In Exodus 16, the word “grumbling” is used eight times to describe Israel’s response to their hunger. It is easy to accuse them of lacking gratitude and faith, but I am afraid I would’ve been among their number. They watched God rescue them from slavery in Egypt with signs and wonders, yet they find themselves in the wilderness without food.
What was their response? They grumbled. They complained. They reminisced on how good the food was in their Egyptian slavery. They questioned all that God had done for them and wondered whether it was Him who did it after all. They blamed Moses, “you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3).
Israel’s grumbling is not the response we expect when we read the story, especially right after God’s miraculous provision of water. But perhaps we should expect it. If we are honest, we probably would have grumbled too. But that’s good news. Because God’s responds in grace and provides for their needs.
In v. 4-8, God promised to send meat (quail) in the evening followed by bread in the morning. This bread was called “manna.” When Moses reveals this promise to the people, He begins by telling them that God “has heard your grumbling.” God responds to the people’s need without them asking. There isn’t a prayer uttered in this chapter. Just grumbling. Complaining. Blaming others. Yet God knew what His people needed. And He gave it to them. They were undeserving, yet He gave it to them. Why? Because He loves them. That’s grace!
By providing manna every morning, God taught His people to trust and depend on Him for their needs. When we read the story, it encourages us to trust Him as well. Yet the manna doesn’t point only to God’s provision of our physical needs. It was a picture of The Manna that would come to meet our deepest needs- salvation from spiritual starvation and our hunger to know, love, and worship God.
Jesus describes Himself as the true manna “that comes down from heaven” in John 6:26-58. “Whoever feeds on this bread” (i.e. trusting and following Him), He says, “will live forever” (Jn 6:59). He came to us, not because we offered pious prayers for salvation. Not because we were worthy. Not because He owed us. By no means! Just like Israel, we were grumbling. Complaining. Questioning God and His goodness. Yet God in His grace knew what we needed- a Savior from sin and death.
The manna in the wilderness is a picture of what God has done for us in Christ. He has provided for our greatest needs even though we were undeserving. He sent His Son from heaven to live a perfect life on our behalf, to pay for our sins by dying on a cross, and to bring us eternal life by His resurrection. He did it without our asking. It was completely and wholly of His own initiative. Why? Not because we deserve it. We didn’t even ask. Just because He loves us. That’s grace!