“Now there was a famine in the land… And the Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 26:1-4
It’s not by accident that the covenant renewal with Isaac comes in the midst of a famine in the land. Nor is it accident that it immediately follows a certain domestic vignette between Jacob and Esau. It was an otherwise normal day. Jacob was cooking stew when his older twin brother, Esau comes in from the field exhausted and demands some of the stew. Wiley Jacob, whose name means “heal grabber, or cheater,” agrees to give him a bowl in exchange for Esau’s birthright. Fair trade? Ridiculous right? But Essau does it. He reasons, “Hey I’m about to die of starvation anyway, what good is my birthright?” (Genesis 25:29-34)
So now the scene changes back to their father Isaac. In the midst of a famine, God comes to him, and renews the promise of offspring, inheritance, and blessing. It’s the covenant of birthright in God’s family. Generations later, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have indeed been multiplied as the stars in the heavens and once again, they’re famished.
“We’re about to die of starvation, what good is our birthright?” they complain, “We’d rather be enslaved back in Egypt where at least we had food!” (Exodus 16:1-3)
Oh dear one! Let us not fall into the trap of thinking we are some how different from Essau or Israelites. Is theirs not the same folly as Eve’s, who observing that the forbidden fruit was good for food and a delight to the eyes, she took and ate? Perfect eternal communion with the glorious triune God exchanged for an earthly morsel? Is it not the same as those Paul writes of in Philippians 3:18-19, who live as enemies of the cross, setting their minds on earthly things, making a god of their own belly? Is that not the slavery each of us finds ourselves in from birth? Left to our own desires we all choose the earthly morsel and reject the infinitely satisfying glory of God. But just listen to how God responds in Exodus 16:12.
“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
Moses had told the Israelites that in the morning they would see the glory of the Lord. And sure enough, in the morning there was the manna. They were told to gather their fill till the sun grew hot and not to leave any of it over till morning. But of course, some of them did, and it rotted, became worm infested and stank. The manna was a shadow of the perfect, imperishable Bread of the New Covenant to come. Isaiah gives us a glimpse of what this New Covenant will be like in chapter 30:19-26.
“A people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as He hears it, He answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
In the midst of an unearthly brightness, the Lord will give bread and rich and plenteous provision, and He will bind up the brokenness of His people and heal the wounds inflicted by His blow.
Next week is Thanksgiving. I already gave you a bonus Thanksgiving hymn to sing. Can I also encourage you to make John 6 your Thanksgiving reading this year? It starts with the miraculous feeding of another hungry horde with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Verse 11 says, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Just like the manna in the desert, verse 12 says that everyone ate their fill and there was much left over.
It’s a wonderful Thanksgiving story isn’t it? But it too, is meant to serve as a shadow. The substance is revealed in verses 26-71. Jesus confronts His followers with the hard truth that they are only seeking Him because of the earthly morsels they filled their idolatrous bellies with. “Do not work for the food that perishes,” He warns, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” They of course, want to know what kind of work they need to do, but the works of God would be accomplished by a work of God. They need only believe. “But we need a sign!” they argue. Moses gave our fathers manna in the desert, what are you going to give us?”
“Jesus 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 true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the wold.’ They said to Him, ‘Sir give us this bread always.” (John 6:32-34)
They seem to like the sound of all this foody talk but then Jesus takes things a step further and that sets the crowds grumbling.
“I AM the bread of life…
All that my Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…
And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day…
For this is the will of my father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day…
Whoever believes has eternal life. I AM the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that a came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh…
Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-50)
Are you sensing a theme running through these life-giving words? Unlike the manna that melted in the sun, Jesus is the bread that never perishes. And those who believe in Him, even though they die, and worms infest their bodies like the left-over manna, Jesus will raise them up on the last day unto life everlasting! Here was the Eternal Spiritual Manna before their very eyes but still they grumbled. Even His own disciples were grumbling over the hard things He said. Of course Jesus knew they would and He knew His words would cause many of them to turn back and no longer walk with Him. Even if they saw with their own eyes His signs and wonders and even if He were to ascend into the heavens in front of them, some of them would still take offense. He explains in verses 63-65,
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life but there are some of you who do not believe… This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Dear friends, as you gather together around the table this Thanksgiving, ask yourselves, “Do you want to go away as well?” Are these hard sayings offensive? Are you living as an enemy of the cross? Are you reaching for the earthly morsels rather than the Eternally Satisfying Manna? Or can you answer as Simon Peter did in verse 68,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us then, GIVE THANKS.