The Present Truth : October 15, 1896
At the close of the wandering in the wilderness, Moses said to the people, “All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger; and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” Deuteronomy 8.1-3
“The word of God is living and active.” Hebrews 4.12. Christ said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” John 6.68. Through the prophet He says, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live.” Isaiah 55.3. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” John 5.25. That time had come in the days when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. In the giving of the manna He was teaching them that men could live only by “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Note this well. God was proving them by the manna, whether they would walk in His law or not. But at the same time He was teaching them that the law is life. Jesus said, “I know that His commandment is life everlasting.” John 12.50. They were to keep the commandments that they might live, but they could keep them only by hearing them. The life is in the commandments themselves, and not in the individual who tries to keep them. He can get no life from his own efforts, yet he is to get life through the commandments. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reason is that the word itself is life, and if we listen attentively to it, we shall be made alive by it. “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 48.18
Jesus said, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19.17. But it is not by our efforts to conform to a certain standard, and by measuring ourselves by it to see what progress we are making, that we get righteousness and life. Such a course makes Pharisees, but not Christians. Abraham kept all the commandments of God, and yet not a line of them was written. How did He do it? —By hearkening unto the voice of God, and by trusting Him. God bore witness that he had the righteousness of faith.
In the same way that He had led Abraham, God was leading the children of Israel. He had spoken to them by His prophets, and by the miracles that He had wrought in delivering them from Egypt; He had shown them His power to work righteousness in them. If they had but listened to His voice, and believed Him, there would have been no difficulty in regard to their righteousness. If they would only trust God, and not trust in themselves, He would be responsible for their righteousness and life. “Hear, O My people, and I will testify unto thee; O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto Me, there shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt; open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Psalm 81.8-10. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5.6. In the giving of the manna, God was trying to teach them this fact, and in the record of it He expects us to learn it. Let us therefore study it a little more closely.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the children of Israel in the wilderness “did all eat the same spiritual meat.” 1 Corinthians 10.4. We have already read the words of the Lord when He promised to give them food, saying, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” He “commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven;” He “rained down manna upon them to eat,” and gave them “of the corn of heaven;” “man did eat angels’ food.” Psalm 78.23-25
The food that they had to eat was not a product of the country through which they were passing. If it had been, they would have had it from the first. But the Scripture tells us that it was rained down from heaven. It came direct from God. It was “spiritual meat,” “angels’ food.” What it was intended to be for them, if they had only believed it, we learn from the words of Christ, when on another occasion He fed a multitude of people in the desert.
In the sixth chapter of John we have the account of another miraculous provision of food for a multitude of people in the wilderness. There were “about five thousand men, beside women and children,” and the entire amount of food in the company was five barley loaves and two fishes. One of the disciples said that two hundred pennyworth of bread would not be sufficient for every one to have even a little. Their “penny,” we are told, was a coin equal to about eightpence-halfpenny, so that two hundred pence would be more than seven pounds, which would purchase much more than the same amount now. Yet even that would have afforded but a scanty meal. No wonder that Peter said of the paltry five loaves and fishes, “What are they among so many?”
Nevertheless Jesus “knew what He would do.” He took the loaves into his hands, and gave thanks, and then gave the bread to the disciples, who passed it on to the multitude. The same was done with the fishes. The result was that from that insignificant amount which would not ordinarily have given them a taste, they were all satisfied, and there were twelve baskets full of fragments left. There was more food when they had finished than there was when they began.
Where did that bread come from? There is only one possible answer, namely, It came from the Lord Himself. The Divine life that was in Him, which is the source of all life, caused the bread to multiply, even as it had made the grain to grow, from which it was made. The multitude, therefore, ate from Christ Himself. It was His own life that was the nourishment of their bodies that day. The miracle was wrought for the purpose of satisfying their immediate physical wants; but it was also designed to teach them a most valuable spiritual lesson, which Jesus set before them the next day.
When the people found Jesus the next day, He reproved them for caring more for the loaves and the fishes than for the better food, which He had for them. He said, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you; for Him hath God the Father sealed.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” John 6.28, 29. Then, notwithstanding all that they had seen and experienced, they asked Him for a sign, saying, “What sign showest Thou, then, that we may see and believe? What dost Thou work?” And then, not realizing that they had just had the same miracle repeated in effect for them, they referred to the giving of the manna, saying, “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” Verses 30, 31.
Jesus then reminded them that it was not Moses that gave them that bread in the desert, but that God alone gives the true bread from heaven. Said He, “The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Still failing to see what Jesus meant, they asked that they might evermore have that bread of life, when He told them plainly that He Himself was the living bread, saying, “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” Still later Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Verses 32-51.
Just as the people ate that bread which came from the Lord Jesus, and were strengthened by it, even so they might, if they had believed, have received spiritual life from Him. His life is righteousness, and all who eat of Him in faith must receive righteousness. Like ancient Israel, they were eating bread from heaven, and like them they did not appreciate it, so as to receive the full benefit of it.