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MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 16:1-3
We find the Israelites now in a very important and interesting stage of their great journey between Elim and Sinai; the former the place of joyous rest, and the latter the place of stern law. This period of their march is marked by much ingratitude, and by the abundant mercy of God. The Israelites are murmuring for want of bread. We observe—
I. That people will murmur immediately after the happiest experiences of life. The children of Israel had left Elim as the last stage of their march; they had only just left the wells of water and the three score and ten palm trees, and yet immediately after this they commence to murmur against the servant of God. And so it is with men in our own time, they will murmur after the richest mercies have been permitted to them.
1. The murmurings of Israel were general. The complaint seems to have been expressed by the princes of the people as well as by the people themselves. The elders murmured. We should certainly have thought that they would not have been guilty of such conduct,—they ought to have known better, and ought to have set the people a better example. They ought to have helped Moses in this perplexity. The best men, and the most useful, are sometimes given to the sin of complaining against the Divine providence of daily life. The lack of temporal resource awakens them to discontent; man is very sensitive on the side of his physical nature.
2. The murmurings of Israel were ungrateful. The Israelites had just seen the goodness and severity of God in their own deliverance and in the destruction of the Egyptians. The wrecked army ought to have made them afraid of murmuring against the Author of such desolation: their own safety ought to have banished all thought of distrust from their minds. But the judgments and mercies of life do not deter men from discontent; the most afflicted and the most wealthy alike share this unholy sentiment. Even after the bitter has been made sweet, the soul will indulge ungenerous thoughts of God. What ingratitude for a son to murmur against his father, for a scholar to murmur against his teacher, and for a slave to murmur against his benevolent emancipator; yet this is but a faint emblem of the vast ingratitude men show to God day by day. How soon the mercy of God is forgotten; we soon forget our Red Sea deliverances,—the mercies of the night are forgotten in the morning. If we forget the Divine mercy to us, we shall be sure to indulge a murmuring spirit.
3. The murmurings of Israel were inconsiderate. The Israelites did not think that they were in a condition of life in which they should expect some hardship. They were only freed slaves travelling in a wilderness. Their hope was in the future, in the promised Canaan. And so all the murmurings of men should be silenced by the fact that this life is probationary, and that it is only preparatory to another, in which every real need will be eternally supplied. Discontent is an evidence that we centre our thoughts too much on this world. How inconsiderate are men in their murmurings; some want bread, some want rain, some want gold, and others want social position, as though it would be well for each to have that which he desired. Want is a salutary discipline. If we were considerate of the providence of God, of the discipline of life, and of the welfare of others, there would be much less grumbling in the world.
4. The murmurings of Israel were Divinely regarded. God heard the murmurings of Israel and sent them food. It would have been better if prayer had done the work which seems to have been accomplished by discontent. God sees the discontent of the soul. He sometimes answers its cry in anger, and sometimes in compassion. How mercifully He bears with the murmurings of men!
II. That people will murmur against those who are rendering them the greatest service. The Israelites thus murmured against these two ministers of God. These men of God had only a little time ago brought them out of bend-age, and given them a freedom in which they greatly rejoiced. And ministers have often to contend with murmuring congregations. The things regarded as joys at first are afterwards by discontent turned into sorrows. At first conversion is welcomed as a great blessing, but when the difficulties of the wilderness are experienced, then the soul commences to murmur at the truth which set it free. Men often grumble at the agencies which have given them freedom. They think more of secondary agencies than they ought, they think more of Moses and Aaron than of the God whose servants they are. This is cruel and foolish, for the secondary agents are in need of bread quite as much as the multitude they lead, and cannot produce it without Divine warrant.
1. Thus the conduct of Israel was unreasonable.
2. This conduct of Israel was cruel and culpable.
3. This conduct of Israel is often repeated in the world now. And thus discontented people often murmur at those who do not deserve it; they often murmur to those who can render them no assistance; they often act as though there were no God to help them; and they present a sad spectacle of weakness to those who behold them in this unhappy mood.
(1.) They are unmindful of happy memories—of freedom from slavery.
(2.) They are unmindful of helpful service—Moses and Aaron had aided them in their march.
(3.) They are unmindful of happy destiny—they were being led to Canaan. Yet they murmured at the men who were thus befriending them. We are not to interpret our life work by the murmurings of others. Discontented people do not know their true friends.
III. That people when murmuring often manifest a degrading inclination of soul. “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to the full” (Exodus 16:3). As though they had said, We care not for our deliverance out of Egyptian bondage, we are no better even under His guidance than we were under the rule of Pharaoh.
1. Thus the Israelites were blind to the advantages of their new condition of life. They thought that they had not bettered their condition by exchanging Egypt for the wilderness. They measured their welfare by their temporal circumstances; they could not see through these a sublime improvement in their method of life. How many men measure their success in life by the condition of their flesh-pots. They prefer well-filled flesh-pots and slavery to hanger and freedom. And often is it thus with the Christian; he is rendered sad by the difficulties of the wilderness-path to heaven. He experiences longings after the old life of the soul. Then there were times of enjoyment. Then food was abundant. There were not all these constant difficulties which are now realised. True, sin was a hard service, and at times was followed by severe mental anguish, but it was soon appeased and removed, and thus the young Christian is tempted in gloomy mood to think the present incomparable to the past. He sees not the worth of moral freedom. He sees not the glory of being led by God. He sees not the shield by which he is protected. He sees not the splendid destiny awaiting him. If he saw these things as he ought, neither a temporary trial, nor the flesh-pots of his sinful life, would lead him to cast a longing look to the past. Satan often tempts the soul to apostacy, by presenting the past life of sin in all its attractiveness, and by magnifying the difficulties of the Christian journey.
2. Thus the Israelites were in danger of a degrading and cowardly retreat to their old condition of life. If they had returned to Egypt, how degrading and cowardly would have been their conduct. What an utter lack of confidence would they have shown in the Supreme Being. And if men, who have once entered into the freedom of the Christian life, return to their old habits, they will indeed degrade their manhood, and beat a cowardly retreat, which will gladden hell, and which will awaken the ridicule of the world. God has provided for the pure soul something better than the flesh-pots of its old life. Some men always make the past brighter than the present; they love the flesh-pots.
IV. That people when murmuring often anticipate evils which never will happen. “For ye have brought us forth into the wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). Here was unbelief on the part of Israel. They had no more trust in God than to suppose that He was making all these deliverances for them simply to lead them to a grave. Truly God does not save men to destroy them. When men are converted it is that they may be made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, and not that they may perish ultimately in their sins. Here was hopelessness on the part of Israel. The Divine help they had received in the past should have made them hopeful in the moment of trial. Men want to be more hopeful in their spiritual life than to imagine that they are going to die in this way; they have everything to inspire hope. And thus many murmuring Christians anticipate perils they will never experience; a murmuring spirit fills life with fictitious evils, it will dig graves in the most fragrant gardens. LESSONS:—
1. Let us have more respect for the joys of the Christian life than to murmur at its sorrows.
2. Let us be too grateful to the helpers of our spiritual life than to grumble at them.
3. Let us never cast a degrading look at the fancied joys of the old life of the soul.
4. Let us look to God rather than to our difficulties.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 16:1. Comfortable stations in this life God will have His Church to leave (Matthew 17:4.)
Dreadful and barren deserts does God appoint for His Church, instead of better places, for trial.
The saddest deserts are but the way of the Church into the mountain of God.
The days of the travel and redemption of the Church are punctually remembered by God.
Exodus 16:2-3. Multitudes of sinners are usually stirring up all to murmur upon changes.
Wilderness trials put unbelievers in the visible Church to the test.
God and His ministers suffer all indignities from unbelieving sinners.
Unbelieving sinners are ready to imprecate destruction on themselves in time of temptation.
God’s most gracious acts are changed by the wicked to be their destruction.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Elim-Sinai! Exodus 16:1. The scene of the miracles of quails and manna was strikingly appropriate. Professor Palmer in his Desert of the Exodus gives a vivid description of the scene and sufferings. Familiar as we had grown with desert scenes, we were not prepared for such utter and oppressive desolation as this. As far as the eye could reach, there stretched a dull, flat, sandy waste—unrelieved by any green or living thing. The next morning he and his friends again set out, passing over a tract of sand equally dreary with that of the day before. It was, however, covered with a sombre carpet of hard, black flints; thus affording a firmer foothold for the pedestrian. But alike on the sand as on the rock, the sun shone with a fierce glare—scorching and blistering their hands and faces. Such no doubt was the experience of Israel. And such is the Christian’s life-path. Believers journey along bare sandy wastes, or bleak rocky plains; with the burning sun of worldly persecution. No wonder they were weak, those Israel hosts. The Lord pitieth His children. He pitied Israel, when, as the Psalmist says, hungry and thirsty their soul fainted in them.
