[This post is one of the sections from our recently published Bible study guide available for free download]
Despite the numerous miracles that the Israelites witness, their rebellious and sinful attitude continuously asserts itself. They refuse to trust in the power of God and soon grumble against Moses. Rather than rejoicing in their salvation, they complain about losing the material comforts that they enjoyed in their slavery in Egypt. We shall see that the Israelites make this same complaint over and over again, often provoking God’s righteous wrath.
The Israelites complain about the lack of food in the desert, and in response God graciously causes the manna to descend from heaven.
“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass,that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”
Shortly after complaining about the lack of food, the Israelites also complain about the lack of
“…[T]he people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”
Later on in the book of Deuteronomy we are given insight into the true meaning of the manna. While the manna certainly does fulfill the earthly needs of the Israelites, the miraculous bread is also meant to be a kind of divine instruction. God does nothing in vain and he frequently uses created things to point to his own transcendent being and our mysterious relationship with him.
“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”
In Matthew 4:4, Jesus quotes this passage from Deuteronomy when being tempted by Satan. He also uses similar language when explaining the nature of the true bread from heaven.
“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
The carnally minded Jews of the first century could not understand Christ’s teaching concerning the spiritual bread, but this is not because our Savior was teaching a doctrine that was at odds with the books of Moses. Deuteronomy already explains that the miraculous feeding of the Israelites is meant to point beyond mere physical well-being.
The apostle Paul mentions the bread from heaven and the water from the rock in 1 Corinthians:
“And [they] did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”
Just as Paul compared the crossing of the Red Sea to Christian baptism, so he sees Christ in another Old Testament miracle. The whole Bible speaks of the Messiah, the redeemer who was to come and to reconcile sinful mankind with God. Christ himself testifies of this truth in the Gospel of John, referring back to the Old Testament scriptures:
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
God wills our salvation, and it is that desire for our salvation that underlies everything else that God does and allows to happen to us. Whether in his Word or in his natural creation, God is directing our attention to himself, to our own need for a redeemer, and to the path of salvation.