The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.1. And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin (exactly one month after the departure from Egypt), which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt 2. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured (this is the third murmuring) against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
3. And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God (Heb. omits the word God) we had died by the hand of the Lord (perhaps an allusion to the last of the plagues) in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full (a compliment to Egypt); for ye have brought us forth into, this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
4. 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 (a day's meal for a day), that I may prove them (what God did in Eden) whether they will walk in my law, or no.
5. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day (in Egypt the week of seven days was at this time unknown) they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
6. 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:
7. 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?
8. 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.
9. 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,
10. 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 (the pillar of the cloud is meant).
11. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
12. 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.
13. And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up (the common quail is very abundant in the east), and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host (literally, there was a lying of dew).
14. And when the dew that lay was gone up (drawn by the heat of the sun), behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.
15. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna (what is this?); for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat (and which they did eat for forty years).
16. This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer (about three pints English) for every man (for every head), according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.
17. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.
18. And when they did mete it with an omer (publicly measured in the camp), he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
19. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.
20. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them.
21. And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.
22. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses (who had either not made known the law, or the rulers had forgotten it).
23. And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord (not the rest. The absence of the article intimates that it is a new thing that is announced): bake that which ye will bake to-day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.
24. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.
25. And Moses said, Eat that to-day; for to-day is a sabbath unto the Lord: to-day ye shall not find it in the field.
26. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
27. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.
28. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my Commandments and my laws?
29. See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
30. So the people rested on the seventh day.
31. And the house of Israel called the name thereof manna: and it was like coriander seed, white (a small round grain, of a whitish or yellowish grey); and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
32. And Moses said, This is the thing which the Lord commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt.
33. 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.
34. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony to be kept.
35. And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.
36. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.
Manna In the Wilderness
Always remember that these are the people who had just been singing. Whatever they did they seemed to do with a will. We thrilled under their song: we called it sublime, religiously impressive, and morally full of the spirit of education and comfort. The song has hardly died away from their lips when they begin to murmur. They first murmured at Marah because the waters were bitter, and now they murmur in the wilderness because food is scanty. There are many people who sing with great expression and fervour when everything is going just as they want it to go. Their song is full of emptiness; it is a vain speech and a profanation of music. There are many such living and have lived in all ages. We know how their business is going by the way in which they accost us. They have no souls. Always remember, further, that just one month had elapsed since the departure from Egypt. The poet makes a point of the two little months that had elapsed between two circumstances which were apparently incongruous and irreconcilable. He cries the more bitterly when he says,—"But two months—two little months!" Here that act, so startling, marked by cruelty and by baseness of design, is completely outdone: for there was but one month—one little month between the mighty deliverance and the atheistic murmuring. It is difficult to have a solid piety—really four-square, permanent in its dignity, independent of all circumstances, except so far as its immediate being is concerned,—a piety founded upon a rock lifting up its turrets and pinnacles to the sky, defying all wind, and thunder, and tumult of the elements. Until we realise such a piety as that, our education is immature and incomplete.
Observe how the most astounding miracles go for nothing. Then the miracles were nothing to those who observed them. They were applauded at the time, they sent a little thrill through those who looked upon them with eyes more or less vacant and meaningless; but as to solid result, educational virtue and excellence, the miracles might as well not have been wrought at all. It was the same in the days of Jesus Christ. All his miracles went for nothing amongst many of the people who observed them. A miracle is a wonder, and a wonder cannot be permanent. Wonders soon drop into commonplaces, and that which astounded at first lulls at last,—yea, that which excited a kind of groping faith may by repetition soon come to excite doubt and scepticism and fear. What wonder, then, if the miracles having thus gone down in importance and value, the most splendid personal services followed in their wake? This is a necessary logic; this is a sequence that cannot be broken. He who goes down on the Divine or upward side of his nature must go down on the human and social side in the same proportion; when faith in miracles goes, faith in all that is noblest in brotherhood will follow it. A kind of socialism will be trumped up, a species of commonwealth will be attempted, men will try to make up for their non-religion by their surplus philanthropy; but the adequate truths being absent the attempt will end in spasm, and impotence, and uselessness. We owe more to the religious element than we suppose. Religion is not confined to the region of contemplation, speculation, metaphysical inquiry, secret and ineffective worship. It comes down into all the lines of life; it lifts up common speech into uncommon eloquence; it raises out of the stones children unto Abraham; it turns the common supper-bread into a symbol of the Lord's body. Do not let us imagine, then, that we can dismiss faith in the miracles, faith in inspiration, faith in the Bible,—and yet retain society in all its deepest meaning and tenderest ministries and noblest uses. When the altar falls, the home is no longer safe.
