“This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.” – Exodus 16:15
These words were spoken of the manna that was miraculously given to the children of Israel on their journey from Egypt to Canaan. The people were going hungry and were beginning to wonder if a mistake had not been made in leaving Egypt, a land of material plenty. In every tent there were murmurings and misgivings. They had gone but a few days into the wilderness when they came to Marah where they found the water bitter. After the Lord had helped them there, they journeyed a short distance to Elim where they found the twelve wells and seventy palm trees. But as they journeyed from Elim, hunger overtook them.
Then, just as the Lord had turned the bitter waters of Marah sweet for them, so now He gave them food. They had not sown, nor planted, nor harvested. It had come in answer to their prayers and was given every morning except on the Sabbath throughout the forty years of their wandering. It never failed them. They never had to worry about their food. They were allowed to gather only enough for each day’s need. Every evening their store would be gone. Yet as the days, weeks, months, and years went by, they knew from experience that they would have their daily bread.
This miracle testifies to the Lord’s love and providence which is constantly caring for us. The manna is a symbol of that food for the soul which the Lord came to give. He said He was the Bread of Life, that He came into the world that men might have food for their souls. The spirit as well as the body craves food. We do not live by bread alone. In the Lord our ideals are fulfilled. Through Him comes the power of a new life. The goodness of His life is food for men.
There are many things other than material bread which are necessary to men. They must not be covetous, they must not exalt themselves, they must not bear each other malice, they must not be idlers, they must do unto others as they would be done by, they must be patient under trial, they must be forgiving under persecution, they must not harbor impure thoughts and desires, they must be just and upright. Why? Because that is the life the Lord came to give. The human heart does hunger. It hungers for sympathy, for love, for righteousness.
This is true of the individual and also of communities and nations. If our lives are nourished by self-seeking, we shall find ourselves in conflict with others. In the domestic affairs of every country there is strife and bitterness because in the lives of many there is an indisposition for service and a desire to rule. In international affairs distrust and hatred lead to war.
And there is a further requirement. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Not only must men lead moral and upright lives; they must shun evils as sins against God. This is often overlooked. The good life is not based on the second great commandment alone, but on both of them, for the second cannot be kept without the first. Of himself no man has any love for the neighbor as such. That heavenly love is from the Lord alone, and is imparted only to those who shun evils as sins against Him. It can be received by no others. To shun the evils of selfishness, intolerance, and hatred because they are economically and internationally disastrous is not to shun them as sins, nor does it lead to the same result. Psychologically and spiritually this kind of avoidance of evil tends to the intensifying of the radical evil. It does not really remove it and implant a love of the neighbor’s good. That can be achieved only by shunning evils as sins and looking to the Lord for all goodness, wisdom, and power.
Ethics has as its principle “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” “The greatest happiness of the greatest number” can hardly be called a Christian principle. Christian principles are not concerned with numbers, great or little. Christian principles are concerned with the eternal welfare of every individual person. It is true that in the degrees of the neighbor a society or a community comes before an individual, but that is because the individual is part of the society or community and cannot function truly except as the larger body functions truly. If the community is out of order, every individual in it suffers as a result. In seeking the welfare of the community, therefore, the Christian is concerned with every individual in it. He does not recognize the right of the majority as opposed to the right of the minority. The minority are his brethren, in so far as there is good in them, as much as the majority.
Happiness, moreover, is from the Lord. It is not an object that man can seek for himself or directly for others. Christian love does, of course, desire and strive for the happiness of others, but primarily for their eternal happiness; and this they can have only as they come into the Divine order of life. The way to eternal life, which is happiness, is a way of self-discipline in truths. It is attained by the strait gate and narrow way. While Christian principle requires us to do all that we can to promote the well-being of others, it is insistent that neither we nor they can be happy except as we live according to the Divine truth of the Word of God.
One of the lessons taught by the giving of the manna is that we can trust the Lord for all that we require. If we live according to the truths of the Word, we shall find that the Lord does not fail. We should note that the manna brought blessing only as it was gathered every morning. It would not keep. Every day brings its tasks anew:
“New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life, and power, and thought.”
So does the familiar hymn describe the course of life. Our righteousness of yesterday is not sufficient for today. Virtues of the past are no excuse for vices of the present. The windows of heaven must be opened every morning. Idle satisfaction with our past is a sure sign of decay. Goodness always withers when it becomes the subject of self-congratulation. When we hear a person boasting of the good that he has done, we instinctively feel that his gold has become alloy. We are conscious that in a subtle way he is somehow debasing the currency. In such case the manna we are storing is surely breeding worms.
Our true and lasting joy in goodness is never found in pride that we have done so much. It always lies in the fact that we are doing it and loving to do it, in gratitude to our Father in heaven. Only the Lord can supply that nourishment which will endure. It endures because in genuine goodness is the Lord’s presence with His love.
A time came when the Israelites turned against the manna. In the words of Scripture they “loathed this light bread.” Sometimes even in the church people turn against spiritual truth. They develop notions about what is best for them and become a law unto themselves, indifferent to the truths of their religion. The truths of their church are pleasant food no longer.
The reason for this is obvious. Religion is of the life. Christian principles – unselfishness, humility, patience, sympathy – are not things that can be tasted only occasionally. Nor are they given to us and made our own all at once. Slowly the soul grows strong in the Christian graces. It is little by little and day by day that we gather the bread from heaven. It is truly our daily bread.