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The giving of the manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:3; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalms 78:23–25; 105:40; John 6:31) was a miraculous act by God to provide food for His people. The word “Manna” may mean a “gift” or it could reflect the exclamation of surprise that the Israelites had when they first saw it, man hu’, “What is it?” (Exodus 16: 15).
After the Exodus, manna was found laying upon the surface of the ground. The manna fell upon the earth fresh and cool with the fallen dew (Psalms 78:23–25). It looked like “a small round thing, as small as the hoarfrost” (Exodus 16:14). When the dew evaporated at the rising sun, the remainder was a soft small material that could be gathered in containers.
“It was like coriander seed, white” (Numbers 11:7), that is round in shape, light in color (Exodus 16:14), seen as the bdellium gum (Genesis 2:12) in the desert sun. The Hebrews made the manna into wafers. They described it as tasting like cakes with honey (Exodus 16:31) and as if baked with fresh oil (Numbers 11:8).
“The children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came … unto the borders of the land of Canaan” (Exodus 16:35). It was a daily reminder of God’s unfailing care and tender love. The psalmist says, God gave them “of the corn of heaven. Man did eat angels’ food” (Psalms 78:24, 25), that is, food provided for them by the angels.
The Sabbath Miracle
The Israelites were instructed to gather daily an omer for every person; they were not to leave of it until the morning. Some attempted to keep a supply until the next day, but it was then found to be unfit for eating (Exodus 16:20).
Every week during their 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites witnessed a threefold miracle, intended to teach them the sacredness of the Sabbath: a double amount of manna fell on the sixth day, nothing on the seventh, and the serving needed for the Sabbath was preserved without getting spoiled, when if any were kept over at any other time it became unfit for eating (Exodus 16:22-26).
A Type of Jesus Christ
The manna, falling from heaven for the sustenance of Israel, was a type of Jesus who came from God to give life to the world. Said Jesus, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead … I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:48-51).
The Jews had bragged that Moses had granted their fathers manna from heaven to eat (John 6: 30, 31), and they had asked Jesus to prove His Messiahship by performing an even greater miracle. But Jesus didn’t do what they wanted but pointed their attention to the spiritual importance of His Messiahship, the fact that He gave them spiritual food for having eternal life. The Lord reminded them that their fathers, of whom they were bragging, who had eaten the manna, had in spite of it had died. Jesus declared that He was greater than Moses because He could give them everlasting life in His kingdom of glory (verse 50).
Jesus assured His people saying, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat” (Revelation 2:17). The Revelator here refers to the manna as symbolic of the spiritual life in Christ now, and future eternal life. An old Jewish belief taught that when the Messiah would come, “the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years” (2 Baruch 29:8; R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 498).
In His service,