What is Manna? Is it bread? Flour? Cake? I really do not know. All I know is, it is a heavenly food that probably doesn’t have an earthly replica. The bible has described manna in a number of ways for us humans to understand and relate to. It was referred to by the following terms:
- Bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4)
- Grain of heaven (Psalm 78:24)
- Bread of the angels (Psalm 78:25)
These are a few terms used to describe Manna. But what is it? The word ‘manna’ actually means ‘what is it?’. On a lighter note, the children of Israel woke up one day and saw manna littered all over their camp and exclaimed, ‘what is it?!!’. Hence, they named it so. You can tell it was something that was otherworldly hence the numerous terms used to describe it. It is divine food that has no earthly equivalence so it is ok if we are unable to understand what it was fully.
The Nature of Manna
How did it look like? It is described in the bible as a “fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground” (Exodus 16: 14). In Numbers 11:7, the bible says manna was like coriander seed and it looked like bdellium. The whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron saying that they’d have preferred dying in Egypt to dying of hunger in the wilderness. These were the same group of people who were delivered from slavery in Egypt. On their way to the land God had promised their forefathers, their hunger caused them to express this level of ungratefulness to God. God rained down manna on the camp and when they woke up, they saw this fine, flake-like thing that could be eaten. In Exodus 16:31, we are told that manna tasted like ‘wafers made with honey’. Physically, this is the nature of manna given to us in scripture. Because of the numerous descriptions given to it, I can boldly say there is no food on earth that can be likened to it. Maybe bread and cakes may come close, but the point I want to make is that we need to see it as the heavenly meal that it is; the divine provision of God that it is. It is nothing no human being can replicate. You cannot find it in any recipe book. Nobody can teach you how to make manna in the most advanced culinary arts school.
God’s Provision of Subsistence for his Children
The first time I heard the word ‘subsistence’ was in Agricultural Science class in Junior High School. The word means “the action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself, especially at a minimal level.”. That is exactly what manna is. It is a miraculous provision of God that is not luxurious hence can lose its value in the sight of men. Again, it is the provision of God that is not expected to sustain you for a long time. Even in the camp of the Israelites, the manna God rained down on the camp had a very interesting expiry date. The lifespan of the manna and the quantity to be gathered by each person was dictated by God. Firstly, let us look at the quantity of manna per person. This is what God told them:
… ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent. Exodus 16:16
Every person was supposed to gather an omer each, according to the number of people in his tent. We know the Israelites and how susceptible they were to disobedience. Therefore, some gathered more while others gathered less. In verse 18, they measured what each person had gathered with an omer and realized that those who gathered more didn’t have enough manna left but those who gathered little had no lack. One of the most profound lessons you can learn about manna is this particular one. Manna operates under the direct laws of God. It shrinks or increases at his will. Hence, those who were greedy enough to gather more than they needed actually ended up with little. Those who obeyed God and were very moderate in their gathering ended up being filled with how much they gathered.
So we are clear, manna is supposed to be gathered moderately. Secondly, the lifespan of manna is one day. Moses told the children of Israel not to leave any of it till morning. Again, classic Israelites, they disobeyed. They left some of the manna overnight until the morning. It bred worms and it began to stink in the camp. So let us get this straight, manna must be gathered moderately and none should be left till the following morning. Simply because God was going to rain new manna in the camp the following morning. So there was no need trusting in yesterday’s manna when God was going to rain new manna today. Cool.
Here is the plot twist. On the sixth day, the Israelites were expected to gather enough manna to last them two days. Since the 7th day was the Sabbath, God would not rain any manna. The question is, why didn’t the manna gathered on the sixth-day stink or breed worms?
God gave another command to Moses:
… Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ – Exodus 16:32 ESV
An omer of manna was to be kept throughout the generations of Israel. The manna was kept in a golden urn in the Ark of the Covenant throughout the generations of Israel (Hebrews 9:4). Did we not just establish the fact that manna lasts only for one day? Yes, we did. From the scriptures we read earlier it is clear that manna is perishable, but there is a higher truth. Let me put it this way, manna is both perishable and imperishable depending on who is in control. At God’s command, manna can last for generations. Against his will, man will store manna in vain.
Manna for me is anything that the Lord has provided for me that doesn’t seem enough for me. There are a lot of such things in my life. They are there, I know God sent them my way, but I feel he could have done better; maybe, given me more. This is the most painful thing about depending on manna: the fact that you know it is God who sent it your way. Jehovah Jireh who can provide all our needs according to his riches in glory can sometimes provide merely for our subsistence. He can provide for us and expect it to sort of ‘get us by’. It will hurt. You will be frustrated. Probably, it’s even worse because you can identify God’s hand in all of it.
There are a number of reasons why God rained down manna from heaven on the camp of Israel in the wilderness. First of all, they were in the wilderness on their way to the promised land hence whatever provision God gave them was an interim measure. It being an interim measure doesn’t mean it was purposeless. Even I dare say, the interim measure was intended by God to either qualify or disqualify the Israelites from entering into Canaan.
In the bible, there are 3 explanations given as reasons why God provided manna. They are listed below:
- It is a test: In Exodus 16:4 God told Moses that he was providing manna for the Israelites as a way of testing them to see if they would walk in his laws or not. God’s provision of subsistence is a test of our patience and faith. Will you curse your God and die because of the lack of abundance? Or you will still hold on to his word that indicates that he is sending you to a land flowing with milk and honey.
- Humility: It is stated categorically in Deuteronomy 8:16 that God gave the Israelites manna to humble them. Abundance has a way of shifting our attention from the giver to the gift. Once your eyes are away from God you don’t feel grateful to him for what he has done and this is when pride begins to enter your heart. Therefore, God gives us manna to humble us. Those little things that God gives that appear not to be enough for you are supposed to work out humility in you. Trust the process.
- Manna demands your creativity: The monotony of manna could be a thing that would wear the meekest person out. Imagine, eating the same food for 40 years. But that wasn’t really the case with manna. According to scripture, the Israelites ground it and beat it in a mortar to bake cakes and the cakes tasted like fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). This means the manna God gives is not expected to be consumed only as it is but in some instances it requires your creativity. You have to be innovative about it and enjoy it as you please. Note, manna tasted like wafers baked with honey but when ground and cakes are baked with it, they taste like fresh oil. When God gives you manna he expects you to add some value to it for your own good. This concept is similar to the parable of the talents. When the man came back after a long time, he expected all his servants whom he had given talents to come and make an account of what they had done with it. He wanted to find out how creative they had been in increasing the number of talents he gave them. So it is with manna. No matter how insufficient it may be, God expects us to be creative with it and produce either much more or a variety of things.
Manna as I understand it is a metaphor for God’s provision in our lives that may come across as monotonous and insufficient. It is God who is at work in our lives and whatever he provides for us is a contributing factor to the work he is doing. He is not a genie who is here to grant us wishes but he is working in us to present us to himself. He gives Grace to the humble and if manna will work humility in us then so be it. Abundance clouds judgment sometimes. Despite all of this, what gives me utmost joy is that God has never predestined anybody to eat manna forever. Manna is for a period of time. The children of Israel were on their way into the promised land: a land flowing with milk and honey. According to Joshua 5:12, the manna ceased when they entered into Canaan. Manna had served its purpose and now the Israelites were at liberty to enjoy the goodness of the land. Very soon, manna will cease in our lives and we will enter into the promise of God.