The True Bread From Heaven


I. The unfailing Faithfulness of God. Every command of God is both a test and an opportunity for worship and blessing.

A. God’s commands – 15:26; 16:16, 22-26; 18:15, 16, 19, 20

  1. The general command to “give earnest heed . . . and do what is right in his sight” served as a backdrop to all the individual commands that God would give the people.
  2. For daily provision, they were to trust God. They should not hoard food as if God would not prove true according to his promise. Specific instructions had been given (4, 5) stating how each day was to be done and with the provision of two days sustenance on the day before the sabbath. Even in the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Though it is a point of wisdom to prepare for the future (Proverbs 6:7-11), it is always wrong to violate a direct command of God and always right to be content with what we have (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  3. God provided laws of equity for establishing a stable society. Recently released from bondage, under the tyranny of Pharaoh, they had no model for establishing a society based on consistently applied principles. Now they were given a spokesman who would settle cases according to divinely revealed law (18:16, 19-20), regulations that certainly would be based on the most excellent principle of equity, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

B. God’s testings – 15:25, 26; 16:4

  1. Every command of God is good in and of itself because it comes from the all-wise God. Some have to do with eternal principles of good never to be changed such as loving God supremely and worshipping God only. Some are for precise situations or limited eras only. Laws for gathering manna would last only as long as the people needed to gather manna (16:35). The law for the Passover would last only as long as it served as a type of what was yet to come (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8; Hebrews 10:11-13). Circumcision would last until the sign was fulfilled (Romans 4:9-12; Galatians 5:2-4; Philippians 3:3).
  2. Whether temporal in intent or eternal by nature, each command presents a test of heart to those who receive it. “There he tested them” (15:25). “That I may test them, whether they will walk in my instruction” (16:4). When God gives a command, we must not substitute our wisdom or supposed rationality as if we were equal with God either in authority or knowledge. Love for God, worship of him because of his worthiness, and submission to his intrinsic authority is tested at each point of our obedience or disobedience to his commands.

C. God’s Provisions – 15:27, 16:4, 8, 12, 35; 17:5-7; 17:8-16

  1. We should live under the general principle stated by Paul to the Philippians, “And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). This is true as an implication of God’s lovingkindness toward his people to bring them “safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 NASB). Already we are in possession of every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and he will hold back nothing from us that Christ has purchased to fit us for eternal life (Ephesians 1:3; Romans 8:32).
  2. Every provision of this temporal life, therefore, is for the sake of sustaining us until his gracious purposes for us have been completed. All anxiety for earthly security, therefore, should be relieved. His provision is perfect for every need that we have according to his wise and eternal purpose. This may sometimes result in abundance and sometimes result in want, so that we will see all of it as serving God’s end of his glory and our good (Matthew 6:25-30; Philippians 4:6: 11-13).
  3. God gave the wandering people sweet water from bitter and abundant water and fruit in the middle of a wilderness. He gave them bread from heaven each morning and meat in the evening. He gave them water from a rock through the staff by which he had delivered them from Egypt. He caused them to prevail over the first enemies with whom they had to contend man for man.
  4. Nothing within their experience should have allowed them to complain or live in an anxious and distrustful manner. The infallible and invincible power that God had displayed in their rescue and in the first three months of their journey, had their hearts not been distrustful, should have made worry, grumbling, and disobedience an utter stranger to their minds.

D. God’s Promises – 15:26 – Annexed to God’s commands are gracious promises. God seeks us out, sinful and rebellious as we are, commands us to do what by all standards of absolute right and wrong we should do as his creatures. He appends to these righteous commands promises of blessings. This superfluity of goodness marks the Holy One of Israel out as a God who is rich in mercy and abundant in grace and lovingkindness, even as he maintains his unchangeable standards of justice and holiness.

  1. “None of the diseases” stood for the general disfavor from God on the Egyptians. The Egyptians were not his people, and the diseases that went through their society from generation to generation, as well as the onslaught of plagues in recent days, marked his hand of judgment on them. The Israelites had his favor, his specific commands and this assurance of his favor. Would they obey, then they would not have his plague.
  2. “I the Lord, am your healer,” sets forth a more general principle of God’s propensity for restorative favor. He sustains us in a sinful world, filled with the power of destruction and corruption and inserts into this sad place a redemptive death that puts an end to death for those for whom he has died, and seals it all with resurrection to eternal life. He is healer; and if we know him, we shall be healed indeed.


II. The incessant grumbling of the people – 15:24. Three days after they had seen and celebrated God’s power over the waters of the Red Sea, they felt justified in complaining about bitter water.

A. About their condition – 15:24; 16:3; 17:3

  1. They complained about being thirsty when the creator of water was their rescue and refuge.
  2. They complained about not having the food they enjoyed in Egypt. They wanted their bellies full with meat and bread. They forgot the cries of lament that the hardship of slavery had drawn from their lips (Exodus 2:23), and now preferred an evening meal to the open door of true freedom and the promise that God was their healer.
  3. The world fools us in setting before us its apparent pleasures and immediate fulfillment. Without a heart that sees the glory of Christ and finds full satisfaction in him, we will be pressed on toward the destruction hidden beneath these apparent pleasures. The attainment of riches, and the constant grasp for that final pleasure that thoroughly satisfies, along with our deceitful celebration of the creature’s sufficiency for bringing happiness conspire to lead us to distress, depression, and self-destruction.