Divine Ways! Exodus 16:1. We learn lessons ofttimes when the head is low; just as, when the sun is set, the stars come out in their blessed beauty, and darkness shows us worlds of light we never saw by day. In the glad summer time, when the leaves are on the trees, we go into the woodlands, and we sport among their branches. They arch over us, hiding from us the other world, and causing us to revel in the beauty and blessedness of this. But the blasts of winter come and scatter the leaves; then the light of heaven comes in between, to remind us that our sufficiency is of God. No doubt during the five or six weeks after the Red Sea Triumph, the host had gradually been losing sight of God—slowly but too surely forgetting their entire dependence upon heaven. So the supplies run short, and Israel is reminded that man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Such are the ways of God in the Christian life. We begin to forget our dependence on the great Deliverer; so He arres’s our sources of sustenance—stays the flowing channels of grace—stops the sunshine in the heavens—and strips our trees of their bright green and glossy foliage. Then we remember what helpless creatures we are, and are reminded that our sufficiency is of God.
“With shattered pride, and prostrate heart,
We seek the sad-forgotten God.”
Human Murmurs! Exodus 16:2. It has been suggested that murmuring must have been a malady characteristic of the Hebrew people, or else a disease peculiar to the desert. They were always murmuring. And such is man! The noxious weed—the root of bitterness, with its cleaving burrs and envenomed spines, has not become a fossil-flora. It is still only too prevalent. Of an Englishman, the foreigner says that it is his nature to grumble, and he himself claims it as his prerogative. Alas! it is man’s propensity. As Dr. Todd tells of the farmer, he murmured when the rain fell because it would injure the wheat—and when the sun shone because it would damage the rye—and when the air was cold because it would nip the grass. He thought himself the one especial target at whose prosperity and peace Nature was bent on a perpetual flight of arrowy shafts. So Israel! And so man! He forgets not only that others feel the pointed barb, but also that there is a design in it all. Moreover, murmuring never travels alone. He is an invader followed by a molley host of plunderers. As Thomas Brooks puts it, murmuring is a sin that breeds and brings forth many sins at once; and so doth the River Nile bring forth many crocodiles, and the scorpion many serpents. On the edge of some plantations we read a notice:—“Mantraps and spring-guns! “Murmuring and peevish discontent is such a tangled thicket, closely set with guns and snares. So Israel found to his cost:—“Unto whom I sware in my wrath, that they should not enter into my rest.” Christians should be the last to murmur.
“As brooks, and torrents, rivers, all
Increase the gulf in which they fall,
Such thoughts, by gathering up the rills
Of lesser griefs, spread real ills;
And with their gloomy shades conceal
The landmarks hope would else reveal.”
Backslidings! Exodus 16:3. Watching the golden eagle, as he basks in the noon’s broad-light—balances with motionless wings in the high vault of heaven—or rushes forth like the thunderbolt to meet the clouds on the pathway of the blast, can you conceive that he would give up his free and joyous life to drag out a weary bondage in a narrow and stifling eage? Would not that kingly bird—that cloud-cleaving bird—prefer death to slavery. Foolish Israel! They longed to give up their freedom for the foul bondage of Egypt. How often God’s spiritual Israel are thus tempted to go back to the serfdom of sin!—
“Shall I back to Egypt go,
To my flesh corruption sow!
No, with sin I cannot dwell;
Sin is worse then death and hell.”
Exodus 16:13. Quails.] Heb. שלו. “so called from its fatness” (Gesenius). According to all accounts, the “quail” abounds in those regions.
Exodus 16:15. Manna.] It is evidently premature to take the Heb. מן as a proper name in this place, although afterwards it became that. Our choice lies probably between the two renderings given in the margin of the authorised version. “What is this?” or, “This is a portion.” Kalisch and Young decide for the former; Davies adopts the latter. Kalisch enlarges considerably on various natural productions analogous to the substance on which the Israelites were sustained, and which he distinguishes as “air-manna” and “tree-manna;” but, after all, he has to admit that a miracle is here recorded. Dr. Tregelles (in Ges. Heb. Lex. on the word) says: “No one who simply credits the inspired history of the giving of the manna can doubt that it was something miraculously given to the Israelites, and that it differed in its nature from anything now known.” The following are all the occurrences of the word “manna” in the Old and New Testaments: Exodus 16:15; Exodus 16:31; Exodus 16:33; Exodus 16:35; Numbers 11:6-7; Numbers 11:9; Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 8:16; Joshua 5:12; Nehemiah 9:20; Psalms 78:24; John 6:31; John 6:49; John 6:58; Hebrews 9:4; Revelation 2:17. The type was “hidden” in “the golden pot” inside the ark; was carried into Canaan, and preserved there as a memorial of the heavenly food so long supplied in the desert; for which, however, there was no further need, and therefore it was no longer given, and what was preserved was not “eaten.” The antitype—Christ, the true heavenly bread—is eaten both in the desert (John 6:0) and in Paradise (Revelation 2:0). Christ as the bread of life can never be superseded.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 16:4-21
THE FALLING OF THE MANNA
It is indeed an oft-repeated saying that life is a pilgrimage, but how seldom do we thoroughly realise the entire meaning of these words. We seldom realise the fact that physically we are passing from one stage to another, from infancy to childhood, from childhood to manhood, and from manhood to old age. The bright dreams of childhood are for ever gone. The privileges and difficulties of school life are now but a recollection. The business activities of life have broken upon us in all their stern reality. And it may be that the dim vision and sombre shades of old age are upon us. Thus life no sooner opens its petals to the sun than it passes into the grave from whence it sprang. We have physically no continuing city here. Intellectually, life is a pilgrimage. In our mental life we are constantly passing from one stage to another, from ignorance to dawning knowledge, from dawning knowledge to a perception of the infinity before us, and so on until the part knowledge of earth shall break into the unveiled splendour of truth in heaven. And morally, life is a pilgrimage. Our souls are ever travelling from one experience to another; it may be from one bondage to another, or from a wretched past to a pure and sublime future. All pure souls are migratory. They rest not long in one condition. They prefer entering upon the mysteries and visions of the future to lingering on the things and scenes around them; they are inspired by a holy desire after progress. They press forward to the Canaan of being, to the land flowing with milk and honey. And thus the life of man in every department is one great pilgrimage, often tiring and trying, but never far from the presence and leadings of the great God, otherwise the pain and mystery of the pilgrimage would be more than we could endure. God is before the life of each one of us, whether we recognise Him or not. That in the pilgrimage of life there is a wondrous interchange of glad and sad experiences, all consistent with true progress. The Israelites had only a little while ago stood in terror on the banks of the Red Sea; they had murmured in disappointment at the bitter waters of Marah; they had rested in joy at the wells and under the welcome shade of Elim; and now they hunger in the wilderness of Sin. Thus we see through what a diversity of experience they were brought, both hopeful and sad, in the line of their progress. And progress is always thus characterised. There is no progress without pain; the progress of the body into the full vigour of life, the advancement of the mind into the heritage of knowledge, and the effort of the soul to attain its high destiny, is inseparable from anguish. In the pathway of each advancing spirit there will be many bitter waters, there will come a time when it will hunger in the wilderness of Sin. But if progress is a pain it is also a joy, it leads past Elim as well as through the wilderness of Sin, and though the transition from one to the other may be unwelcome, it is permitted in the mercy of God, it is a healthful discipline, and it will render the soul all the richer in sublime experience of Divine help. And thus joy and sorrow alternate in a progressive life. Monotony of feeling is misery to a great soul. Some men always feel alike. They have no great tide within which breaks into billows on the shore of their souls. Their life is stagnant. Sorrow lends to joy its richest meaning, gives to it its rainbow hue, and places in its hand the instrument from whence comes its sweetest music. It is part of the complement of the inner life, and without it a great joy would be impossible. Both joy and sorrow exercise an improving ministry toward human life, the former as the day, in which the ordinary work of duty is accomplished, and the latter as the night, in which the stars of promise burn brilliantly, and the gentle dews descend upon the soul. Sorrow often reveals men to themselves, and gives them in their murmuring mood a hint of the corruption yet remaining within their soul. We observe—
