When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
The Israelites in the wilderness had little faith in God’s goodness, and they had little imagination for how God might provide for them. But, just as God had promised, they found “thin flakes like frost” on the desert floor. According to Numbers 11:7-8, these flakes were like coriander seed, and cakes of it tasted like they were made with olive oil. The flakes were whitish-yellow like a resin called bdellium. It is worth noting here that bdellium was one of the valuable resources in Eden (Genesis 2:12, RSV). Perhaps the author was pointing out that just as God provided resources in Eden, God was again providing for his people in the desert.
The Israelites’ first reaction to this substance is understandable: “What is it?” Moses replied that it was bread from God. Eventually it became known as manna, which sounds like the Hebrew for “What is it?” The people did not fully understand this food, but they could still receive it and be nourished by it.
Throughout Christian history many scholars have argued about the bread and wine (or juice) given at the Lord’s Supper. What is it, really? How does God use it to give us spiritual nourishment? These are important discussions that can help us reflect on God’s power and love. But it is more important to eat and drink, remembering that Jesus gave himself for the forgiveness of our sins.
Lord, your ways can be mysterious, but we know that your love is more than enough for us, in Jesus. Amen.
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