CDPCKL · The Second Test In the Wilderness: Hunger (Exodus 16:1-36)

The Second Test In the Wilderness: Hunger (Exodus 16:1-36)

Okay. So last week we left the Israelites camped at this place called Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, a foretaste of paradise. They have escaped from slavery in Egypt, they are no longer slaves, they are the firstborn nation of God! And to prove it, God led them to this place where there is plenty of water, plenty of food, and plenty of shade — an oasis of rest and recovery. 

But even though the Israelites are no longer slaves in Egypt, they are still slaves in their minds and in their hearts. They have been set free physically, but mentally and emotionally they are still in chains. 

And this became obvious to everyone last week when God led his people three days into the wilderness, waited until all the water they could carry with them was used up. And then he led them to a water source!…that turned out to be bitter and unfulfilling. 

And as the episode unfolded last week, it became clear that God was deliberately testing his people in order to reveal to them that they are still in slavery mentally and emotionally. If they had been truly free from the trauma of Egypt, if they had understood that they are now God’s beloved children, they would have responded to the disappointment of the bitter water by saying, “Okay, Father. That hurts. We do not understand it. But we still trust that you will provide.” Instead, they grumbled like slaves who do not expect anything more than scraps. Instead of treating God like a loving Father, they treated him like a harsh master who only responds to complaining. 

And once their mental and emotional illness had been revealed for all to see — and after God “healed” the water so they could drink it — then God held a family meeting and said, “So listen, boys and girls, this is the lesson I want you to learn from this: you do not have to grumble to get my attention. I am not Pharaoh, okay? I am your Heavenly Father. I am the Lord who is committed to healing you. So stay close to me! Trust me, and I will lead you home.” 

And that is when he proved that he really does have the power to lead them home by leading them to the oasis of Elim, that foretaste of paradise. 

And we find out today that God allowed them to rest there for several weeks, until the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. Then, on that day — exactly one month after they first left Egypt — he called everyone to pack up their things and follow him into the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai. 

And this is where we find out that, even after a month of rest, the Israelites still have a slave mindset, they are not yet fully healed. Because: 

[2] In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. [3] The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted 

in other words, “We had plenty of meat, and plenty of bread!” — 

but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire church to death.” 

Which is a crazy thing to say, isn’t it? Of course God is not going to starve his Church to death! 

And this is where we realize that God has just led his people into a second test — and that his people have already failed it. 

Now, last week, when the people failed Exam Number One, we realized that God could have just given them two tight slaps and told them to behave. Instead, he was patient with them. God understands, even better than we do, that it takes time to heal from the trauma of so many centuries of abuse. It will take many exams, and many failures, and many proofs of God’s love before the people begin to really believe that they are his children. 

So last week God had compassion on his children. He told Moses to throw a certain tree into the water to purify it, and Moses obeyed. And this week God is going to have compassion on them again. 

But this time he is also going to expect just a little more from his children: this exam is actually going to be just a little bit harder than the last one. 

So the Lord says to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” 

Last week God told Moses to do something, Moses obeyed, and the people lived. This week, God is extending the test. This time is telling the people to do something in order to see if they will obey, like Moses did last time: he is telling them to go out each day and gather just enough for that day. 

Then God goes on to say this strange thing: [5] “On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 

Which is weird. Why should they gather twice as much on the sixth day? Nobody knows why, yet — and that is part of the test: will they obey every detail here, even though they do not yet fully understand the reasons? 

[6] So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, [7] and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” 

And Moses also adds: “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” 

Basically, Moses is saying, “Look, you are suggesting that Pharaoh was a better leader than I am because Pharaoh gave you plenty of meat and plenty of bread? Well, God has heard your challenge, and he is about to give you plenty of meat and plenty of bread! 

“But,” Moses says two times here, “Who are we, that you should grumble against us? Be careful! Listen to my warning here: you are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord. 

“When you suggest that Pharaoh is a better leader than I am, you are actually suggesting that Pharaoh is a better king than God is. And that is just not a very wise thing to do!” 

