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Exodus 15b-17a: Manna Mania

The manna episode of Exodus 16 echoes throughout all of the Old and New Testaments.

Passages all over Scripture, from Deuteronomy 8:3 to Psalm 105:40 to Revelation 2:17 all have clearly point to the time God rained down bread from Heaven. There were simply too many to reference them all in a single sermon, and an exhaustive search of all the allusions in the Bible is beyond the scope of a single blog entry!

I did, however, have one major discussion that I greatly reduced in the sermon that I feel would be a worthwhile exploration here.

One of the most theologically and Christologically significant passages is found in John 6. Here, we find many clear, specific allusions of the manna narrative. John wants us to interpret the narratives together. Here are some of the ties between the passages, using the references in John to guide us (many of these are pointed out in D. A. Carson’s excellent commentary on John):

6:4 – The feeding of the 5000 in John 6 takes place at a time when “Passover is near.” Passover was instituted in Exodus 12-13, during Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Passover season would naturally draw to mind Exodus themes and stories for the people of Jesus’s day. John is here inviting us to read the story in the shadow of the Passover/Exodus events.

6:5b-6 – Jesus asks Philip where they are to get enough bread to feed the large crowd. The narrator tells us that Jesus asked him this “to test him.” “Testing” is one of the main themes of Exodus 15b-17a (15:25, 16:4, 17:2, 7). In Exodus, the test was to see if the people would be faithfully reliant on God’s provision for their life. In John, the test is similar.

6:13 – After the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, there are 12 baskets of food left over. This contrasts Exodus, where the manna melted if it stayed in the sun too long, or rotted if it was kept for more than a day. No leftovers are allowed in Exodus. Perhaps this is a subtle way of John beginning to get to his point: what Jesus provides is far greater than what Moses provided the Israelites.

6:14 – The result of the feeding miracle was that the people recognized Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (NAU). This is actually an allusion to Deuteronomy 18, where Moses predicted that a prophet like him would one day come. However, from a broader view we can point out that the result of this feeding was that they knew Jesus better. Exodus 16:6 tells us that the express purpose of the manna miracle was so that the Israelites might “know” Yahweh better.

6:15 – The passage in John begins with Jesus crossing a sea and going up a mountain. Here, we see Him again drawing alone to Himself up on the mountain. This has possible parallels with Moses’s account, as he crossed the Re(e)d Sea and then later made his way to and up Mt. Sinai.

6:16-21 – The very next miracle that John records is Jesus walking on the sea and then calming the stormy waters. Once the disciples see Him, Jesus declares (literally in Greek): “I am!” (vs 20). The “I am” statement has strong ties with Yahweh’s similar statements in Exodus 3. And the power that Jesus demonstrates over the Sea is something that Yahweh alone demonstrates in Exodus. Jesus is clearly identifying Himself with Yahweh!

6:30-31 – When the crowd finally catches up with Jesus, seeking more bread, Jesus tells them that physical bread is not what they should be seeking. They ask Him for a sign, then give Him the example of Moses giving them a sign in the wilderness. In fact, the crowd even quotes Psalm 78:24, which is an historical remembering of the manna account in Exodus 16.

6:32-35 – Here it all comes together. Jesus tells the crowd that it was never Moses giving the bread from heaven; it was always God. And God has given again, but this time, He has given the true bread – the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. The message that the Israelites were to receive in Exodus 16, summarized in Deut 8:3, that we are to rely daily on God and His Word, is now filled up with Christological meaning in the New Testament in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We, as Christians, ought to have the same kind of reliance on Jesus that the Israelites had on the daily provision of manna.

6:41-43 – The reaction of the crowd is another tie in with Exodus 16. They grumble! In Exodus, the people are hungry, without bread, and this causes them to grumble at Moses and God. Here in John, after they have been given physical bread and being introduced to the Bread of Life, they are still grumbling! The contrast is clear, sharp, and not at all flattering for humanity.

6:48-51 – Here Jesus makes an even stronger contrast between the manna (physical bread) and Himself (spiritual bread). All the people who ate the manna died in the wilderness. But those who “eat” of Jesus (accept His gift of salvation) will have eternal life and never perish.

6:60-61 – Unfortunately, the disciples of Christ have the same reaction as the crowd: they grumble! Just as in Exodus, where we see a pattern of grumbling even after so many miracles have been performed, the people here continue to demonstrate a lifestyle of disobedience and self-reliance.

The point of all this is to show a very clear connection between Exodus 16 and John 6. Jesus is the true spiritual manna provided to us from God in Heaven. Therefore, we must continue to rely on Him and His words, being spiritually nourished and filled with Him day after day.


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