I. That the temporal supplies of life are the gift of God. “Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you.”
1. This supply of bread was miraculous. Some would have us believe that the supply of manna in the wilderness was a natural phenomenon; they tell us of the manna of Arabia which was sold in apothecaries’ shops. They say that out of the earth there issued a certain sweet vapour, which, being drawn up by the heat of the sun, was purged from its earthliness, and made pure, then with the cold of the night it was hardened, and before morning fell upon the earth like dew, and so was kept for man. They say it was small, white, sweet, and that it fell with the dew. But whether this wondrous kind of food or medicine was known at the time of the falling of the manna we are not careful to inquire; we are certain it could not have been the bread which is here said to have come from heaven. The manna on which Israel fed was previously announced by God to Moses, was independent of all the conditions of climate or weather, continued in great abundance for forty years, fell not on the Sabbath, and ceased when it was no longer needed. Surely here, if anywhere, we must recognise the miraculous hand of God. In all this we have a type of things spiritual. Christ is the true manna of the soul, and is not He a miraculous gift? He came down from heaven. He came into the world after a miraculous fashion, and was in Himself the highest embodiment of miracle. Have not men endeavoured to explain His Person, His work, and His life on natural hypothesis? Have they not said that He was the product of the age in which He lived, and that all the apparent grandeur of His life was attributable more to the superstitions of the folk then living than to the inherent Divinity of His own soul? But as the manna was not the outcome of the earth on which it was found, as it was not the outcome of the physical laws of the universe, neither was Christ the product of the earth on which He trod, or the imagined hero of a deluded people. Fancied manna cannot feed men, and the natural manna of the world cannot nourish the immortal soul; hence if Christ had not been what He professed to be, the Divine Saviour of men, He could not have satisfied their moral nature, He could not have won their confidence; their soul-hunger would have proved Him false. Does Christ satisfy your soul in all the extent of its need? if so, this is a proof to you far stronger than any logical argument could be, that He is what He professes to be, and that He is, in a unique and unfailing sense, from heaven. Was the manna white, and was not Christ innocent? Was the manna small, and was not Christ small amongst men? He was not found amongst the Herods and the Caesars, but amongst the humble and the poor. He was despised and rejected of men. Was the manna sweet, and is not Christ sweeter than honey and the honeycomb? Was the manna round, and is not Christ without termination in His life and resources?
2. This supply of bread was adapted to the need of Israel. The Israelites are in need of something to sustain their lives, and, unless it is speedily sent, they will perish in the wilderness. What course did the Divine Being pursue? Did He cause beautiful flowers to spring up around the starving people? Did He rain pearls from the skies? Did He light up the landscape with unusual glow, to charm the sufferers out of the thought of their peril? No. He sent them bread, which was suited to the oldest as well as to the youngest, and in sufficient quantity to supply the want of all. And this is the way in which the Divine Being responds to the need of man. He does not mock it. He does not disappoint it. He meets it in the best and wisest manner. God supplies the temporal need of the universe. The eyes of all living wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their meat in due season, &c. God gives the world its bread. You would not think so, though, to look out upon the conduct of men. Some men deny His existence. Some profane His name. The great multitude reject His rule; and thousands downright abuse the gifts of His hand. When the Great of the earth spread a banquet, they are approached with respect, they are courted by favour, and all sit together in happiness and joy; not one discordant voice is heard. But, alas! the munificence of Heaven is met in a very different spirit. I say to every rebel soul, You are fed by God; and I ask, if you do not owe Him something of gratitude? Is it wise to reject Him who could in a moment hurry your life into the grave? Men look to the fields and say, “Thou hast given me corn;” they look to the hills and say, “Thou hast given me water;” they look to the seas and say, “Thou hast brought me merchandise;” and they look to their own industry and say, “Thou art my stay.” But who clothed the smiling fields with corn? who caused the silvery rill to flow? who meted out the great waters? and who gave thee thy brain and thine hand? You say, “I sowed the seed.” Yes; but who made it grow? You say, “The sun.” But who kindled the fires of that central orb? We need to be more spiritually-minded in the reception of the ordinary gifts of life, to look through secondary causes to the great First Cause of all our temporal good. And does not the Divine Being equally meet our moral need? As the Israelites were in need of bread to preserve them from starvation, so was not mankind morally in great need of Christ? The soul was, indeed, perishing of hunger, and then it was that Christ was given to appease it. The need was great, man could not satisfy the cravings of his moral nature,—the philosophy and the conventional doctrine of the old teachers were exhausted and vain; and in this moment of the world’s unspoken anguish, the Bread of Life was given. “When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. Christ is suited to all; has enough for all.
3. This supply of bread was undeserved by Israel. When the Israelites began to feel their need of food they commenced to murmur. They were murmuring against Moses, and in reality against the God he represented. Thus we see how the temporal perplexities of life test men, and often reveal the hidden corruption of the heart. Many who would sing loudly and joyously the hymn at the banks of the Red Sea, and who might imagine that they would no longer sin against God, and that all evil was removed from their hearts, would find that there was unsuspected evil within them. Trial often makes terrible revelations to men of their inward heart; it is often as the surprise in nature, which suddenly opens up to the vision a lonely and rugged path which before had been unobserved. These people were murmuring; would it not have been better if they had been praying? The former could not avail them much, the latter would. Many men in trouble murmur when they ought to pray. And yet, strange to say, these murmurings were answered, and apparently discontent had the same effect as devotion. But it was only in outward appearance that the effect was the same; inwardly and really it was very different. The manna came the same, but the inward feeling of Israel was not what prayer would have made it. If they had substituted prayer for murmuring, their hearts would have been penitent instead of hard,—thankful instead of dubious. We should always regard not merely the outward answer to prayer, but also the inward feeling which is awakened by it, else we may imagine that it is as wise to murmur as to pray. A murmuring soul may get bread; a praying soul will get bread and grace too. This shows that all our mercies are not of merit, but of the Divine compassion,—we do not get them because we deserve, but because without them we should die. We should not have been surprised if an angel near had withdrawn his gleaming weapon and smote the rebels dead; or if the earth had opened to swallow them up. But God’s ways are not as our ways, nor are His thoughts as our thoughts. God crowns the thankless with His mercy; of this we have abundant evidence every day. There is great encouragement here for the penitent; for if God responded to the cry of discontent, will He not much more to the cry of penitence? And was not Christ an undeserved gift? When He came to Bethlehem, did the world deserve Him? The world did not ask for Him. It was murmuring in its sin, and knew not where to look for relief. And when He came He was rejected and despised of men. And do we deserve Him? We have neglected Him; and even if we have yielded to Him it is after long entreaty, and in but a partial degree. We none of us deserved to be saved from sin and hell, and our salvation is of the infinite mercy of God.
II. That the temporal supplies of life necessitate the timely labour of man. Thus we see that God rained manna from the heavens, but the Israelites had to gather it, or they would perish. It is not the way of God to feed men independent of their own industry. God does His part in giving man what he could not otherwise obtain, and then he must collect and use the gifts thus bestowed. We see this in everyday life. God makes the great mountains, and man digs into them to obtain their treasures; God metes out the ocean, and man builds ships by which to navigate it; God gives intellect and sympathy, and men must solve the problem and compassionate woe. And thus in the conduct of the universe man is a co-worker with God. It is in this co-operation that he develops his best genius, and that he realises true dignity. If it had been the way of Heaven to give the world the manna, without any toil on its part, the world would have been lacking in its greatest men, in its richest biographies, and in all those qualities which ennoble wherever they are seen. We should not have had Stephenson. We should not have had Newton. We should not have had Howard; or perhaps we might have had them, but their names would have been without meaning, and their lives without greatness. There would have been no manna on the fields of civilisation, philanthropy, and science for them to have gathered. It is well that the world has to gather its own manna, for in gathering manna it not only gathers food, but appetite to enjoy it, conscience to approve it, and industry to consecrate it. A man who gathers his own manna likewise gathers innumerable blessings with it. This is true physically, mentally, and spiritually. It would be the ruin of the universe if its manna were gathered for it. Industry would lack inspiration. Life would lack motive. And so it is morally. We must gather the spiritual manna. As we have the iron in the mountain, the pearls in the ocean, the gold in the mine, and the corn in the fields, so we have Christ in the ordinances, Christ in the promises, Christ in the Bible, Christ in the pulpit, and Christ in the biographies of the good; but Christ in the Bible is of more use to you than gold in the mine. He must be gathered by all the best energies of the soul. Then only will He become the nourishment of our moral nature. Ah, yes! This spiritual manna is all around us, but few gather it. The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few. Have you gathered any manna to-day?
1. Men must gather diligently. We can imagine how diligently the Israelites would watch for the first opportunity, and how eagerly would they embrace it, to collect their needed supplies. Some would be up and out with the first touch of morning light, and others would be seen leaving their tents just as the hot rays of the sun were melting the manna. In every community there are diligent and idle men. God hates idleness. In the world to-day we find men diligently gathering the manna of secular life. They are up at it long before the burning sun removes their opportunity. Would that they were as diligent in gathering the manna of the soul. We even find that the men who work hardest to feed the body, sometimes manifest the greatest indolence in reference to the cravings of the soul. They would not let a day pass without secular toil, but they let years pass without moral activity. Be diligent in seeking Christ and in reading the Scriptures.
