3.1.1 Bread/Grain: God's Provision
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 1.1
Bread/Grain: God's Provision
“Unless Yahweh builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless Yahweh watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:1-2) “Bread” in scripture is a rather transparent euphemism for anything necessary for the maintenance of the mortal human body. The Hebrew noun lehem, translated “bread,” denotes food in general—it’s from the verb laham: to eat. But as Solomon (the author of this Psalm) hints, the “bread of anxious toil” can be anything we provide for ourselves outside of the context of our relationship with Yahweh. We are to ask for His provision, be satisfied with His assessment of our needs, and be thankful for whatever we’re given. I hasten to add, however, that we’ve been “given” six days in which to work, not to mention brains, hearts, hands, and feet. God gives us good gifts, but it’s up to us to unwrap them.
Yahshua told His disciples pretty much the same thing Solomon did: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:25-34) Being “anxious about tomorrow” is a subtle form of idolatry: it’s saying in your heart, “My God is not able to meet my needs, so I must provide for them myself. Being industrious is not a sin, but taking credit for God’s provision is.
Another point: David wrote, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25) If we are not “righteous” (Hebrew: tsaddiyq—innocent, judicially guiltless, justified by God, or vindicated) then we can expect no such provision. “Social justice” is therefore nothing less than a flat denial of Yahweh’s sovereignty—His ability and willingness to provide for His children (those who are defined as “righteous”) as individuals. I’m not saying that God’s people will never fall on hard times: they occasionally do, and the Torah provided for them through the tithes of Israel. But that’s my point: God provided. His people were instructed to tithe on their increase—gains He had provided up front. The tithe was rendered only by people who honored Yahweh and His law—it wasn’t extorted from pagans and idolaters. Thus even poor Israelites were sustained by Yahweh: they were never reduced to “begging for bread.” Theocratic Israel was a far cry from the welfare state we’ve built today, where the productive (or merely blessed) are robbed to pay for the votes of the unproductive majority. (Oooo, that sounded harsh—I need to stop watching the political fray on TV.)
In all fairness, it does seem harder to make ends meet than it used to be. But perhaps this too is an illusion: easy credit in the western world for the past few decades has insulated us from the harsh reality of our true situation—and that insulation is now being torn away by the winds of prophetic change. The true nature of our situation was bluntly declared immediately after our parents fell into sin: “And to Adam [Yahweh] said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) Life is hard because we—all of us—choose (to some extent) to trust ourselves instead of trusting God. So our “bread,” the life we strive to provide for ourselves, is attained through pain, the sweat of our face, and “anxious toil.” But what’s essential in our lives—our eternal relationship with our heavenly Father—is as free as the low hanging fruit in the Garden of Eden was to Adam.
Yahweh therefore begs us to reexamine our priorities: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” There are pitfalls in being blessed. The line between what’s essential and what’s merely “desirable” can become fuzzier with every penny we earn. It becomes all too easy to confuse “bread” with crepes suzette. The point is not that a few “frills” in our lives are necessarily evil implements of the devil—poverty is no particular virtue. It’s that we need to keep crystal clear in our minds the distinction between what we need to live and what we want to make our lives more pleasant. Both categories are reason for thanksgiving, but only the former is essential. “Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”(Isaiah 55:1-3) If we understand the mind of God, we’ll realize that the “bare essentials” He’s offering are, in the long run, opulent beyond our wildest imagination. The covenant providing eternal life—the ultimate slice of “bread”—is ours if we will but “listen diligently” to Yahweh, “incline our ears,” come to Him, and “hear” Him—that’s shama: listen, pay heed, understand, and obey.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Yahweh made “bread” a recurring symbol in the rites and appurtenances of the tabernacle, for it’s what He provides to sustain us—in this life and in the next. Previously (in Volume I, Chapter 3), I explored the concept of “bread” as a symbolic way of revealing something about Yahweh’s character: His role as provider. Here we’re looking at it from the other direction—that which Yahweh provides. I realize that this is splitting hairs to some extent: what Yahweh provides is, in the end, mostly Yahweh Himself. So forgive me if some of this looks familiar. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.
