but when you became a Christian, you got fired and now are in a crummy job or no job. Maybe your romantic life was satisfying, but now you can’t find a suitable Christian girl or guy to date. Maybe your relationship with your parents was okay back then, but now it’s strained. You feel like life was a lot better back then and you’re tempted to “go back to Egypt”!

Does the Bible address that situation? Read Psalm 73! The psalmist was despairing as he saw the prosperity of the wicked, while he was encountering new problems every day since he had begun to follow the Lord. He says that he almost stumbled, until he went into the sanctuary of God. There he gained the eternal focus: He realized that God would cast down the wicked to destruction, but He would receive the psalmist into eternal glory. So if you’re grumbling and tempted to go back to the world, get to “the sanctuary.” Get alone with God and His Word and regain the eternal perspective! God leads you into places of need so that you will look to Him to meet those needs.

2. When you look to the Lord, you’ll see His grace and glory to be your sufficiency.

The Lord responded to the people’s grumbling with His amazing grace: He promised to rain bread from heaven on them and to provide meat that evening (Exod. 16:4, 6, 8). Then as Aaron spoke to the congregation, they all looked toward the wilderness and saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud (Exod. 16:10). The Lord told Moses to tell the people that at twilight they would eat meat and in the morning they would be filled with bread. And the point of this was not merely to meet their need for food. Rather (Exod. 16:12), it was so that “you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Greater than your need for food is the need to know that the Lord is your God.

God’s meeting the needs of this grumbling congregation without their even asking Him shows the importance of knowing experientially that He deals with you in His grace. Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:1), “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” To be strong in His grace, you must be clear and stand firmly on the gospel of God’s grace: that He freely gives us eternal life apart from anything we are or anything we do. It is not merited. In fact, God gives His grace to undeserving, ungodly enemies (Rom. 4:5; 5:6-10; 1 Tim. 1:13-15)! And you must live daily in His grace, not falling into the trap of legalism, where you base your relationship with God on your outward performance of manmade rules.

But God was not only incredibly gracious to these grumbling people, He also showed them His glory (Exod. 16:10). This was probably a light in the cloud, brighter than the usual light that shone from it. God’s glory was a revelation of His greatness and power. Whenever in the Bible people got a glimpse of God’s glory, the uniform response was fear. When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, “they fell face down to the ground and were terrified” (Matt. 17:6). When John later saw the risen Savior in His glory, he reports (Rev. 1:17), “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” In his Gospel, he wrote (John 1:14), “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus reveals God’s grace and glory to us. When we see all that He is for us, it’s enough. We have in Him all that we need.

Exodus 16 repeatedly emphasizes the sufficiency of God’s provision for these needy, grumbling people. He would rain bread from heaven on them (v. 4). He would give them “bread to the full” (v. 8). They would be “filled with bread” (v. 12). They were to gather “every man as much as he should eat” (v. 16). “Every man gathered as much as he should eat” (v. 18). Morning by morning every man gathered “as much as he should eat” (v. 21). Apparently, the manna was nutritionally sufficient, like breast milk for an infant. The quail only came twice, but the manna met their nutritional needs for 40 years (v. 35).

This repeated emphasis shows that God is not stingy with His resources. He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20)! He “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3)! “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).

Also, Moses tells us what the manna tasted like (Exod.16:31): “wafers with honey.” That description satisfies our curiosity, but also it teaches us an important lesson: Psalm 19:10 says that God’s Word is “sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.” Psalm 34:8 puts it, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Or (Ps. 119:103), “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Moses later explained (Deut. 8:3), “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” He went on to promise them that the Lord would bring them into a good land of abundance, where they would eat and be satisfied. God’s word is sufficient and satisfying for life and godliness!