[9] Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 

And [10] while Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, gathering them together for another family meeting, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 

Now, it is daytime. Normally the pillar that is the Angel of the Lord is a cloud during the day, a cloud that gives them shade from the desert sun. It only turns to fire after the sun sets, to give them protection from the cold desert nights. But now, during the heat of the day, the pillar of cloud begins to flicker with fire, the glory of the Lord. 

This is God’s way of adding his warning to Moses’ warning. This is God’s way of saying, “Moses is right: when you complain against him you are actually complaining against me. And that is foolish! I could, if I wanted to, add the heat of my glory to the heat of the sun. And you would not survive if I did that!” 

But now, again, as if to prove that he is not going to do that: 

[11] The Lord said to Moses, [12] “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” 

God could burn them up, right now. And if the God of Moses was like one of the small-minded, vengeful gods of Egypt, he would. 

But this is the gracious, kind, long-suffering Heavenly Father who understands that his children are still a total mess. They are mentally and emotionally traumatized, they do not really know what they are saying, they do not really understand yet that he is the Lord who heals. So: 

[13] That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. [14] When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. [15] When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. 

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. [16] This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” 

An omer is a little more than one liter: each person gets to eat at least one liter of bread. 

[17] The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. [18] And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. 

So there is actually a double miracle that happens here: the first miracle is that there is bread. The second miracle is that, no matter how much everyone picks up, everyone ends up with exactly the right amount: 

Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. 

Which is a wonderful sign of God’s grace to all his people, isn’t it? Even though his children are all equally valuable in his sight, not all of his children are equal in ability and gifting. Some are fast, some are slow. Some are able-bodied and vigorous, some are handicapped, perhaps even crippled by the physical abuse they suffered in Egypt. But they all get just enough! — God’s grace is distributed evenly to all his people. 

So, God’s people finally pass the test. Last week God told Moses to throw a tree in the water; he obeyed, and the people drank. This week, God tells the people to go out and gather just enough. And they do! — with his miraculous help. All they really had to do was go out, and God did the rest. 

But then Moses says, “Oh, by the way, no one is to keep any of it until morning.” 

…and, of course, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. 

And rightly so. God told them to go out each day and gather just enough. He already proved the “just enough” part; why would they doubt the “each day” part? 

But, once again, God is patient with the ones who failed that part of the exam. Moses was angry, but no one was disciplined for their disobedience. 

So [21] each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. [22] On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much — two omers for each person 

a double miracle of God’s grace — 

And as we noticed earlier, this was weird. And the elders of the community thought so too. So they came and reported this to Moses, and they wondered: why do we suddenly have twice as much as normal? 

“This is why,” Moses goes on to explain: “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” 

[24] So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, but this time it did not stink or get maggots in it 

yet another miracle of God’s grace. 

[25] “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. [26] Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” 

[27] Nevertheless — you guessed it — some of the people did not listen to Moses or to God. 

They did not trust God as a faithful Heavenly Father, rather they treated him like a slave master just waiting to cheat them out of their food: 

They went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 

So they suffered the consequences of their disobedience: they went hungry. 

Last week God told them that if they stayed close to him, he would not bring on them any of the starvation judgements he brought on the Egyptians. These people did not stay close. They did not listen. So they starved — but only for a day. 

Still, the Lord says to Moses something that all parents eventually say to their small children: “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? [29] Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out looking for food!” 

And so — finally, in verse 30 — the people learn their lesson, they pass the exam, they rested on the seventh day. 

Going back to our earlier question then: why did God tell his people to gather twice as much on the sixth day? 

Because God was getting ready to introduce a new healing concept into the lives of his mentally and emotionally enslaved children. And this healing concept is called the Sabbath, the seventh day of every week. 

See, until this point in their lives, the Israelites have not lived according to a weekly, seven-day rhythm. 