2. Men must gather early. The Israelites were to go out early in the morning and gather the manna, before the sun came and melted it. They were to take time while time served. The early morning is the best time for gathering the manna of the body and also the manna of the soul. Would not the Israelites find the air more balmy, the scene more calming, and nature more sportive in the early morn? Men who work in the morning get nature’s richest benediction. And no morning should pass away without gathering the spiritual manna. When the busy world is quiet, and when only a stray Israelite is seen, then is the time to commune with God, and to prepare the soul for the moral wear and tear of the day. And we would say to the young, Commence early to gather manna; if you work hard in early manhood, you will not want in old age. But, above all, gather Christ in the early morning of life, when the soul is fresh and fragrant with early dew and flower. The mercy of God falls early near the soul, it is there long before we go to seek it.
3. Men must gather constantly. The Israelites did not gather manna one day and then neglect it a day or two. They gathered every morning, else they would have experienced want, and finally, they would have perished. And if men wish to obtain temporal prosperity, it will not do to neglect business a day or two in the week. My brother, must not the spiritual manna be constantly gathered? Will it feed your soul to-day to know that you received Christ a week ago? Some people are very fitful in their moral gathering,—one day they are out early seeking manna, and then they neglect it for a week. Is it to be wondered that they have a weak spiritual life. The supply is constant. The manna lasted all through the wilderness journey. The Divine compassion fails not. His mercy is everlasting. Christ is an eternal Saviour, and the soul of man needs Him every hour. Is it not foolish and unwise to deprive our souls of the bread of heaven when it falls at our tent regularly every morning?
4. Men must gather trustfully. When the Israelites gathered the manna, they had no misgiving as to its continuance day by day. When they closed the tent at night they had not a doubt but that it would be ready for them in the morning. They doubted not the providence of God. They were not anxious in reference to it. The manna came down from the heavens without the intervention of natural agencies, even at night, when Israel was asleep, and was found with the dew in the morning. How could they doubt such a Providence as this? We should be trustful of God in reference to our temporal resources. His providence is ever active for our good, even at night when all is dark and silent. The grass grows at night. The fruits grow at night. Night does not interrupt the munificent operations of God. If He then causes all things thus to minister, independent of our activity, to our support, we ought to be trustful of Him. We should remember that if all the natural sources of prosperity fail, He can rain bread from the skies, or send the raven with it. It is the design of Providence that men should trust it day by day. The faithfulness of God is great. The clothes of Israel did not wax old, their shoes did not wear out, the water of the rock followed them, and the manna failed them not. The same providence is over us now, and therefore we need not fear. And we must be trustful from day to day in reference to the supplies of the soul. If God gives daily bread to thy body, do you think He will fail thy soul? No. He will every morning keep thee well supplied with grace, thy robe of righteousness shall not wax old, thy shoes of service shall never wear out, and the influence of the Divine Spirit shall be your daily portion. Then trust in God. The manna ceased when they got to Canaan. The manna of the soul shall be sweeter and richer to our taste in heaven. Then the gathering will be no effort. The soul will know no fear about the morrow.
III. That the temporal supplies of life should be acquired in proportion to human need. “Gather of it, every man according to his eating; an omer for every man.” Appetite is the law of universal gathering. This is true in the commercial realm of life; the gaining of wealth depends much upon the desire with which it is pursued. This is true mentally; a man will never gain more knowledge than he has an appetite for. And this is true spiritually; a man will never get more good out of the Bible and out of the ministry of the Word than he has appetite for. Men say “That sermon did not feed me; that service was barren to my soul,” and they blame the preacher; it would often be far more to the point if they blamed their own lack of appetite. They will always take away from the sanctuary in proportion to the hunger they bring. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” The design of this injunction was to prevent greed and to awaken a sense of dependence on God. The manna was not to be hoarded. Wealth is ruinous when it makes a man imagine that he is independent of God, and that he has got such an abundance of supplies that he can feed himself. Men cannot be independent in this world. It is not proper that they should. The wealthiest are as dependent upon God as are the humblest. Hoarded wealth is useless. Wealth is only truly useful as it supplies need, and as it leads to benevolence. Truly a man is worth what he uses and what he gives. What he hoards he wastes. Hoarded wealth is apt to breed moral reptiles, covetousness, ambition, pride, loss of moral sensibility, and loss of self-respect. If riches increase set not your heart upon them. Aim to be rich toward God. You cannot hoard grace. You must go out and gather it every day. Hoarded grace soon evaporates (Exodus 16:17-18). “Some gathered more and some less,” &c. The richest man only gets his living, and does not the poor do the same? Daniel looks as well and happy upon the pulse and water as those who feed upon the King’s allowance. God will make the little of a believing soul stretch to an omer. There was exact sufficiency for all. And so there is in Christ. The vilest have enough. The best have none to spare.
IV. That in gathering the temporal supplies of life men must have respect to the commandments and sacred institutions of God. “And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning (Exodus 16:23). Thus we see that God has great regard for His Sabbath, the day hallowed by Himself at the end of the week of creation. Man must not pursue his secular engagements on this day of rest. He has six days for himself, and God claims the seventh. The Israelites lost nothing by their Sabbath rest, the manna came in double quantity the day before. Men lose nothing by keeping the Sabbath. Its rest is sweet and invigorating. Its contemplation is helpful to the life of the soul. This dispensation is more spiritual than the Jewish, and therefore the day should be regarded with greater reverence of spirit. There is here a contrast between the manna of Israel and the manna of the soul; the former could not be gathered on the Sabbath, the latter may be collected in largest quantities on that day. The pure soul can get a rich feast of Christ on the Sabbath, and anticipates the richer feast in heaven.
1. Have you gathered and eaten this manna? Manna on the ground is no use to you. Manna in the tent is profitless. Manna in the soul alone will save you. Have you eaten? If not, what neglect! No excuse can be given. Do you turn away from this spiritual manna? There must be some disease. Send for the Great Physician.
2. What return are you making to God for the gift of this manna? Are you giving to Him a due proportion of your substance? Does His food make you strong for service? You have had the manna for many years; you must make the best return you can, else your confusion at the last will be terrible.
THE MANNA AS TYPICAL OF CHRIST
We have every right to regard the manna which fell around the tents of Israel as typical of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the inspired testimony of the apostle (1 Corinthians 10:3). Our Lord has expressly and minutely applied the nourishment afforded by the manna to the virtue of His atoning sacrifice (John 6:32-51). We observe—
I. That as the manna met a great need in the case of Israel, so Christ met a great need in the experiences of the human soul. The Israelites had exhausted all the food which they had brought with them out of Egypt, and were in the wilderness without any means of sustenance. They had no bread, and knew not how to obtain any. They were helpless. They were murmuring. They might soon perish. Thus they were in great need of the manna. And did not Christ meet an equally strong need of the human soul? The world had exhausted all its means of moral sustenance. It had nothing to appease its moral hunger. It was perishing for lack of spiritual knowledge. Then Christ came and fed it with the bread of life. The soul cannot do without Christ in the wilderness of life; without Him it must perish. He is adapted to our moral need, and can alone give permanent satisfaction to the better desires of man. Christ is the only food of the soul. Creeds cannot nourish it. Sin cannot feed it.
II. That as the manna was not understood by Israel, so Christ was not understood by those to whom He came. The name of manna was not given by God Himself, but by the children of Israel. “And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was.” It is most probable that the word signifies “portion” or gift, because it was evidently the gift of God; and as they did not know its nature, they could not chose any better term whereby to describe it. And was not Christ a great mystery to the men of His day? They did not understand His person. They could not interpret His miracles. They were amazed at His claim and at His language. There was a great diversity of opinion regarding Him. Some admitted His Divinity. Some said He had a devil. Some said He was mad. His disciples asked, “What manner of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27). Christ asked, “Whom say the people that I am? and they said John the Baptist, but some say Elias, and others that one of the old prophets is risen again.” The world by wisdom knew not God. If the world had known Christ, it would not have rejected and crucified Him. It has hardly yet obtained a complete knowledge of Him.
III. That as the manna made provision for all Israel, so Christ is provided as a Saviour for the entire world. The manna fell around all the tents of Israel in sufficient quantity to supply the need of every man, woman, and child. If any lacked food it was because they would not gather it. And so the benefits of Christ’s death are available to all,—are within easy reach of all; and if any perish from soul-hunger, it will be through their own wilful and woeful neglect. Christ is not merely provided as a feast for the rich; the poor are welcome to His banquet, without money and without price. He is free to all seeking souls, but He must be appropriated in time, while the opportunity is given. All can receive Him by faith.
IV. That as the manna descended in the night, and was accompanied by the dew, so Christ comes to the soul in quietude, and is accompanied by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The manna descended during the night, and was ready for the use of Israel in the early morning. Did not Christ descend unseen and unknown during the dark night of the Old Testament dispensation, and was He not found by men who waited for the bright morning? Simeon was one of the early watchers and gatherers of this welcome food. Christ comes into the soul when it is free from worldly excitement,—when it is quiet. The manna and the dew were found together. And do we not know that the gentle dew of the Holy Spirit accompanies the gift of Christ to the soul—there never can be the latter without the former.
