Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 12, 2012

Sermon on Exodus 16:2-15

God sends you bread from heaven

  • Order of Service:  Service of the Word, p38
  • Lessons:  Exodus 16:2-15, Ephesians 4:17-24, John 6:24-35
  • Hymns: 338, 616, 410:1-5, 106, 580

Downloadable Version


In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Forty years after the events recorded in Exodus today, Moses stood on the edge of the Promised Land and preached to a new generation of Israelites.  Recall that the group of Israelites who came out of Egypt all died in the desert after forty years of wandering because they failed to trust in the Lord’s ability to help them conquer Canaan.  Now their children and grandchildren stand ready to follow Joshua into Canaan.  To mark the event, Moses preaches a series of farewell sermons, bringing a new generation up to speed, reminding them of all that’s happened, all God’s done, and all God’s commanded.  In the course of that sermon, Moses says, [The LORD] humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3, NIV84).

Moses reminds them about the advent of their miraculous desert food, manna.  Further, he reminds them of the purpose for which God sent manna.  He wasn’t merely providing for their earthly needs.  He drove them, as always, back to their faith, their faith in the LORD.

And it begins with a lack of faith.  The whole Israelite community…came to the Desert of Sin…on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt (Exodus 16:1, NIV84).  Less than one hundred days before this Israel had been slaves under a Pharaoh who tried to carry out one of the first recorded genocides.  Within that one hundred days they saw the first-born sons of Egypt dead at the hands of the Angel of Death.  They gathered untold wealth and plunder from Egyptians eager to see the backsides of these Israelite slaves.  They watched the Lord’s wind part the Red Sea so that they might cross and then crash it down upon the armies of Pharaoh.  They saw all that in the last three months and yet now the whole community grumbled (Ex. 16:2, NIV84).  Why?  They missed Egypt.  If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death (16:3, NIV84).

We hear that and exclaim, “Really?!?!”  “If only we had died in Egypt!”  Really?  You groaned so loudly about Egypt that God came and rescued you.  “At least we had meat and bread to eat, as much as we wanted!”  Really?  Pharaoh feared that someday you would outnumber Egyptians and take over or simply leave.  Pharaoh ordered you to murder every baby boy born.  Pharaoh created working conditions meant to kill you.  “Moses, you brought us into the desert to kill us!  We never would have come had we known!  You tricked us!”  Really?  You’re the sons of Abraham, to whom God said, “Your descendants will be slaves in a foreign land, but after 400 years I’ll free them and return them to the Promised Land.”  You’re the nieces and nephews of Joseph, whose bones you carry, because before he died he said, “Someday God will take us back home to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  When God does that, carry my bones back home.”  You just sang to the LORD on the shores of the Red Sea, In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed.  In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling….  You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance, the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling (Ex. 15:13-14, 17, NIV84).

Israel purposely failed to remember the many kindnesses of the LORD.  They gave no thought to His miracles.  They forgot what He had done.  Instead, they grumbled and disobeyed.  Repeatedly.  Read Exodus and Numbers and try to count all the times you hear Israel complain.  Read those books and watch their selective memory at work, as they remember the good and golden times in Egypt under other leaders and gods and eat manna for the forty-thousandth meal in a row.  Israel spent a lot of time living by sight, not by faith:  “Pharaoh’s armies are coming and the sea is behind us!”  “We’re wandering in a desert and we can only find bitter water!”  “We’ve been walking for weeks and we’re running out of food!”  “Moses is gone, God must have killed him, we need some new gods.”  “We’ve been eating the same food every day for forty years!”  “Those Canaanites are bigger than us and have better weapons, we can’t possibly do this!”

At each moment you wait for the LORD to quit.  You wait for the LORD to let the Egyptians re-enslave them.  You wait for the LORD to leave water bitter.  You wait for the LORD to cut off manna.  You wait for the LORD to open the earth and swallow Israel.  From time to time the LORD did punish Israel, sending plagues that killed thousands, releasing venomous serpents, commanding forty years of wandering to purge out one sinful generation, and even once saying, “That’s it, I’ve had it, I’m going to destroy them and make you, Moses, into a new nation!”  Still, you wait in vain for the shoe to drop entirely.

In Exodus 16, this is how God responds to the grumbling:  I will rain down bread from heaven for you (v4, NIV84).  Perhaps you think that God is just heaping burning coals upon their heads, as Proverbs 25 suggests we do to our enemies through kindnesses.  No doubt, for some in the Israelite community, that’s what the manna did.  They saw God’s love and got angry, but every time they rejected God, God grabbed them into an even tighter hug.  “Let me show you who I am,” the LORD says.  “Let me show you against whom you grumble.”  That evening God covers the ground with quail, meat to eat.  The next morning, and every morning afterwards (except the Sabbath mornings), flakes of bread from heaven cover the ground, bread to eat.  Thus God revealed His glory.  By sending bread from heaven to feed an obstinate people.

