Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
“Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance” (Psalm 78.25 NASB1995).
The Bible is a book whose depths we cannot comprehend. As a result, we discover something new every time we read the Scriptures. Recently, as our devotional Bible reading turned to Psalm 78, I had one of those moments. In verse 25, Asaph refers to manna and says God gave the Israelites “bread of angels.” I couldn’t recall hearing that addressed by any preacher I’d heard, nor had I previously read any commentaries on the verse. So I put on my “scuba gear” and went for a dive.
We must establish the context first. The main goals of Psalm 78 are that Israel should not repeat their unruly past and properly instruct future generations about God’s Law. Asaph recalls God’s miracles in Israel’s history, but Israel still rebelled. Asaph mentions one of these wonders: God feeding the people with manna from heaven. And God did this, although the Israelites had repeatedly enraged Him. According to Asaph, they put God to the test in their hearts (78.18).
As a result, our “bread of angels” was a providential answer to a need. The people were hungry, and God satisfied their hunger and provided more than they required. However, Asaph recalls that the people believed God should cater to their food preferences (78.18). So, God punished them again because they complained after He sent the manna (78.31-33). Asaph’s point was that they were unappreciative of a lavish gift.
Following the context, we will move on to the Hebrew language. Lechem abbirim is Hebrew for “bread of the mighty ones.” The word “abbir” appears 47 times in the Old Testament, referring to everything from animals to strong or stubborn men. However, only twice in some of our English translations is this word rendered as angels (Psalm 78.25,cf. Psalm 103.20). Why is this the case? The Septuagint is most likely the answer because the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures uses the word “angels” here. We should also mention that the Latin Vulgate uses the phrase “panem angelorum” (bread of angels). And the translators of the King James Version were heavily influenced by the Latin Vulgate. But there could be more to it than that.
Another hint comes from a non-canonical book written by a Jew living in Alexandria during the first century BC who pretended to be Solomon. People refer to this as the Book of Wisdom. “In contrast, you fed your people with the food from angels,” Wisdom 16.20 says. Again and again, you provided your people with a bread that had been prepared in heaven. It was a bread that was able to satisfy anyone’s longing and please anyone’s taste.” (Common English Bible) Even though it lacks the weight of what God-breathed (cf. 2 Timothy 3.16), it still provides valuable commentary for understanding Jewish thought before Christ’s birth.
As a result, Asaph may have referred to angels—mighty ones—as ministering spirits (cf. Psalm 103.20-22; Hebrews 1.14). In other words, God prepared and sent the manna from heaven via the angels. If true, it would not be the first time the Bible mentions angels in passing. For example, Stephen stated that an angel was present in the burning bush (Acts 7.35). Otherwise, all we know about manna is that it came with the dew (Numbers 11.9). As a result, it descended from heaven.
Finally, most commentators agree that the bread of angels refers to food fit for angelic consumption or the king’s table (cf. Daniel 1.8). Manna, in other words, was a dish fit for heaven. Nonetheless, God gave it to men who did not value it. We might find a modern parallel in being given a free meal at a three-star Michelin restaurant but complaining that we would rather have eaten at McDonald’s. (With no offense to McDonald’s.)
Fortunately, this is not a matter of salvation, and there is room for debate. I agree with most commentators that the phrase refers to the quality of the food rather than the consumers’ identity. However, it is intriguing to speculate that angels may have been responsible for distributing it to the people. After all, people did not always see the angels who were present. The Arameans, for example, once pursued Elisha to his home in Dothan. The servant of Elisha was terrified, but Elisha prayed to God to open his eyes. God complied, and the servant saw the heavenly host encircling Dothan, protecting Elisha (2 Kings 6.15-17). So, even if manna arrived with the dew, it could still have been brought down from heaven by angels.
[No, I haven’t given up on the book of Proverbs. Chapter 8 will pick up where the previous installments left off. I believe that my articles on Proverbs have become white noise for some of my readers. And they’ve lost interest. I appreciate the kind words of individuals who have read and valued those posts. Your kind words always make their way to me. Before tackling another block of Proverbs for a month or two, I’ll present a few weeks of non-Proverbs-related content. And God willing, I shall eventually conclude my study of Proverbs. Even once I resume the series, I anticipate taking a few more breaks, so please be patient with me until we finish the book of Proverbs. Thanks, Brent]