Solomon, the great and wise king of Israel, does what his father, David, did not do: he builds a Temple for the Lord. In 1 Kings 8, the Lord comes to His Temple.
But something is missing.
Check this out: Then Solomon assembled the respected leaders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes, and the leaders of the Israelite families. They came to King Solomon in Jerusalem to take the ark of the Lord's promise from the City of David (that is, Zion). ...They brought the ark...to the temple. ...There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a promise to the Israelites after they left Egypt. (vv. 1-2, 4, 9)
It seems that by the time Israel finally builds a permanent dwelling for God, they have, they think, only His law left.
You might be thinking: well, yeah. The ark contained the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them. What's so wrong about that?
Is that all the ark contained?
In Exodus 16, the Lord commands Moses to preserve some of the manna that the wilderness wanderers have been surviving off of. Two quarts of it, to be exact. And the latter parts of chapter 16 tell us that Aaron took the measure of manna, put it in a jar, and put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. (v. 34)
Now, we know that manna had a way of disappearing. It covered the ground every morning and disintegrated with the dew as the sun rose. Anything kept until morning was covered by worms and disgrace. But manna on the sixth day lasted through the seventh, and I'm going to guess that manna in a jar as commanded by the Lord would last quite longer than that.
Still, when the people finally settle into the Promised Land enough to give the ark a permanent home, this manna seems to have gone missing. There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets....
What happened to it?
I'm going to guess: "probably nothing." I don't recall reading any Scripture where the manna is removed from the tablets of the covenant law. I don't see anything that tells me the Philistines destroyed it when the ark was in their possession. When the ark almost falls on its journey back to Israel and is barely saved, I don't read anything about it being tipped enough that the manna fell out and the jar shattered.
I think Israel just forgot.
Like we're prone to do.
I think Israel forgot, through the grind of days, through the grueling journeys, through the all-out battles, that there was more to God than merely the law. I think they forgot that their relationship with Him was about more than the do's and the don't's. I think they forgot that their story was one of more than merely their faithfulness or unfaithfulness. See, the manna was meant to be a reminder of God's faithfulness.
And they forgot anyway.
We do the same thing. When our faith is tested, when life is tough, when times are hard and we are looking for a way to get back to "the basics" of God, we always seem to come back to law. To do's and don't's. To blessings and curses. To yeses and nos. If you asked most of us what God is all about, we would tell you maybe relationship, but based on rules. We would spout off the Ten Commandments and the rules for righteous living.
We would neglect to mention the manna.
But see, the manna is the thing. We've got this so twisted in our heads. The more we think about God, the more we try to get down to the fundamentals of faith, the more we somehow come to this conclusion that it's all about our faithfulness or unfaithfulness. It's all about how well we keep the covenant commands. It's all about how well we're doing God.
But God's story has never been about us. It's always been about Him. It's always been about His faithfulness, even in our unfaithfulness. It's about how He fulfills covenant promises. That's what the manna means.
When we think there's just the law in that box, we think it's up to us to keep the law. Like it's somehow become our promise to God.
We don't make the promises; God does.
That's what the manna is for. It's to remind us that it's not our promise; it's God. It's not our covenant; it's His. It's not up to us alone to choose faithfulness or unfaithfulness; God has chosen faithfulness. He keeps choosing it. He's proven it. It's right there in the jar, lest we forget.
It's right there next to the law, lest we forget that it's not really our law. It's God's.
And He's keeping it.