Manna was the first food that God sent to His people from heaven. It was a food that neither they nor their fathers knew, given so that they would survive in the wilderness and enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 8:3, 16). We too need this food so that we can enter our promised land. In this way, our life of faith in the church is akin to the Israelites’ life in the wilderness.
The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Sin exactly one month after the Exodus from Egypt, which would be the 15th day of the 2nd month, 1446BC (Exodus 16:1). They had experienced many miracles of God thus far, including the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the transformation of the bitter waters at Mara. However, their immediate hunger and thirst caused grumbling to seethe through their lips. God heard their grumbling and sends them meat that very evening, with the promise of bread in the coming morning (Exodus 16:6-8). Quails covered the camp in the evening (Exodus 16:13), and manna covered the ground in the morning (Exodus 16:14). God thus gave them manna on the 16th day of the 2nd month, 1446BC.
The last occurrence of manna is recorded as the day after the Passover the Israelites observed in the land of Canaan, the 14th day of the 1st month, 40 years after the Exodus. They ate the produce of the ground on the following day (15th), and the manna ceased on the day after, which was the 16th day of the 1st month, 1406BC (Josh. 5:10-12). Therefore, God provided manna for a total duration of 39 years and 11 months and faithfully sustained His people each day through the wilderness journey.
The word manna is an amalgamation of ‘what’ (mah) and ‘this’ (na), meaning, ‘what is this?’ God had promised to provide food from heaven in the morning, but their response to God’s provision lilted derisively. If we as parents cook food for our children, and they respond in such a way, wouldn’t we take offence? The Israelites had already received God’s promise of food, and they would have had expectations for the food. To name the food ‘manna’ thus betrays the fact that God’s food did not meet their expectations. The heavenly food did not match their earthly standards. Such a dynamic repeats itself in the coming of Jesus Christ, the true manna from heaven, having taken on physical form but found Himself the recipient of the Israelites’ derision. God sustains us every day with countless blessings, but our earthly expectations preclude our thanksgiving.
The taste of manna
Raw manna tasted like wafers with honey (Exodus 16:31). The Hebrew word for honey (debash) carries the connotation of being satisfied or abundant. Such a description tells us that manna was extremely delicious and nutritious. The psalmist also likens the taste of God’s Word to honey (Psalm 19:10; 190:103). On the other hand, when cooked, manna tasted like cakes baked with oil (Numbers 11:8). Fat and oil emphasize the quality of abundance, fertility, and richness (Deuteronomy 8:8; Ezek. 16:19). Fat portions belonged to the Lord when giving a sacrifice, and without a sacrifice, there could be no fat portions to give.
The shape of manna
The manna was fine (daq), meaning soft, small, fragile, weak, crushed, or pulverized, to the point of being formless. Such a description foreshadows Jesus Christ, who had no stately form or majesty (Isaiah 53:2). Manna was also like a coriander seed, which symbolically links to the promise of the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15; Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27). Furthermore, manna was flake-like, foreshadowing the fragility of Jesus Christ. Manna was white, symbolizing the purity and innocence of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3-4). Finally, manna was like Bdellium. The river Pishon, which flowed out of the garden of Eden and around the land of Havilah, where there was the precious stone, Bdellium. Bdellium thus symbolizes the preciousness of Jesus Christ. The taste and shape of manna, therefore, foreshadow Jesus Christ, the true manna.
Conclusion: the people’s attitude to manna
Moses had commanded the people not to gather more than a day’s portion of manna each day, but the people gathered excessively, to their rebuke (Exodus 16:19-21). Oftentimes people taste the sweetness of the Word of God and grab more and more for themselves. But the restrictions on the quantity for manna gathering had more to do with the observance of the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-25, 29-31). Through the collection of manna, God was bringing His people into the sabbath. And we, too, as we partake of Jesus Christ, the true manna, we will enter into the eternal sabbath (John 6:49-51).
On the other hand, the rabble among the Israelites started to grumble again. They talked about the various foods they enjoyed in Egypt (Numbers 11:4-5), and even stated that ‘now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna’ (Numbers 11:6). The rabble ate manna to satisfy their own desires and greed, in the same way, Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. What about our attitude today? Do we complain about the manna we receive each week from the pulpit? Yet God remains faithful in providing the manna to sustain us. In spite of being the object of the Israelites’ derision, Jesus did not shirk from His mission. He, like the manna that was crushed and baked in oil, became a living sacrifice on the cross. Jesus died for us so that we may eat the manna and live. This hidden manna is given to those who overcome the false teachings and idolatry (Revelation 2:17). Let us partake of Jesus Christ, and let us enter into the eternal sabbath with joy and thanksgiving.