Sustenance: the Manna and the Water

Exodus 15:22‑27; Exodus 16; Exodus 17  •  29 min. read  •  grade level: 6
(Ex. 15:22-27; 16:1.36; 17:1-16.)
If we did not know the incorrigible evil and the deep unbelief of our own hearts, we might perhaps wonder a little at that which is recorded in these chapters. But the fact is, Israel were like us. They found it very difficult to trust God. And you and I, as saints, find it very difficult to trust God. In view of the difficulties of our pathway, God has told us all this for our comfort and encouragement. You will observe that what comes out is this, the murmuring of the people only brings out the grace of God. That is at this point of their history. You will have to notice that they are under pure grace, right up to Sinai. It is nothing but sovereign grace. They are on the ground of atonement, and nothing but grace comes out.
You will find it makes all the difference in the history of your soul, whether you are before God in the sense of what His grace is, or whether you are before Him in a legal condition, thinking of what you ought to be. Grace is the discovery to my soul of what God is in every possible circumstance. We saw how this multitude made the heavens ring with a song of praise to God, as they saw all their enemies dead upon the sea-shore. I wonder if you have ever noticed this verse: " And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies; there was not one of them left " (Psa. 106:10,11). Beautiful touch of God's Spirit, as to what God did then. And you would have thought as you read the next verse, " Then believed they his words; they sang his praise " (ver. 12), they will be sure to go on brightly, joyously, and happily. When you were converted you thought that. You dear young people, perhaps you thought you would never have a difficulty when you were converted. Is it not striking, the next thing you read? "They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel " (ver. 13).
Let us now follow Israel's steps in the wilderness, the place where we, as well as they, are tested, and where we have to learn what we are, as well as what God is, revealed in Christ. " And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter, therefore the name of it is called Marah " (ver. 23). That is, I believe, practically speaking, if death has delivered us we have to taste death. What has delivered us? The death of Christ, and we have to accept death. We do not like it. In our circumstances we often have to taste death, for death is rolled in on us. Here we often meet with that which we cannot drink. Perhaps you have such a cup just now. You say you cannot drink it. No, you cannot drink it bitter, but if you connect it with Christ, if you put the cross in, you will be able to drink it.
"And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?" Christ always said, no matter what was in the cup," The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" How different these two queries! " And Moses cried unto the Lord: and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet" (ver. 25). It was another miraculous intervention of God. I have no doubt it typifies the cross. It was a tree, and we know that Jesus suffered on the tree. if sorrow meets us, cast the tree in; connect the cross with it, and God's love therein displayed, and that the bitterness of expiation was borne by Christ, and all will be sweet to you. When the tree was cast in, the waters were made sweet. And so we read, " We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us " (Rom. 5:3-5). You connect the cross with the sorrow which perhaps just now is breaking your heart, and all will be changed and sweetened. What was the cross? It was the revelation of the love of God to me. Is He less loving to-day in His dealings with you and me than He was the day He gave His blessed Son to die for us? You have just to see that all His dealings are the acts of perfect love. It is sweet when love gets in, and you can then drink the water, no matter how bitter previously.
The next thing was, " They came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm-trees: and they encamped there by the waters" (ver. 27). That is beautiful. They were tested, and they murmured, but God does not chasten them. No matter what you are passing through, if you take it from God, it is accepted as from Him, and blessing is always the result. If you take the cup from the devil's hand, you will have to drink it with the devil. But if you take the cup from God you will have God's company, and God's support. Elim is a lovely picture of the tenderness of the ways of God with His people, in the very opening step of the wilderness pathway. When we are converted we are in the same circumstances outwardly perhaps, but all is changed in our souls, for we are no longer slaves of sin in Egypt, but saints of God rejoicing in the freedom wherewith Christ has set us free, and on our road to glory. Refreshment from God meets us at every step, just as He brought Israel to the twelve wells of water, and the seventy palm-trees. These are the very picture of what you would call grace in its fullness giving refreshment and shade. Twelve wells are the completeness of refreshment. Twelve in Scripture is the number expressing completeness in the way of human administration. Seventy palm-trees suggest the perfection of care, in giving shade. The Lord sent out twelve disciples, and then He sent out other seventy (Luke 9:1; 10:1) to minister blessing, and one cannot but connect these numbers at Elim with the twelve and the seventy there. I think then that the twelve wells and the seventy palm-trees are the perfection of the love of the Lord in His desire to meet the need of His people.
Refreshment and shade, are wilderness mercies, and Israel found Elim a very beautiful place, doubtless, but they could not stop there, and you and I have to pass on. When we find an Elim, the very thing that suits our hearts, we would like to settle down, but that God will not permit, and we must again take the road. In chapter 16, they "came unto the wilderness of Sin." There is no mention here of a most pregnant fact, recorded in Num. 33:10. " And they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red Sea." Oh, you say, I thought they had done with the Red Sea forever. Why were they there again? Just because they had lost, if I might so say, the sense of the mighty power of the hand that had opened the Red Sea for them. In three days they were murmuring, and wondering what they were to do. God turns the bitter water into sweet, brings them to the twelve wells and the seventy palm-trees, and then says, Go and have another look at the way by which I have brought you out of Egypt.
Ah, beloved, God would turn our hearts back, again and again, to the wonderful truth of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We do well to turn back in the history of our souls to that moment, which the Spirit of God would never have us forget. Read the history of Israel, and note how often God says to them, " Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee " (Deut. 15:15). He would always keep fresh in the soul the sense of what His grace is.
Led by God, they pass from the Red Sea into the wilderness of Sin. A very remarkable thing, that the name of the place indicated what came out-sin. " And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness" (16:2). It is a very striking thing, how this word "murmured" comes in repeatedly in their history, yet God meets it in grace. " And the children of Israel said unto them, 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; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger. Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord; for that he heareth your murmurings against the Lord: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord. And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the Lord: for he hath heard your murmurings. And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (16:3-10). What a contrast, man's murmuring and God's goodness. It is very often our circumstances which produce this growling at Him. It is the voice of unbelief!
We generally find out where we are, by a murmuring spirit. Nothing is more easy than for a murmuring spirit to get into the heart of a saint, or an assembly. Oh, the mischief that is done by a murmuring saint! Hence the solemn injunction, " Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer" (1 Cor. 10:10). Where was the first outbreak of evil in the New Testament? Not long after the Church of God was set up, a man and a woman agreed to tell a lie. They wanted to appear more devoted than they really were. God would not have that in His assembly, and they were cut down (Acts 5:1-11). Then we read, " And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts 6:1). Grace cured that murmuring splendidly, as it appointed seven Grecians (not an equal number of Hebrews and Grecians) to look after the assembly's funds, and deal with the poor. The murmuring was really against God, and not against the servants of God. Every bit of murmuring, when we fairly examine it, is not against the circumstances, nor the saints, but is always the outcome of downright unbelief towards God. That is the point.
And that is the lesson we learn here, in the wilderness of Sin. It is met by the words, " Come near before the Lord: for he hath heard your murmurings" (ver. 11). Ah, He does not judge them. On the contrary, He lets His glory draw near, that the very light of His presence might shine in on this murmuring people. They had said, " Would to God we had died " (ver. 3). My dear friends, which was better? to toil at the brick-kilns of Pharaoh, or travel in the desert with God? Who for a moment could have any difficulty as to that? They had forgotten their bondage. All they remembered was what they had fed upon. They were away from the flesh-pots of Egypt. But they had not yet learned the sufficiency of the fullness of the hand of God. How does the Lord treat them. Oh, look at His grace! " And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat " (vers. 11-15).
What is the bread, beloved? Why, it is Jesus. This manna is Jesus. " Bread from heaven." The Lord Jesus said to the Jews, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven " (John 6:32). What a beautiful answer to murmuring is God's tender action. Here were those people all murmuring, and the Lord steps in and " rains bread from heaven " for them. I will ask you to read the sixth chapter of John, because you will find it is manna. There are only two things we find Israel fed on in the wilderness-quails and manna (Ex. 16:13-16). When they got to Canaan they had "the old corn of the land."
What is manna? Manna is Christ in this scene, come down from heaven, passing humbly through this scene, and living just exactly as man should live here for God. He tells us Himself what the manna is. But we do not understand it. We say as they did, " Manna," " What is it?" But then you and I cannot feed upon that manna unless we come to it through death. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you " (John 6:53). Manna, therefore, is Christ humbled, as He was in this scene. " The old corn of the land," is Christ glorified. You and I have to eat both. Because, although we are in the wilderness, we are going to heaven, we are on our road home to God, and the Spirit of God carries our souls into heavenly places now. You must eat both.
The person who only eats the manna never touches heavenly ground. And the person who is only occupied with what is heavenly, and neglects the study of the humbled Christ, and does not appropriate His death, will not walk in the fullness of the truth, nor the grace of Christ. For courage and power you must have your eye upon a glorified Christ. But to walk like Christ in this scene, in all the circumstances and difficulties that we have to walk in, we must keep our eye on Christ as a lowly, humble man in this scene. I find a perfect pattern in the pathway and life of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ as He went through this scene. A pilgrim feeds upon manna. A soldier feeds upon the old corn of the land. You will find that the person who only feeds on " the old corn of the land " may be rough, hard, rude, and practically graceless in his ways. Then the one who only feeds upon the manna, the life of Jesus, you will find very lowly, gracious, and tender, but he does not know much about a heavenly Christ, and so lacks energy and boldness in the faith.
What we want, beloved friends, and, thank God, what He has given us, is all truth. We want Christ for our souls in every aspect in which God has presented Him. If you read in the Gospels, you get the unfolding of what the manna is. Read them over and over again. They are God's food for our souls as we pass through this wilderness scene. Was not He tempted? Yes, just as we are. How did He maintain Himself? By simple dependence on God. He is the food of our souls, for it is Christ alone that we have to feed upon down here.
There are many important principles in this chapter (Ex. 16). Every man was to get the manna for himself. He was to get a full measure, and he was to get it early. If he did not get it early, he did not get it at all. And he was not to keep it till the morning. I must gather the manna, gather Christ, early in the day, to be suitably fed for the day. I can only gather Christ out of Scripture, so that is what makes the reading of the Scripture, and the study of the Scripture, so important. Feed on Scripture. That is the way to get on. Read the Word of God, because if you read the Word it will feed your soul.
You must not forget that you still have the flesh in you, and the flesh likes the onions and the leeks of Egypt as much as ever. You, however, by sovereign grace, are a new creature in Christ. You have a new nature, and that feeds on Christ, and nothing but Christ. Am I set to feed the old man, or to feed the new? That is the point, do not you see? The only thing that will feed the new man is Scripture, or that which may help me to understand Scripture. Let me just say, be careful what you read, but read. Paul said to Timothy, " Give attendance to reading " (1 Tim. 4:13). Wise counsel! He valued reading, hence to the same man he wrote, " When thou comest, bring with thee the books, but especially the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13). Those who read nothing but the Bible are usually the most ignorant people I know. It seems pious to say, "I only read the Bible." In reality it is pride of heart, for we must remember that God has given many precious servants, who, by stroke of the pen, have unfolded His truth. Bear that in mind. It is very important to read, but I say again, be careful what you read. Books, you know, are great companions. But at the same time, it is important to bear in mind how the contents of a book will leave their mark on you. A book which the Spirit of God did not write will feed the flesh, but it will not feed the life of God in you. Scripture detects me, judges me, and feeds me. Read Psa. 119, and note how 174 of its verses extol the value of the Word. Be careful to get the manna, and get plenty of it.
