Foreshadowing Christ, part I – Bread from Heaven

The book of Exodus contains vivid accounts of God’s mighty works on behalf of the Israelites. There is the preservation of the child Moses from the murderous edict of Pharaoh. There are the scenes of the burning bush, the plagues dispensed upon Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea. All of these declare the mightiness and majesty of the Lord God Almighty. Along those same lines, I want to present another example of God’s amazing work in the book of Exodus, which goes unnoticed at first glance. Here is the passage in question:

“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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.'” (Exodus 16:4-5, ESV).

Of course, this passage of scripture lives within a larger context. At this juncture in the desert, the Israelites began grumbling against Moses and Aaron (Ex. 16:2, ESV). The people longed to return to Egypt as they remembered the availability of food, drink, and room and board (Ex. 16:3, ESV). Despite having a past steeped in slavery, the Israelites believed that it held far better promises than the immediate journey in the desert. For the Israelites, the present and future looked bleak in every sense of the word. This is an amazingly sad about face by God’s people since they witnessed him make a distinction between the Egyptians and them with respect to the plagues.

When the Lord promises to rain bread from heaven in order to sustain them, this reveals God’s grace toward the Israelites. Moses and Aaron explain to them that their grumbling is not against them, but against the Lord himself (Ex. 16:6-7, ESV). The people of Israel direct their invective against God’s appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, and against God. Rather than judge the people for their sin against him, the Lord blesses them with heavenly provision: bread from heaven. It pictured God’s ability to nourish his people and to govern their lives (Ex. 16:15-16, ESV). This is nothing if not an Old Testament example of grace at work. If anyone wants a definition of grace, then here goes: it is undeserved favor toward the sinner.

Someone might be asking the question, “how does Christ fit into this scene in Exodus?” For this point, it is time to hear from our Savior himself with respect to the relationship between the manna in the wilderness and himself. The apostle John records Christ’s words as follows: “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'” (John 6:32-33, ESV). Here are the parallels that Jesus seems to be drawing between the Exodus account and his first coming.

Based on Christ’s words in John 6:32, our Lord seems to be suggesting that the manna in the wilderness foreshadowed his first coming into the world to redeem the lost. When viewed in this light, the Exodus account turns into a deep well of truth. This helps to explain the reason for the Lord asking the following rhetorical question of the people through Moses: “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws” (Ex. 16:28, ESV)? From God’s perspective, he is not just providing the Israelites with food and drink to stay alive in the desert. He offers himself through the manna. This points to a time in the future when the Father will offer his only son, the true bread, through the blood of the new covenant.

Because the people of Israel grumble against the Lord, because they live out of their flesh, they are unable to see the extent of God’s work in their lives. God’s provision of the manna invites them into a covenant relationship with him. When the Israelites grumble against God, they are grumbling against being in a covenant relationship with the God who delivered them from slavery. This is serious business. God the Father sent the manna (bread from heaven) down to his covenant people to give them life in the desert. This served as a sign of the future offer of the true bread, Christ, for eternal life. The irony in all this is that Israel in Christ’s day responded to him no differently than the nation did during the time of Moses.

Both unbelieving groups of Israelites grumbled against God, and this paved the way for their eventual destruction. In the OT, the generation delivered out of Egypt died in the wilderness while the generation in Christ’s day lived through the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. Rejecting God’s word, his manna, is a very serious thing. The Lord sees it as a refusal to be in covenant with him. This is a precarious place to be before him. God’s word sustains and governs and gives life. It forges me into a new creation in Christ by the Spirit. Have you been blind to God’s provision in your life? In what ways has his provision far exceeded what you initially desired or needed?

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