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 (Manna 64: Dealing with Calamities)
The Christ in the Book of Numbers—Part 2: Manna
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The Christ in the Book of Numbers—
Part 2:

A Bible Study Series
based on “The Christ in the Book of Numbers” by Chen Shen Chuan

            Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil. And when the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it. (Num 11:7–9)

Despite having rescued millions of Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh, Moses found himself facing a new and seemingly insurmountable challenge—that of providing for the people’s daily needs. Where, in the endless desert, would he find sufficient food and water for a multitude?

Certainly, when the Israelites entered the wilderness after they had left Egypt, and found that their provisions were exhausted, the state of their faith could not have been in starker contrast from when they had crossed the Red Sea—a time when they were singing, dancing and filled with thanksgiving. Now, there was nothing in their hearts except disbelief and dissatisfaction.

            Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not.” (Ex 16:2–4)

These biblical verses highlight the origin of manna. We learn that God rained it down from heaven, and the Israelites had bread to eat for the next forty years. The only times it stopped was on the weekly Sabbath, because God required His people to rest.

The Bible calls manna the “bread from heaven” (Ex 16:4), a food the Israelites depended solely on for their survival during the forty-year period in the arid, desolate desert. Alas, the Israelites did not realize how blessed they were and ended up despising it; such was their ingratitude. Nevertheless, God continued to send manna until Joshua, the second-generation leader, led the people into Canaan and across the River Jordan (Josh 5:12). From that juncture, the people began eating the local produce and manna from heaven ceased.

1            The Prefiguration of Christ

Although the period of the wilderness journey to the appearance of Jesus Christ spanned over 1400 years, the mystery of Christ was already hidden in the appearance of manna. During Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, a group of people came and searched for Him by boat. When they had found Him, they asked, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:25–26).

Jesus understood their motives; He knew they were looking for Him not because they had witnessed His miracles, but because they had had their fill of the physical bread He had provided. He therefore took the opportunity to impart an important teaching—the need to labor for spiritual food that endures to everlasting life as opposed to the food that perishes (Jn 6:27).

At this point, the Jews asked Jesus for a sign, perhaps hoping for a repeat of the miracle of the five barley loaves (Jn 6:1–14). Hence, they tested Jesus, saying, “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ ” (Jn 6:31). In response, Jesus told them that the manna, which their fathers ate, was not the true bread from heaven but that “the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:33). By saying this, Jesus associated Himself with the manna that sustained the Israelites in their wilderness journey some 1400 years ago.

In fact, Jesus directed these words not only to the Jews of that generation, but to all mankind. He wanted everyone to know that He is the bread of life (Jn 6:35), the giver of the truth.

1.1 Christ Has the Words of Life

            Then Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)

As Christians, we are not exempt from the responsibilities and routines of life, but we can avoid the emptiness often experienced by the people of the world and live a victorious life. The Bible teaches us to do this by overcoming the temptations of Satan, which elder John defines as the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16).

Jesus sets out the way to live a victorious life, which is to rely on the word of God: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Amos prophesied, saying, “ ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD’ ” (Amos 8:11). Just as our physical body needs food and water, our spiritual self needs the word of God, the manna from heaven, to survive: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn 6:63).

When we “eat” the word of Christ each day, we will never hunger or thirst again, and our inner life will thrive as we continue our journey until we reach the land of rest.

1.2 Christ Is the Bread of Life

In Capernaum, Jesus told the Jews, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).

If we were to interpret these words literally, they would be unfathomable. Not surprisingly, the Jews debated amongst themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (Jn 6:52). Unknown to them, Jesus was, in fact, referring to a sacrament He would soon institute—the Holy Communion.

From the Lord’s words in Jn 6:51, 53–58, we understand that His body is the everlasting bread of life, which He is willing to share with those who believe in Him. He says His flesh is “food indeed” and His blood is “drink indeed”, for whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, will be raised up on the last day and abides in Jesus just as He abides in him (Jn 6:54, 56).

The apostle Paul further tells us that whenever we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we remember the Lord’s death and anticipate His second coming. Since the bread and cup represent the body and blood of Christ, we need to examine ourselves before partaking, lest we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves (1 Cor 11:23–31).

Whoever eats the body of Jesus Christ and drinks His blood in a solemn manner will live forever, unlike the wilderness generation who ate the physical manna for forty years and passed away. Christ is the true spiritual bread that we need in our faith journey.

2            The Bread of Life

As a result of God’s providential care, none of the Israelites died of hunger in the wilderness. The manna that sustained them was physical, but it also prefigured bread that is spiritual.

2.1 The Bread That Descended from Heaven

God, who is the giver of life, sustains His creatures with the goodness of the earth. Yet, the manna He bestowed to the Israelites was different: it came down from heaven and settled on the ground with the dew—a phenomenon that defied the laws of nature. Manna was certainly a physical food, but it was not of this world.

Similarly, Jesus Christ was not from the world: He descended from heaven and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and not through human will or desire (Mt 1:18–20). Accordingly, He was free of sin, and the nature of His life was heavenly and spiritual—unlike man, who is born of woman and is under the bondage of sin (Job 14:1; Rom 5:12).

By sending manna from heaven, God wanted to show that Christ is the true manna—the bread from heaven—who will enable all nations to receive life. Therefore, with regard to the coming of Christ, Paul acknowledged that Jesus was God manifested in the flesh; He was not of the world (1 Tim 3:16).