As one entered the Holy Place, he would notice a small table placed against the right-side (northern) interior wall. Judging by the sheer volume of instruction concerning its construction and use, we can surmise that this was quite important to God, despite its small size. “You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me regularly.” (Exodus 25:23-30) The “bread of the Presence” was to be displayed on this little table, eaten by the priests, and replaced every Sabbath day. “Presence” is the Hebrew expression paniym lipne, two related words that together mean (roughly) “face to face,” or “in the face (or presence) of.” These loaves are sometimes referred to (in English) as the “showbread” because they were laid out before God, “shown” in His presence. There is no special Hebrew word directly translated “showbread” however: it’s always called either the bread of paniym (face or presence) or simply lehem (bread or food) in scripture.
The instruction concerning the “showbread” itself is as follows: “You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf. And you shall set them in two piles, six in a pile, on the table of pure gold before Yahweh.” “Fine flour” is not a measure of quality or texture so much as it is a definition: the chaff (indicative of that which is worthless, of no nutritional value) has been removed. In other words, this wasn’t “whole grain” bread. Although fiber in bread is generally a good thing from a dietary viewpoint (and was thus part of the normal Israelite diet), the fact that the grain husks could not be digested and utilized by the body made them a ready metaphor for worthlessness or irrelevance—the things in our lives that are not essential or beneficial. “And you shall put pure frankincense on each pile, that it may go with the bread as a memorial portion as a food offering to Yahweh.” Frankincense, as we’ll see later, indicates purity through sacrifice. “Every Sabbath day Aaron shall arrange it before Yahweh regularly; it is from the people of Israel as a covenant forever. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of Yahweh’s food offerings, a perpetual due.” (Leviticus 24:5-9)
The imagery of this “showbread” is reasonably self-evident. Since the bread is “in God’s presence,” and since there are twelve loaves, we can surmise that they represent the whole household of faith. It further seems (to me) that because they are to be arranged in two piles or rows side by side, one row represents Israel, while the other represents the Church. Both groups are sprinkled separately with frankincense. That is, both are made pure through Christ’s sacrifice, but their points of view were different: Israel (through the Torah) looked forward to it, and the ekklesia (through the Gospels) looked back. This observation is given credence by Paul: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (I Corinthians 10:16-18) Aaron the High Priest ultimately represents Yahshua the Messiah (the anointed intercessor): it is he who presents the loaves before Yahweh. When? On the Sabbath—the day that stresses the fact that we cannot work our way to God, but must rather rest in His finished work. The bread (the congregation of the faithful) is holy—that is, set apart for Yahweh’s honor and use—and it is to be before Him “perpetually”—forever. And one last thing: the bread is said to be “from the people of Israel”; in other words, the entire household of faith owes Israel a debt of gratitude for being the “designated driver” of our scriptural heritage.
The “Bread of the Presence” wasn’t the only grain offering specified in the Torah, of course. In fact, blood sacrifices were often to be accompanied by a grain offering, or minha (from the consonant root mnh, meaning “to give,” significant because grain or bread is a symbolic picture of God’s provision—that which He gives to us). Of course, every priestly ritual was a prophetic rehearsal of something Yahweh was planning to give us or do on our behalf—most of which was fulfilled in the life and mission of Yahshua our Messiah. The grain offering was deferred until Israel entered the Promised Land (see Numbers 15:2) because they were not in a position to plant or harvest wheat or barley in the wilderness, and you couldn’t really make “fine flour” (as opposed to whole grain “meal”) out of manna. Removal of the husks meant something.
Since the priests were precluded by their divine calling from earning a living in the usual way, the grain offerings comprised part of their livelihood. But (and this is important) the people who brought the minha didn’t consider this to be payment or remuneration for services rendered; it was, rather, an “offering to Yahweh.” Grain was part of the tithe, of course, but it also accompanied the animal sacrifices—and there were many throughout the year. The law of the minha is recorded (with every other type of offering) early in Leviticus: “When anyone brings a grain offering as an offering to Yahweh, his offering shall be of fine flour.” No “worthless” chaff or bran. “He shall pour oil [symbolic of God’s Spirit] on it and put frankincense [purity through sacrifice] on it and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. And he shall take from it a handful of the fine flour and oil, with all of its frankincense, and the priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.” Since “Aaron’s sons,” the priests, are symbolic of redeemed believers (children of the Anointed Intercessor, Christ) they are both recipients and contributors of the minha. But all of the frankincense was to be rendered back to Yahweh in His “memorial portion,” because although we are conduits of God’s provision in this world, only He can provide purity through sacrifice. “But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of Yahweh’s offerings made by fire.” (Leviticus 2:1-3) Again, what the priests received had not really been given to them, but to Yahweh. As Paul would later phrase the same truth, “We are joint-heirs with Christ.”
