By Edward Dennett
THE enjoyments of Elim were but transient, however blessedly they unfolded the loving, tender care of Jehovah. The children of Israel were pilgrims; and as such it was their vocation to travel and not to rest. The next stage of their journey therefore is immediately recorded.
"And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. 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" (v.1-3).
The wilderness of Sin lay "between Elim and Sinai." It occupied therefore, as indeed has already been indicated, a very special place in the history of the children of Israel. Elim would ever remind them of one of their most blessed experiences, and the journey likewise to Sinai would recall to their minds a period distinguished by long-suffering and grace in God's dealings with them; whereas Sinai would be ever engraven on their memories in connection with the majesty and holiness of the law. Up till Sinai, it was what God was for them in His mercy and love; but from that time the ground, by their own action, was changed into what they were for God. This is the difference between grace and law; and hence the peculiar interest attaching to the journey between Elim and Sinai. But whether under grace or law, the flesh remained the same, and took every opportunity of revealing its corrupt and incurable character. Again the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. (v.2). They had done so at Pi-hahiroth, when they saw the army of Pharaoh approaching; they repeated their sin at Marah, because the waters were bitter; and now they complain again because of their pilgrim fare. "They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel; but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert" (Psalm 106:13,14). The recollection of Egypt and Egypt 's food possessed their hearts, and forgetful of the bitter bondage with which this had been connected, they looked back with longing eyes. How often this is the case with newly-emancipated souls. There must always be hunger in the wilderness; for the flesh can find no gratification for its own desires, or satisfaction in its toils and hardships. It is the place where the flesh must be tested. The Lord "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" (Deut.8:3). This is the conflict. The flesh craves that which will meet its desires, but if we are delivered from Egypt this cannot be allowed: the flesh must be refused, looked upon as already judged in the death of Christ; and therefore we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall die: but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body we shall live (Rom.8:12,13). But the Lord, as we have seen in Deuteronomy, has His object in suffering us to hunger; it is to wean us from the flesh pots of Egypt, and to attract us to Himself - to teach us that true satisfaction and sustenance can only be found in Himself and His word. The contrast is therefore between the flesh pots of Egypt, and Christ; and very blessed is it when the soul learns that Christ is enough for all its needs. In their unbelief the children of Israel charged Moses with the design of killing them with hunger. But their hunger was intended to create in them another appetite, by which alone their true life could be sustained. The Lord, however, gave them their request, even though He sent leanness into their soul. For, as will be seen, He gave them the quails as well as the manna.
"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. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt ; and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord; for that He heareth your murmurings against the Lord: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against Him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.
"And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the Lord; for He hath heard your murmurings. And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel : speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God" (v.4-12).
Before we speak of the manna, two or three particulars have to be noted. The first is the grace with which God meets the desires of the people. In Numbers 11 He also meets their desire under similar circumstances; but "the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague" (v.33). Here there is no sign of judgment - only patient and forbearing grace. The difference springs, if we may so describe it, from the dispensation. In Numbers they were under law, and they were dealt with accordingly; here they are under grace - and hence grace reigned spite of their sin. Secondly, their murmurings were the occasion of the display of the glory of the Lord (v.10). Thus the display of what man is brings out of the depths of the heart of God the revelation of what He is. It was so in the garden of Eden, and indeed all down the line of His dealings with man. This principle is seen in perfection in the cross - where man was exhibited in all the utter corruption of his evil nature, and God was fully revealed. The light shineth in darkness, even if the darkness comprehends it not; and indeed the glory of the Lord shines out all the brighter because of the darkness of man's iniquity, which becomes the occasion of its display. Mark, moreover, that murmuring against Moses and Aaron was murmuring against the Lord (v.8). All sin is really against God. (See Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:18-21.) Hence it is that the Lord says, "I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel " (v.12). It is not enough remembered that all our complaints, our expressions of unbelief, our murmurings, are against the Lord, and come immediately into His ears. How often would our sinful words die away on our lips if this thought were in our minds. If the Lord were visibly before our eyes, we should not dare to utter what we often permit ourselves now to say in the hastiness of our unbelief. And yet we are really before Him, His eyes are upon us, and He hears our every word.1 Lastly, remark the difference between the quails and the manna. The quails have no special teaching connected with them, whereas it will be seen that the manna is a very striking type of the Lord Jesus. The quails therefore were given to satisfy the desires of the people, but brought no blessing. It is in connection with these, indeed, that the Psalmist says, "He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." God may hear the cry of His people, even in their unbelief, and grant them their desires - but for discipline rather than for present blessing. Thus many a believer, forgetting his true portion in Christ, has desired the things of this world, the flesh pots of Egypt, and he has been allowed to attain his object, but the consequence has been barrenness of soul - and such barrenness of soul, that he has only been restored through the disciplinary trials of the Lord's loving hand. If we turn back in heart to Egypt, and are permitted to gratify our desires, it can only lead to sorrow in days to come. As, for example, St Paul writes to Timothy, "They that will be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim.6:9,10). This is only one form of turning back to Egypt, but the principle is applicable to every object which the flesh can desire.
