A Brick in the Valley

Why manna?
November 9, 2007, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Word of God

Why did God feed Israel with manna?  You ever think about that one?  See if you can come up with the precise, emphasis on “precise,” reason for the manna exercise.

 Deuteronomy 8:1-12 describes our need for the Word of God.  In these verses, God reminds Israel how He fed them manna.  Israel suffered greatly over many days during their time in the wilderness.  Because of their lack of faith, all the adults but Caleb and Joshua eventually died (Numbers 14:20 ff).   They thirsted (Exodus 17:1-7).  They were hungry (Exodus 16:1-3).  Most of the time, their suffering resulted from their sin.  Yet many questions must have remained.  Why would God feed His people in such a strange way?  Why not give them meat and bread through “normal” means?  In Deuteronomy 8:2-3, God answers that question.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, ESV).

God explained to Israel the reason he fed them manna.  He was graciously teaching them that their most basic need was to hear His words.  Consider how Israel received the manna.  God did not beam it onto their plates.  He directed His people to follow specific instructions in gathering it.  When they did not follow His words, they ran out of manna (Exodus 16:27) or it spoiled (Exodus 16:19-20).  By connecting verbal instruction to their food (Exodus 16:28), God used a giant object lesson to teach Israel their need to hear His words.  Craigie summarizes:

When the people were hungry, God fed them manna; the provision of manna was not simply a miracle, but it was designed to teach the Israelites a fundamental principle of their existence as the covenant people of God.  The basic source of life was God and the words of God to his people . . . was more basic to Israelite existence than was food . . .Thus, when the divine command comes, or when a period of testing is entered, man’s self-sufficiency is undermined, for his own ability to provide for his needs is removed and he must learn again that his existence, physical and spiritual, can only be grounded in God.[1]

Jesus lived out this principle when He was tempted (Matthew 4:1 ff).  He had not eaten for forty days.  But, Jesus did not make the Israelite’s mistake and grumble against God.[2]  Rather, He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and showed by example that, even when starving, we hunger more for God’s Word more than for food.[3]  This truth is no less for us today.  Those who face the most severe starvation are not the physically hungry.  Rather, it is those who hunger for the Word of God.[4]

Discouraged pastors and their people may begin to question if God’s “manna” can feed their souls.  There are times when preaching on church discipline or giving of our financial resources does not seem to offer a solution.  At those points, we should be reminded of the power of God’s Word.  Genesis 1 vividly demonstrates the vast power and efficacy of God’s Word.  Out of nothing, God speaks all things into existence (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).   It is impossible for finite minds to fully grasp the enormity of the power of God’s creative Word.  Nothing existed.  God spoke.  All things came into being.  To be sure, it is God Himself who is powerful.  Yet, the Bible makes no distinction made between God’s words and His deeds.  As Greidanus states, “God’s words are his deeds in the sense that they accomplish His purposes.”[5]  Or, as we read in Isaiah:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11, NIV).

Commenting on these verses, Oswalt writes:

Throughout the book this idea of God’s preexistent purpose and the certainty of its accomplishment have been a central idea.  Coupled with that is the idea of God having spoken in intelligible terms.  Put together, these constitute the basis of the biblical doctrine of special revelation.  God has spoken to reveal his plans and purposes in the context of human history, and what he has said will be accomplished . . . All this will be accomplished through his revelatory word.[6]

If the power of God’s Word is forgotten, churches will either despair or lean on the wrong methods.[7]  But, when the power of God’s Word and our need for it is owned, there is hope no matter how bleak the situation.  As we read in Jeremiah:

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord..  Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jeremiah 23:28-29, ESV)?

God’s Word is a fire that consumes strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and a hammer that smashes problems.  This lesson is driven home over an over again in Scripture.  We need to hear God’s Word.  He gives it for our own good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).  When God’s people hear his truth and obey, He unleashes His power.  Lions purr (Daniel 6).  Walls crumble (Joshua 6).  Water parts (Exodus 14).  Enemies scatter (Judges 7).

[1] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 185,186. [2] W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: In Three Volumes, International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 362.  See Exodus 16:2-3 where the people respond to their hunger by grumbling against God.

[3] Childs writes, “[Jesus] acknowledges the true nature of the gift of food and cites Deut. 8 as a testimony to his faith that God can sustain by his Word even without food.  Thus Jesus discerns the reality to which the miracle points.”  Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, Old Testament Library. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), 295.

[4] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: A Historical/Theological Commentary: Matthew 1-12 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 107.

[5] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 2.

[6] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 446.  Emphasis his.

[7] In Isaiah 36:5-6 God indicts Israel for “leaning” on the empty words.  Churches and pastors who do not trust the Word of God are no different.  “I say, ‘Your counsel and strength for the war are only empty words.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? ‘Behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him (Is 36:5-6, NIV).”


2 Comments so far
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Good stuff. I’m realizing more and more that I don’t fully understand the NT because I don’t fully understand the OT. I need to immerse myself in OT. Any suggestions other than reading the OT itself over and over again? (as a typical American, I’m looking for a “know the OT quick” scheme!)

Comment by Brian McLaughlin

Of course, that is the best one. Just read it over and over again.

I also think we need to memorize key Old Testament passages: Psalm 110, Isaiah 53, and the Song of Moses (Deut 32).

In terms of Deut 32, I am not sure I have ever preached it directly – – and yet, it is pivotal in understanding the rest of the OT and the New Testament. Take 32:35 – – It is critical in terms of forgiveness (see Romans 12 and Hebrews 10). I think it was Jonathan Edwards’ text for sinners in the hands of an angry God.

Then there are so many good books out on Old Testament theology. Waltke has a new book out that I have not yet forked out the cash for – – but, it is sure to be great.

I think you should preach a series on Deut 32.

Dan Block has a commentary coming out on Deut. Based on his stuff on Judges and Ruth – – I think it will probably be very helpful.

Comment by cdbrauns

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