Observe what an effect long servitude had produced upon the children of Israel. Was there ever a meaner cry than this:—"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"? That is not manly. How is such unmanliness of whining and whimpering to be accounted for? By long subjugation; by days and months and years and generations of servitude. The man can be driven out of the man; the man can be debased into almost a beast of burden. He can forget his yesterdays, his heaven-pointing book, his prayer, and all the upward look that made him almost an angel. Servitude has done this in every country; and we cannot expect people who have been for generations in bondage to stand up and claim intellectual equality with men who have been living under the sun of freedom century after century. The criticism would be unfair. Were this a merely historical matter, it would be of comparatively little consequence; but it is a spiritual matter. The eternal form of the lesson is this:—that servitude to sin takes the pith out of manhood. A man cannot be both a bad man and a strong man. The law—unwritten, if you please—of heaven, of the eternities is against this anomaly. Repeat the sin, and you drop into a deeper baseness; renew your loyalty to the devil, and your power of resisting him goes down with every new act of obeisance. So the time comes when the strong man becomes himself in abject servility to the foe. He who once could say No with all the roundness and emphasis of the thunder, can now only whisper his consent to the temptations of the devil. Virtue grows stronger and stronger. He that hath clean hands becomes a mightier man every day; at the last he is a giant, as in the midst he was a hero.
What do the people do? They rest in second causes. The people saw no further than Moses and Aaron: they complained against their leaders; they murmured against the Divinely-appointed princes of Israel. What is the all-healing method of looking at things?—looking at the whole, or taking a comprehensive view. This is the difficulty of all time. It is the supreme trial of many men. Who can see a whole horizon? Who has a pivotal mind that can turn round and see all that there is to be seen? We suffer from our very intensity of mind,—that is to say, from our power of fixing the attention upon one point only and not taking the whole circle and the whole balance of the Divine economy. What a difference there is amongst men in this respect! How needful it is to get rid of the sophism that one man is equal to another, or is upon a level with another, or is to be accounted only as one by any other. We need correction upon the matter of personality. Moses was more than a person in the narrow and familiar sense of that term. So are all the prophets and leaders of the Church, so are all the seers and mighty men of God in every age. Luther was not one; Wesley was not one—simply a man, a figure, a unit. There are personalities that are compendiums; there are individualities that are full of nations and empires and fatherhoods of glory. There are Abrahams who have in them a multitude no more to be counted than is the sand upon the seashore. So when we talk about "personal following" we talk about that which needs definition. Who is the person? Is he the father of a multitude, the prince of nationalities? Is he fruitful of thought, having ideas on which ages may feed? So we say "Take him for all in all," or, to use a commoner form of expression, "Looking at him all round." But in many cases there is no "all for all" to take: there is no "all round" to survey. In such instances, we cannot talk about persons and personalities and individual followings, for following there will be little or none. It is the man who is himself a Multitude that takes the nations with him. Moses, therefore, is not to be noted in the census of the wilderness as one but as a whole nation.
So far the children of Israel were right: they complained against the right man—if it were proper to complain against him at all. What we need is the complete view, the all-including view,—the Apostolic view, lifted up to which the greatest man born of woman has said, "All things work together for good to them that love God." We sometimes miss the sublime boldness of that speech by omitting to reflect that the man who spoke it had a mind that could stretch itself by sacred imagination and tender sympathy over all the things of which the Divine economy is compounded. God is the real object of murmuring. Moses put this point very clearly:—"Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." The people did not mean that, perhaps; but we cannot be measured by our own reckoning when we come into the sphere religious and moral. We are always doing things we do not mean to do, and sometimes we do things of which we are wholly ignorant; and when we are sharply reminded of what the real meaning of our action is, we stand back in affront and express the language of surprise, and assume an attitude of unbelief. But we need the great teachers of the Bible, the men of penetration of every age, to show us what an action is. The man of science tells us that when we lift a hand we send a motion to the stars. Having heard that statement we account it grand, because it is the statement of one of the exact sciences. When another man of science says that every breath you draw affects the general level of the Atlantic, we say, "How amazing are the discoveries of science!" When the moral seer tells us that our whining is not against man but against God, we call him a "fanatic"! The ways of man are not equal. He who is amazed, because he is given to understand that the lifting of his hand sends a shudder to the stars, listens with unbelief to the statement that a lie grieves the Spirit of God,—a sin of any name wounds the peace of Heaven.
