Humbling Food and Exalting Food
"And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know, that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live" (Deut. 8:3).
It is a great mercy of God that He sometimes deprives us of food to such an extent that we become extremely hungry. He did this to Israel after that favoured nation had been miraculously delivered from the bondage of Egypt through the passage of the Red Sea, with exultant rejoicing in God's redeeming grace and power. He could easily have provided the food they needed from the outset of their journey, but rather than this He allowed them to hunger, that is, to feel their deprivation sufficiently to stir within them serious exercise and concern. This concern came to the point of bitter complaint and murmuring, but in a certain sense this was good. Why? Because it brought out what was actually in their hearts.
God was humbling and proving them. This is essential discipline for every child of God. We must learn from the time of conversion that our history on earth is not to be a bed of roses (without the thorns!), but one in which the selfishness of the flesh within us must be checked and judged. And it needs to be exposed before we shall have any concern about judging it. However, when this fleshly selfishness was exposed by the complaining of unbelief, it is most striking that God did not reprove Israel, but in pure, marvellous graceanswered them, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you" (Ex. 16:4). When they were hungry enough to cry out for bread, God gave them bread. How true for us also! If He had first given them bread without their hungering, they might well have complained that they wanted something different, for the flesh in us invariably thinks it knows what we need better than God.
Manna is the food that is absolutely required for the believer's wilderness journey through a world that faith realises is a desolation.
What Is This Food?
What then does the manna symbolise? Being white, it pictures the perfect purity of the manhood of the Lord Jesus. Being small, it speaks of the innumerable details of His lowly character, His words, His deeds, His walk when He passed through this world which provided no source of help for Him. Being round, it speaks of the precious evenness of His entire life of lowly service. Being on the ground, it tells of His coming down in matchless humility to meet the needs of souls in lowly circumstances. Being connected with the dew speaks of the living freshness and power of the Holy Spirit by whom He is presented, the Spirit Himself withdrawing in order to focus all attention upon the blessed Son of Man. Its name "manna" meaning "What is it?" reminds us that, though He was in the world, "the world knew Him not." This food was exotic, from heaven itself, but the only adequate food for the wilderness. The preparing of it for use, either by baking or boiling it, would remind us of the heat of suffering through which the Lord Jesus has passed that He might be food appropriate to every circumstance of soul in the wilderness.
In Practical Experience How Is It Obtained?
It would easily have been possible for God to put the manna in every tent each morning, just as He provided a supply of meal for the widow woman who cared for Elijah (1 Kings 17:8). He could have provided it prepared and cooked on each person's plate, as the Lord Jesus had fish prepared for His disciples in John 21. But in perfect wisdom He had the manna fall round about the camp every morning except the Sabbath. To obtain it the people had to go out to where it was, and humble themselves low enough to gather it from the ground. A little child would find this more simple than an adult with stiff knees! Its smallness would require the more diligence in gathering it. They must gather only what was sufficient for the day, except on the sixth day, when twice as much was gathered to include its use on the seventh day, for none was to be found on that day.
To apply this to ourselves, let us remember the verse quoted at the beginning of this article. God's humbling Israel and giving them manna to eat was with the object that they might know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word of God. Only in God's Word shall we find this vitally necessary food. To obtain itwe musthumble ourselves and diligently search out the precious truth concerning the Lord Jesus in all the lowly relationships of His path on earth of devotion to His God and Father and of service to the needs of mankind. Every morning we need the food of God's Word to sustain us for the day. That Word directs our hearts and minds to the precious person of the Lord Jesus. If we find humbling, trying circumstances on earth, then it is deeply needful that we feed upon the One who has humbled Himself and borne reproach, sorrow and suffering in calm, tranquil faith, glorifying His God and Father.
There was a refreshing orderliness implied in this gathering. May we too learn the discipline of order in this matter, taking a particular time each morning for reading of the Word of God and prayer, for meditation and study. The amount of time need not be long, but consistent. A short time for each of these (reading, prayer, meditation and study), when done in humble communion with the Lord, will provide precious food for each day. This is gathering by labour, and by this the soul will increase. Yet the gathering is distinct from the eating. We may gather intellectually without the eating and digesting that makes the truth a vital part of ourselves. If we gather more than we eat, we cannot keep it till the next day: it will breed worms and stink. Let us gather just what we may assimilate. This process of spiritual digestion will take place through honest exercise of heart in lowly meditation.
The Old Corn Of The Land
"And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year" (Josh. 5:11-12).
The manna and the old corn of the land are so distinct that, for Israel, the one ceased when the other began. For us, they teach distinct truths, but typically speaking believers today are in the wilderness and the land at the same time, and therefore need both the food of the wilderness and that of the land, yet each in a different connection. The wilderness is the place of humiliation, and the land the place of exaltation. Though we find desolate, trying circumstances in our history here on earth, yet Ephesians teaches us that we have a place of great dignity as being "raised. up together, and made. (to) sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6). The entrance of Israel into the land of Canaan is typical of this, our present entry into heavenly places. God, in His divine sovereignty, sees us in this way. This is a sphere in which the food is of a different character. The old corn of the land therefore does not speak of Christ in humiliation, but Christ in His present exaltation, having triumphed over every enemy, and being set down at the right hand of God. Such food can lift up the heart with unspeakable delight. In fact, when first Israel ate of the old corn of the land, there isno mention of their having to do any gathering: it was evidently there for them to eat. In one way this is true for us also. God has done all the work by which this marvellous food is provided. We are the recipients totally by His grace, and feeding on this our hearts are filled with thankfulness, deep delight and praise. This is beautifully illustrated in Stephen when he looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. His heart expanded with unspeakable joy and his lips bore witness to the glory of his Lord (Acts 7:55-56).
However, when we see the Lord Jesus face to face in a day soon to come, while we shall be filled with deepest joy in feasting upon the greatness of the glory of His sublime exaltation, we shall never forget the precious reality of His lowly life of suffering and willing humiliation on earth. This is beautifully seen in Revelation 2:17, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna." This eating of the hidden manna involves the sweet, personal appreciation of the devoted child of God concerning the Lord Jesus in His life of devoted, lowly suffering in the world. What precious food indeed! We shall never forget this, though we shall not have the work of gathering the manna then. It has been hidden, laid up before God, to be remembered for eternity.
How wonderfully complementary are these two types of food! If the one helpsus in keeping rightly a place of lowliness on earth, the other lifts our hearts in sweet confidence before the face of God, to enjoy rightly the dignity of the place His grace has given us in Christ Jesus. As we take these things properly to heart, we shall be feeding on a well-balanced diet, which will produce and maintain a well-balanced character in an unbalanced world.