Again and again, the covenant family called Israel would have become extinct had the living God not stepped in.
Hardly had they escaped the chariots and swords of Pharaoh when it seemed they would soon die of starvation instead. The burning desert was not about to produce their daily bread.
In answer to their cries, the Lord provided. One day, those who were awake in the cool of the morning found generously sprinkled "upon the face of the wilderness … a small round thing." Jewish historians say that these mysterious food bits somewhat resembled miniature Corn Pops — but more versatile and nutritious.
The news spread. On everyone's lips was the question, "What is it?" as they gathered it in. It constituted their meals that day, and 14,000 days to come.
The Aramaic expression for "What is it?" — "Man hu?" — was adopted as a name for this supernatural, life-giving, nation-saving food. In the Old Testament of today it is rendered "manna."
"Manna?" was a good question to ask about a perplexing substance sent from heaven to keep mortal life going another day. Is it really from heaven? How do I gather it to myself and my family? What should I do in return? Must it be renewed morning by morning? How shall I see that it doesn't go stale?
But "Manna?" is an even better question when faced with the One sent from heaven to offer us infinite life forever. What shall he mean to me? How much do I already mean to him? How do I lay hold on every good thing he offers? By what effort may I keep his gift new, day by day — how shall I keep it from going stale?
About 13 centuries after the days of the lesser Manna, the greater Manna was sent. The God of Moses came to the descendants of those ancient Corn Pops consumers. Some of them felt that, were he really the Messiah, he should repeat the old miracle and give them daily bread.
But that old miracle was a teaching device. The whole point of the lesson stood now before their very eyes. He said to them in clear language, "The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. … I am the bread of life."
A few moments later he bore that testimony again: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven." On hearing this, many who stood ever so close to the greater Manna, "went back, and walked no more with him."
For Israel, this had been a chronic problem: being caught up in the blatant and lesser miracles, while trivializing the quiet and greater ones.
Such are the greatest mistakes ever made in history.
Among the holy seasons in Judaism of today is one marked by lamentation. It is "Tish B'Av" — the 9th of the month of Av. On that date in 588 B.C., the Temple of Solomon was destroyed by Babylon. Jewish belief is that this unthinkable calamity unfolded because Israel had too long ignored prophets (such as Jeremiah and his associates). The great mistake.
On the same date in A.D. 70, the "Second Temple" was destroyed on the same spot, for the same reason, this time by the hand of Rome.
Beginning with sundown on Tuesday, July 19, this year, and continuing for 25 hours, observant Jews will fast and pray that they may not make the great mistake made by others. It is a fitting resolve for any people to whom prophets are sent.
(References: Exodus 16:14-15; Psalm 78:24; John 6:32-66; Revelation 2:17)
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" can be found in serialized segments on MormonTimes.com.