What is it?

“So when the children 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, ‘This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat’ . . . And the house of Israel called its name Manna” (Exodus 16:15, 31 NKJV).

As one travels throughout the world there are many occasions when he or she may ask, “What is this?” It may be regarding a food, a drink, a piece of household furniture, a tool, or even a custom or behavior. There are many cultures in this world, each with its own history, traditions, and particular resources. It is not surprising that varying cultures have found different solutions to many of the same needs. One person’s familiar object may be completely strange to someone else.

Even in familiar circumstances we may have difficulty with precise identification. I recently cut down a dead tree at my home in the woods of Alabama. I had believed it to be an oak of some variety while it was alive, but when I went to cut it down after it had died I decided it was not an oak after all, but rather an elm. This was based on the bark which I compared to other trees nearby.

As I cut the fallen tree up, however, I again questioned my identification. The logs which I cut into fireplace lengths split more easily than elm usually does. The interior of the wood was not unlike some red oak that I have split.

If you are into trees you will know that there are several keys to identification of species, including the leaves, bark, blooms, seed, and the color and texture of the wood. When the tree in question has been dead for more than a year, leaves, blooms, and seed are obviously no longer available for inspection. This led to my confusion and hesitation.

You may be asking, “What difference does it make whether you know what kind of tree it was?” Well, first, I have that kind of inquiring mind (or curiosity, I suppose). I just like to know. But more practically, the kind of tree determines ease of splitting, rate of burning, efficiency as a heat source, length of time for the wood to cure and how long the wood will remain solid without rot or decay. Some kinds of trees are just not worth the trouble to cut up and try to use. Others need to be put at the front of the line, to be used as soon as possible.

When the Israelites left Egypt and fled into the wilderness they soon became hungry. When they cried out to God he responded by sending a wafer-like substance to fall upon the ground with the morning dew. They had never seen anything like it before, so they asked, “What is it?”

It is wise to find out what a substance is before beginning to eat it. Later in Israel’s history some prophets were making stew. One of them went out and gathered some gourd-like fruit and added it to the stew, only to discover that those fruits were inedible and probably poisonous. Fortunately, Elisha was present and he was able to purify the stew and make it safe to eat (2 Kings 4:38-41).

Proper identification extends to spiritual matters as well. John warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). John’s word “spirits” is clearly a reference to teachers or prophets who claim to speak by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Don’t just take their word for it, warned the apostle. Seek to establish the truth of their claim before you believe or follow what they teach.

Jesus specifically warned of false prophets at the beginning of his ministry. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). A tree may not change its bark, but men with evil motives can disguise their outward appearance. How does one know false teachers? Jesus said it is by their fruits. False doctrine will ultimately produce wrong conduct (Titus 1:10-16).

In this time of almost infinite communication and spread of information it is more important than ever to know who one can trust. Fake news, rumor, gossip, and outright lies proliferate. Now we simply must identify truth and those who proclaim it. And we must avoid and deny all others.


Several authors take Mike’s idea of asking what is it in The Right Kind of Christianity.

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