We read in Num. 11:9, that " when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it." That, I take it, is the care the Spirit of God has for the blessed Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It never touches the ground, though on the ground. Christ was on the earth, but was not earthly. He was the heavenly upon earth. It is the beautiful care of God's Spirit with regard to the incarnation of God's own dear and blessed Son.
At the close of Ex. 16:33, we read, "And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the Lord, to be kept for your generations." And we also read of "the golden pot that had manna" (Heb. 9:4). This is Christ again, the eternal memento in glory of that divine vessel which contained a perfect, humbled, human life on earth. The Jesus who was down here, is the Jesus who is up there; and the Jesus whom the Holy Ghost would have you fix your eye upon, is the Jesus who walked down here, and said, " Follow thou me."
The sixteenth chapter of Exodus thus presents the food of God's people in the desert. This we must ever gather from the written Word. Hence, the more you have of the Word of God the better. By-and-by in the course of your life you will perhaps come to some difficulty and you will say, I, really do not know what to do. If you had the Scriptures pervading your mind, you would know what to do. " Then remembered I the word of the Lord " (Acts 11:16), saved Peter from error. The Word of God teaches us our road for every bit of the pathway here. The book of Proverbs is immensely interesting, and of great value in this respect. I commend it to your careful study, while at the same time I would urge you to have no favorite portions of Scripture. Read it through, and study it carefully, and prayerfully. Because otherwise, you will not get into the breadth of the truth of God. Oh, how unspeakably valuable, then, is the Word of God. Well, that is the sixteenth chapter.
But you have the other side of the truth, which comes out in chapter 17. Again they were murmuring. " The people thirsted there for water; and murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? " (ver. 3). They were ready to stone him (ver. 4), but God's grace was paramount. " And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel " (vers. 5, 6). What was that rock? Just turn over your Bible to Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, "They did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ " (10:3, 4). I do not know that you and I would have said that, " That Rock was Christ," but it was. What you have here, is another figure of the cross. It is the death of Christ, with most lovely consequences. " He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed " (Psa. 78:20). This without doubt represents the Spirit of God. You have the manna, Christ, in the sixteenth chapter. And now in the seventeenth, the gushing waters are the figure of the Spirit of God, that carne down from an ascended Christ in heaven. " In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" (John 7:37-39).
Not only have I Christ to feed on, I have the Spirit of God. Therefore, my friends, see how fully God has furnished us for the pathway, yea, for the battle, and the conflict of the pathway, which immediately follows. Wherever they went, the overflowing streams followed them (1 Cor. 10:4). I do not think the rock moved, but that which came from the rock followed them. Behind, in their track, that shining river came right along. Morning by morning down came the bread, and day by day the water followed them. It was the care of God, exercised in a miraculous manner.
We too are the subject of miracles of grace all along the road. All we have to do is to be simple, childlike, and confiding. God keep us from murmuring. There is nothing so deadening to the soul. The Lord give us more sweet, simple confidence in Himself. The death of Christ has delivered us from the hand of the enemy, you have Christ to feed on, and you have the Holy Ghost dwelling in you. You are well off!
And now see what follows. The moment there has been refreshment from God, the enemy comes in like a flood. The enemy always tries to oppose your spiritual progress. It is not until you have received the Holy Ghost, that there is any real conflict going on. " Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim " (ver. 8). Amalek is a type of the flesh. You read the Epistle to the Galatians in connection with this incident here, and you will get help. " This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are
contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Gal. 5:16, 17). The flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other. You have now really two natures. You want to do right, and the flesh opposes. If you allow the flesh, you would do what would not please the Lord. But if you are in the power of the Spirit, you gain a victory. The gaining of the victory was dependent upon Moses.
