The purpose of the manna was to uplift those who ate it and heighten their spiritual consciousness. As a result of this spiritual boost, the Jews were able to “follow My teaching”—to receive the Torah, as it is indeed stated in the Midrash: (Mechilta ad loc) “The Torah could only have been given to those who had partaken of the manna.” (Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, vol. 1, pp. 238-239.)
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. –Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)
And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” –Matthew 4:3-4 (ESV)
It may be strange to think of us today as waiting for our bread from Heaven, but I think that’s exactly what we do at times. Think about what it meant to the Children of Israel in the wilderness to wait on God for their bread. Although they had vast herds of livestock with them, they still have no reliable source of “daily bread,” especially enough to feed millions of people, morning, noon, and night. In this, they were completely reliant on God for their food and drink and without Him, they could do nothing.
As slaves, the Israelites depended on the Egyptians for their food and drink (and housing and everything else), and even though life was hard and often brutal, they were used to it, as a convict becomes used to a long term in prison. There was a routine. There were expectations that were fulfilled day in and day out. Breakfast would come tomorrow from the Egyptians because it came yesterday, and the day before, and last year, and in the days of their fathers and grandfathers.
But they weren’t used to waiting on God. They were together as a people, but they felt alone. They were free, but they were in a strange and unpredictable environment. The Egyptians were men and the Israelites understood how men could provide bread, but God is not a man and who can possibly understand manna?
So they were afraid, and they doubted, and they complained, and they tested God. This was a mistake, but it was a completely understandable one. But did God understand?
“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. –Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” –Matthew 4:7 (ESV)
It certainly doesn’t sound that way, but then again, how could God possibly misunderstand His creations? How can He possibly misunderstand us, when we too are waiting for our “bread from Heaven” and we feel alone, and afraid, and uncertain?
It’s even more confusing when God sets up a schedule and then creates an exception:
Interestingly, Moses does not tell the Jews that the manna will not be in the field, but only that they will not find it there. And indeed, the manna was esoterically present on the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath is the source of all blessings, including those of material sustenance. In this sense, the manna of the other six days descended as a result of the “spiritual manna” that was produced on the Sabbath. (Zohar 2:63b, 88a.)
The physical manna gathered during the week “materialized” out of this spiritual manna. It therefore had to be acquired through physical effort: it had to be gathered, cooked, and so on. In contrast, the Sabbath manna was not manifested physically and therefore could not be “accessed” by any physical means.
Similarly, our physical livelihood is spiritually “produced” by our observance of the Sabbath. During the ensuing week, we have to gather the material blessings of the Sabbath by engaging in our weekday work. But on the Sabbath itself, we must refrain even from thinking about our livelihood. (Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 181-182.)
-Chassidic Insights commentary continued
This is certainly a very mystic interpretation, but it teaches us something beyond the literal telling of the tale of manna in the desert. Whether we believe we provide for ourselves through the work of our hands and our minds, in reality, everything we think belongs to us was produced by and belongs to God. Beyond that, it shows us that in some manner or fashion, the Shabbat rest results in producing what we need from God and ourselves for the other six days of the week. That’s why we give thanks to Him for everything.
But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least right away? But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least in the manner we expected to receive? But what about when we ask for a fish and God gives us (seemingly) a snake instead?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. For which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! –Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
There’s a difference between what we need and what we want. God knows what we need, even as He knew what the Israelites in the desert needed. They didn’t ask for manna, but God knew they needed it. At first, they didn’t even know what to do with the manna, but God told Moses and Moses told the people. Eventually, the people got sick and tired of eating manna every single day, but God knew they still needed it on a regular basis and the gift that God gave continued to be His gift, regardless of whether or not it was received with gratitude.
We know that our purpose in a life created by God is not to be served but to serve. Jesus illustrated this very clearly here:
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. –John 13:12-17
And yet, we are weak, and we need so much, and we depend on God, or we try to. There are times when we must act in order to receive from God, but there are other times when we are utterly helpless, and we can do nothing but wait.
And waiting on God to deliver His bread from Heaven is very hard. Even when it arrives, we may not recognize it for what it is, since His blessings may not come in a form we will understand. Even when we realize He has delivered His blessings, because they are not as we wanted them to be, we may be ungrateful, or hurt, or even feel betrayed that God didn’t give us what we wanted, when we wanted it, in exactly the way, shape, and form we asked for. But as difficult as it is for us, we must strive to trust God and not to question our Sovereign.
But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” –Exodus 14:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” –Psalm 46:10 (ESV)
We can trust in God, if only we will wait.
You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. –Psalm 145:16 (ESV)
His hand is opening. He’s about to help you. Wait.