The account of the actual bestowment of the quails and the manna is now given.
"And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating; an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons: take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack : they gathered every man according to his eating. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted" (v.13-21).
It will be observed, and the significance of the fact has been indicated, that there is the barest mention of the quails, but a full description of the manna. It is with the manna therefore that we are specially concerned. When the dew was gone up, "behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat" (v.14, 15). This then is the meaning of the manna: the bread which God gave the Israelites to eat in the wilderness. It is consequently the proper wilderness food for the Lord's people. Hence when the Jews said to our Lord, "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat," He replied, "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" (John 6:32,33. Read especially from 48th to 58th verses). The manna then, it is clear, is a type of Christ - of Christ as He was in this world - as the One who came down from heaven, and who as such becomes the food of His people while passing through the wilderness. It must be especially noted that until we have life by feeding on His death - eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53,54) - we cannot feed upon Him as the manna. Having received life, then we are told, "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by" (because of) "the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by" (because of) "Me" (v.57).
Leaving the reader, however, to study for himself this most significant Scripture, it will suffice now to recall the two points named; first, that the manna of our chapter sets forth Christ; and secondly, that Christ in this character is the food of His people while in the desert. There is a difference between the children of Israel and believers of this dispensation. The former could only be in one place at a time, for we have here an actual historical narrative. The latter - Christians - are in two: their place is in the heavenlies in Christ (see Eph.2); and in their actual circumstances they are pilgrims in the wilderness. As being in the heavenlies, a glorified Christ - typified by the old corn of the land - is our sustenance; but in wilderness circumstances it is what Christ was here, Christ as the manna, that meets our need. And amid the weariness and the toil of our pilgrim path, how blessed and how sustaining it is to feed upon the grace, the tenderness, and the sympathy of a humbled Christ. How our hearts rejoice to remember that He has passed through the same circumstances; that He therefore knows our needs, and delights to minister to them for our sustainment and blessing. It is for such a purpose that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says, "Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb.12:3). As one has said, speaking on this subject, "For instance, something may make me impatient during the day; well, then, Christ is my patience, and thus He is the manna to sustain me in patience. He is the source of grace, not merely the example which I am to copy;" and it is thus as the source of grace, sympathy, and strength to us in the wilderness that Christ is the manna of our souls.
There are some practical directions concerning the gathering of the manna which are of the utmost importance. First, they were to gather it every man according to his eating (v.16-18). As a consequence he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack. The appetite governed the amount collected. How strikingly true this is of the believer! We all have as much of Christ as we desire - no more, and no less. If our desires are large, if we open our mouth wide, He will fill it. We cannot desire too much, nor be disappointed when we desire. On the other hand, if we are but feebly conscious of our need, a little only of Christ will be supplied. The measure therefore in which we feed upon Christ, as our wilderness food, depends entirely upon our felt spiritual need - upon our appetite. Secondly, it could not be stored for future use. No man was to leave of it until the morning; but some disobeyed this injunction, only, however, to find that what they had thus left had become corrupt. No; the food collected to-day cannot sustain us on the morrow. It is only in a present exercise of soul that we can feed upon Christ. Much damage has accrued to souls from forgetting this principle. They have had a rich repast of manna, and they have attempted to feed upon it for days; but it has always issued in disappointment and loss instead of blessing. God only gives the portion of a day in its day (see margin of v.4), and no more. Thirdly, it was to be collected early, for when the sun waxed hot it melted. No time, indeed, is so precious to the believer for gathering the manna, as the first moments of the day when in quiet he is alone with the Lord. He has not yet entered upon the experiences of the day, and he knows not what may be the precise character of his path; but he knows that he will need the sustaining manna. Let him therefore be diligent in the early morning, and let his hand not be slack to gather, and to gather as much as he may need; for even should he seek it afterwards, he will find that it has all disappeared before the glare and the heat of the day. How many a failure may be traced back to neglect on this point! A trial comes - unexpectedly comes, and the soul breaks down. But why? Because the manna was not collected before the sun was hot. All should lay this to heart, and be on the watch against the artifices of Satan to divert our minds from this one necessary thing. Let all diligence be employed that, whatever the emergency throughout the day, there may be no lack of manna.
