God had provided food for the Israelites. We are told that they were to gather the manna each morning, just enough for each individual. They couldn’t keep it until the next day because it would spoil. On the sixth day they were to gather a double portion because it wouldn’t be provided on the Sabbath, when they were to rest. There is one other interesting thing about this and it does give us an idea on how we’re to interpret the manna. They were to take an omer of it, put it in a jar, and then put it before the ark of the covenant. Now at this point that is an anachronistic reference because they didn’t yet have the ark or the tabernacle. But later, when these had been constructed, they were to take some and lay it up in the holy place of the tabernacle as a remembrance of what the Lord had done (see Deut. 8:2-3). At the end of this passage from Deuteronomy 8 we see that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
Now, when we handle biblical material there is always a great danger of overspiritualizing. There is a whole lot of evangelical popular literature that does that. You take every incident that you can find and you draw some kind of spiritual lesson out of it, which may or may not be a possible interpretation. It’s a great danger because the mind seems to be infinitely inventive, and it’s very easy to come up with things that aren’t in the text at all.
We don’t have a danger of doing that with this manna because verses like Deuteronomy 8:2-3 tell us how this text is to be understood. It’s bread from heaven, but that bread from heaven is to remind us that what we need is the true bread from heaven. Now as soon as I talk along those lines it begins sound familiar because that’s exactly the way Jesus talked about it in that great discourse in John 6. The people had come and had been fed by Him as He multiplied the bread and the fish, which is what they wanted. But Jesus said that what they needed in the most important sense was not that kind of bread, even physical manna that God miraculously provided, which Jesus was duplicating in some sense. What they needed was the true bread, who is Jesus Himself.
When Deuteronomy 8 talks about living by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, it’s telling us that we can draw a parallel between God’s provision of the manna and the way we are to feed upon the Bible. I have in my library one book that finds more than twenty lessons from the way the manna was given and how it was to be used. Some are a little far-fetched, but not all of it is. I want to give you some because they tell us something about how we ought to study the Bible.
A first parallel is that the manna was a supernatural gift from God. It wasn’t the product of some biological organism, and it wasn’t man-made, and it wasn’t something that they brought with them out of Egypt. It was something that God provided, and He provided it directly from heaven. If we are to make a parallel with the Scriptures as Deuteronomy encourages us to do, we must remind ourselves that the Bible is like that. The Bible is not a man-made book. It is true that the Bible came to us through human hands and had human authors. When Peter is writing about it, he makes it very clear that when human authors wrote what they did, it wasn’t something that just came out of their own fertile brains. Rather, he said they were carried along by the Holy Spirit so what they wrote down was actually what God intended them to write. That’s why when we talk about the Bible, we call it the Word of God. There’s a certain sense in which you could also say it’s the word of man, but that is greatly overshadowed by the fact that it’s the Word of God.
And since it is the Word of God, it carries with it the characteristics that we associate with God. One of them is perfection. God is not imperfect. If this is His word, then it’s perfect. It’s exactly what God intended it to be. Another thing is truthfulness. It doesn’t contain errors because God doesn’t lie. Another thing is authority. God is sovereign and therefore He is authoritative. The Bible has all those characteristics for us. It is a supernatural book.
A second parallel is that the manna had to be gathered. Now, I pointed out that manna was given freely by God. The people didn’t do anything to earn it. We didn’t earn the Bible; God has given it to us freely. Nevertheless, the manna didn’t fall into their mouths. They had to go out in the morning and gather it up regularly. That suggests to us that the Bible, if it is going to benefit us, requires work on our part. We have to gather it up as it were, meaning, we have to study it. Nobody ever said that Bible study was easy. It’s hard work. All kinds of study are hard and the Bible especially, because God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. When we come to the Bible we will always see things we don’t understand. We have to wrestle with it, struggle with it, in order to understand what it really says, sifting through all our prejudices to learn what it is saying.
A third parallel is that they had to gather it daily. What they gathered up one day wouldn’t do for the next, and people have rightly pointed out that this is the way we should study the Bible. That doesn’t mean, of course, that if for some reason we miss studying the Bible on a particular day that we are going to die from that. We would not die if we missed a meal on a given day. But we do need to eat on a regular basis, and the same is true for daily Bible study.