So the manna teaches us that we are to look to the Lord to satisfy our every need and that when we taste of His grace and glory, we are satisfied with His goodness. This is because …

3. The manna points to Jesus Christ, the true bread of life that comes down out of heaven to satisfy your soul.

After Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, John 6 reports that the Jews challenged Jesus to give them a sign so that they might believe in Him (as if He hadn’t given them a great enough sign already!). Referring to Exodus 16, they said (John 6:31), “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus replied (John 6:32-33):

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

For the wrong reason they replied (John 6:34), “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus responded (John 6:35), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”

Don’t miss the staggering magnitude of that claim! Whoever comes to Jesus will not hunger and the one who believes in Him will never thirst! No mere man could make such an amazing claim! He will satisfy all who come to Him and believe on Him! But the Jews responded by grumbling. Jesus rebuked them and added (John 6:48-51):

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

He was not talking about eating the communion bread, but rather about personally trusting in Him and His death on the cross for eternal life. And He was pointing to the truth that as we truly feed on Him for all of our daily needs, we enjoy sweet, nourishing bread even as we walk in a barren wilderness. Do you know the satisfaction of daily feeding on Jesus as your bread of life?

Thus, God leads you into places of need so that you will look to Him to meet those needs. When you look to the Lord, you see His grace and glory to be your sufficiency. The manna points to Jesus Christ, the true bread of life that comes down out of heaven to satisfy your soul. Finally,

4. You must daily make the effort to lay hold of Christ as bread for your soul.

The manna didn’t just float down into everyone’s mouth. It was free and abundant, but the people had to get up and gather it every day before the sun melted it. It was a test of faith to see whether they would obey God or not (Exod. 16:4, 19-20, 27-29). They were to gather about two liters each every morning, but on Friday morning, they were to gather four liters so that they didn’t need to gather any on the Sabbath. This wasn’t the full instruction regarding the Sabbath that would follow later, but it was a test to see if Israel would obey God’s command and trust Him to provide each day and twice as much for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was God’s gift so that the people could rest that day (Exod. 16:29-30).

We’re not under the Old Testament Sabbath laws, but there is a principle that we would be wise to follow: set aside one day each week to gather with God’s people for worship and edification (Heb. 10:24-25). God commanded Moses to put some of the manna in a jar in front of the Ark of the Testimony after the Tabernacle was constructed so that later generations would be reminded of how He fed them with the manna (Exod. 16:32-34). Of course, the people couldn’t go into the holy of holies and see the jar of manna, but the high priest could tell them that it was there. The Ark was where the atoning blood was sprinkled. In a similar way, we are to come before the Lord often to remember His provision for us at the cross as we eat the bread representing His body and drink the wine representing His shed blood.

Also, I can’t think of a more important habit for you to develop than daily to feed on the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word. As Peter exhorted (1 Pet. 2:2-3), “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Make the effort every day to feed on the Lord Jesus Christ, the living bread.


John MacArthur states (ibid.):

Evangelicalism is infatuated with psychotherapy. Emotional and psychological disorders supposedly requiring prolonged analysis have become almost fashionable… Virtually everywhere you look in the evangelical subculture, you can find evidence that Christians are becoming more and more dependent on therapists, support groups and other similar groups.

This shift in the church’s focus did not grow out of some new insight gained from Scripture. Rather, it has seeped into the church from the world. It is an attack at the most basic level, challenging Christians’ confidence in the sufficiency of Christ.

Or, as Philip Ryken puts it (Exodus [Crossway], p. 430), “The meaning of the manna is that all we need is Jesus.” God has unlimited supplies of grace in Christ, but you must daily make the effort to lay hold of Him.

Application Questions

  1. Some argue, “We go to medical doctors for physical needs; why not go to psychologists for our emotional needs.” Why is this invalid? (See my “Christians & Psychology” article.)
  2. Meditate on Jesus’ claim (John 6:35) that if we come to Him and believe on Him we will never hunger or thirst. How can you apply this to your personal needs?
  3. God told Paul (2 Cor. 12:9), “My grace is sufficient for you.” What does that promise really mean? How did Paul apply it?
  4. What would you need to change in your schedule to make your first business every day to secure happiness in God? Do it!

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Grace

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