What Is Manna?

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What was the manna that God rained down from heaven in order to feed the Israelites? What did Jesus mean when, in Revelation, he offered those who overcome "hidden manna?"

The first place the word "manna" (Strong's Concordance #H4478) is mentioned in the King James Bible is in Exodus 16:15. It is used only fourteen times in the entire King James Old Testament and five times in the New Testament (John 6:31, 49, 58, Hebrews 9:4 and Revelation 2:17). The word "manna" literally means, "What is it," a phrase the children of Israel coined when they first saw it.

And the house of Israel called the name of it Manna. And it was like coriander seed, white. And the taste of it was like wafers with honey (Exodus 16:31, HBFV).

Exodus 16 states that God rained bread (manna) from heaven in order to feed his people after they left Egyptian bondage. This miracle in the wilderness has no counterpart today. It was the staple food for a few million Israelites during their forty year sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:35).

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from the heavens for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain amount every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in My law or not." (Exodus 16:4, HBFV).

The Gathering of the Manna by the Children of Israel
The Gathering of the Manna
Dieric the Elder Bouts, 1464 - 67

More Than a Meal

This miraculous substance, however, was more than just food. Manna was used as a teaching tool to convey an important lesson regarding obedience and to underscore the acceptable day to worship our Creator.

During the generations of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites had lost track of God's Sabbath day. As later verses in chapter 16 of Exodus show, this daily meal became God’s teaching tool. It taught or revealed the correct day to keep the Sabbath and what was permissible on it.

Eat it (manna) today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord. Today you shall not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, in it there shall be none (Exodus 16:25 - 26, HBFV).

Hidden Heavenly Bread

After the children of Israel received God's law and built a tabernacle in the wilderness, they were commanded to place some of the manna inside the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:4). It was hidden, in a sense, inside an earthen vessel (baked clay) overlaid with gold that was put in the ark.

Jesus, in Mark 2, revealed to the Pharisees what was permissible to do on the Sabbath by using the manna miraculously provided to the ancient Israelites as an example of how to properly observe the day (Mark 2:24 - 28).

The apostle John helps tie all this together by recording Jesus' words that link him to the miracle of food raining down from heaven. The Lord tells a group of Jews the following.

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die (John 6:49 - 51, HBFV).

Jesus is explaining that although the ancient Israelites ate the miraculous food, given them directly by God, they still died. He, however, as the Savior of mankind, is the "true bread" from heaven. If a person "eats" him (choses to adopt his way of life) they will not die.

So, what is the "hidden manna" Jesus will give to faithful Christians after they are resurrected?

The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes I will give the right to eat of the hidden manna . . . (Revelation 2:17, HBFV).

This verse states that Jesus will give some of this special substance to those who overcome. Revelation's manna or food is symbolic of Jesus' life, ministry, and sacrifice that he freely offered to make possible the gift of eternal life. Where, however, is Jesus today? Is he not "hidden" in heaven until he returns to the earth? Christ, therefore, in Revelation 2:17 is referencing himself.

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