He gave them the same daily bread He gives us, even though we also suffer the same selective memory gaps, forgetting the wonderful things our God has done when we face some sort of trial or trouble.  Even though we also choose to ignore God’s words and promises and live sometimes by sight and not by faith.  Even though we also grumble against the Lord and His appointed representatives in our homes, in our church, in our state, forgetting His saving words and actions.  Even though we also provide God with many opportunities to abandon us in the desert.  Even though we also at times spurn what God provides because it’s not what we want.  In those moments we aren’t just pushing our faith into the background, in those moments we’re living by sight instead of faith, without faith, living by bread alone, living by ourselves alone, acting as if God’s lips hadn’t uttered a single word, living on that broad path to destruction and hell. And yet still God provides daily bread, to the righteous and the wicked, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.  Still He provides you with what you need to eat and drink, even if it sometimes seems as monotonous as manna.  Still He provides us with a stable government that means we have food on our plates, even if we grumble and complain about what our government does or doesn’t do.  Still He sends pastors and teachers, even though we so often act as if they hadn’t said a word.

On top of all that, the LORD says, “Come into my office.  I’ve heard your grumbling.”  Just after the LORD promised to rain down bread from heaven He told Moses and Aaron to summon the people to a conference.  They had grievances, and God would make an appearance.  Some no doubt said, “About dog-goned time God showed up!”  Others realized the tenuous nature of the moment, “Oh dear, the LORD’s coming; now we’re in for it.”  As Aaron gathers together the nation, Moses writes, They looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud (Exodus 16:10, NIV84).  And they didn’t turn to dust and ashes in the nuclear holocaust that is God’s holy presence.  They saw God’s glory and God said, [Now] you will know that I am the LORD your God (Ex. 16:12, NIV84).  And He sent the quail.  And the manna.  And they lived.  Because God spoke and God gave.  They lived because of God’s bread from heaven, as do we, every day of our lives, as God gives us our daily bread.

And yet this bread is nothing.  As Moses said forty years later, the LORD, the God who established His covenant of faithfulness and love with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel, sent this food to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deut. 8:3, NIV84).  We think of those words most often from Jesus’ lips when He answered the devil who said, “Turn stones into bread.”  There Christ demonstrates that when God makes promises, we trust God.  Jesus knew that His mission wouldn’t end in a desert because He didn’t turn stones into bread.  He knew about the cross and empty tomb three years later.  And so, God would provide.  Just as Abraham knew that even though he had no other son than Isaac, and through Isaac was the promise of blessing, the promise of the Savior, that when God said, “Sacrifice your only son,” that meant that God would raise Isaac from the dead.  Because a promise is a promise, God’s “yes” means “yes.”

So Israel must learn that God had made a promise, “From you will come the blessing for all nations, the Christ, the Savior from sins.”  And that promise means that they will not die at Pharaoh’s hands.  Bitter water will not do them in.  A shortage of food will not spell disaster.  Because life comes from every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD, the LORD who in a desert sent bread from heaven to save a nation, the Lord who gives you the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ (John 6:32, NIV84).  Manna and quail kept Israel alive.  But Jesus says that is not the real, true bread from heaven, just as much as your lunch and dinner tonight, though it comes from God, is not the true bread from heaven.  The true bread from heaven gives life to the world.  And Jesus says, I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35, NIV84).

Even without manna and quail, Israel had all they needed in the promise of God, “I will deliver you from sin and death; I will grant you righteousness and eternal life.”  Even without daily bread, we have the same.  Those words from the mouth of God give us life, verified by the blood Christ shed for us to drink, the body He gave into death for us to eat for our forgiveness, both of which rose from the dead and reign now in heaven.  In Jesus God sends us daily bread better than any sandwich.  In Jesus we find the one, true bread from heaven:  Christ, the Word coming from the mouth of the LORD who says, “I have come to give life to the world.”  That promise means you will not die for lack of food, because of bitter water, or a bad and tyrannical government.  Oh, your body may die.  You may struggle and suffer for a time on earth.  But believe in Christ and you will live, even though you die.  Because Christ will raise you up at the last day and grant eternal life to you and all who believe in Him.  Bread from heaven.  Isn’t it delicious? Amen. 


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