Throughout Exodus, we’ve seen how God’s goal for Israel is to see His glory. God’s primary goal for us is to know Him and to be His people. The goal is not just to be saved. Saving us is a means to an ends – to be His. John 17:3 tells us that eternal life is that the people know Him as the only true God. God saved His people from Egypt not just to free them, but so that they may know who He is. As we continue reading about the people of God after the Exodus, we’ll read of how God makes Himself known to His people.
(A) Manna, a taste of His glory and grace: God provides, that His people may know Him through testing (Exo 16:16-21)
To help us understand the context of today’s passage, we read the verses before and see how the people grumbled and God responded to the people’s grumbling (c.f. Exo 16:4-12). He responded to their grumbling by providing for their needs very practically (Exo 16:4), and He responds in abundance, providing meat in the evening and bread in the morning “to the full” (Exo 16:8). This was a direct response to their complaints in Exo 16:3. Why did God do so? It was to test them. What is the ultimate goal of this test? It is so that they will know that He is the LORD their God.
What this means is that God’s solution to the people’s grumbling is that they would need to know more of Him, to see His glory. This has implications on our grumbling too. When we grumble, we’re actually saying that we don’t really know God and haven’t really seen Him. Our grumbling is a reflection of our hearts and how we view God. God’s answer to our grumbling from this passage is is to know Him more!
Exo 16:16-20 records a series of commands from God, Israel’s actions and the consequences of their actions.
What can we learn about the people of Israel and their view of God? They obeyed God, but only partially, for they did not trust God wholeheartedly. They did not know Him fully and so, did not trust Him wholly. This halfway obedience meant obedience only when it was convenient for them but when it demanded a faith and trust in God with some risks, they did not! They did not trust that God will provide every day. Before we cast stones at these Israelites, let’s take a look at ourselves too. How often do we take God’s commands and believe it halfway too? Perhaps we can love everyone else but that one person who is hard to love. Perhaps we can obey when it comes to discipling those who are responding, but not the one that is hard. Do we obey God only when it makes sense to us? Do we obey God only when it serves our needs? Do we take over and tell God “sorry” when obedience is hard? Is our obedience dependent on our comfort? Exo 16 also confronts us.
In Exo 16:21, we read of how God was testing them “morning by morning”. This was a test of trust every day. But remember their position! The whole nation was in the desert with no food. God was calling them to trust Him every day. They ate enough for today, and had to trust that God will provide again tomorrow.
God required His people to obey by working and gathering every day. They were very much involved in the process by obeying and gathering. Sometimes we think of obedience as a passive activity but notice how they had to act and were involved here!
God provides in abundance. He is not a stingy God. He did not provide just enough and required his people to fight for it. He provided as much as they could eat, and more! Our God is not a stingy small-hearted God who tests us and is just waiting for us to fail. He wishes to bless us by revealing more and more of Him, because in knowing Him, we can live.
Deut 8:11-16 (“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God”) also teaches us that forgetting God shows itself by not keeping His commandments. Thus, the test is that the people will not forget, and hence will not perish. This means that the test is for the people to remember Him and live. The way they remember Him is by obeying His commands. The goal of God’s test is to know Him by remembering and obeying His commands. Morning by morning, His people had to get up and obey. Obedience is active because it helps us remember who He is and what He has done. If God’s goal by sending every test our way is for us to know Him more, how does this change our response? If God sends you a test of financial strain, He wants to show you that He is a provider. If He sends a test of broken relationships, He wants to show Himself as the ultimate Healer and provider of grace. The Psalmist calls us to “taste and see that the Lord is God”. Have we seen and tasted His goodness?
(B) Sabbath, a sign of His glory and grace: God provides, that His people may know they are His through resting (Exo 16:22-30)
There’s another part to God’s command to the people (Exo 16:22-30). What can we see about what God’s people think of God?
Again we see a half-obedience. What does it reveal of God’s people? It shows a distrust in God. They did not trust that God’s Word is true. Now, half-hearted obedience works itself out in unrest. There is no security and a constant state of anxiety.
The call here is not to stop planning for God will provide. The call here is, when will we start trusting God? God had already delivered out of Egypt, led through the Red Sea, provided sweet water form bitter water, and provided manna! God has also been faithful to us, delivering us from our sins when we could do nothing. Have we not tasted His undeserved blessings? Why then do we still have a half-hearted obedience?
God has already done the work for us so therefore we can rest.
God responds with anger — “And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath …”” (Exo 16:28-29a).
What has it to do with the Sabbath? It hails from creation and is tied to God (hence is more than just an idea) (Exo 20:8-12). Exo 31:16-17 speaks of the Sabbath as a sign of covenant between God and people. It is a crystallization of this gift from God to us (Ez 20:11-12). To take it a step further, it is a sign from God that we may be holy and sanctified, and for us to image Him. Isn’t this wonderful that God provided rest for slaves that had no rest?
How should we apply this Sabbath? Is this therefore not an active obedience? Rest is another way for God to make Himself known to us. When was the last time you kept the Sabbath and was not anxious/overwhelmed by everything? When was the last time you really trusted Him and rested? Is it only when you’re driven into a corner? Is desperation the only time you rest in God? What does it say if we reduce rest? What does it say about our view of God?
This goes against everything we’re used to and even brought up to think. The Sabbath is a sign of His glory and grace to us, that we will know Him through resting. Both manna and rest point us to God and both are His provisions!
(C) A foretaste of deliverance: Jesus Christ, the true fulfillment of God’s glory and grace - our Provider and Rest until He comes again (Exo 16:31-36)
God also commands manna to be kept (Exo 16:31-34), on top of instituting the Sabbath for His people. He wanted them to remember what He had done for them in providing food and rest when they had none. The manna and Sabbath were there to remind them daily and weekly of who God is and in doing so, His promises made and kept.
But what are we supposed to do with the manna and Sabbath? Exo 16 forms the context for us to understand John 6:31-50. This taste and sign of His glory points us to the perfected and true fulfilment of God’s glory and grace in Jesus Christ. Our half-hearted obedience reveals that under our grumbling and anxiety is a need to be self-sufficient. This arises from a distrust of God because we do not understand God’s character and nature, and thus, question His word. This happens when we do not know Him or do not rely on Him. We don’t need a new job. We need spiritual food that leads to life. We need a Saviour, the true Bread of Life, who is also our true Rest (Matt 11:28) and Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1). Phil Ryekn puts it this way: “Jesus knew that our deepest needs are not physical but spiritual. What we really need is God, and when we have him, we have everything we need.”
God’s call to us today is not to do more to earn our salvation. It is to taste and see that God is good, and to see that He has already done everything that we need for our salvation. God doesn’t need our time, money and effort. He needs our repentance and to rest in the finished and perfect work of Christ. What has been instituted for us today? This is why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. This is why He calls us to take it in remembrance of Him!
The manna ceased when God’s people came to Canaan, where they “ate the fruit of the land of Canaan” (v35, Josh 5:12). This picture of manna and provision are wonderful but incomplete pictures. The Bible isn’t just a series of stories wrapped up in a book. It tells of one story, and shows a God who chases and pursues His people. In Jesus, there is a way for sinners to return to a holy God. The entire story of the Bible works towards the Marriage Supper, when Christ comes again to make all things new. This is the goal of God’s redemptive plan that we are His, and we will be perfect and without pain, just as how He intended for it to be in Eden. From now to then, He gives us mercies every morning. Trials and suffering draw us closer to Him. Just as manna ceased, so too we can look forward to the day when we will be brought to the Promised Land, where we can finally behold the true Bread of Life, recline at table and feast on that which our hearts desire.