" And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword" (vers. 9-1 3). When it was a question of Pharaoh, the word was, " Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.... The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace " (Ex. 14:13, 14). God does all the fighting if it be a question of delivering you from the power of Satan. But when it is a question of the flesh-and mark you, you have always the flesh in you-then there must be conflict, and, " Fight with Amalek " is the order. What is the power for the conflict? It is the Holy Ghost. The very fact of the conflict shows that the Holy Ghost is in me. It is not a question as to whether I am saved or not, but it is a question as to whether the will of God is to be wrought out, or whether the flesh, which is always trying to hinder me, is to stop me in my course as a Christian.
Observe what follows. Moses prays, and Joshua fights. Here is the first time you read of Joshua. You get a great deal about him afterward. I have no doubt that Moses' praying is figurative of our Lord's present intercession on high, and that Joshua is a type of the risen Christ in the energy of the Spirit of God. If you walk in the Spirit you are bound to get the victory. When I make provision for the flesh, then I am defeated. This may lead a young believer to doubt his conversion, or that he is really saved. This is a great mistake, for Israel never go back into Egypt, though they were carried to Babylon. You never can be anything but a child of God. You may go down to Babylon, i.e., get into the world morally, but will come under God's hand there, but you are still His child. I may choose to take my own way, and He may have to send me a prisoner, so to speak, to Babylon, but I am always God's child.
The conflict between the flesh and the Spirit within us is a sign that we are converted. " And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed " (ver. 11). We are dependent on the continual intercession of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Do you think His hands ever hang down? No! Do they ever get weary? Impossible! " He led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven " (Luke 24:50). He was seen to go up into heaven with His hands uplifted in blessing, and so they are to this day. Oh, no! His hands never get weary. " Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:33, 34). Again, " He ever liveth to make intercession for us " (Heb. 7:25).
Amalek was defeated that day (vers. 13-16), but God remembered his wickedness. " Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou vast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it" (Deut. 25:17-19). Saul was told later to exterminate him, but he did not do it fully (1 Sam. 15). The point is this, the flesh must go. But what a blessed thing! You have the Spirit of God in you, and you have Christ on high for you. We are a well-cared-for people (vers. 15, 16).
" And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi," i.e., The Lord is my Banner (ver. 15). You will be a worshipper now. I think that is what leads the soul into worship. The Lord is my Banner! If the Lord is your Banner, victory is certain. Well, that is the way God opens up the history of His people. Clean out of Egypt, and tested in the wilderness. The more you are tested, the more you learn what God's grace is. You have Christ to feed on, and the Spirit of God to sustain you, and carry you on to victory, coupled with the wonderful truth of the intercession of the blessed Lord Jesus, now at God's right hand. Happy people are all those who walk in these precious truths.
Thou art my bread, Lord Jesus,
Evermore I live by Thee:
Thou art my wine, Lord Jesus,
For Thy blood was shed for me.
Ere my race, my course be run,
Ere the crown of life be won,-
Thou art my bread.
Thou art my wine, mine exultation,
Thou art the strength of my salvation.
Thou art my strength, Lord Jesus;
Power and praise belong to Thee:
Thou art my song, Lord Jesus,
For Thy grace sufficeth me.
Till the tears of time be o'er,
Till the tempter tempt no more,-
Thou art my strength:
Thou art my song in tribulation,
Thou art the horn of my salvation.
Thou art my light, Lord Jesus,
And I love to gaze on Thee,;
Thou art my life, Lord Jesus,-
Thou did'st give Thyself for me.
Though the lesser lights may pale,
Though my flesh and heart may fail,-
Thou art my life:
Thou art the sun of God's creation,
Thou art my light and my salvation.
Thou art my hope, Lord Jesus,-
I am waiting here for Thee;
Thou art my gain, Lord Jesus,
Thou art all in all to me.
Thou my joy, my peace, my light,
Thou my life, my hope, my might,-
Thou art my praise;
Thou art my Lord, mine adoration,
Thou art the God of my salvation,