In connection with the manna the Sabbath is also given.
"And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To-morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you, to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to-day, for to-day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to-day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
"And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep My commandments and My laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore He giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days: abide ye every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day" (v.22-30).
We read in Genesis 2 that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made" (v.3). This fixes the meaning of the sabbath or the seventh day; for it should be carefully observed that it is the seventh and no other day, showing clearly that it is God's rest. This meaning is asserted most distinctly also in the epistle to the Hebrews. (See Heb.4:1-11.) The sabbath therefore is a type of God's rest, and as given to man expresses the desire of God's heart that he should share with Him in His rest. It is found here for the first time. There is not a trace of it through all the patriarchal age, or during the sojourn of the children of Israel in Egypt, but, as found in this chapter in connection with the manna, it has a most blessed significance.
But a few remarks must be made before this is explained. The object God had in view in its institution has been indicated; but, as is abundantly clear, man in consequence of sin never possessed the thing signified. Nay, more, God Himself could not rest because of sin. Hence, when our blessed Lord was accused of breaking the sabbath, He replied, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17 ). God could not rest in the presence of sin, and of the dishonour done to Him by it, and as a consequence man could not share it with Him. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews develops this latter point. He shows that the children of Israel were shut out from it because of their unbelief and hardness of heart, that Joshua did not give them rest, that in David's time it was spoken of as yet future, and he argues that "there remaineth therefore a rest (a keeping of the sabbath) to the people of God" (Heb.3 and 4). The question arises then, How is it to be possessed? The answer is found in our chapter. The manna, as we have seen, pre-figures Christ, and consequently the connection teaches that it is Christ, and Christ only, who can lead us into the rest of God. He is the only way. The apostle thus says, "We which have believed do enter into rest" (Heb.4:3); that is, it belongs to those who believe in Christ to enter into rest - not by any means, as some have taught, that the rest is a present thing. The context shows distinctly that it is a future blessing. There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God. That believers may have rest of conscience and rest of heart in Christ is most blessedly true; but God's rest will not be reached until we enter upon that eternal scene in which all things are made new, when the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God (Rev.21:1-7).
There are two circumstances connected with the institution of the sabbath in this place which demand a brief notice. The first is the double provision of manna on the sixth day, that the people might rest in their tents on the seventh. If collected thus on any other day in self-will, it became worthless and corrupt; but when done in obedience in view of the sabbath it remained sound and good. The truth taught, however, is that when sharing in God's rest, in His grace, throughout eternity, Christ will be still our food; nay, it might be said that our enjoyment of that rest will consist in feasting with God upon the once humbled Christ. Nothing less will satisfy His own heart than that we should have full fellowship with Himself concerning His beloved Son. There is perhaps another thought. It is that whatever we acquire of Christ here becomes our eternal possession and delight. Gather as much manna as we may, two omers instead of one; if it is kept for the rest that remaineth, it will be a source of strength and joy throughout eternity. The second thing is that some of the people, spite of the injunction they had received, went out on the seventh day to gather manna, but they found none (v.27). Whatever the exhibitions of grace man's heart remained the same. Disobedience is native to his corrupt nature, and displays itself alike, whether under law or grace. The Lord rebuked through Moses the conduct of His people, though He bore with them in His long-suffering and tender mercy. Taking the sabbath, as has been explained, as a type of God's rest, and therefore, since sin has come in, as yet future, it will be at once seen that there is a distinct typical teaching connected with there being no manna on the sabbath. The time for the manna will then be for ever past. Christ will never more be apprehended in that character; for the wilderness circumstances of His people will then have for ever passed away. The store they collected while in the desert may still be enjoyed; but there will be no more to be gathered. The same lesson, in one aspect, may be seen in the direction given by Moses at the commandment of the Lord.
"And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited: they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah" (v.33-36).
There is doubtless an allusion to this in the promise to the overcomer in the church at Pergamos: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna," etc. (Rev.2:17). Thus Christ in His humiliation is never to be forgotten, but always to be remembered, and gratefully to be fed upon throughout eternity by His people.
"There on the hidden bread
Of Christ - once humbled here
God's treasured store - for ever fed,
His love my soul shall cheer."
Hence an omer full of manna was laid up before the Lord, before the Testimony, to be kept for their generations. For forty years, during the whole of their wanderings in the desert, until they came to a land inhabited, this was their daily food; they did eat manna until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan.
1) See, for an example of this, John 20:26,27.