A golden pot with manna (‘to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ -Ex. 16:32). Jesus called to be the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (see John 6:22-51). We are partakers of the bread of life, his life in us.
What is it? Interestingly, the Israelites asked the very same question during their wanderings in the wilderness from Egypt to the promised land. They woke up and saw a white looking substance lying on the ground and they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”(Ex.16:15). The Hebrew word translated ‘manna’ literally means ‘what is it?’.
During the forty years between the time the Israelites left Egypt and entered the Promised Land, they faced harsh conditions, including a scarcity of food. To alleviate this problem, God miraculously provided the Israelites with ‘bread from heaven’, called ‘manna’. The manna appeared each morning, and the Israelites were given specific instructions on gathering it (see Ex.16). The Bible nowhere discusses the chemical composition of manna. All we are told is that “it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:31). Numbers 11:7 states that manna’s appearance was like “bdellium” or “resin”. Psalm 78:23-25, “Yet He (God) commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; He rained down manna upon them (Israelites) to eat, And gave them food from heaven. Man ate the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance”. This happened during their wilderness journey. The miracle of manna ceased shortly after the Israelites entered the Promised Land and ate the produce of the land (Joshua 5:12).
Far more important than manna’s physical qualities is what manna foreshadowed. Manna was a prophetic pointer to the Messiah. After Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000, they wanted Him to always give the bread (John 6:34), but Jesus tried to get their attention off the physical bread and onto the true “bread of life”. Jesus reminded them it wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread from Heaven. But the bread that comes down from heaven is that which gives life to the world. . . . I am the bread of life; whoever comes face to face with me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”(verse 35). Sadly, the people could not get their minds off of physical bread long enough to understand the spiritual truth Jesus was declaring. They were more concerned with the condition of their stomachs than their spiritual condition.
Just as God provided manna to the Israelites to save them from starvation, He has provided Jesus Christ for the salvation of all. The literal manna temporarily saved the Israelites from physical death. The spiritual manna (Jesus, bread from heaven), saves all from eternal death. “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” (John 6:49-50).
Where was the manna kept? Besides eating their daily portion, God commanded that a bowl of manna be added to the Ark’s cargo: “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.’ As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved”(Ex. 16:33-34). This is repeated in Hebrews 9:3-5, a sample of the miracle manna was kept in the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place, together with the budded rod of Aaron and the tablets of the covenant. When King Solomon’s temple was finished, the king had the Ark of the Covenant brought to the new temple’s dedication. At that time, the biblical historian notes that “there was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb” (1 Kings 8:9).
So, was the manna placed ‘before the Lord’, or placed in the Ark? There are two possible ways to reconcile 1 Kings 8:9 with Hebrews 9:4. One is that the Ark in Moses’ time contained all three items mentioned in Hebrews but, by Solomon’s time hundreds of years later, only the stone tablets remained. The other items could have been removed in Eli’s time by the men of Beth Shemesh when they looked into the Ark of the Lord (1 Sam. 6:19). Also, before that, the ark was in the possession of the Philistines for a time, and they could have removed some of the Ark’s contents, the staff of Aaron (Authority) and the Manna (prophetically the bread of life), leaving the Israelites left only with the Law. It could also be that Solomon himself had the manna and the staff removed from the Ark and set nearby in the same room at the time of the temple’s dedication.