Pastor Andrew touched on an important point last week: the Old Testament is in no way to be ignored in lieu of the New Testament. This is an important point, because I have witnessed many Christians who use the “the-Old-Testament-no-longer-applies” argument as a convenient excuse for their willful disobedience to faithful Christian living. Unfortunately, people use this argument as an excuse to ignore two-thirds of the Bible, to take advantage of God’s grace, and, as we touched on last week, to not tithe.
It’s unfortunate that some Christians see the Old Testament in such a negative light. Personally, I love the Old Testament. The pastor’s wife at our church in Los Angeles is a gifted teacher who also loves the Old Testament. I credit her for introducing me to the richness of wisdom and insight in the Old Testament.
Today, I want us to take a look at a specific passage out of the Old Testament—a story about God’s provision. I want the Bible to speak for itself, so even if the reading is a bit longer than usual, please listen and read along to the passage of when God provided manna and quail to the Israelites in the desert in Exodus 16.
16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”
24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? 29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”
33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.”
34 As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.
36 (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah, possibly about 1.4 kg.)
There are three points that stood out to me from this passage that I thought were important points for us to learn.
Point 1: God graciously listens to our grumbling
Just to give you the context here, the Israelites had just witnessed a great deliverance by the hand of God. They just experienced the famous parting of the Red Sea, and they were in the desert for probably less than a week when they started to grumble about hunger. They longed for the days in Egypt when they used to “sit around pots of meat and eat all the food they wanted.”
How quickly they forget! They were in slavery for the past 400 years, where they suffered terrible treatment and injustice. And they were not “dying by the LORD’s hand,” trying to spiritualize it or glorify it. They were dying at the hands of their Egyptian masters! And how grossly they exaggerate! They were slaves! They did not have such an abundance of meat and food to eat! Do you see the utter foolishness of their complaint?
And yet we see God graciously listening to the cries of his people, sending them water to drink (in the previous chapter) and food to eat, because he knew that the people needed them.
One of my favorite professors in seminary taught me this: It’s okay to complain to God, because the truth is that he listens. He listens to our grumbling, as we see him doing so in this passage. He listens to our complaints. Just look at the Psalms! It’s full of complaints directed toward God! But my professor also taught me this: It’s okay to complain to God, as long as it brings us back to a place of revelation and trust in him. And that’s what the Psalms teach us. We can complain, but we also need to trust in him, hope in him, and have faith in him.
Point 2: God provides, we trust and obey
What we can learn from the Israelites through this passage is how NOT to respond. They were melodramatic and ungrateful. They were only concerned about what they felt they deserved from God, but God had something more in mind than just filling their empty stomachs. He wanted the Israelites to learn the blessing of trusting in his provision. He wanted his people to experience the blessing of faith and obedience, which is far more important than a meal.
So God gives specific instructions on how to collect this “mystery” bread from heaven (“manna” supposedly means “What is it?”). But do the Israelites listen? No. Do they obey the instructions of the LORD? No. The passage says that some of them “paid no attention” to the instructions, not once but twice. Out of greed? Out of sheer disregard for the instructions? I don’t know, but God, nonetheless, continued to provide. It says that the Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they finally reached the Promised Land.
Unfortunately, the Israelites never got it. They were unable to grasp the importance of the spiritual, and thus unable to experience the blessing of faith, trust, and obedience. The Bible says that the original generation, the grumbling generation, of the Israelites did not enter the Promised Land. Their children eventually did, but they did not—a harsh reality and outcome, representative of their inability to grasp the spiritual blessing of faith, trust, and obedience. God did his part to provide, but the Israelites did not respond correctly.
So, when God wants to provide for us, will we do our part to trust and obey?
Point 3: God wants us to remember his faithfulness
God actually provides a very good and practical solution to help us trust and obey, and that’s to remember his faithfulness. He instructs the Israelites to keep a little bit of manna for the generations to come, so that future generations have physical evidence of God’s faithfulness.
Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past helps us to trust and obey in the present and for the future. In the account of David and Goliath, David was just a teen-aged shepherd; Goliath was a humongous, seasoned warrior. Do you remember what helped David courageously confront Goliath? (Ask)
David remembered God’s faithfulness. David remembered God’s faithfulness when he was out in the pasture tending his sheep. Whenever a lion or a bear came to attack his sheep, he remembered that God had kept him safe when he fought off the beasts. So, David had faith in God and trusted him to give Israel the victory. His obedience resulted in action, he battled Goliath, and he defeated him, all the while giving glory and honor to God.
I’m sure that all of us here have experiences of God’s faithfulness in our life. By remembering those experiences, I pray that it will encourage us to the next level of faith, trust, and obedience in God.
The Old Testament is not just a collection of stories from a long time ago. They are stories of how God acted in history and how the people of God responded. In them, there’s so much that we can learn about God’s character and nature. In them, there’s so much we can learn about how we, as the people of God, should respond.
I mentioned in the opening that it’s unfortunate that we ignore the Old Testament just to further our own agendas. Well, there’s one more thing that’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that we treat God’s instructions in the Old and New Testaments as something that limits us and something that takes away from us.
For example, have you ever thought that being a Christian prevents you from having fun? Or have you ever thought that being a Christian infringes on your personal rights and freedom? Or have you ever thought that being a Christian means the church has the right to take 10% of your income? Reason what you will about these things, but at the end of the day, you and I both know that such reasoning doesn’t hold water.
Paul explains in Romans that as human beings, we are either slaves to sin, or slaves to righteousness. We are, by spiritual law, bound to one or the other. Don’t fool yourself, and don’t let the devil fool you, into thinking that you have freedom outside of God. It’s the oldest trick in the book…literally. Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden by Satan in the same way.
Like loving parents do for their precious children, God gives us certain rules and instructions. They are not to limit us, but to protect us. They are not to take away from us, but to bless us abundantly. They are not to hinder us, but to grow and prosper us. And according to his rules and instructions, he wants to provide us with everything we need, and more. The question is not whether he will or not. The question is: Will we trust and obey?