V. That as the manna had to be gathered early every day, so Christ must early be sought by the penitent soul. The Israelites were up early seeking the manna. They had not to be self-indulgent. They had not to be slothful. And so there must be no self-indulgence in the life of the good. The food of the soul should be sought early every day.
VI. That as the manna was white and sweet, so Christ is pure in Himself, and welcome to the taste. The whiteness of the manna signifies the innocence of Christ; and the sweetness of the manna signifies how welcome He is to the taste of a refined soul. Christ is sweet in His life, in the promises, and in His word. He is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. We cannot have too much of Him.
VII. That as the manna was a test to Israel, so Christ is a test of universal character. The Israelites were tested by the gift of the manna as to whether they would obey God in His commandments and institutions. And so Christ is set for the rise and fall of many, and the way in which men receive or reject His will concerning them, will their present character and eternal destiny be determined. Christ is the great test of men. LESSONS:—
1. That every man has the opportunity of seeking Christ.
2. That Christ alone can nourish and sustain the human soul.
3. That Christ is sweet to the taste of penitent souls.
4. That we should seek to induce perishing mortals to gather this manna.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 16:4-5. Jehovah turns His consolations unto the trials of His dearest servants.
God will not leave His ministers comfortless when striving with a rebellious people.
Jehovah calls His abused ministers to look from men to Himself.
God can make heaven give bread when earth denies it.
It is easy with God to make bread plenty in greatest scarcity.
Daily bread is a sweet portion which God allows unto His people.
God’s mercies are His trials of men to see whether they will obey Him.
Exodus 16:6-8. God’s ministers instructed and comforted by Him, are engaged to instruct and comfort His people.
God’s evening and morning providences may convince men that He is their Redeemer.
The glory of grace God sometimes shows to murmurers.
A murmuring against ministers is taken by God to be against Himself.
Humble souls are content to be nothing in redemption, that God may be all.
Exodus 16:9-10. God’s ministers oppressed with murmurings cannot do better than call all the people to God.
God hears the murmurings of sinners against His ministers, and calls them to account.
God’s ministers must summon souls to God, and the faithful do it at His command.
Souls shall be brought to see God’s appearing in a sad way, who rise up against Him.
Exodus 16:11-12. God Himself owns what His servants have spoken for Him in His name.
It is no strange thing for God to speak twice to His oppressed servants to support them.
In greatest straits God can make evening and morning to bring seasonable supplies to His people.
Jehovah will make His people know Him, and that He keeps the covenant, though they break it.
Exodus 16:13-15. God of His grace can give the sweetest nourishment to unworthy sinners at His pleasure.
God keeps His time in performing His promise to His people.
God’s performance of promise is full and large unto His Israel
Mercies promised are ordered to come seasonably, evening and morning.
God can make His dew bring and hide bread for His people.
Natural coverings removed, God can discover His hidden mercies unto the good.
The best of bread from God may seem a small and dispicable thing to man.
God’s own Israel, in taking cognizance of His greatest mercies, may be at a loss what to think about them.
It is a blessing to have a choice interpreter of God’s mercies to His Church.
Common bread has a spiritual use and meaning.
Exodus 16:16-18. As God promised bread, so He commands labour to gather it.
Sufficiency God allows, and for that men must take pains.
God’s omer or measure is enough for the portion of every soul.
All souls in families God will have cared for, even such as cannot labour for themselves.
Obedience must be given to God’s command of labour.
All are not labouring alike for daily food, some more, some less.
Food convenient for every man’s eating is a good portion from God.
Exodus 16:19-20. Hoarded wealth.
I. That we find many men in this life who are endeavouring to hoard their gains. We find that several of these Israelites, notwithstanding the clear command of Moses, endeavoured to keep the manna until the morning. The Word of God tells men that they are not to attempt an undue hoarding of wealth, it tells them not to be worldly-minded, and not to be covetous. But, notwithstanding these distinct requirements, there are multitudes who go counter to them, and who keep the produce of their industry until it becomes loathsome. Men have many excuses for hoarding: they plead a provident example, a needy future, a large family, and thus they palliate miserliness. Gathering should be limited to human requirement.
II. That an endeavour to hoard wealth manifests a sad distrust of the Providence of God. Why did these disobedient Israelites endeavour to keep the manna until the morrow? Were they animated by mere curiosity to see the result? Were they greedy, and anxious to be better off than their comrades? Were they over-anxious and fearful lest the manna should not fall on the morrow? Why do men hoard wealth in these days? Is it not often to increase their luxury, to strengthen their social position, and to feed their ambition? Miserliness abuses the good gifts of God. It is a sad distrust of Divine Providence. God will feed all who are willing to sit at His banquet, and to the end of their days. Hoarded wealth gives no enjoyment It introduces bitter elements into life. It renders men no richer. It only becomes so much lumber to them. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
III. That hoarded wealth is very liable to become morally degenerate and corrupt. The manna that these Israelites left until the morning became corrupt, and bred worms. And so hoarded wealth will always degenerate in value, in useableness, and in power to give enjoyment. In the view of all right-minded souls it will be corrupt. It breeds all that is degrading to an immortal soul, capable of the riches of a pure moral character. Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth, &c.
God’s law orders His allowance how to be used by His people, and not to be abused.
Foolish men refuse to hear and obey the just laws given to them.
Mercies abused by sinners are accursed by God, and aggravate their sin.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Murmur-Mischiefs! Exodus 16:4-16. Murmuring is a mercy-embittering sin—a misery-sowing sin. As the sweetest things put into a sour vessel become sour, or put into a bitter vessel bitter; so murmuring puts gall and wormwood into every cup of mercy. Here was Israel in mercy out of Egypt—beyond the barrier to Egypt’s hate; and yet in this mercy they saw only misery. Herodotus tells us of a people in Africa, who lived in the neighbourhood of Mount Atlas, that their daily custom was to curse the sun, because his excessive heat scorched them. Did the Atauratians forget that to the sun which they cursed, they were indebted for light—for food—for the fertility of their country—for countless mercies without which their continued existence had been impossible. Ah! we make our mercies our miseries. They wished for gloom as Israel wished for Egypt. But they forgot the brick-kilns, when they remembered the flesh-pots; and they overlooked the taskmaster’s rods, when they recalled the onions and garlic. The little flower wished to be planted higher, and the cold wind blew and nipped it. Then it wished to be planted in the sun, and the sun burnt it. What murmur-mischiefs it experienced. No, no! we are best just as God places us.
“Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here will I take my stand,
Though sorrow, need, or death make earth
For me a desert land.”
Supplies! Exodus 16:4. An opulent person makes the tour of Europe, during which time his funds run short. But he comforts himself with reflecting that he has a sufficient stock in the bank, which he can draw out at any time by writing to his cashiers. The Israelites were in a foreign land, far from home, without supplies; whereupon they drew upon God by prayer, and faith, and humble waiting. God honoured their bill at sight, and issued to them from time to time such remittances as were sufficient to carry them in safety to the end of their journey. And so He does with the Christian passover-pilgrim. To him the promises are all yea and amen. No good thing is withheld from the patient, persevering believer. He accepts God’s promises—draws upon them—and never finds them dishonoured at the Throne of Grace.
“I look to Thee in every need, and never look in vain;
I feel Thy strong and tender love, and all is well again.”
Trust! Exodus 16:9-10. “When my heart is overwhelmed within me, I will look to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalms 61:2). When I have slipped upon the ice-slopes of personal experience, and fallen into the crevasse of despondency, I will cast myself upon the waters of the river of Providence. Wandering one day over the Alps, a chamois-hunter made a mis-step, and fell more than a hundred feet to the very bottom of one of those horrid crevices in the ice. It was impossible for him to get up; the sides were too slippery, and there were no means of climbing. He cried out ever so loud, but no human ear could hear. There was nothing but death before him—cold, cruel, relentless death. What could he do? The water came pouring down in a flood, and this stream he followed until he entered a great cavern, high-arched, ice-ribbed. There the water gurgled, and boiled, and disappeared. He could see no exit; but there must be one somewhere, for that living stream found its way out. One thing remained for him. He looked up at the blue sky—commended himself to God’s protection—and then, with a strong effort, threw himself bodily into that gush of water. A moment after he found himself thrown on the green grass of the valley of Chamouni, with the noonday sun shining above his head, and the blooming flowers of the mountain about him. What a type of Christian experience! When walking over the ice fields of our own experience, we make a mis-step which precipitates us into the deep chasm of doubt, despondency, or despair. There is no possible means of escape but one, and that is, to throw ourselves into the moving, foaming waters of the stream of Providence. Trust God. Thy will be done. Yet let it be—not with presumption, but with prayer. Commit thy way unto the Lord; and you will find that though the flood has nearly stifled you, it has at the same moment been bearing you on—underground it may be, through darkness and uproar it may be—safe into the green pastures of His truth and by the still waters of His faithfulness, surrounded by the flowers of grace, with the canopy of Divine protection over your heads. “For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before Thee in the land of the living” (Psalms 56:13). Thus did Moses call on the people to trust God—to cast themselves by prayer and supplication into the deep waters of Divine faithfulness, in the full persuasion that He would supply all their need.