B. Against the leaders – 16:2, 7-8; 17:3.

  1. The two who had trusted God and faced down Pharaoh under the security of the promise of God now were being chided for their faithful leadership. The way of life in this world seems to be that those who, by grace, have been brought to desire the way of God, his truth, and his glory are seen as the haters of mankind, the interrupters of the world’s pleasures, and the inflicters of sadness and hardship. Elijah was called the “troubler of Israel,” the apostles had “turned the world upside down,” Jeremiah was struck, put in stocks, put in prison, and thrown into a pit (Jeremiah 20:2; 37:14, 15; 38:5, 6); and Christ, the Son of God was nailed to a cross.
  2. Their grumbling was against God. Moses and Aaron did only what God had told them to do and had empowered them to do. They lived in reverence and fear before God knowing that it was God who “worked in them both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” When we murmur and complain, the final target of our dissatisfaction is the providence of God. As we live and experience hardship in the midst of a “wicked and perverse generation,” we show that we are both blameless and harmless when we “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:12-15).

C. Their disobedience to commands – 16:20, 27-30

  1. They had been instructed clearly to take only a day’s portion for each day for six days. On the sixth day, however, they should gather enough also for the Sabbath. Both of these provisions for the gathering of bread were disobeyed by some. When they took more than a day’s portion, the remainder was infested with worms. When they went out on the Sabbath, no manna was to be found.
  2. God challenged their disobedience (16:28, 29). At this point he did not inflict any plague on them for disobedience or make an example of anyone. Though he could have justly cast them aside, he simply reiterated through Moses that his instructions were to be taken as commands and were not up for debate.
  3. More serious measures of visible discipline for disobedience would be forthcoming. This is a problem that would characterize the nation throughout its existence (Jeremiah 11:6-8; Acts 7:37-42).


III. Types and ties to be noted

A. The True Bread from Heaven

  1. When Jesus refused to turn stones to bread upon the suggestion of Satan even after forty days of fasting (Matthew 4:3), he put the relative importance of bread and the word of God in perspective by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It would be better to starve than to prefer a suggestion of Satan above a trust in the purpose and providence of God. Jesus would not violate the trust that must unfailingly characterize his manhood in his pursuit of perfect righteousness. The word that God had spoken to him in the eternal covenant, the word of purpose that would result in the redemption of a people, would certainly come to pass, and, for the sake of that word, Jesus put Satan to flight, and the Father eventually sent angels to minister to the Son of Man.
  2. When Jesus fed the 5000 with bread and fish, he pressed the lesson to warn them, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life” (John 6:27). “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” He himself was and is the true bread that the Father gives. He who finds his satisfaction in this bread will have eternal life (John 6:32, 33).

B. Streams of Living water.

  1. Paul said, “They drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Not only did the Son of God himself appear to Moses in a burning bush, but he went as cloud and fire before and behind these people from whom he would descend as the Son of David. The water that flowed from the rock came from Christ, who is the rock—a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to some but a rock of help pouring forth living water to those who have the spiritual thirst for such a drink (also John 6:35).
  2. Jesus would provide the means by which the full operation of the Holy spirit would come in the calling, sustaining, sanctifying, and equipping of his church. Those who would come to Christ, thirsty for the water that would quench all thirst, would find that even from them would flow “rivers of living water.” This ever-flowing river given for the sake of Christ was the Holy Spirit (John 7: 37-39).

C. Perspective on provision and ingratitude. One of the main manifestations of our fallenness is the spirit of ingratitude (Romans 1:21). One of the most clear manifestations of advance in holiness is thankfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Since we are fallen creatures, we should be thankful that we have been preserved and have been given the word of the gospel. If we have been brought to faith in Christ in hearing the gospel, we should recognize that God the Father himself, as a matter of faithfulness to his covenant promise to his Son in the eternal covenant, will sanctify us and keep us blameless at the coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24; Hebrews 13:20, 21). Under the redemptive purpose and the sanctifying providence of the triune God, we have no call for ingratitude in any of the events that befall us. Scripture calls us to see the Father’s love for his Son as the impetus to look at all things as working for our good (Romans 8: 27-29).

D. “Knowing that tribulation works patience” (Romans 5:3). The experience of the children of Israel shows the pertinence of Charles Spurgeon’s remark, “Tribulation in and of itself worketh petulance, unbelief, and rebellion. It is only by the sacred alchemy of grace that it is made to work in us patience.” Nevertheless, apart from tribulation and difficulty the virtue of godly patience, contentment even though tossed about, the sanctifying influence of suffering could not arise. Spurgeon fittingly observed, “We have need of patience, and here we see the way of getting it. It is only by enduring that we learn to endure, even as by swimming men learn to swim. You could not learn that art on dry land, nor learn patience without trouble.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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