If I make something new for dinner, my husband may suspiciously ask, “What is it?” Although he is not a picky eater, he says he will not eat anything he cannot identify. I wonder if this is how the Israelites felt when they first saw manna on the ground. Did they want to eat something they could not identify?
God had led the Israelites out of Egypt and they were on a 40 year journey to the Promised Land. Their stomachs were growling and their spirits were grumbling. God heard. God responded graciously. The Lord said to Moses in Exodus 16:4 “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”
In the morning, the ground was covered with a variety of Frosted Flakes. Exodus 16:14-15 says, “Thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.’” Exodus 16:31 tells us, “The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.”
“Manna” comes from the Hebrew word that sounds like “What is it?” To answer this question, we can say that manna was both physical and spiritual food for the Israelites. It was a type of bread that satisfied their physical hunger. However, it also had a spiritual purpose. The Lord concludes Exodus 16:4 saying, “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions.” God gave specific instructions how they were to gather this bread. Whether or not they would obey His instructions would reveal their commitment to Him. Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you (the Israelites), causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Jesus makes a transition from the Old Testament bread of heaven to the New Testament bread of heaven. Jesus says in John 6:32-33, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” In John 6:35, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
In the Old Testament, manna was bread sent from heaven to save the Israelites from dying of starvation. They gathered fresh manna each day. Only on the sixth day could they prepare and keep it for the sabbath. In the New Testament, the Bread of Life(Jesus) was sent from heaven to save our souls from dying; we received salvation. We accept Him as our personal savior once and receive the gift of eternal life.
Bread is a basic dietary item – a staple for physical life. The Bread of Life is our spiritual sustenance – our assurance of eternal life. John 6:27 says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
Manna was a prophetic shadow of Jesus. The Israelites asked, “What is it?” They were told manna was bread from heaven. Fast forward almost 1300 years. While Jesus was sharing His last Passover meal with the disciples, He gave a new meaning to bread. Jesus broke bread into pieces and told His disciples to eat it. I wonder if they asked, “What is it?” Jesus gave His answer in Luke 22:10, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Today, “What is it?” is answered for us each time we take part in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and partake of the bread.
Before concluding, I would like to expand our question. “What is it you need?” Like manna, God’s mercies are new every morning. (see Lamentations 3:23) God provides fresh mercy every day. We are not stuck with stale bread or stale promises. May we pray as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:11, “Give us today our daily bread.” We need both the physical and spiritual bread the Lord provides. Taking some liberties, I translate Psalm 34:8 to say, “Taste and see that the Bread of Life is good.” Again I quote John 6:35 where Jesus promises, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” As the Bread of Life, the Lord will supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)