“In spite of many broken dreams,
This have I truly learned to say—
Prayers which I thought unanswered once
Are answered in God’s own best way.”
Divine Promises! Exodus 16:11-12. The ropes which are used in lifting the heavy masses of iron ore out of the mine to the earth’s surface, are all tested before being employed in this service. Each strand is tried separately by having a strain put upon it equal to that which the whole of them will have to sustain when combined. God’s promises may be compared to a great cable—each strand has been tested—they cannot be broken! Moses laid hold of this rope, and God drew him and Israel out of the pit of Egypt, that in the furnaces of Arabia, He might mould and weld them into vessels of honour. Many a time Israel broke their covenant engagements, but God never. His promises were true, as the host found again and again during their wilderness-wanderings from Him.
“So in darkest dispensations,
Doth my faithful Lord appear,
With His richest consolations,
To re-animate and cheer.”
Manna-Nature! Exodus 16:15. Efforts have been made to do away with the supernatural aspect of this incident, by suggesting that this was nothing else than the exudation from the Tamarisk, to which the name “manna” has been given. No doubt the name was given to this gum, which exudes from the large eastern tamarisk-tree, in the belief that such was Israel’s source of supply. But this was a supposition based on ignorance, and utterly without warrant from the narrative itself. It is true that the tamarisk-shrub thrives in arid sandy situations, and that it is even now abundant in the Sinaitic peninsula; but how could a host of such tamarisks daily supply such a vast assemblage with exudations sufficient? Then again, it has yet to be proved that this gum would be at all salutary or nutritive as an article of constant and substantial good; whereas Israel subsisted for forty years on manna. The monks of St. Catherine on Sinai may gather the Tamarisk gum, and sell it at a high price to Europeans as Israel’s veritable sustenance; but they never can justify their assertion to sensible minds. The same holds good of the German idea of the honey-dew exudings from the camel’s thorn, or Indian manna. By denial on the part of Rationalists of any supernatural manna, they only increase the difficulties, and render more numerous, if not greater, miracles necessary. It is far more credible that the supply was miraculous; and that Israel was so perplexed by this new atom-like thing, that, familiar as they were with the gums and honey-dews of the East, they exclaimed—“What is it?”
“A while ago we hungered, but Thy great love has given
A food so sweet and strange that it seems like bread from heaven.
Quail and Manna Lessons! Exodus 16:13-15. Clearly we are taught:
1. Apprehension of our dependence on God.
2. Appreciation of the goodness of God.
3. Approbation of the Sabbatic rest in God. It is remarkable in the manna that, while what was left on the ground melted before the orient beams, and what was left in the house bred worms and stank, no such results are produced on the Tamarisk manna or Judean honey-dew. There is no such tendency to decomposition in them. What does this teach, if not the entire dependence of God’s Church and people upon daily supplies of grace in Christ? It hath pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. How expressive, then, the petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our sufficient Bread.” Jesus is that sufficing Bread—sufficing in Himself—sufficing to us.
“Shall I then ever weary of this rich store of Thine,
And wish, with thankless murmurs, that other gifts were mine?”
Manna-Symbolism! Exodus 16:15. Law remarks that this miracle is a wreath of combined wonders. By it, Jehovah designed to teach mysterious truths—momentous lessons—as to soul-food. Goodness in bestowing food is taper-grace beside the shinings of redemption’s gift.
1. Jesus is that Bread from heaven, which descended during this dark world’s night upon the sands of time.
2. The dew was a fit mantle for this heaven-sent food; and so the means of grace are lovely caskets of the heavenly treasure.
3. But, even as the dews had neither taste nor vital juice, so the means of grace are nothing without Christ.
4. At early dawn must Israel seek; and it is they who seek Jesus early who find Him.
5. Sweet was their daily portion—nourishing and bringing pleasure to their lips; and His fruit is sweet unto the taste. He is all sweetness to the feasting soul; so that finding Him, we find an ever-satisfying portion, and possess an unfading paradise of joy in Him all our pilgrim way to the cold Jordanic wave.
6. Every one of the mighty host had enough and no more; and even so, the countless myriads of Messiah’s followers, ransomed from sin-bondage, have sufficiency in Christ. They have enough, but none to spare, as the wise virgins informed their foolish companions.
7. The manna was free to all, and needed not the wealth of Crœsus to procure; so Jesus, the Living Bread, is the gift of God. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son!
“Oh, Thou, whose loving-kindness this manna Feast hath spread,
Give me a higher relish for Him, the pilgrim’s Bread.”
Quail-Emblems! Exodus 16:13. This was the Hebrew slav, or common quail, so called from the sound it makes. It resembles a partridge, only smaller in size. It is migratory—crossing the Mediterranean in the autumn in immense flocks, and returning in spring. In crossing this sea, they alight on some of the islands, which on that account were called Ortigia. We are told that nothing is easier than to catch these birds when they have recently arrived, exhausted by their aerial pilgrimage. Dr. Bonar says that when he and his companions were traversing the desert of Sinai, they were sometimes attracted by flocks of pigeon-looking birds, which their Bedawin guides called quails. Dr. Donne quaintly remarks that particular mercies are the feathers of God’s wings. They are that cloud of quails, which hovered over the host of Israel at eventide. And thus—
“Each mercy sent when sorrows lower,
Each blessing of the winged hour,
All we enjoy and all we love,
Bring with them lessons from above.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 16:22-30
THE SABBATH IN ITS RELATION TO SECULAR TOIL
We see in this narrative how very slow men are to understand the meaning of the Divine Word and command, especially if it appears to contradict the usual method of things. When the elders saw the people gathering on the Friday enough manna for two days, they came and told Moses, imagining that the law was being broken, and they were not satisfied until he had assured them that the conduct they reported was right. Men are indeed slow to understand the laws of God concerning them, especially as regards their secular toil.
I. That man must not engage in secular toil on the Sabbath. The Israelites were commanded to gather twice as much manna on the Friday as they needed, in order that they might have sufficient for the day of rest. What was thus preserved did not become offensive. It had the blessing of God. Thus we see the Divine regard paid for the Sabbath in the wilderness. If Israel thus rested from gathering manna on the Sabbath, ought not men much more to rest from the secular engagements of life? And if God has such respect for this day, ought not men to respect it likewise? Men must not even earn their daily bread on the Lord’s-day,—they must provide it before. If food is not to be earned on this day, surely pleasure should be excluded from it, and all vain jesting. We should always regard the sanctity of the Sabbath.
II. That men engaged in secular toil on the Sabbath will as a rule find their labour vain and profitless. Some of the Israelites went out into the fields on the Sabbath, as they were wont to do morning by morning, but they found nothing. And men who go into their fields, and warehouses, and markets, and museums on the day of rest, generally go with like result; they bestow hard labour for no result. They do not realise the money they expected. They do not obtain the pleasure they desired. They do not get the education they intended. The man who goes out to work on the Lord’s day will in the long run find nothing. He will lack the physical rest needful to diligent toil; men cannot work seven days running all the year through. He will lack the respect of pious customers. He will, above all, lack the blessing of God, without which all hope of prosperity is vain.
III. That men engaged in secular toil on the Sabbath show plainly that they have no regard for the commands of God. These Israelites had been Divinely commanded not to go out to gather manna on the Sabbath, as on that day none would fall; yet they went. “And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws.” Men who pursue their secular toil on the day of rest show to the world very clearly that they are devoid of reverence for the Supreme Being, and that they are lacking in good moral character. The way in which a man spends the Lord’s-day is an index to his soul-life and to his character: only vile men will throw off all the restraint of God’s law, and if they will do this in one thing they will in another. They are outcasts in society. They are selling their souls for gain.
IV. That men engaged in secular toil on the Sabbath have no delight in the culture of their moral nature. It is especially on the day of rest that men of secular toil have the leisure and opportunity for soul-culture, by inward meditation, by earnest devotion, by wise reading, and by the ministry of the sanctuary. And a man who pursues his work on the Sabbath, thereby testifies that he cares not for these important things. He does not wish to reflect on his inner life. He does not wish to remember God. He does not wish to refresh his soul after the activity of the week. He declares that he wishes to go ignorant and careless through time into the mystery of eternity. LESSONS:—
1. That men should work harder on Saturday if necessary in order to get the rest of Sunday.
2. That men who disobey the laws of God in human life make no gain thereby.
3. That the Sabbath must be regarded as a day of spiritual rest unto the Lord.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 16:22. When God orders the manna to be cared for, it is duty to gather bread for two days.
God expects an account of mercies received by His ministers.
Direction from God is to be expected for the right use of mercies received.
Exodus 16:23-26. The holy Sabbath is a rest unto Jehovah, He hath said it, He terminates it.