On one occasion, when Jesus was discussing the events in the wilderness years with the Jews, He said, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (Jn 6:49). His point was that man’s life is limited; even the elect who ate the manna did not have any special dispensation over death. But now, people could take heart in knowing the true manna had arrived: Jesus had descended from heaven to impart the “words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus told His audience, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). He reiterated this point in John 6:48, “I am the bread of life”, and assured His listeners that He was able to raise them up in the last day (Jn 6:40, 50).

Despite the truth Jesus shared, many Jews still rejected Him. Today, there are believers who fail to treasure His truth, even though it has the power to sustain their spiritual lives. They prefer, instead, to receive things of a secular nature, even though these can neither satisfy, nor bring about spiritual growth. In a way, such people are like the Israelites who deemed the manna tasteless and bland. Yet, had it not been for this heavenly bread, the chosen people would have perished in the wilderness long before the end of the forty years, and it would have been impossible for them to inherit Canaan.

2.2 Prepared for the Elect

The Book of Genesis records how God revealed to Abram that his descendants would be “strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years “ (Gen 15:12–14). On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants (Gen 15:18–21).

In order to keep His promise, God even arranged for manna to come down from heaven. It was part of His gracious plan and providential care—He truly is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides (cf. Gen 22:14).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul recounts the history of Israel and cautions the believers not to be ignorant of the fact that their “fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink” (1 Cor 10:1–4). Here, Paul refers to manna as “spiritual food” as it prefigured Christ and His spiritual provision for the saints. Hence, Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:9–10).

Jesus constitutes the true food that God has prepared to sustain our life.

2.3 Freely Given

God bestowed bread freely from heaven for His people through His great power. Yet, despite experiencing this gracious miracle daily, the Israelites were not only ungrateful for His providential care, they even began murmuring (Num 11:6). In doing so, they angered and grieved the heart of God (Num 11:10).

Such is man’s nature that we often fail to cherish the things, which are free in life. Worse, we may even despise them.
As Christians, we should realize that what we have comes from God, including our salvation (Mt 10:8). Like David, we should offer prayers of thanksgiving, recognizing that “all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr 29:12–14).

Throughout his life, David had fought victoriously against Israel’s enemies, yet he understood that all things were from God. It was thus with an earnest attitude that he entreated God to accept the offerings made by himself and his people. The question is, do we have the same understanding as David?

2.4 Must Be Gathered

When God rained down manna, He expected the people to go out and gather it (Num 11:8; Ex 16:16, 21). It was not a difficult task (Num 11:8), and if they did it each day, they were assured of food to eat. Compared to the time when they were enslaved in Egypt and subject to harsh labor, it was a world apart.

Believers need the word of God to nourish their spiritual life. For this reason, the saints of old assembled together constantly, drawing near to God (Heb 10:25). This grace is available to those who are baptized into Christ and is the only way to find true fulfillment in our spiritual life, to be joyful in God (Lk 1:46–47) and to avoid a crisis of faith.

Although manna was freely given, the people needed to gather it each morning. The same principle applies to spiritual food: as believers, we must put in effort to gather it each day, collecting as much as we each need by studying and listening to the word of God. There are no short cuts.

2.5 Crushed and Passed through Fire

When God gave the Israelites manna to eat, He actually provided them with a versatile new food. It looked like coriander seed and could be ground on millstones, crushed in a mortar, cooked in pans, or made into cakes—much like grains of rice, wheat or beans. Since manna could be prepared in different ways, its taste must have been rich and varied. Yet the Israelites did not appreciate what the Lord had provided for them: "But now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!" (Num 11:6).

The Israelites’ reaction towards manna brings to mind the experience of Jesus Christ. In order to accomplish salvation and remove the emptiness in man’s heart, He had to endure many afflictions (Phil 2:6–8; 1 Pet 2:24). Much like manna, He submissively allowed Himself to be crushed, milled and passed through the fire. In giving His body for our sake, Jesus became the food that nourishes our spiritual lives.
Unfortunately, many people in His time could not accept Him and were unwilling to turn to Him. And to this day, there are still believers who fail to cherish the Lord’s grace.

2.6 Exceedingly Sweet

            And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Num 21:5)

In the Book of Numbers, manna is described as having “the taste of pastry prepared with oil” (Num 11:8), while the Book of Exodus says “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Ex 16:31). Therefore, the Israelites’ complaint of a “worthless” food was a serious distortion of the reality.

Man’s life depends on the word of God (Deut 8:3; Mt 4:4), and those who diligently seek His word will experience its wonderful taste.
King David says,

            The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Ps 19:9–10)

Another psalmist writes, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103).

Through His sufferings and His sacrifice on the cross for mankind, Jesus became the true manna, the word of eternal life. A Christian’s attitude towards material things is a good indicator of his attitude and reverence for the word of God. As faithful believers, we should not bargain with God about our daily bread, nor complain when it does not meet our expectations. Rather, we should accept and learn to appreciate His loving provision and His salvation grace. In our faith journey, we should pursue the truth through daily Bible reading and regular service attendance. And, instead of striving after the transient things of the world, we ought to focus on the hope that is everlasting.

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Author: Chen Shen Chuan