God knows how far he himself is responsible for our circumstances, and up to that degree he is faithful. He will find a solution of all difficulties how tangled and obstinate soever. This is a case in point:—The people had not taken themselves into the wilderness: God had taken them there, and he will see them out of it. So we say about honourable men when they undertake to lead us, and certain circumstances transpire which are of the nature of difficulty and hindrance. They say, in the spirit of honour,—"We are accountable for this; our strength is yours until this battle is fought; you did not bring yourselves in here, and out of it we will see you, health permitting, life being spared." So the Lord will not leave us in wildernesses into which he himself has brought us. If we ourselves have gone into the desert without his permission or consent, we may be allowed to die there, and to remain without a grave in the sand in which we vainly thought to find a heaven: but if we have obeyed the Divine voice, and gone in the providential way, whatever there is on the road—Marah, or place of sand, or great river, or greater sea—God will find a way through all. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
See how wonderfully God asserts law in the very midst of the most compassionate mercy:—I will give you bread in the wilderness, but on the sixth day you shall gather a double quantity; the Sabbath must be kept. How marvellous are the compassions of God! and how marvellous the law of God! We are not given over to wantonness and licence, gathering just as much as we please and every day of the week. God will have his time respected. If you gather more than he wants you to gather, it will rot,—it will offend your nostrils by its pestilent odour, and you will be glad to get rid of it. If you go out on the Sunday to see if you cannot do something that you did on Saturday, God will attend to the penal side of the act; you are building a house of smoke, and you can never live to enjoy it. Life is law—mercy; work-day—rest-day; labour—prayer; on the earth—in heaven. Blessed is the man whose life is thus balanced.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth lite unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread." A noble prayer! Made for every age, capable of being uttered by every tongue. "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever." So there is an evangelical use of the ancient incident. Thus old history is turned into new uses, and all the days of the past are regarded as parables which have been teaching some higher truth than was at first observed within the corners of the narrow facts.
God is repeating this manna miracle every day. All food comes from above. You mistake, if you think you find your food otherwhere than from heaven. No sky, then no wheat; no cloud overhead, then no garden round about; no firmament, then no earth; no rain, no beauty; no fragrance of flowers, no summer feast. What are we eating? On what is our life being supported? We ought to ascertain this, and be very clear and distinct about it. At what table are we sitting? a table of our own spreading, or of God's? "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." These are the invitations that make the Bible the most hospitable of all books. The Bible will have us eat and drink abundantly at God's banquet board. What is our reply? Shall we eat bread for the body and have no sustenance for the mind? Shall we feed the flesh and starve the soul? Are we—men of boasted wisdom and education—the men to strengthen the bones and make as iron the sinews, and attend to all the wants of the flesh, and to let the soul, the spirit, the inner guest die for want of light and air, and nutriment? Count him a murderer who kills his soul.
Moses In the Wilderness of Sin
People may be strong and hopeful at the beginning of a project, and most effusively and devoutly thankful at its close, but the difficulty is to go manfully through the process. Israel was in the desert, and never were spoiled children more peevish, suspicious, and altogether ill-behaved. If they could have stepped out of Egypt into Canaan at once, probably they would have been as pious as most of us; but there was the weary interval, the inhospitable wilderness! It is so in our life. Accept it as a solemn and instructive fact that life is a process. It is more than a beginning and an ending: more than a cradle and a grave. The child may be good, and the old man may be tranquil, but what of the petulant, self-willed, and prayerless being between these extremes?
The history leads us to dwell on Processes. See how far the historical teaching represents our own experience.
First. Processes try men's temper. See how the temper of Israel was tried in the wilderness! No bread, no water, no rest! How do processes try men's temper? (1) They are often tedious; (2) they are often uncontrollable; (3) they often seem to be made worse by the incompetency of others.
We must not drive life. Nature is not to be whipped and spurred by impatient riders. God's administration is calm. The wheels of his chariot are not bespattered by the mud of blustering and reckless haste. On the other hand, we are not to find in this reflection an excuse for the indolence and incapacity of men. There are stones which we can roll away. There are turbid little streams which we can bridge. There are gates which weaker men than Samson can carry away. There is the profoundest difference between the indolence of men and the eternal calm of God. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." "I must work while it is called day."
Second. The trials of processes are to be met not all at once, but a day at a time. "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." See the law by which the manna was given. There was not a large store sent down. Daily hunger was met by daily bread. We are not allowed to live two days at once. In the parable the pendulum was told that it had to give but one tick at a time. The heart beats in the same way. Upon how little sleep it lives!
This daily display of Divine care teaches (1) that physical as well as spiritual gifts are God's; (2) that one of God's gifts is the pledge of another. "Not as the world giveth, give I unto you." Why am I to be easy about tomorrow? Because God is good to-day! "He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
Third. Processes show the different dispositions of men. Not their tempers only, but the deeper realities and aspects of their character. They were told not to leave any of the manna until the morning of the following day, but some of them did leave it. You cannot convince some men, nor can you bind them by authority, nor can you bring them under a common discipline. No. Provision must be made for madmen. Every society out of heaven is probably disturbed by some kind of eccentricity. Though the people were told in the distinctest manner that there would be no manna on the seventh day, yet they went out to gather it just as if they had never been warned! Such men are the vexation of the world. They plague every community of which they are a portion. You tell them that tickets cannot be had after a certain day, but they give you the lie, as far as they can, by coming for them two days after. There are such wise men everywhere, but happily they are now and then effectually checked and humbled. What a humiliation awaits them in the long run!
