God’s Word for You
Numbers 11:4-9 Manna
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 5, 2021
Complaints About the Food
4 The foreign rabble who were among the Israelites were overcome by their craving.
It was “the foreign rabble” with the Israelites doing this complaining. This would have been certain Egyptians who came with them in the exodus, described as “many other people [who] went with them” (Exodus 12:38), and then the family of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law (Numbers 10:29-32), and perhaps there were still more.
The Israelites also wept once again and said, “Who is going to give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our lives are wasting away. We have nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
It was both the Israelites and the foreign rabble who began to miss the way things were under their bondage in Egypt. They had already forgotten about the lashes of their taskmasters, the cruelty of their enslavement, and the supposed luxury of living in a pagan nation where worshiping the true God was suppressed and every temptation imaginable was fed and encouraged. They did nothing but smack their lips over the menu. And they deceived themselves into thinking that it was all for free. Is it significant that the three items God truly gave them for free: manna (bread), fresh water, and quail meat, are not mentioned in their memories of Egyptian delicacies? Look carefully at the second half of verse 6. They were actually complaining about the way their food was presented there in the desert. One supposes that there were those in the Titanic’s lifeboats who complained about the way the food looked. God had rescued every one of his people from Egypt, and they were beginning to imagine that since he had given them his standards of holiness and righteousness with the giving of the law, that now they could turn this into a dialogue about their own standards, beginning with the food they were given. “You can provide for us, Lord,” they were complaining, “but it better be up to the way we like it.”
Jesus responded to complaints like this by pointing out what is really necessary, which is faith in him. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
7 The manna was like coriander seed, and it looked like resin. 8 The people went around and gathered it up. They would grind it in hand mills or crush it in a mortar. They would boil it in pots or make it into loaves. It tasted like a cake made with oil. 9 When dew fell on the camp during the night, the manna fell along with it.
This description of manna doesn’t seem plain enough to some readers, because today not everyone knows what coriander seed looks or tastes like. But we can think of it as a stuff, white and thin like dew or spiderwebs, but with some feel to it and a flavor a little like millet or rice. There were different ways of preparing it, and raw, boiled, baked or fried, it filled them and it sustained them. I can imagine my mother assigning different days to different preparations: “On Mondays and Wednesdays we boil it, on Tuesdays and Thursdays we bake it,” and so on. But they got tired of it. It kept them alive, miraculously alive, and it filled their stomachs. But they missed the stomach ache and the heartburn of too much onion and garlic. Yet God was providing what they needed. “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven” (Psalm 105:40).
What they should have or could have asked here was, How long before they were in the Promised Land? We read this and think, they ate manna for forty years! But they weren’t condemned to wandering yet. Moses makes the point at the beginning of his final book: It’s only eleven days from Mount Horeb to Kadesh (Deuteronomy 1:2). Couldn’t they last a week and a half? How similar is that to Jesus’ question: “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37).
When I see the words, “It tasted like a cake made with oil,” I can’t help but think of birthday cake, or brownies. It is man’s fallen nature to be discontent, to want birthday cake every day when we’re six, but not when we get older. However delightful anything tastes, even manna, sinful man wants something else soon enough. Even if it’s only supposed to be for eleven or twelve days.
If that’s true of physical bread, it’s also true of spiritual bread. Sinful man wants to pitch in, to contribute something, to be responsible for his own salvation. But “the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). If God said, “Okay, everyone plant apple trees,” would we think that was enough? If God said, “Everyone should make up a children’s nursery rhyme,” would we complain that not everyone has the right talent? If he said, “Make a pilgrimage to Antarctica, live in a little tent there in the freezing cold, and pray your way through all of the Psalms,” would we think that was too much? He says, “Whoever believes in me will never die” (John 11:26), and the mob says it can’t be enough. But it’s what he wants. He wants us to trust in him. “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves: Like sheep they are destined for the grave,” (Psalm 49:13-14). Then the believer responds: “But God will redeem my life from the grave” (Psalm 49:15). Do not trust in yourself. Trust in Jesus, and lean completely on him. He is the true bread, the living water, and through him we truly have eternal life.
Pastor Timothy Smith