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 Exodus chapter 16). What was manna? Interestingly, the Israelites asked the very same question: “When the people of Israel saw it, 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’” (Exodus 16:15). The Hebrew word translated “manna” literally means “what is it?”
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” (Exodus 16:31). Numbers 11:7 states that manna’s appearance was like “bdellium” or “resin.” Psalm 78:24 refers to manna as “grain from heaven,” and the next verse calls it “bread of angels.” So, manna seems to have been literal bread that God caused to miraculously appear each morning during the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings. The miracle of manna ceased shortly after the Israelites entered the Promised Land (Joshua 5:12).
Far more important than manna’s physical qualities is what manna foreshadowed. Manna is a type, or foreshadowing, of Jesus. After Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000, they wanted Him to “give us this bread always” (John 6:34). Jesus tried to get their attention off of physical bread and onto the true “bread of life.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. . . . I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:32-35). Sadly, the people could not get their minds off of physical bread long enough to understand the spiritual truth Jesus was declaring (John 6:36-59). They were more concerned with the condition of their stomachs than the condition of their souls.
Just as God provided manna to the Israelites to save them from starvation, He has provided Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls. The literal manna temporarily saved the Israelites from physical death. The spiritual manna saves us 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).