The history, at this point, urges the most direct application of its truths upon our spiritual nature, (1) We have the means of life at our disposal: the manna lies at our tent-door! (2) We are distinctly assured that such means are given under law: there is a set time for the duration of the opportunity: the night cometh!
Some men will set themselves against God in these matters. They will persistently work contrariwise. They will defy the law: they will challenge the sword: they will tell you that the night has no darkness for them, and that when God has shut the door the key of their importunity will open it! Beware of such men. They will fail you at last; and when you smite them with your reproaches, you can add no pain to the torment of their damnation.
Fourth. All the processes of life should be hallowed by religious exercises. There was a Sabbath even in the wilderness. The Sabbath is amongst the very oldest institutions. God rested on the seventh day, and blessed it. Before the law was given from Sinai God gave the Sabbath to Israel. Man must have rest, and all true rest is associated with religious ideas and aspirations. The animal rest is but typical: the soul must have its hours of quietness; the spirit must pause in the presence of God to recover its strength.
(1) The Sabbath is more than a mere law; it is an expression of mercy. (2) No man ever loses anything by keeping the Sabbath: "The Lord giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days." (3) He is the loser who has no day of rest.
Fifth. Processes should leave some tender and hope-inspiring memories behind them. "Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt." The way to enrich life is to keep a retentive memory in the heart. Look over a period of twenty years, and see the all-covering and ever-shining mercy of God! How many special providences have you observed? How many narrow escapes have you experienced? How many difficulties have you surmounted? How often have you found a pool in unexpected places? We should lay up some memory of the Divine triumphs which have gladdened our lives, and fall back upon it for inspiration and courage in the dark and cloudy day. Go into your yesterdays to find God! Search for him in the paths along which you have come, and if you dare, under the teaching of your own memories, deny his goodness, then betake yourselves to the infamous luxury of distrust and reproach!
Sixth. The process will end. Though the wheels move slowly, yet will they reach the goal! You are not the men you were twenty years ago! The most of the desert-road is now behind some of you. Your future on earth is narrowing itself to a point. How is it with your souls? Your feet are sore with the long journey; are your wings ready for flight into the kingdom of the crystal river and the unsetting sun?
Note on Manna
"It may have been derived from the manna rams known in various countries. There is an edible lichen which sometimes falls in showers several inches deep, the wind having blown it from the spots where it grew, and carried it onwards. In 1824 and in 1828, it fell in Persia and Asiatic Turkey in great quantities. In 1829, during the war between Persia and Russia, there was a great famine at Oroomiah, south-west of the Caspian Sea. One day, during a violent wind, the surface of the country was covered with what the people called 'bread from heaven,' which fell in thick showers. Sheep fed on it greedily, and the people who had never seen it before, induced by this, gathered it, and having reduced it to flour, made bread of it, which they found palatable and nourishing. In some places it lay on the ground five or six inches deep. In the spring of 1841, an amazing quantity of this substance fell in the same region, covering the ground, here and there, to the depth of from three to four inches. Many of the particles were as large as hail-stones. It was grey, and sweet to the taste, and made excellent bread. In 1846, a great manna rain, which occurred at Jenischehr, during a famine, attracted great notice. It lasted several days, and pieces as large as a hazel-nut fell in quantities. When ground and baked it made as good bread, in the opinion of the people, as that from grain. In 1846 another rain of manna occurred in the government of Wilna, and formed a layer upon the ground, three or four inches deep. It was of a greyish-white colour, rather hard, irregular in form, without smell, and insipid. Pallas, the Russian naturalist, observed it on the arid mountains and limestone tracts of the Great Desert of Tartary. In 1828, Parroth brought some from Mount Ararat, and it proved to be a lichen known as Parmelia Esculenta, which grows on chalky and stony soil, like that of the Kirghese Steppes of Central Asia. Eversmann described several kinds of it, last century, as found east of the Caspian, and widely spread over Persia and Middle Asia. It is round, and at times as large as a walnut, varying from that to the size of a pin's head, and does not fix itself in the soil in which it grows, but lies free and loose, drinking in nourishment from the surface, and easily carried off by the wind, which sweeps it away in vast quantities in the storms of spring, and thus causes the 'manna rains' in the districts over which the wind travels." —Geikie's "Hours with the Bible."