by J. Randal Matheny, editor
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'” And the people of Israel did so. (Exodus 16:13-21, ESV; from Daniel Haynes Daily Meditation)
Manna. The people had never seen it before. They did not know what it was. So comes the question: why didn’t God tell them ahead of time?
Why did he send the manna with no prior explanation of how he was going to supply their nutritional needs?
All God had said was that in the morning they would be satisfied with bread. Probably in a general sense meaning food (so NLT). Not hardly what one would expect.
It was a sort of explanation — a promise that he would provide, but no word ahead of time about how it would come, what it would look like, how it should be prepared.
Granted, the Lord told Moses he was going to rain bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4). But there’s no indication that Moses passed that information on to the Israelites. So back to the question: why didn’t God tell them ahead of time?
For the moment, two possible reasons seem possible.
One, the Israelites’ lack of faith prevented them from knowing more. They were not privy to more information because they were in the complaining and blaming mode. Just as Jesus couldn’t say more to the Twelve because of their hard heads and preconceived ideas about the Kingdom.
The Lord was going to take care of faithless Israel (up to a point), but their hard hearts kept him from giving them a heads-up about what was to come. Doesn’t take much to draw the lesson out.
Two, some things just can’t be explained that are beyond our ken. Like heaven. For example, after John gets through describing heaven in the book of Revelation, what do we really know about what it will be like? Not much.
People ask all kinds of questions, unanswerable questions, about what heaven will be like and what we will do there and who we will know there. John uses metaphors and figures to describe it, but for all that, it is so far beyond our limited vision that there’s not much more that can be said. His description is certainly sufficient for us, but it really doesn’t go far.
Can’t you imagine Moses trying to explain manna to the Israelites, who stare at him with furrowed brows and incredulous looks? This flaky stuff comes down with the dew, and we’re supposed to go pick it up and plop it in the pan? “Sounds flaky to me, doesn’t it to you?” Maybe that’s where the phrase got started.
Even the eyewitness description doesn’t help us much who read about it afterwards. You have to see and taste it to appreciate it. (Even then, the Israelites grew tired of it in their constant yesterday-was-better frame of mind.)
On that first reason, God has told us, today, all he’s going to tell, so even our faithlessness won’t diminish the information we’re privy to in Scripture. But it will keep us from reading and knowing.
And, as far as the second reason to be applied, maybe we ought to quit with the questions of why and how and when, since they carry distant echoes of Israelite dissatisfaction.
The Lord has promised us he’ll get us to the finish line at the Jordan and carry us through to the promised land. So let’s leave the details to him.
And when the manna rains down, pray a prayer of thanks for a God who cares and provides.