The Egyptian calendar was a lunar calendar, a 28-day calendar that ran according to the phases of the moon, just like the Islamic calendar today. Which meant that, up until now, if the Israelites got a regular holiday at all, it would have been just one day a month, on the night of the new moon, when the moon is completely dark. But that one holiday a month would not have been a day to rest and enjoy God’s blessings, it would have been a day of desperate prayer to the moon god, that he will stop hiding his face in darkness! — in other words: a day of fear and bloody, smokey sacrifice. 

In addition, the Egyptian calendar would have had various other holidays dedicated to various other gods, just like Hindu and Buddhist/Taoist calendars today, holidays based on the movements of the stars and planets — but those holidays did not happen regularly. And, again, those would have been days filled with wild acts of worship, trying to manipulate the gods into giving good fortune, similar to what we see at Batu Caves on festival days. 

In other words: 

For the last 400 years or so, the Israelites have been ruled by calendars dedicated to other gods, gods who demanded terrible, bloody sacrifices in exchange for blessing. Which means the people were not just bound into physical slavery, they were bound into mental and emotional and cultural slavery. For the last four centuries the entire structure of their lives has been dominated by darkness and fear. In the evening their masters fed them meat, but only so they would live through the night. In the morning their masters fed them bread, but only so they would have enough strength to work through the day. Every new moon they might pause from the labour of making bricks, but only so they can labour all night in prayers for blessing from the moon god. Every festival season they might pause from the labour of building Egyptian cities, but only so they can fight for scraps under the feast tables of their Egyptian masters. 

Well, guess what: no more! 

“No more,” the Lord is saying. “Oh my beloved children, I have freed your bodies. Now I will free your minds. And the first step in my healing process is this: I am changing the entire physical structure and rhythm of your lives. You are with me now, a completely new kind of God! And so what you need now is a completely new kind of calendar. 

“From now on, under my rule, you will have meat in the evening. But no longer just enough to keep you alive til morning — no! You will have enough to keep you going for weeks! 

“From now on, under my rule, you will have bread in the morning. But no longer just enough to keep you working until sunset: you will have all you need. 

“From now on, under my rule, you will rest from your labour every seventh day. But no longer so you can labour all night and day in desperate prayer and sacrifice trying to purchase the blessing of the gods. No: from now on, I will give you a double blessing of bread on every sixth day so that I can rest from providing bread on every seventh day, and you can rest from gathering bread on every seventh day. That way, on every seventh day, we will all have the free time to relax and spend time together, all of us! 

“And why? Why am I doing this for you? Simply because I am the Lord who heals you. Simply because you are my kids! I love you, and I want to spend time with you.” 

Now, this is, of course, a life-healing lesson. And it is meant to be a nation-healing lesson. But since the healing of a single life from trauma can take many years, the healing of a nation from trauma will likely take many generations. Which suggests that this is a lesson that will need to be repeated and reviewed in every generation. And that is why this passage closes with four footnotes. 

The first footnote says this: [31] The people of Israel called the bread manna — which means “What is it?” It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 

So now future generations, who did not get to see or taste it, know what it looked like and tasted like. More than this, those future generations, who lived in “the land of white milk and honey,” are supposed to understand that these white wafers made with honey were also meant to be a foretaste of paradise, a mini-fulfillment of God’s promise that he would lead them home, given to them long before he actually led them home. 

The second footnote says this: [32] Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’ ” [33] So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.” [34] As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. 

Preserved so that each generation could review this lesson and be encouraged to keep on staying close to God, encouraged to continue in their healing journey as a nation. 

The third footnote says: [35] The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. 

Which lets future generations know, first, that God was completely faithful, and second, that this foretaste of paradise was no longer needed after they arrived in their promised paradise. Which makes sense. 

And the fourth footnote says that: [36] An omer is one-tenth of an ephah. 

This note was added by some unknown librarian hundreds of years after Moses finished the book, when the Israelites no longer used the omer as a unit of measurement. And this lets us know that the Book of Exodus is, in fact, very old; it was old even during the time of King David, and had to be updated a bit for the “modern” readers of that time. 



