Wednesday after Reminiscere - Exodus 16.1-31 - March 4, 2015
1) Israel sets off from Elim, the desert oasis of twelve water-wells and seventy date-palms and heads deep into the wilderness of Sin. As their stores begin to run low, they do what Israel does best. They complain against Moses and Aaron. In the previous chapter their complaint was simple. At Marah the waters were bitter and undrinkable. “What shall we drink?” was their complaint. But by this time their complaining has taken root in their heart. They are not merely hungry. This complaint is far worse. They accuse the Lord of being evil. “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.” (Exodus 16:3) What they are in effect saying is, “We had it better in Egypt.” The unbelief of the Israelites causes them to maximize the pleasures of Egypt while simultaneously diminishing their slavery, bondage, and hard service to Pharaoh. They impugn evil to Moses and Aaron, and thus the Lord who called Moses and Aaron. “We could have died in plenty but you would rather have us die our here in lack.” While they would never have put it this way, it’s as if they were saying, “The devil was better to us in Egypt than the Lord is in the wilderness.” Such is the nature of unbelief, to magnify what we don’t possess and minimize the Lord’s promises and His ability to do anything.
2) The Lord is gracious and compassionate and hears their complaint. Moses and Aaron tell Israel, “At evening 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; for He hears your complaints against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:6-7) Quail and Manna. Meat and bread. The Lord hears the complaints of His people and provides and the provision of the Lord is just enough. Moses says, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: 'Let every man gather it according to each one's need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.' Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one's need.” (Exodus 16:16-18) Such is the case when the Lord provides for you as well. Nothing left over. Nothing short. No large excess. No large lack. So we ought to train our sinful hearts by this passage so that we give thanks for our daily bread, trusting that whatever it is, it is enough for today.
3) This bread from heaven is to be gathered on a daily basis as well. When gathering manna, it is futile to try to stockpile for tomorrow. “Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank.” (Exodus 16:20) It was useless for the Israelites to worry about tomorrow’s meals. The Lord would worry about tomorrow’s meals. The Israelites were only to worry about collecting the manna for today. Any stores for tomorrow bred maggots and stank. Such is the case with our worrying about tomorrow’s daily bread. When we worry about the future, whatever we store for the future always stinks and becomes loathsome to us because it is never enough to us. Worry begets worry but faith in God’s promises begets a joyful heart that rejoices over today’s bread and trusts the Lord will provide daily bread for tomorrow. This is why Jesus commands us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and why Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) Do not worry about tomorrow. Manna will be there in the morning just as it was there this morning.
4) The quail and manna were the Lord’s provision but they were also testimonies of the Lord’s faithfulness. Moses had said, “At evening 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; for He hears your complaints against the Lord.” (Exodus 16:6-7) Quail are commanded to cover their entire camp so that the Israelites might be strengthened with meat. The quail demonstrate that it was indeed the Lord who brought them out of Egypt and no one else. But the manna is something different, not just is substance but in purpose. Of the manna, Moses says in that same verse, “In the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord.” The manna, this bread from heaven, demonstrates His glory. This glory is not just that the Lord is master over His creation and that He will intervene miraculously in His creation to save His people and provide for them. The glory of the Lord is His salvation. The glory of the Lord will later manifest itself in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Still later the glory of the Lord will dwell in the Tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple. But even more so than that, the glory of the Lord will be revealed in the flesh.
5) St. John writes in the prologue of the Gospel that bears his name, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Every morning, the glimmering sheen of manna on the desert floor was pointing to the glory of God revealed in Christ. The true glory of God is not shown in miracles and spectacles and signs in the sun and moon and stars, but in the person of Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son of God who assumes human flesh. So our Lord Jesus says in John 6:48-51, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 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.” Jesus is the greater manna. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. The Israelites ate the manna yet they still died. Jesus comes down from heaven, in a true body, and calls that body bread. He promises that those who eat of His flesh in faith will not die like the Israelites. The Israelites were fed in such a way so that when Christ came all might understand Him as the Lord’s provision for true life for those dead in the wilderness of sin, guilt, shame and regret.
6) Christ is how God the Father provides for you each day. His true flesh is given to you in the Sacrament of the Altar every week. There Christ is giving Himself to you that you might feast on Him in faith, believing His words that as you eat bread and drink wine you are also eating and drinking Christ’s very body and blood, and that body and blood is giving you true, everlasting life. Christ also feeds you with His Word in the Scriptures, therein laying out so many promises of grace and favor if would only believe them. Christ feeds your soul, hungry and thirsting for righteousness, with the absolution He earned at the cross and distributes to you whenever you confess your sins. Faith is how we feast on Christ in the sacrament and Christ in the Word, for faith chews on His promises, believes them, takes them to heart, and takes comfort in them. This faith justifies. This faith vivifies souls dead in their transgressions. This faith takes hold of the everlasting life Christ offers as He comes down to us as the true bread from heaven.
7) So let us not complain against God as Israel did in the wilderness, thinking that the life of sin is far better in benefit than the life of faith in the forgiveness of sins. Let us not murmur against God and despise His provision of daily bread, thinking that we provide for ourselves far better than He is able. Rejoice in the quail He gives you each evening, thus providing for every need your body has today. Rejoice in the manna He gives each morning, demonstrating the glory of the Lord, the forgiveness of your sins, the favor of God, and everlasting life. He will provide for every need of body and soul. Do not despair. To not be discouraged. He will always provide for His Israel through Jesus Christ, for our daily bread and for the perfect forgiveness of all our sins. Amen.