Carl Manthey-Zorn was a Lutheran pastor generations ago who wrote a devotional book entitled, Manna. Manna was the “bread from heaven” which the Israelites were given by God throughout their wilderness wanderings. The old pastor, of course, had something more spiritual in mind with his title.
The children of Israel stepped out of their tents one morning, looked at this stuff covering the ground, looked at each other and said: “What is it?” That’s what they call it – “manna” – the Hebrew word which means: “What is it?”
Every morning, without fail, wherever they wandered for 40 years, there it was. They could only look to the God who graciously sent it. That’s why the Bible calls it “bread from heaven.”
God could have done otherwise, but He meant to test His people and to teach them. The test came as God regulated the gathering of the manna: once a day, every day, whatever was needed for that day, no more and no less. If they tried to hoard it, it would rot, stink, and gather maggots. On the eve of the Sabbath Day, they were to gather a two-day supply, for God wanted them to rest on the Sabbath – pointing them to the greater rest that the coming Christ would give them – lifting from them and from us the burden of our sins on His cross – and guaranteeing the rest of heaven by His rising.
On both counts, by hoarding the manna – or by going out to gather it on the Sabbath when God said it would not be there – Israel failed the test. Maybe they tried to disguise their greed and unbelief as prudent foresight – talking of making hay while the sun shines – solemnly speaking of good stewardship practices. But only he who utterly trusted God to provide for him would eat his daily portion of manna and then lie down at night with a quiet heart, knowing that He who fed him today would do so again tomorrow.
Why did God so test them? That they might cast their eyes to Him. The Bible does not forbid common sense savings accounts, saving up what is left of God’s abundance after honoring Him also with our firstfruits. The Proverbs of Solomon are filled with divine advice on handling our material blessings wisely to His glory and to the benefit of our neighbor. Not wanting His disciples to squander the goodness of God after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus told them to gather up the fragments that none be lost.
But the lesson of the manna is as timeless as ever. Trust in God is never outdated. We live in an age which imagines it can cover every base and eventuality. But this modern fetish for covering every base and coveting every luxury is out of step with Him who pointed us to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air and the Father who cares for them.
The manna points us also to something far more lasting. Jesus made it a picture of Himself saying, “I am the Bread of Life which came down from heaven to give life to the world.” As with the manna in the wilderness – Christ is there for us each day – without fail. And He always satisfies.