“Grant me, O Lord” prayed Lancelot Andrewes, “for nothing earthly, temporal or mortal to long or to wait.”
In Exodus 16 the people long for the fleshpots of Egypt.
The Lord provides supernaturally. Manna is natural nourishment, but supernaturally provided and supernaturally administered. It shows up on the rainless desert floor every morning, like dew. They gather what they need, one omer to each person. One omer is sufficient for a child or a growing teenager, apparently. Nobody lacks, nobody goes hungry, it is the perfect food.
On the sixth day they gather twice at much. There must have been twice as much there to gather, because they wonder about it; they come and ask Moses. He says it is what the Lord had said, which he did. It’s just they know that if they keep it from one day to the other, it usually hasn’t lasted. But on this occasion they are supposed to keep it for the next day. There’s going to be a day of rest.
Knowing that every other day manna doesn’t last from one day to the other, there is only God’s word for it that one day out of seven it will behave otherwise. Of course, it is miraculously supplied, and it is strangely sufficient in the advised quantity of an omer. Everything about this natural food is unusual.
Of course there are those who keep it and find out about the nasty side of manna, as well as those who go out looking on the Sabbath. Both are disappointed. Both failed the test, because God says he set it up to test them. “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, 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.”
Why did he have to test them?
When God made the world he set up a similar test: a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and similarly offered all the rest of the garden to humanity, forbidding only one tree’s fruit. All of creation was good, at that point: very good. But the question is, good for what?
Good for testing. What did Eve do? She saw that it was desirable to make one wise. She longed for that which was temporal, earthly, and deadly mortal.
God tested his people in the wilderness. He heard their grumbling, and before he acted it tells us that Moses and Aaron gathered the people: “And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.”
Why do they look now?
Why do all of them turn their heads away at the same moment, looking toward the wilderness?
Why does God surprise them now when he has promised to show them his glory in the morning?
Because God was looking in them for a desire for that which is not earthly, temporal, and mortal. It is a desire for one who will not just nourish earthly, temporal, and mortal life. “Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”
They look toward the wilderness, toward the cloud that has and is guiding them, toward the destination which is the glory of the Lord himself, his presence, and the final rest. God knows what they need. He gives the Sabbath so that they will hold back from those things which are merely earthly, temporal, and mortal and cultivate a longing for what is heavenly, eternal, and immortal. He knows what we need, and he gives us Jesus Christ, the bread from heaven, and the one in whom the weary rest.