Reserves of food for to-morrow when God commands shall prove no curse.
God’s rest and man’s repast are made very consistent by Jehovah.
Exodus 16:27-30. God’s fairest offers and sweetest commands are accounted grievous by some.
God frustrates sinners who think to gain by breaking the Sabbath.
God’s bountiful blessing on the Sabbath ought to shame those who degrade it.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Sabbath! Exodus 16:23. At the very time that Israel was so engrossed with the material, i.e., with the body—God reminded them of the importance of the moral, i.e., of the soul. As Kalisch remarks, the Sabbath here introduced is admirably calculated to disclose the internal end of the Sabbath. And what was that end? The perfect harmonising and reconciling of the material and moral—of the physical and spiritual—life of man. And most worthy of notice is the fact that the Sabbath was here fully recognised as an institution—not of recent date—but as it was, an ordinance co-eval with Creation itself; nay, as Mant says, the perpetual memory of the Maker’s rest. So that the manna preaches with Wisdom’s voice—cries loudly on us to hallow the Sabbath-day—proclaims distinctly the law of righteous condemnation for neglect or misuse—and points plainly to the fruits of obedience to the Divine behest. As Beecher says, the world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile—like a summer without a flower—like a homestead without a garden. It is the green oasis—the little grassy meadow in the wilderness. Wilberforce exclaimed: “Oh! what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business, like the Divine path of Israel through the parted Jordan.” Yet that day’s joys are in proportion to our week’s provision; and neglect of Jesus during the preceding days, will deprive us of enjoying His grace on the Sabbath. And so with preparations in time for the endless Sabbath of heaven. Therefore—
“Now in the morning sunlight, and now at life’s decay,
We gather of the portion appointed for THAT DAY.”
Sabbath! Exodus 16:28. On the sides of an English coal mine, limestone is in constant process of formation, caused by the trickling of water through the rocks. This water contains a great many particles of lime, which are deposited in the mine, and, as the water passes off, these become hard, and form the limestone. This stone would always be white, like white marble, were it not that men are working in the mine, and as the black dust rises from the coal, it mixes with the soft lime, and in that way a black stone is formed. Now, in the night, when there is no coal-dust rising, the stone is white; then again, the next day, when the miners are at work, another black layer is formed, and so on alternately black and white through the week until Sabbath comes. Then if the miners keep holy the Sabbath, a much larger layer of white stone will be formed than before. There will be the white stone of Saturday night, and the whole day and night of the Sabbath, so that every seventh day the white layer will be about three times as thick as any of the others. But if the men work on the Sabbath they see it marked against them in the stone. Hence the miners call it “the Sunday stone.” How they need to be very careful to observe this holy day, when they would see their violation of God’s command thus written down in stone—an image of the indelible record in heaven!
“Heaven here; man on those hills of myrrh and flowers;
A gleam of glory after six day’s showers.”
Sabbath-Rest! Exodus 16:25. Like the pilgrim, the Christian sits down by this well in the desert—for what to him is the Sabbath but a fountain in a land of drought,—a palm-tree in the midst of the great wilderness; and as he drinks of the refreshing waters of this palm-shaded fountain, he is reminded of that rest which remaineth for the people of God. When, as Cumming says, that last Sabbath comes—the Sabbath of all creation—the heart, wearied with tumultuous beatings, shall have rest; and the soul, fevered with its anxieties, shall have peace. The sun of that Sabbath will never set nor hide his splendours in a cloud. Our earthly Sabbaths are but dim reflections of the heavenly Sabbath, cast upon the earth, dimmed by the transit of their rays from so great a height and so distant a world. They are but—
“The preludes of a feast that cannot cloy,
And the bright out-courts of immortal glory!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 16:32-36
AN INSTRUCTIVE MEMORIAL
I. By whom the memorial was enjoined. “This is the thing which the Lord commanded.” This memorial was not the outcome of superstitious feeling on the part of the Israelites, nor of their deep devotion of heart. They would not have thought of it of themselves. They were Divinely commanded to it. It does not readily occur to men to make memorials of the mercy of God. And yet there is eminent need of such memorials. Men are liable to forget the Divine goodness. They require something to continually remind them of it. The gifts we bestow upon others are long remembered; those we receive are soon forgotten. We have need to set up memorials in our lives, which shall call upon our souls to remember the benefits of the Lord. It is the will of heaven that its gifts should be held in constant remembrance.
II. In what the memorial consisted. “Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations.”
1. This memorial was reasonable. Thus the Israelites were required to fill an omer with the manna, and keep it as a memorial of the wondrous providence which had so long supplied their temporal need. What could have been more reasonable than such a memorial, which was eminently adapted to recall the circumstances it was designed to commemorate. The good must lay up a sacred deposit of their everyday experiences and mercies before the Lord. The memorials of the soul must consist of its own inner experiences.
2. This memorial was expressive. It was expressive of the great need of Israel, of the abundant and appropriate mercy of God. An omer of manna was preserved which showed that the heavenly supply was not scanty. The memorials of the soul must set forth the infinitude of the Divine compassion, and the riches of Divine grace.
3. This memorial was instructive. It not merely reminded the Israelites of the goodness of God to them, but it would give an instructive and encouraging view of the Divine character and providence to the generations of the future. The memorials of the parents should be such as to instruct and aid the children in their religious life.
4. This memorial was valuable. The manna was kept in a golden pot—(Hebrews 9:2). It was not put into a common vessel. And the memorials of the soul should not find expression in valueless things, but in the richest treasures of man. God is worthy our best offerings.
III. Where the memorial was deposited. “And lay it up before the Lord.” “So Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.” And so this memorial was laid up before the Lord, in the ark of the covenant. Thus we must keep the memorials of the soul in devout spirit, and with a constant trust in the mediatorial work of Christ. In celebrating the Divine providence, we must not be animated by a regard for a religious display, but by a desire to lay up a memorial of our best gratitude before the Lord. As Aaron laid up the pot of manna before the Testimony, so Christ alone can render our memorials acceptable to God.
IV. The design the memorial contemplated. “That ye may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness” “To be kept for your generations.” The Israelites would enter Canaan, and then would return to the produce of the field; hence they needed something to remind them of their wilderness condition. The mercy given in adversity must be remembered in prosperity. In heaven the soul will have memorials of the mercy which characterised its life on earth. This pot of manna was also designed to teach the generations to come the goodness and faithfulness of God. Every generation should seek to leave behind it new and encouraging revelations of the Divine character, which shall lead those who follow to see more clearly the merciful providence of God. Each generation leaves a moral deposit behind it, for good or evil. LESSONS:—
1. The soul must have a memorial of the Divine mercy.
2. The memorial of the soul must consist of the best things it possesses.
3. The memorial of the soul will have respect to the redemptive work of Christ.
AN INSTRUCTIVE MEMORIAL
Why was this “omer of manna” to be sacredly preserved from generation to generation? The only reason assigned is, “that your generations may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness.” Whatever God does or commands to be done is for wise and worthy reasons. Let us reverently seek to ascertain what was the Divine reason in arranging for succeeding generations of the Israelites to see this manna, with which He had fed their fathers in the wilderness. We suggest that it was this, Because the sight of it was calculated to promote their moral improvement by suggesting and impressing important truths. Without mentioning certain suggestions of the manna which have been noticed in the exposition of the previous verses, that which was contained in the pot for preservation would be an impressive memorial of
I. The infinite resources of God. Here are three millions of persons in the desert without food. That which they brought out of Egypt with them they have consumed. And, though they have flocks and herds with them, they are not to be eaten for food but kept for sacrifices. Whence shall they obtain food? The prospect seems to them exceedingly dark, and they utter loud and bitter complaints against their leaders. In this extremity, the Lord appears for them and provides the manna. This provision was undoubtedly miraculous. The writer of the article on “Manna,” in “Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible,” says, that “the natural products of the Arabian deserts and other Oriental regions which bear the name of manna, have not the qualities or uses ascribed to the manna of Scripture.” And, after pointing out many points of contrast, he says, “The manna of Scripture we therefore regard as wholly miraculous, and not in any respect a product of nature.” The resources of the Lord are infinite. No matter how dark and discouraging our circumstances and our prospects may be, if God be for us inexhaustible treasures are ours. He can spread our table in the barren wilderness, so that for forty years we shall lack no good thing. At His command the flinty rock shall pour forth copious streams, so that the dry and thirsty land shall become a land of refreshment and delight. If it were possible to exhaust the resources of the material universe, still the people of God are rich by reason of their interest in Him, whose resources are equal to all the needs of His vast universe,—whose resources are indeed infinite. We rejoice in “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” “He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly,” &c.
II. The great goodness of God. His goodness is strikingly exemplified in several things of which this manna would be a memorial.
1. The supply of manna was undeserved. These unbelieving, murmuring, rebellious Israelites merited no kindness from God. Had they received their deserts they would have been left to die of famine. “He has not dealt with us after our sins,” &c.
2. The supply was ample. There was sufficient for every one and for all. If any one lacked provisions it was not because of any deficiency in the supply. So the blessings of redemption and of providence are ample for all the needs of all men, everywhere, and in all ages.
3. The supply was free. All the Israelites might avail themselves of it. Every morning they would go out into the open wilderness and gather it. An illustration of the sufficiency and freeness of the provisions of Divine grace. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money,” &c.
4. The supply was pleasant. The taste of the manna was like fresh oil, and like wafers made with honey, equally agreeable to all palates. The provisions of Christianity are not only wholesome but pleasant also. The prophet Isaiah represents them as “a feast of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees, well refined.” Our Lord also compares them to a great feast. A feast of delightful experiences, exalted hopes, blessed fellowships, &c. Thus the manna would remind the generations of the great goodness of God to their ancestors.
III. The unvarying faithfulness of God. “The children of Israel did eat manna forty years until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.” During the forty years, the supply of manna never failed them. With undeviating regularity, God bestowed it upon them until they came to the borders of Canaan, where there was abundance of provisions. The Divine faithfulness is the more conspicuous when viewed in the light of the people’s conduct. God was invariably faithful to them and to His promise, notwitstanding their—
3. Oft-repeated rebellion. Notwithstanding the extreme provocation which He received from them, He continued to send them manna from heaven until they needed it no longer. “If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” The manna would remind the generations of this unfailing faithfulness.
IV. The abiding presence of God with them. When the Israelites attempted to keep the manna in their tents from one day to another, “it bred worms and stank.” But in the manna which was kept by the command of God we have a perpetual miracle by which it was kept pure and sweet. And that perpetual miracle was a proof of the perpetual presence of God with them,—a proof that the faithful God was with them even as He was with their fathers.
And thus, the manna being such a memorial of the doings, character, and presence of God, it would be—
V. An encouragement to trust in God. “God’s miracles and mercies are to be had in everlasting remembrance, for our encouragement to trust in Him at all times.”
Conclusion. Ponder well two facts:—
1. The history of one generation may benefit all succeeding generations. History furnishes patterns and beacons, encouragements and warnings. Let us heed them.
2. The obligation of every generation to profit by the history of its predecessors. Every fresh generation enters upon its career with greater advantages and responsibilities than those which have gone before. We ought to be wiser, braver, holier than our fathers. But are we?—William Jones.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Exodus 16:32-36. Mercies of old to His Church God would have known to succeeding generations.
Men may see that the best provision of God’s Church has been in its wilderness condition.
God confutes murmurers by His monuments, that He did not bring Israel out of Egypt to destroy them.
Wilderness mercies are contemporary with wilderness conditions.
God will carry His Israel through all wilderness trials unto their Canaan rest.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Israel’s Life-Food! Exodus 16:35. The history of Israel is a typical history. The slavery in Egypt represented the bondage in which we are naturally held; while the deliverance by Moses is symbolic of our redemption by Christ. The wanderings in the desert pre-figure the Christian pilgrimage on earth; while the Canaan at which the host arrived over Jordan is emblematic of the rest that remaineth beyond the chill waters of the River of Death. And so with reference to the life-food of Israel. They had it in the wilderness, but no further. The sacraments cease in the Heavenly Canaan. There is no temple therein—no place for sacraments—no need for channels of grace. Christ will be all in all there; for the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple thereof. Not from ordinances shall we then draw our nutriment. The Redeemer will be all in all to our souls, and from Him alone and directly shall we draw the only material of everlasting happiness and ever-increasing goodness. It is under that apprehension of our Life-food here—
“That, feeding on His bounties, we shall our strengh renew,
And with untiring spirit our desert-way pursue.”
Memorial Gratitude! Exodus 16:32. Bishop Hutton was once travelling between Wensleydale and Ingleton, when he suddenly dismounted, delivered his step to the care of one of his attendants, retired to a particular spot at some distance from the highway, and knelt down in prayer for some time. On his return, he was asked his reason for this action? His reply was significant, “When I was a poor boy, I travelled over that cold and black mountain without shoes or stockings. In my extremity, I disturbed a cow on the identical spot where I have just prayed, to obtain a little warmth from the spot where the animal was lying.” This good man felt grateful to God for all He had done for Him since that moment, and had knelt down by this memorial to praise God. Jehovah orders memorials of mercies to be set up—kept in view—held in remembrance, so that we may always be confident and contented.
“To remember, though gloomy the present may be,
That the Master is coming, and coming to me.”
Memorial Mercies! Exodus 16:33. “The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.” What an assurance this is to carry with us in all our wayfaring through this world! The future is always dark to us; but then there are the memorial-mercies of the past to be recalled. A veil hides the future from our sight, but the past has lights here and there—the mercies of times of adversity shining afar to cheer us—what is under the shadows in front of us—what is behind the veil suspended before us—what is advancing out of the imperious mist towards us, none of us can know, but we may all see the memorials of the past. Like clear, flaming letters on a black velvet background they stand out. “The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.” It is as though the Holy Spirit of God went before us and set up these memorial-mercies to cheer us whenever we halt in weakness—to encourage us whenever we hesitate in fearfulness, and to incite us to gratitude whenever we are disposed to unthankfulness.
“Thy mercies, Lord, are like the sun
Whose beams undo what sable night hath done!
Or, like those streams, the current of whose course,
Restrained awhile, run with a swifter force.”
Memorials! Exodus 16:33. In deepest rocks, which have withstood all the assailing influences of time, geologists find the outlines of ferns of former ages, lined with the most delicate tracery, or distinct impressions of the feet of birds and animals which are now lost to earth. They remove these choice specimens from their rocky beds and place them among collections which the learned pour over with thoughtful and profitable interest. Of all the abundance of living grace, verdure, and activity, which covered the earth through remote ages, only here and there, and that very rarely, some specimens like these speak. Such records of Nature’s workings are but seldom written in solid rock, but one line written there suggests forests of graceful waving fronds, with their bending shadows in clear waters, or a host of strange and now unknown animals which once animated the world. That line whispers of a great flood, in which this life was submerged—of sleepy eyes in which the moist bed where so much is written, changed to stern rock, holding securely a valuable historic record, which at last is given to those who grope for glowing facts among dull stones. Now, as the life, structure, and habits of myriads of plants and animals are suggestively unfolded through means of impressions in stone of comparatively few individual specimens; so history, culling comparatively few lives as representatives of the world’s thought, leaves untold the births, deeds, and deaths of the great mass of the children of the earth; and when death claims them, they go back to her receptive bosom, leaving no lasting record here. And it is from the memorials set up in the Arabian wilds that we not only syllable out the goodness of God in supplying Israel’s wants, and providing for their necessities, but also infer that many more mercies were their lot than the Bible leaves on record. It is by searching the plains of Holy Scripture that we come upon records of God’s providence designed to encourage us to look hopefully to our own future.
“The present is enough for common souls,
Who, never looking forward, are indeed
Mere clay, wherein the footprints of their age
Are petrified for ever.”
Sufficiency! Exodus 16:35. In the forests of Guiana grows the towering mora. Its topmost branch, when naked with age or dried by accident, is the favourite resort of the toncar. Many a time, says Waterton, has this singular bird felt the shot faintly strike him from the gun of the fowler below, and owed his life to the distance betwixt them. The wild fig-tree, as large as a common English apple-tree, often rears itself from one of the thick branches at the top of the mora, as when a man stands on the shoulders of another man, When its fruit is ripe, the birds resort to them for nourishment; and it was to an indigested seed passing through the body of a bird which had perched on the mora, that the fig-tree first owed its elevated station there. Thus, unconsciously, did some bird contribute, if not to its own future sustenance, certainly to the after-support and nutriment of its fellow birds or progeny. But how did this seed germinate into a fig-tree? The sap of the mora supplied it with growing powers, and raised it into full bearing; and now in its turn, it is doomed to contribute a portion of its own sap and juices towards the growth of different species of vines, the seeds of which also the birds deposited on its branches. These soon vegetate and bear fruit in great quantities, so that the mora has much to do to supply nourishment for such a profuse and prolific mass of vegetation. what with calls from vines and fig-tree, the mora is unable to support her charge, languishes—dies; whereupon, the fig-tree, with its usurping progeny of vines, receiving no more succour from their late foster-parent, droop and perish in their turn. How often is it so with churches of earthly growth. They spread, minds nestle in the branches, and leave behind them seeds which germinate, affording nutriment to succeeding generations of minds, who in turn leave germs of vines; but all this growth at last bows down the mother church, when foster-parents and progeny fall. Not so with Jesus Christ—He is that giant mora whose resources never fail. On Him millions of figs and vines grow, without lack of moisture, for it hath pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and He is the Fountain of Life.
Given from His hands, feeds thousands and to spare.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13