A lot just happened here. Let’s see if we can summarize it: 

God led his people out of Egypt. Then he tested them just a little bit. They failed. But God graciously let them out of that failure to the oasis of Elim, which was a foretaste of paradise. He let them rest and recover there for almost a whole month. And then he asked them to give it up. He asked them to trust him, to leave that little piece of paradise behind, and travel on toward the greater paradise he has promised. This was the beginning of their second test. 

And the Israelites passed the first part of it: they did follow God into the wilderness. But they did not persevere in passing the test, which revealed that they are still a long way from being healed of their trauma. They still think like slaves; they still see God as a demanding Master, not a loving Father. So God graciously led them out of their second failure by giving them yet another foretaste of paradise: this “bread” from heaven. 

So what we have seen here is a development in God’s relationship with his children. The second crisis was harder to resolve than the first one: the first crisis only required obedience from Moses, the second crisis required obedience from the people. 

At the same time, however, the rewards for obedience in this second test are also greater than the first. See, the reward for Moses passing the first test was almost a month of vacation at the oasis of Elim — but that was a foretaste of paradise they had to leave behind if they wanted to continue on with God. However, the reward for the people passing this second test turned out to be forty years of bread from heaven — a foretaste of paradise they did not have to leave behind because it travelled with them. 

But there is more: this second foretaste of paradise also arrived in a six-day cycle so that every seventh day God’s people got to enjoy a doubled foretaste of paradise: bread from heaven and a day of rest. Which, over the course of forty years, amounts to almost eleven months of vacation: many times more than the single month they enjoyed at the oasis of Elim. 

So the second crisis required a greater level of obedience, but it also resulted in a much greater reward: bread every day, and a holiday every seventh day. 

But even those greater rewards of bread and rest were designed to result in the greatest reward of all: the complete healing of God’s people, the complete transformation of God’s people into God’s image. By practicing this habit of going out to gather bread for six days and then resting every seventh day, the people will be rewiring their brains to rest like God rests, they will be teaching their own hearts to trust, they will be proving to themselves through their own actions — day by day, week by week, generation by generation — that God is in fact their loving Heavenly Father. And there is simply no greater blessing than that! 


And now we have to ask: how can we participate in this healing process today? How can we be transformed when this supply of miraculous bread from heaven has been stopped for almost 3500 years? Is it enough for us to just take a break from work every seventh day? 

Well, I think we can look around and answer that last question for ourselves: obviously it is not enough for us to simply take a break from work every seventh day. 

The whole developed world lives now according to a weekly cycle. It has become so common that it feels natural to us — but it is not, actually, a ”natural” cycle. The seven-day cycle does not correspond to the phases of the moon; it does not connect properly to the solar calendar; it has nothing to do with the movement of stars or planets or seasons or anything else in nature. The idea of a seven-day weekly cycle is purely a Judeo-Christian invention! though of course we say that we got this idea directly from God. 

And so, in a sense, we can say that God’s gospel of rest has already been preached to all nations. Except for a very few primitive tribes, every nation on earth today structures its national life around this cycle of Sabbath rest, a cycle that by its very nature points to the idea that there is a God out there so gracious that he is willing to give mankind free food every seventh day simply because he is good! 

But now, let us judge the results: most of the world now knows how to take a break from work one day out of every seven. In fact, more and more people in this world are now rich enough to take a break from work two days out of every seven — the infamous “weekend”. But has this cycle of rest brought healing to the nations? Has this convinced us all that there must be a generous Heavenly Father who will not let his children starve, a conviction so strong that we are all able to enjoy complete rest every week, without a slave-like anxiety and fear about tomorrow? 

Nope. Simply following the Sabbath Day cycle is not enough to heal mankind from our mental and emotional slavery. Apparently the Sabbath Day cycle is meaningless apart from the Bread from Heaven concept. 

So, back to our question: how can we be healed of our anxiety when the supply of miraculous bread from heaven has been stopped for almost 3500 years? We can’t even look at the jar of manna that Aaron stored away — that went missing 2500 years ago. So how can we be healed? Where is our bread from heaven? 

