Getting first things first.
By Lael Caesar
Nothing in life must come before manna.
“Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation . . . grumbled . . . , ‘Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Ex. 16:1-3, NASB).*
Why didn’t God kill us in Egypt? God has just brought them out of Egypt, but now they curse Him. They want to go back: “We were doing fine back there,” they say. Which is ungrateful nonsense of a very high order! Maybe they are hungry. But that doesn’t mean there is no food. They’ve just come from Elim and sweet water and date palms. What they really hunger for is Egypt’s flesh pots (Ex. 16:3). Which does not make this a devotional on vegetarianism!
Besides, what’s so wonderful about Egypt that Israel would want to go back? God has just delivered them from Pharaoh’s tyranny, and they want to go back. There are revolting biblical metaphors about this kind of thinking—the dog to his vomit, or swine to their mud (2 Peter 2:22). What could be more awkward than turning from Jesus and His pleading blood to covet the degradations He saved me from just yesterday?
OK, you want to go back? Then just go! That’s what I’d say. I’d just give up. After all, I’m trying my hardest to help, and all you do is fret and complain and insult me.
But God the amazing never quits on me. He loves me too much. He will do all He can to keep me going forward. And so, instead of letting Israel go back to shame and victimization, He proposes a one-of-a-kind demonstration: “At evening,” Moses and Aaron advise, “you shall know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord” (Ex. 16:6, 7).
Measuring the language of Exodus 16:6, 7 by God’s standard set in Exodus 6:6, 7 shows that God is not keen on this drama. In Exodus 6, God informs Moses that the way to know “that I am the Lord your God who [brought] you out” is to see what I do to the Egyptians. When God says “and you will know” to Moses, or some 60 times to Ezekiel (6:7, 10; 11:9, 10, etc.), we should not think He’s smiling. God is not sending quails because He is happy.
It’s even clearer the second time He does it: “While the meat was still in their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague” (Num. 11:33; cf. Ps. 106:15).
So what does God do when He is distressed about people who forget His wonders? He invents a way for them not to forget. And He does it with manna.
"Manna, like the Sabbath, is a miracle about remembering"
What’s manna? I don’t know. Israel didn’t know. That’s why they called it manna. They called it “What’s that?” (Ex. 16:15, 31). Manna, you see, is not your common, corner store item. Manna is so rare that nobody had ever seen it before.
What’s manna? Manna is food, admittedly, very unimpressive and strange-looking food. Not in the same league as the five-star restaurants and the classy college cafeterias that kids still fashionably complain about. The three words that describe it in Exodus 16:14 are “fine” or “small,” and “flake-like” (NASB).
Now “fine” isn’t really all that fine. It’s Pharaoh’s word for corn and cows that come up second in his dreams: the ugly, scrawny ones. Manna is not for pride; it’s for nourishment. And “flake-like,” the other word, doesn’t show up anywhere else in the Bible. It’s unique. The closest we can get to the Hebrew word for “flaky” is an Aramaic verb basically meaning “to peel off,” and, in its intensive form, “to pound grain.” That’s because you get to the kernel by pounding. You pound, and you sweat, and you blow away the husk, and you’ve got your food.
Manna, it appears, may involve work. All you do is pick it up. But somebody may have sweated and pounded before; somebody bled so you could have bread. So you could have manna. Angels’ food, the psalmist calls it (Ps. 78:25).
And how do you get it? You get out of bed. You can’t get it in bed. And you don’t postpone getting out of bed. And you don’t take care of other pressing matters first—texts, calls, streaming stock prices, or paper news. Nothing in life must come before manna. So off with the blankets; out in the fresh air; down on your knees; up with your manna. You get up and get down early because manna will melt when the sun comes up (Ex. 16:21).
So manna starts your day. Nothing in life must come before manna. Manna is first: everybody up before sunrise, prostrate on the ground every morning, early, to get what God has sent each morning for that morning. Because it’s like vitamin C—you can’t store up a lot and then forget it for a while. You have to get it every day. Every day for that day. Every day, early in the morning. Nobody collects for you; everyone does it for himself, for herself, each according to their personal need (Ex. 16:16, 21).
Manna is the action of the sentiments you sing:
"Lord, in the morning Thou shalt hear My voice ascending high; To Thee will I direct my prayer, To Thee lift up mine eye.”
In moments of forgetfulness, we may relate to breaking stock market news, political events, natural disasters, and war, as if they could satisfy hunger. Clearly we still need manna. Manna is for remembering. It is how you obey, and how you don’t forget. Manna is early every morning for 40 years of wilderness wandering, through apostasy and pardon, through rebellion and providence, twice as much on Friday (Ex. 16:22), and nothing on Sabbath. Manna spoils in a day if you try hoarding your own. Manna lasts forever when you listen to God and put a pot of it inside the ark (verse 33).
Manna, like the Sabbath, is a miracle about remembering. The miracle pot that never spoiled kept company in the ark with the Ten Commandment tables, completing the cycle on remembering to do or desist, to obey by labor, and obey by rest. Because the God of the six is the God of the seventh. And the One who gives us our daily bread is the One in whom alone we may find our weekly and eternal rest.
Manna is a matter of respecting His terms: “Six days shalt thou labor.” The Sabbath is the same: “In it thou shalt not do any work” (Ex. 20:9, 10, KJV). Thus manna and the Sabbath are a unity: The Lord of the Sabbath is the living bread from heaven, the awesome manna miracle that gives us life forevermore (John 6:51, 58). We live by seeking Him first.
Nothing in life must come before manna.
* Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Lael Caesar, an associate editor of Adventist World, really, really loves the taste of manna.