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Shemot/Exodus 16:33 Take one jar and put there a full omer of manna; then deposit it before the L-rd for a safe-keeping for your generations.
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Moshe here explicitly instructs Aharon to carry outHaShem's directions concerning the manna which He gave in the previous verse: "This is what the L-RD has commanded: Let one omer of it be kept throughout the ages, in order that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out from the land of Egypt" (Shemot 16:32, NJPS). Two words catch our attention in Moshe's command. The first is the word translated 'jar' - . This is the only time it is used in the Tanakh, so its meaning is unclear. Ibn Ezra explains that "we learn its meaning from Targum Onkelos", because Onkelos changes it to the Aramaic word a jar.
Rashi proposes that it is an earthenware jar; this is supported by the Septuagint, who renders it as ", stamnos, a jar for storing wine" and Nahum Sarna, who - referencing HaShem's instructions to Jeremiah, "put them into an earthen jar, so that they may last a long time" (Jeremiah 32:14, NJPS) - comments that "sealed with wax, jars of this type were the most common and effective receptacle for storing valuables. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the caves at Qumran had been preserved in earthenware jars." The Abravanel disagrees, suggesting that "it was made of glass, so the manna could be seen inside it." This is an important point - as Umberto Cassuto notices: "that those generations may see, as you have seen"1 - that takes us into the second word.
Coming at the end of the verse, the two words , somewhat clumsily translated as "a safe-keeping for your generations" formalises HaShem's wishes from the verse before: "in order that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness" (Shemot 16:32). is a fs noun from the verb root , "to guard, keep, watch", conveying the idea of something that is to be kept or guarded, something of value that must be preserved. We should notice the emphatic way that this word is used: three times in this verse and its neighbours - as the same word pair in v. 32 "kept throughout the ages", the word pair in v. 33 and as a single word at the end of v. 34 "for safe-keeping". It also appears earlier in the story to describe the second half of the double portion of manna collected on the day before Shabbat - "put aside to be kept until morning" (v. 23, NJPS) - and to say what is to happen to the lab that has been selected for the Pesach offering: "put aside to be kept until morning" (12:6, NJPS).
Why is this so important, that the jar of manna will - in time to come - be kept in the ark with the stone tablets written by the hand of G-d and Aharon's rod, one of only three things to be kept and preserved in this way? TheBaal HaTurim suggests that "this teaches that this manna will be preserved until the prophet Elijah will come in the era of Ultimate redemption", but Moshe's generation and many others could not have known this. Rabbi Hirsch proposes a symbiotic relationship between the manna and the Torah: "this command told the generation of the wilderness that this wandering in the wilderness would come to an end ... but that they and their descendants were to keep the spirit engendered by living on the manna, even when living normally. They were even then to look on their food, which the rest of the social and physical world consider as obtained by fighting, competing and catching away from others, as manna, the 'modest but sufficient' portion allotted by G-d. By keeping it with the stone tablets, it testifies to the Torah too as being a gift from G-d."
Let's pursue that a little further and consider what modern commentators have said about HaShem's purpose in the jar of manna. On one hand, Peter Enns sees this as a sign of the exodus itself: "Some of the manna is to be kept in a jar as a perpetual reminder to future generations that G-d brought the Israelites out of Egypt."2 Terence Fretheim, on the other hand, claims it is in order to remember G-d's provision, "so that the people would be reminded how G-d had fed them in the wilderness."3 On much the same line, Brevard Childs says that the manna is kept "in order to bear witness to the future generations of G-d's sustenance of Israel throughout the period in the wilderness."4 Stepping back from the immediate object of remembrance, Walter Brueggemann points to a larger vision of what G-d is doing and its implication for the people: "It asserts that that bread is given, that G-d is faithful, that life in the wilderness is possible, that Israel is safe."5 This sees the manna not so much as preserving history but as preserving relationship.
Relationship is grown by ongoing conversation and connection, by remembering not only things and actions, but also how chains and sequences of actions over time demonstrate commitment and care: "The worship life of the people of G-d is no simply to focus on the dramatic acts of G-d but also to provide remembrances of how the seemingly little things in their daily lives are undergirded by the sustaining care of G-d."6 It is as if HaShem wants to preserve a memory of how much His people needed Him: "By preserving the manna forever, Israel was made to remember how dependent she was on G-d for life."7 This means that contrary to the ultimate implementation of the manna being stored in the ark, in the centre of the Tabernacle/Temple, where only the priests would ever have access to it - and that only occasionally - following the Abravanel's suggestion that the jar should be made of glass, "it is to be kept visible and seen by Israel through the generations as a witness and reminder ... it attests only to the generous fidelity of Yahweh in the wilderness after the exodus."8
If we, as followers of Yeshua are to remember and share a testimony or witness for Him, where is our sign, our line in the sand, to which we point and explain what He did, has done and is doing? If we are to project a faith and a hope for the future, on what do we base our confidence? There are surely many such reference points in the Bible, starting from the moment HaShem became involved with man - "G-d created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (B'resheet 1:27, NJPS) - to the call of Avraham, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you" (12.1, NJPS) or Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, "G-d spoke all these words, saying: I the L-RD am your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage" (Shemot 20:1-2, NJPS). Then, of course, there is Elijah at Mt. Carmel - "How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the L-RD is G-d, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!" (1 Kings 18:21, NJPS) - a tremendous moment of faith and power. In the Apostolic Writings, many would say that the Cross has to be the one supreme moment, "[Yeshua] said, 'It is finished,' and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit" (John 19:20, ESV), with others adding that Shavuot and the giving of the Spirit comes a close second: "this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16, ESV).
What is it that gives you hope and asserts that G-d is in control? What can you look at and be reminded of the way that G-d has been, is and will continue both to take care of you and grow His kingdom until Yeshua returns? Of course the Word itself is like manna - giving us life each day - printed in the Bible, as in a glass jar, so that we can see and read it freely. The Ruach - the Holy Spirit - is our constant companion, reminding us of everything that Yeshua said. But surely G-d has been at work more recently in your own life; you are a walking testimony to the way that G-d moves and acts among His people? Rav Sha'ul writes, "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all ... you show that you are a letter from Messiah delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living G-d, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3, ESV). We read G-d's letter in each other, bearing witness of how He is moving in each of our lives and encouraging us - as Sha'ul encouraged Timothy - to press on and "finish the race" (2 Timothy 4:7) well.
At the same time, turning the focus outwards, the Psalmist reminds us that we are also an open book for G-d and others to read: "Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day" (Psalm 139:16, The Message). The letter that G-d is still writing in each of our lives is for everyone to read, "so that the life of Yeshua also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11, ESV). Our task is to be transparent, or like "jars of clay" (v. 7), so that G-d's power and glory may not only be seen, but be seen to be His. We are today's jar of manna, so that all generations may see and know that G-d is still providing for His people in the wilderness as He calls them out of exile on their journey to His kingdom, the Promised Land.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983), page 199-200.
2. - Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), page 327.
3. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 183.
4. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 291.
5. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus", in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 384.
6. - Fretheim, 187.
7. - Childs, 291.
8. - Brueggemann, 384.
Further Study: Lamentations 4:1-2; Matthew 5:14-16; Romans 5:5; Hebrews 9:3-4
Application: Has G-d called to be an earthenware jar or a glass jar? Are you transparent or opaque - and how do the generations around you see the kingdom of G-d being revealed? Make sure the letter of your life can be clearly seen by everyone - speak to the Master Scribe today and and sure that His words are being displayed correctly.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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