Moses continues: “No grain offering that you bring to Yahweh shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey as an offering by fire to Yahweh.” Nothing “corrupt” (represented by leaven) was to be offered upon the altar, for our Savior was free of corruption. Honey was not to be burned on the altar because it represents “the sweet life,” the antithesis of Yahshua’s advent. He came as a suffering servant. That being said, we are encouraged to provide a bit of “sweetness” to our fellow man—improving his earthly lot however we can. “As an offering of firstfruits you may bring them to Yahweh, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing aroma.” Salt, on the other hand, was required with every minha presentation. “You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:11-13) It speaks of preservation and flavor—things Yahshua provided to us, and that we are to pass on to others. All of these “additives” will be addressed more fully later in this chapter, by the way.
“If you offer a grain offering of firstfruits to Yahweh, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits fresh ears, roasted with fire, crushed new grain. And you shall put oil on it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. And the priest shall burn as its memorial portion some of the crushed grain and some of the oil with all of its frankincense; it is an offering by fire to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 2:14-16) The Feast of Firstfruits (see Leviticus 23:9-14) was a special case, designed (on the surface) to give the worshipers of Israel the opportunity to thank Yahweh for the anticipated harvest at the very beginning of the season—when the first of the barley was just starting to ripen. No “processing” was to be done—baking it into loaves or cakes or anything like that. Rather, the grain was to be simply cut from the field, crushed to separate out the chaff, and roasted. All of this esoteric symbolism, however, became crystal clear on Nisan 16 (Sunday, April 3), 33AD, the definitive fulfillment of the Feast’s prophetic promise: the resurrection of Yahshua from the tomb. He had been cut off from life, crushed for our transgressions, stripped of his worthless mortal body, surrendered to the flame of judgment on our behalf, and was lifted up as a “wave” offering before Yahweh. In doing this, He made the “oil” of the Holy Spirit available to us, He purified us through the “frankincense” of His sacrifice, and He preserved us from corruption with the “salt” of His covenant. And by doing so (as if that weren’t enough), He proved that the harvest of our souls was sure to follow: death had been swallowed up in victory!
I can’t stress enough that when the Torah rambles on about things like grain offerings—what to put in and what to leave out, how to do them and when—Yahweh is telling us a parable: He’s speaking in symbolic terms about His Messiah. These literal rites were to be performed by Israel as sort of a “dress rehearsal” of the production Yahweh was in the process of staging: our eternal redemption. Christians (or Jews, for that matter) who can’t see that the Feast of Firstfruits was not merely about “praising God for the harvest and the dedication of the first portion of the later crops” (as the margin note in the Ryrie Study Bible puts it) have missed the entire point.
I mean, read this explanation of the minha : “This is the law of the grain offering. The sons of Aaron shall offer it before Yahweh in front of the altar. And one shall take from it a handful of the fine flour of the grain offering and its oil and all the frankincense that is on the grain offering and burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a pleasing aroma to Yahweh. And the rest of it Aaron and his sons shall eat. It shall be eaten unleavened in a holy place. In the court of the tent of meeting they shall eat it. It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of My offerings by fire. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from Yahweh’s offerings by fire. Whatever touches them shall become holy.” (Leviticus 6:14-18) Is it even remotely possible that the Creator of the universe meant nothing more than what appears on the surface of this theological ocean? To believe that (as many do) you’d have to be able to look at a Lamborghini Murcielago and “see” nothing but paint, rubber, and a little glass. The truth goes deeper. There’s more to it. Much more.
