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What is the Physical and Spiritual Significance of Manna in the Bible?

Manna has both physical and spiritual significance in the Bible—not only in history but also in regard to our future.  We read in the Bible that when the Israelites left Egypt, conditions were harsh. They had to travel in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land, and food was scarce. The people complained because of hunger. They seemed to have forgotten all the miracles God had performed in Egypt, with the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea. So, God once again mercifully intervened miraculously by providing them with “manna,” which is also referred to as “bread from heaven” or “grain from heaven” or “angels’ food” (Exodus 16 and Psalm 78:24-25).  Moses also explained to the Israelites in Exodus 16:15 that it was “the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.” They called it Manna which literally means “what,” as the margin has it in verse 31 (compare also again verse 15).

One description of what Manna is composed of is found in Exodus 16:31: “And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” The appearance and usage was further described in Numbers 11:7-8, “… its color [was] like the color of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil.”

When it came to gathering the manna, God commanded the following in verses 16 and 17 of Exodus 16:

“‘“…Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.”’ And the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need.”’

This was not to be a greedy and selfish approach to gathering food and also by not hoarding it, but it also showed an act of sharing, making sure that everyone in the tent had enough to eat. It also showed God’s willingness to provide each one with what was individually needed. They were not to leave any of it till morning. When some disobeyed, it bred worms and stank (verses 19-20).

In addition, God gave very specific instructions on how to gather the manna, when the weekly Sabbath was concerned, as He explained to Moses in verses 4 and 5:

“‘…Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.’”

They gathered it every morning according to their needs and on the sixth day they gathered twice as much, for the seventh day was the Sabbath. We read in verse 24 that they laid it up on the sixth day till Sabbath morning, and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. God made it clear what they should do in verses 25-26 and 29-30:

“‘…Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none… ‘…the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.”

They had to learn HOW to keep the Sabbath. It was to be a sign between God and them, and it was also to remind them that God was there to provide, if they obeyed, for Moses said in verses 32-35, “‘…This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: “Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”’ And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.’ As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”

Once they entered the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey—the manna ceased. Joshua 5:11-12 says: “And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Now the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.”

The lesson for us today should be that God can provide miracles anytime He pleases, but He also expects that we obey Him. After all, we should be thankful that He would do that for us in the first place. He will make sure to sustain our physical needs.

This, however, shouldn’t be our highest priority for we also know that everything we have physically is only temporary, and it is the spiritual aspect which is the most important and everlasting. Jesus Christ made this clear numerous times when He compared Himself and God’s Way of Life with the spiritual bread of life, especially after miraculously feeding the five thousand. He explained that the physical bread shouldn’t be the primary focus. When He told them that the manna under Moses was not the “true” bread from heaven, but that the Father was willing to give that true bread to them, they wanted Christ to always give them “this bread,” apparently still thinking that it was some kind of physical bread. He pointed out to them in John 6:32-35, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’”

Unfortunately, the people didn’t understand the spiritual aspect of what He was trying to convey and rather focused more on their physical needs instead of their spiritual salvation. Christ said in verses 47-51, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

We can see just how important this is during the Passover service as a remembrance of His death when the properly baptized members of God’s Church partake of the unleavened bread and wine which symbolize Christ’s body and His blood, reminding us of His Sacrifice through which we can obtain physical and spiritual healing and forgiveness of sin, which is vital for our goal to inherit eternal salvation (Leviticus 23:5; Luke 22:14-20; John 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 11:20-29).

There will be a terrible time of death, misery, and destruction all over the world in the very near future, known as the Great Tribulation, and God will be intervening supernaturally for His people who keep and do His commandments and are faithful to Him. They will be brought to a specific place recognized in the Bible as a place of safety (compare Joel 3:14-16; Revelation 12:14-17).

God tells us not to worry as to how we will get there since He will take care of that, as well as our essential needs for survival, which also include food and water. He did the same under Moses, as we read in Nehemiah 9:20-21: “You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out And their feet did not swell.” God is not limited, and there is no reason why He couldn’t do this again, as Isaiah 33:16 indicates.

To those who do overcome until the end—to those who have listened and obeyed and lived righteously—God “will give some of the hidden manna to eat” (Revelation 2:17). Christ is speaking here in spiritual terms, referring to Himself—the bread of life—and pointing out the close Family relationship in God’s Kingdom which we will have with Him and the Father. To the world this knowledge is hidden, but to those who have been called out of this world, it has been revealed. It should be very comforting for us to know that God is always there to provide in physical and, much more importantly, in spiritual ways, and that we have nothing to fear as nothing is impossible to Him.

Lead Writer: Michael Link