Manna and Money
Manna and money have much in common and clearly teach difficult things
…whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. – Exodus 16:18
When God gave manna to the Hebrews (Exodus 16:1-36), he was doing much more than just feeding them. The manna experience would also serve as a powerful tool for teaching. Manna taught the faithfulness and patience of God and showed the grumbling, faithless spirit of man.
The Manna Story
After God rescued the Hebrew people from their slavery, he also provided food for them as they made the trip to the promised land. He gave them fresh manna in the morning and fresh meat in the evening. And this provision from God was both food and a test – a test to see if they would focus on him or on the food that he gave them.
With God’s provision came a few simple instructions. Based on family size, the people were only to gather what they needed for the day, and they were to stay away from hoarding and greed because God would faithfully give them food for the next day. But on the sixth day, they were to gather twice the daily amount in order to have food for the Sabbath.
While there are many important lessons in this story, the primary point is that God faithfully gave the Hebrews food so they would focus on him. Greed and grumbling appeared when the focus was on the gift. When God is our treasure we are satisfied because he meets our real need. (Please read Deuteronomy 8:1-3)
A second important lesson in the manna story is that God provides enough for everyone. First, focus on God and trust him. Second, there’s enough for everyone.
The Apostle Paul’s Reference to Manna and Money
The Apostle Paul connects manna and money so that his readers can live faithful lives that focus on God and not the gifts of God. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he is earnestly pleading with them to meet the needs of the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He tries to persuade them in different ways (the example of Macedonian giving, the example of Jesus giving, the resulting praise God will receive, the profit they will gain, etc.) and is deeply concerned that they give with generosity.
As Paul is trying to persuade them to give, he references God’s intent when he gave manna to the Hebrews:
For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” – 2 Corinthians 8:12-15
The last sentence in this passage (v15) is a direct quote from Exodus 16:18 – the manna story. Paul didn’t want the Corinthian Christians to be impoverished so that the Jerusalem Christians could have more than they needed. He wanted God’s provision to be enough for everyone. Paul saw a voluntary flow of resources from those with excess to those in genuine need as an issue of fairness. Just as the Hebrews were to be content with God’s daily provision in the desert, Paul was asking the Corinthians to be satisfied with having enough, so that those in Jerusalem would also have enough.
In Paul’s thinking, God’s design in the manna event applied to how we should think about and use money. There is a direct link between manna and money. This is difficult. We all have a disposition for surplus and independence and an “it’s mine” way of thinking. Just as it was difficult for the people in Exodus and Corinth to focus on God and not his gifts, it’s difficult for us also.
Applying the manna story
The money we have should be seen as God’s provision. The reason we live where we live and have what we have is only due to God’s kindness, and the proper response to God’s faithfulness is to live a life that trusts him for the future.
We should be keenly aware of our tendency to be greedy – keeping more than we need or wanting more than we need. We have surplus in order to meet the needs of others because this is God’s purpose in excess. God is our real treasure, and he is faithful, and he has provided enough for everyone.
Give us this day our daily bread, – Matthew 6:11
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:33-34
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? – 1 John 3:17
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share… – 1 Timothy 6:17-18
Because all of this raises questions about saving for retirement I wrote an article to address this.
“When Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on earth, it’s not just because wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. No exceptions… Realizing its value is temporary should radically affect our investment strategy… According to Jesus, storing up earthly treasures isn’t simply wrong. It’s just plain stupid.” – Randy Alcorn