I hasten to add that these are symbols, not allegories. That is, although Yahweh clearly meant for us to look beyond the literal surface meaning of His precepts, there is a literal, objective reality behind each symbol. God meant something specific and meaningful with each scriptural metaphor. Actually, that’s an understatement: everything we see here, if we’re able to perceive its intended implication, carries with it eternal consequence. And as I said, the object of these symbols is always real, concrete, and literal—not abstract, figurative, or “spiritual” (as in “meant only to teach a moral principle”). Charles Feidelson, Jr. explains the difference: “It is in the nature of allegory, as opposed to symbolism, to beg the question of absolute reality. The allegorist avails himself of a formal correspondence between ‘ideas’ and ‘things,’ both of which he assumes as given; he need not inquire whether either sphere is ‘real’ or whether, in the final analysis, reality consists in their interaction.” I’m not saying Yahweh never uses allegories. He does, though very sparingly. But the symbols employed in the Torah all point toward something real, literal, and vitally significant to every person alive.
Ordinarily, bread is made from grain—usually wheat or barley in Bible lands—something that not only comes from a living plant, but (like fruit) is the “seed” or genetic component of that plant. I think this is one more subtle way God has chosen to remind us that life comes only from life—a train of thought that leads us (if we’re willing to think) directly back to the loving provision of Yahweh, life’s First Cause.
But there was one short period of time when Yahweh short-circuited the whole process of planting, growth, and harvesting, and went directly from need to provision. I’m speaking, of course, of the manna the Israelites lived on in the wilderness. Here’s what happened: “And the people of Israel said to [Moses and Aaron], ‘Would that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you….” I realize that they were kind of new at this whole “trust Yahweh” thing. But had they forgotten how God had taken them out of Egypt? It hadn’t exactly been subtle. Only one month had passed since they left their lives of bondage, and already they were assuming that the God who had turned off the sun and killed the Egyptian firstborn (not to mention Pharaoh’s armies) had run out of ammo, so to speak. Okay, so feeding a couple of million people was “impossible.” But sending frogs, hail and locusts on schedule—and then removing them—wasn’t exactly easy, either. At some point, we all need to cross this same bridge: deciding in our own hearts whether Yahweh is actually God—thus capable of keeping His promises, however outlandish they might seem—or He’s not, in which case slavery or rebellion are our only options.
So God now promised to “rain bread from heaven.” I can imagine a wry smile creeping across Moses’ face. Oh, sure, why didn’t I think of that? And next week we’ll get water out of a rock, right? You’re enjoying this, aren’t You? After a lifetime of watching Yahweh provide for me in similarly unexpected ways, I’m finally starting to get the picture: adversity is merely a quiz in the schoolroom of life. Trust Yahweh and we pass; panic and we fail. I’m not saying these pop-quizzes are pleasant or fun, but they do help us gauge our progress. We haven’t really mastered the subject, however, until we can stand with Job and say, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”
So this hunger—and God’s solution to it—was a test: “And the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”The lesson was twofold: trust Yahweh to provide for your needs day by day, and trust Him to secure the future as well. “So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of Yahweh, because He has heard your grumbling against Yahweh. For what are we, that you grumble against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When Yahweh gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because Yahweh has heard your grumbling that you grumble against Him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against Yahweh….’” (Exodus 16:3-8) There’s an admonition for all of us here, and we usually miss it. Things happen in our world that we don’t like, don’t understand, or don’t agree with. We tend to lash out against those whom we perceive are “causing the problem,” our political opponents or philosophical adversaries. We need to understand that even if they are “causing problems” (though we seldom have enough information to be dogmatic about who the real villains are) they’re not worth attacking. Our destiny is in the hands of Yahweh our God, not these relatively puny humans, no matter how wrong (or how powerful) they might seem. Name any driving force in the history of human affairs—from Nimrod to Nero, from Attila to Ahmadinejad. If they were honest, they’d all have to say, “What are we? We’re nothing.” The real war is being fought on a spiritual battlefield—and our Commander in Chief has already won.
But I digress. “In the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that Yahweh has given you to eat.’” Bread from heaven, just as He promised. But remember, the adversity-provision cycle was a test: “‘This is what Yahweh has commanded: Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer [about half a gallon—enough to fill the average human stomach—twice], according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent….’” Do the math here: 600,000 men, plus their wives and children—about two million souls—each collecting half a gallon of manna per day—for forty years. What’s that, about fifteen billion gallons? That’s a lot of manna. Our God is not on a budget.
