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What Is It?

by Tim O'Hearn

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. This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating. (Ex 16:15-18)

Moses here recounts the story of manna, the mysterious food from heaven while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. Rabbi Paul quotes this last verse in 2 Corinthians 8:15. There he makes a drash (a derived meaning) of what Moses says, applying it to tzedaka (charity) in the assembly of the believers in Yeshua.

Manna was a miraculous food. It appeared every morning, except the sabbath. It apparently changed flavor depending on the attitude of the eater. (A fine argument for always being in a chocolate attitude.) It spoiled overnight, except on Friday. It disappeared entirely as soon as the Israelites ate of the food of the promised land. (Josh 5:12) And, as we see in this passage, it was an equal opportunity food.

When the people complained for lack of food, God could have chosen to provide in any number of ways. Why did he choose manna? Perhaps it was because it was an unknown. (The word manna means “What is it?”) Perhaps it was the unusual nature of the food.

God gave manna in response to a complaint. The Israelites were in a desert place. They had no food, and they even imagined a probably faulty history.

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. (Ex 16:3)

In response, God gives them food. But it is most truly “daily bread.” In America some people go to the store and buy two weeks’ worth of groceries. God doesn’t allow this for his people in the wilderness. He gives them food for one or two days. He even tells them not to gather for more than the allotted number of days.

In addition, the greedy person who gathers as much as he can comes back to the Tabernacle and measures his harvest. No matter how much he gathered, he has an omer full. The person who gathered just a little also has an omer full. The person who gathered much probably thinks that is not fair. But God says it is everything he needs, just as the one who gathered little gets just what he needs.

Rabbi Saul of Tarsus argues many years later that this applies to charity as well. If one gives, he will receive. God will make sure he has just enough. He who has much to give will still have enough. He who has little, and yet gives, will also have enough.

When the people first saw manna, they said, “What is it?” The name stuck, because they did not yet have the answer. But God knew the answer. It was “trust.”

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