Well, last week we realized that the Book of Exodus was actually written as a preview of the four gospels in the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: Israel’s experiences with Moses were actually setting the stage for the disciples’ experiences with Jesus. So all we have to do is scan forward through the gospels looking for episodes that contain similar patterns and themes to this one. 

And, just like last week, there are a number of connections we could make. But for the sake of simplicity we are going to focus again on the Gospel of John, this time turning to Chapter 6: 

In John 6, a huge crowd of people follow Jesus into a wilderness area because they are fascinated by the way he has been physically healing people. But there is no food in the wilderness. So Jesus borrows five small loaves of bread and two small fish — meat and bread — and he ends up feeding many thousands of people. In fact, he provides way more than enough food: there are twelve basketfuls of leftovers, enough for the twelve disciples to eat on their next Sabbath day — symbolically: enough food for all the tribes of God’s people when the Messiah arrives and the eternal Sabbath day begins. 

And the people understand the symbolism of this miracle. They say, “Hey! This guy must be the new Moses! This guy must be the true Messiah we have been waiting for, the guy who is going to feed us bread from heaven forever. If we stay close to him we will never have to work again!” 

And Jesus says, “…yes. But also: no. You are expecting me as the Messiah to provide physical bread for you, like Moses did. Now, you are right that I am the Messiah. But you are wrong on two other counts: first, Moses did not provide the physical bread in the desert, God did; second, the bread God is going to provide through me will be spiritual bread, not physical. Which means that if you complain against the spiritual bread I give, you will actually be complaining against God, which is even more dangerous now than it was in Moses’ time.” 

But the people say, “Hey, you know: whatever. Sounds good! Just — always give us this bread!” 

So Jesus says, “I am the bread! Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Your ancestors ate the physical bread in the wilderness, yet they died. Their healing was never properly completed. But I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 

But then the people say, “Whoa, no, wait: you are talking about cannibalism now, and we are not gonna do that.” And from that time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 

Which was too bad. If they had stayed close to Jesus, if they had paused, and thought more carefully, and realized that eating spiritual bread cannot possibly mean practicing physical cannibalism, then they would have remembered how Jesus had just said, “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” They would have understood that the way physical people are supposed to eat Jesus’ flesh is by coming to him, listening to him, and believing his promises that whoever eats this bread will live forever. 

So this is the answer to our question: where is the bread from heaven that can heal us? Jesus is our bread from heaven. We eat by believing in his promises, which are all written down here in the bible. Six days we go out and gather our physical bread, but on the seventh day we rest from that labour, and we use this foretaste of paradise to gather together here around the foretaste of paradise that is the Word of God. And here are Jesus’ promises: by believing in this Bread from Heaven concept, the Sabbath Day cycle will finally become meaningful to us. By practicing this habit of gathering bread for six days and then resting every seventh, we will be healed of the trauma, the fear, the anxiety, the mental and emotional scars that still remain of the age when we lived in slavery to the fear of death. We are going to learn to rest as God rests. We are going to be remade in our Father’s perfect image. 

So in closing here, let’s get practical: what should we do in response to all this? 

If you are here today, and you are not yet a child of God, if you are living a life crushed by anxiety and fear, then you are slave in your mind and in your heart, no matter how free and powerful you may seem on the outside. Your spirit needs healing. And the only true source of healing available to you is Jesus Christ. If you go out to wherre he is in the spiritual wilderness, if you listen to him, and if you believe that he is God’s Messiah for you, then you will be healed. You will be fed. Through Christ, every one of God’s children receives exactly what they need. Race does not matter; sex does not matter; ability does not matter; your past does not matter. All you have to do is go out and gather, and your Heavenly Father will do the rest. 

Now, for the rest of us who have already believed, what should we do? 

Well, same as last week: we need to keep on believing. Stay close to Jesus. Listen to him. Obey his commands. And, same as last week: when we are tested and frustrated desires reveal our grumbling hearts so that our Father has to remind us yet again: “Hey, remember who I am!” — well then, let us accept our correction with good cheer, knowing that we actually have a foretaste of paradise that we never have to leave behind because he has promised to never leave us behind. 

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