“And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.”Reminds me of life itself: rich or poor, we all “go home” with exactly the same amount of worldly goods. “And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted….” Two more lessons: (1) If we don’t trust God to provide for us tomorrow as He did today, life will stink, no matter how greedy we are; and (2) we need to receive what Yahweh has provided in a timely fashion—when it’s available. As Paul put it, “Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.”
As if to make sure everybody knew that this “manna” thing wasn’t merely some random (and fortuitous) freak of nature, Yahweh used it to teach the lesson of His Sabbath: in the end, you can’t work for your salvation. “On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, ‘This is what Yahweh has commanded: Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to Yahweh; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’ So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to Yahweh; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none….’” All of the gathering and preparation had to be done during the six days of the “work week.” All you could do with the manna on the Sabbath was enjoy it. This is all a transparent metaphor for God’s plan of salvation, and its schedule. It’s a gift that has been freely offered ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden (well, okay, Eve jumped). If Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8 have any validity (and I am convinced that they do) then we are very near the end of the “sixth day” of God’s redemption week. If we don’t go out and pick up what Yahweh provided—the “bread of life,” Yahshua the Messiah—before “sundown,” then come the Sabbath, we’ll starve.
But some people, then as now, refuse to be taught. “On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! Yahweh has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:13-30) This wasn’t rocket science; the instructions are quite straightforward. And yet, there were still those who flouted God’s law. In terms that could only be misunderstood by the most stubborn and hardheaded of rebels, Yahweh told them not to gather manna on the Sabbath. The all-too-transparent reason (we can see in hindsight) was that although He provides everything we need, there will come a time when mankind must rest in what He has already given us. The prophetic ramifications are hard to miss.
It is therefore frustrating to note that this passage is the source of the rabbinical concept of the “Sabbath day’s journey” that decrees that you can walk only two thousand cubits (a little over half a mile) on the Sabbath. It drives me crazy: first they ignored the clear context: “Don’t go out and gather manna (i.e., don’t provide ‘salvation’ for yourself) on the Sabbath.” And then they played fast and loose with God’s literal requirement. I mean, if you’re going to be a legalistic stickler here (something I’d at least respect), the text says not to go anywhere—two thousand cubits is two thousand too far. As usual, if you don’t take pains to understand the symbol God has presented, you’ll be lost.
Manna was a substitute for grain that would ordinarily have been used to make bread. We aren’t told exactly what it was, but we do know how it arrived and what it looked like. “Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.” (Numbers 11:7-9) Bdellium sounds to me like a radioactive isotope or something. But actually it was an aromatic, transparent yellowish resin from an Arabian tree, similar to myrrh. The name (Hebrew: bedolah) comes from a root verb meaning to separate or divide, set apart, or make a distinction. Since we’re also told that manna was like coriander seed, we’re getting the picture: its form was that of particles, pellets, or seeds that people could easily distinguish and pick up from the ground. It’s not too much of a stretch to observe that God’s provision in general follows the same pattern: it is easily distinguishable from what the world has to offer, it is sufficient, complete within itself, it “tastes good,” and it shows up right when we need it. A miracle of logistics.
It’s not that God doesn’t want us to stand on our own two feet, labor joyfully, and be productive. Manna was admittedly an emergency measure, like burning candles when the electricity is out. It was not meant to be the status quo in our mortal lives; it was only meant to get us through the wilderness in one piece. So we read, “While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho.” That’s on the west bank of the Jordan—within the Land—for you who are geographically challenged. “And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:10-12) As soon as they crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land, God ceased feeding Israel miraculously, and began meeting their needs providentially.
This is where the “politically correct” crowd begins to take issue with Yahweh’s modus operandi. Since His people have to live in the world, but are instructed to be separate from it, we see time and again in scripture that the resources of pagans and idolaters are tapped to provide for the needs of Yahweh’s children. The pattern is obvious here: fields planted by Canaanites were harvested by Israelites. Later we see David using the spoils of war to fund the first temple; the Persian King Cyrus financed the second temple; and Herod the Idumean tyrant paid for its spectacular upgrade at the time of Christ. In my own life, when I was running my own business, most of my clients were non-believers. My biggest client, in fact, was a company owned by Muslims! I worked hard and served them well, but the fact remains, God’s providence was funneled through the pockets of people who didn’t honor Him. Don’t get me wrong: this is not a license to steal from His enemies. But we should not have a problem with letting them “pay our way” by being valued employees or productive vendors to them. When Yahshua taught us that the meek will inherit the earth, He was referring to the provision of barley on the plains of Jericho, not the miracle of manna at Kadesh-Barnea.
