Beware that you forget not the LORD your God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes…
What was there in God's gift of manna to humble Israel? We should rather think it placed them in a high and distinguished rank among nations. Whom else did God feed thus? It did exalt Israel; it did point him out and distinguish him far above the Hittites or Jebusites, or even the voluptuous and powerful Egyptians; and yet it humbled him. To humble is not to humiliate; humility is not humiliation. When shall humility be at its height? When tears and sighs and sickness and poverty have brought you down to the very grave? No such thing. When death has paralysed every power of body, and perhaps shaken the mind itself into a wreck? No such thing. When the world sneers and contemns your piety, and calls you the filth and offscouring of all things? No such thing. But look onward! look upward! Who are they falling down before Him that sitteth upon the throne, and casting their crowns at His feet? They are redeemed, and crowned, and glorified spirits; they are the most humble of our race; humility is made perfect, not in sorrows and scoffs, but there, midst harps and crowns and palms and songs. And since the Lord will thus perfect your humility by crowning you and receiving you to heaven, it is no hard matter to suppose that God might give Israel manna "to humble" them. The fact, then, is certain; but how is it brought about? by what process did the manna humble Israel? First of all it did so by the mystery of its dispensation; and thus Moses distinctly calls it "manna which thy fathers knew not." Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob had seen such a thing; the oldest Israelite had never eaten such food; it was "manna which thy fathers knew not." And the Israelites then alive were equally ignorant of its nature; with the manna actually before them it was still a mystery to them. They could not tell how it came, or whence it came, they simply could say they gathered it. And then there was the gathering, equally unaccountable. It was gathered in the morning, yet if any man should grudge his daily labour of collecting it, and his daily recognition of Him who gave it — if any man should try to make one morning's collection do for two days' food, behold on the morrow his pot of manna is a pot of corruption, and instead of food he finds worms. And then if any Israelite should dare to forget or to outrage the Sabbath by not collecting a double portion on the sixth day, he finds the ground all bare; the wilderness is arid and fruitless as ever; for bread he finds stones. But how did all this mystery humble them Why, it taught them, and made them feel their own ignorance. Let the Jew take up that "small round thing as small as the hoar frost on the ground," and let him tell me how it is made or whence it came. Not all the subtle learning of Egypt, which some of them doubtlessly possessed, could teach them this lesson; that grain of food is a puzzle for 603,000 men besides the Levites; the manna tended to humble them. And so with you. True, you have no food sent and gathered in a most incomprehensible manner; but every mercy you have which you do not understand takes its place side by side with the manna, and on the self-same principle ought to humble you. How, Christian, wast thou born again?, "The wind bloweth where it listeth," etc. And what is every step in the believer's career but a mystery of love — a mystery of grace? "Great is the mystery of godliness" great in the work of redemption by Christ — great in the application of that work by His Spirit — all, all, a great mystery from first to last. And shall we, standing as we do amidst the crowd of deep and awful truths — shall we, feeling in our own hearts that love "which passeth knowledge," and that power which like a hidden magnet draws us to holiness and God — shall we, surrounded by the "deep things of God" — shall we be aught else than nothing in our own sight? But, again, the gift of manna tended to produce this humbling effect by its greatness. I am not disposed to elevate the importance of the meat which perisheth, or to prove the vastness of God's gift to Israel by the fact that myriads of lives depended on the regular supply of this food. Neither will I dwell on the abundance in which manna strewed the spot of Israel's encampment; there was no lack in any tent of Jacob; the patriarch of a large family fared as well as though he had been childless and alone. Want was unknown in that mighty camp; all was plenty. Now this abundance alone would prove the greatness of God's gift; but we may rest our proof on higher grounds, and assert that whatever the nature of the manna, and whether sparingly or profusely given, the simple fact that God gave it makes it at once a great and unspeakable gift. A present from a great man is esteemed great from the very greatness of the donor. If the King were to give you some token of his regard, let it be trifling as it will — a mere bauble — yet how highly would you prize it! a case of gold is not too precious a casket for it. What, then, must be a gift from God! The greatness therefore of Him who gave Israel manna, and the love which the provision displayed, made it a great gift. But how did its magnitude tend to humble Israel? Why, by calling to Israel's continual remembrance their own unworthiness, and God's matchless and free mercy. And, surely the bounty of your Lord affects you in the same way; it must teach you your unworthiness. "The goodness of God leadeth you to repentance;" and thus Paul entreats the Romans, "I beseech you by the mercies of God." It must be a callous and a dead heart which does not feel its baseness whilst filling itself with new and full supplies of Divine goodness. The son may be hardened by rebuke or by punishment; he may be callous to recollections of past affection and care; but often as he holds out his hand to receive some gift of his pardoning father, that seared conscience speaks, that hard heart breaks, that rebellious arm trembles, and he who could dare a father's curse shrinks and quails before a father's gift, his unworthiness pressing on him with a weight he never felt before, and mercy accusing him more powerfully than all the reproaches which lips could utter. And in spirituals you will find there is nothing which impresses the soul with so deep a sense of guilt as a sense of Divine mercy. I may reckon up a long catalogue of your sins; I may tell you of all the guilty deeds you have done since childhood; but if I can, by the grace and power of the Spirit, put into your heart one evidence of Christ's love for sinners, I have done more towards your conviction of guilt than if I had opened the two tables of law, and tried your every act by the light of judgment. Sins will strike a man low, but God's mercies will gently lay him lower still. The penitent often sinks deeply and more deeply in the slough of despond; but there is a place where his position is lower still — it is the Cross of Christ; and when we need to learn or teach a lesson of self-renunciation, you may depend upon it the best subject for study is not the magnitude and the multitude of your sins alone, but the magnitude and the multitude of the Lord's mercies.
(D. F. Jarman, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: