A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on August 5, 2018.
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and 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 am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” (Exodus 16:1–12)
Having set out from the Red Sea, after the miraculous crossing and fatal defeat of the Egyptian army, Israel traveled into the wilderness. After three days journey, their water reserves were depleted, and the only water source was undrinkable. God’s people did what they seem to do best: they grumbled against leadership.
Knowing their need and hearing Moses’ prayer, God miraculously turned the bitter water sweet (Ex. 15:22-25). And then God cautioned them to heed His voice (as opposed to the grumbling of their neighbor), to do what is right in His eyes (as opposed to their own), to attentively hear and obey His commandments and statutes (as opposed to disregarding and disobeying). God promised blessings upon His people (Ex. 15:25-26). Given God’s Word, Israel proceeded into the wilderness.
Having satisfied their thirst at the twelve springs of Elim (Ex. 15:27), the people grew hungry. And doing what God’s people seemingly do best…they grumbled: “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex. 16:3). An empty belly had turned the nightmare of slavery into a memory of feasting and the Lord’s heavenly provision into forgotten history.
How similar we are like this ancient people. Our first response is often to grumble, complain, and accuse rather than to pray for heavenly provision. Why do you think this is? Is it because we have not witnessed heavenly provision? Is it because we have not enjoyed heavenly provision? Or is it because we are put in a position of dependence upon our Father in heaven?
For Israel, they could no longer see the winding water of the Nile, smell the steaming stews, or breathe the baking bread. They were in the wilderness of their freedom and dependent upon God’s daily provision.
Cautioning the people that their grumbling was actually against the Lord, a lack of faith in His heavenly provision, Moses told the people that the Lord would “in the evening [give] meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full” (Ex. 16:8). And so it happened: “In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp” (Ex. 16:13). The quail were plentiful, providing the meat that they coveted. The dew was “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground” (Ex. 16:14). This heavenly bread was like coriander seed, white, and tasted like wafers of honey (Ex. 16:31). The people called it “manna.” The psalmist poetically calls it “bread of the angels” (Ps. 78:25).
Such is the beautiful provision of God for His people, provision on His terms not ours. To test Israel, demonstrating their daily provision upon their Provider, God limited the shelf life of manna to one day. Each household gathered their daily bread, “some more, some less” (Ex. 16:17). What was left on the ground melted, reminding the people that this heavenly provision was also temporal.
Emphasizing its temporal nature, Moses strictly instructed them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning” (Ex. 16:19). But, so much like us, Israel wanted the Lord’s provision on their terms. Hoarding the bread of angels, they were left with worm-infested wafers and a putrid stench. God is the Lord. His heavenly provision is on His terms, not ours.
Despite their grumbling, their lack of faith, and their disobedience, God provided. The Lord said, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God” (Ex. 16:12, emphasis added). The word translated “LORD” is the Hebrew word Yahweh, the covenant name of God revealed to His people. This is not just any people hungry in the wilderness. This is the covenant people of Yahweh, the One true God. God provides for His people that we may know Him. Our reaction to His daily provision is to be recognition: Our Heavenly Father provides daily.
Why daily? On every day but one Israel gathered the manna. Preserving was prohibited. In normal circumstances storage is a sign of wisdom: “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it” (Prov. 21:20). Preserving, storing, and saving are prudent, but in the wilderness gathering and eating were daily events, demonstrating a daily dependence of a covenant people upon their God.
Why do we pray to “our Father, which art in heaven…Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:9-11 KJV)? Just as God tested Israel with His daily provision, so also we are to pray for His provision. God is glorified in our dependence. But our flesh, like our ancient brothers and sisters, craves independence. “My power and the might of my hand” (Deut. 8:17) our flesh screams, but a heart for God confesses, “my God will supply all [our] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). So, let us recognize and rejoice that our heavenly Father is glorified in our dependence upon His daily provision…and His Sabbath provision.
The Lord’s daily provision rested on the seventh. Israel was instructed on the sixth day to gather twice as much. On the seventh day, the stored manna was not worm-infested nor did it stink; it was as pure and sweet as honey. Why? Because one day out of seven was set apart as “a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD” (Ex. 16:23), a worshipful remembrance of the creation ordinance. For “on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen. 2:2-3). The weekly Sabbath provision was given to a people who gathered God’s daily provision, a gift of worshipful rest given to a people redeemed from restless slavery.
Just as God’s people were taught their dependence upon Him through His daily provision, so He also taught them to rest in Him through His Sabbath provision. As God was teaching His people to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8), His rebellious people went out to work on the Sabbath. Their work was fruitless. Just as they wanted God’s provision on their terms so also they wanted God’s rest on their schedule.
How similar we are to this ancient people. Just as God’s daily provision goes unacknowledged, His solemn rest is forgotten. We, like the people of Israel, searching for seventh day manna, continue without Lord’s Day rest disregarding “a holy Sabbath to the LORD.” We go into the fields hoping to beat our neighbor to tomorrow’s manna disregarding the Lord’s provision of rest. The Lord’s Day has become everything but in our restless world.
But God still gives His people Sabbath provision, a day dedicated to worshipful rest. We need, as God’s covenant people, a weekly Sabbath, and the world needs to see it! Far more significant is that the Sabbath, which advanced to the first day of the week upon Christ’s resurrection, is a gospel picture. When we gather on the Lord’s Day, even the act of gathering tells of our Sabbath rest in Christ. When we choose to remember and keep the Christian Sabbath, we are preaching the gospel from the creation ordinance. Just as God taught His people dependence upon His daily provision and rest in His Sabbath provision, so also God has given us His Son who is “lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:8), our eternal provision.
God fed Israel heavenly bread in the wilderness, so also the Son of God fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). So miraculous was the multiplicitous provision of five barley loaves and two fish that the people followed Him desiring even greater signs of His divinity. They wanted a sign from heaven, like heavenly manna that Moses had delivered to their ancestors, but Jesus said to them, “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:32-35).
As pure as the water of Marah turned, as plentiful as the quail were, as sweet as the manna tasted, the provision was temporal. But Jesus told the woman at the well, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). At the feast of the booths Jesus declared, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38). Jesus came as the bread of life and the living water as our eternal provision: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB), eternal provision from our heavenly Father.
By God’s sovereign grace through justifying faith in Christ, the hunger and thirst of your eternal soul can never be satisfied temporally but only eternally. The manna God gave Israel reminded them of His daily provision. The solemn rest God gave Israel reminded them of their rest in His Sabbath provision. The Savior God has given us has become our eternal manna and our eternal Sabbath. We are nourished and rest in His eternal provision.