Manna, as we have seen, was literally “bread from heaven.” “When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.” (Numbers 11:9) It’s purpose was to miraculously provide life for the Israelites when they could not provide it for themselves—and more to the point, associate this sustenance with Yahweh in the eyes of the people. This makes it an all-too-obvious metaphor for Yahshua of Nazareth, who told the crowds, “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to Him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life….”
How does bread “save” us? How does it give us life? When we eat food, its nutrients are assimilated into our bodies. It literally becomes part of us, repairing us at the molecular level and providing the energy we need to move us through our days. The Messiah does precisely the same thing for our souls. When we receive Him into ourselves, He restores us, helps us grow, and becomes the fuel utilized by the spiritual “engine” dwelling within us—the Holy Spirit. And because the Spirit is eternal, so are the effects of assimilating Christ: “Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst….”
I have no doubt that the first time the Israelites saw the manna lying there on the ground, some of them didn’t think of it as “food.” But word must have spread quickly once that first brave soul listened to Moses and gave it a try. Unfortunately, the world still hasn’t accepted the idea that Yahshua the Messiah is the spiritual “bread” that’s so essential to our well being. But like the manna, He’s the only game in town; so we’ve only got two choices: receive Him or remain spiritually hungry. “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out….” This sounds at first blush as if predestination might be in play, but the intricacies of Greek grammar dispel that thought. The word “gives” is the Greek didosin, derived from didomi—to give, grant, or bestow. This form is the third person singular present active indicative, which to us mortals merely means that the “giving” of us who come to Christ is a continuous, linear action that the Father is performing, one that is actually (i.e., not just hypothetically) occurring. To read any more into this (such as the negative proposition that God might decide to proactively withhold souls from His Messiah, who would then cast them out) is absolutely unwarranted. The bottom line is that the path to Yahweh is through Yahshua, who promises never to reject an honest searcher. Salvation is ours for the asking. All we have to do is receive it.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’” (John 6:33-40) In other words, forget religion. God is not primarily interested in our good behavior, obedience, alms, or penance, though these may be good things. His will—what He wants first and foremost—is that we should look on His son Yahshua (that is, perceive who He is and what He has done) and believe in Him (trust and rely upon Him) the same way that the Israelites came to “believe in” the manna in the wilderness. They didn’t really have to understand where it came from or what it was; they only had to go out and get it, knowing that it was, in point of fact, the difference between living and dying.
So just as bread is provided by God to preserve and sustain our mortal bodies, Yahshua is provided by God to preserve and nourish our souls. Yahshua pointed out the symbols’ equivalence at the last supper: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’” (Matthew 26:26) The bread had originally been made by cutting down the standing grain, crushing the living kernels to make flour, and then subjecting the dough to the oppressive heat of the oven. Now the bread was broken in pieces and distributed among men. All of this is a thinly veiled euphemism for what Yahshua endured for our sake. It is to our shame, of course, that God found it necessary to subject Himself to all this pain on our behalf. But He did it, and did it gladly, so that we, the objects of His love, might live.
I must pause and ponder, then, what His reaction must be to those who, in light of these things, refuse to partake of the Living Bread He has laid before us. The Israelites in the wilderness complained (ignorantly and unfairly) that God had brought them out of Egypt so they could die of hunger and thirst in the desert. It would therefore have been unthinkable for them to have refused to eat the mysterious manna and drink the miraculous water—for any reason—when it appeared before them. How strange it is that the same is not true concerning the spiritual food the world craves—Yahshua the Messiah. The vast majority of mankind shrugs, yawns, and says, “I’m not that hungry.” Incredibly (to me, anyway) the world looks at Christ’s gift and says, That’s too easy—there must be a catch, or He’s not what I was expecting, or I can take care of myself, or my personal favorite dumb excuse, I’m on a diet: I don’t need spiritual sustenance. Don’t kid yourself. Just as your mortal body won’t last long without food, neither will your soul. Spiritual anorexia is 100% fatal.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Yahweh has in the past used physical hunger to answer spiritual stubbornness. Facing the Babylonians in the wake of centuries of idolatry, Israel was given this prophetic message: “Moreover, He said to me, ‘Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment.’” (Ezekiel 4:16-17) It’s not like they hadn’t been warned. Moses had told them what to expect when they turned their backs on Yahweh: “And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom Yahweh your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.” (Deuteronomy 28: 53-55) It’s one thing to feel a little peckish. It’s something else entirely to be so desperately hungry that you’re ready to kill and eat your own children. Yet despite the warnings, this is precisely what happened to Israel several times during their long and rebellious history. Their physical hunger was intended to remind them of their self-imposed spiritual starvation.
Does the hunger of God’s judgment still loom in mankind’s future? I’m afraid it does. Describing the conditions that will precede the end of the age (calling them the “beginning of birth pangs”) Yahshua informs us: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:7) And as the Tribulation shifts into high gear, it will take on “Biblical proportions,” so to speak: “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!’” (Revelation 6:5-6) A “denarius” is a full day’s wages for a typical blue-collar laborer. So it’s not like there won’t be any food, but nobody but the elite upper class will be able to buy much of it. This implies that there will be an ever-widening gap between rich and poor; the middle class will all but disappear. And hunger will be the order of the day.
Perhaps you’re asking (as Abraham did when enquiring about Lot’s fate), “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23) God might reply, No, of course not, but just how righteous do you think you are? After all, Ezekiel informs us, “The word of Yahweh came to me: ‘Son of man, when a land sins against Me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 14:12-14) On our own, you and I don’t measure up to the likes of Noah, Daniel, and Job, I’m guessing. How then can we be delivered when Yahweh “breaks the supply of bread” in the world, as He has promised to do? Is He going to “sweep away the righteous with the wicked this time? Is He going to feed only the best of us, and let the rest starve?
Not exactly. Ask yourself: what was the basis of Lot’s “righteousness” as he lived his life in Sodom? He was no “Daniel,” I can assure you. From what we’re told, Lot was weak and venal, and his moral compass didn’t exactly point north. But with all his faults, he did worship the God of Abraham. His relationship with Yahweh, however strained it must have been by his chosen environment, was the sole basis of Lot’s “righteousness.” Lot’s physical removal from Sodom before disaster struck was prophetic of something yet in our future. This singular event, hinted at throughout scripture, will prove to be the fulfillment of the fifth of Yahweh’s seven “holy convocations,” the Feast of Trumpets. In it, all of believing humanity—the living and the dead—will answer Yahshua’s call and be caught up into the clouds to meet Him, clothed with new immortal bodies. Paul describes it in detail, and he even tells us why God has arranged this unusual exit strategy for us: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” (I Thessalonians 4:9-10) The “righteousness” that can be counted upon to “deliver our lives” (like Noah’s, Daniel’s, or Job’s would have) is borrowed—it is imputed or assigned to us, because Yahweh’s Spirit dwells within us. It is the very righteousness of Christ, the bread of life.
However, just as famine and hunger—the lack of physical bread—can be a sign of our refusal to receive spiritual nourishment, the reverse is also true. There is a positive correlation as well: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (II Corinthians 9:10-11) This is not—as it may look at first glance—an argument for a “prosperity gospel,” where you’re told that if you contribute to this ministry or that, you will be blessed with material riches. God’s provision is not designed to feed our greed. Rather, Paul is merely stating that investment in God’s kingdom will result in a continued ability to invest in His kingdom. It’s the “harvest of your righteousness” that’ll increase—not your bank account (necessarily). Of course, it’s axiomatic that such givers will enjoy enough “prosperity” to hold body and soul together: our needs will be met however God chooses to provide for us.
Paul apparently had this promise from the pen of Isaiah in the back of his mind: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) Yahweh alone decides how His resources will be allocated among men. The counterintuitive truth—one we must not forget—is that He has determined to speak His words through our mouths—our “unclean lips,” as Isaiah put it. It’s one thing for us to have faith in God. Once we understand who He is and what He’s done, that makes perfect sense. But it’s another thing entirely to come to the startling realization that God has faith in us. It’s humbling, daunting, and not a little scary. But He is our Father: He has provided everything we need for life and godliness.