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“Our Daily Bread”: Manna from Heaven

30 April, 2008

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.” In light of everything we’ve seen in the prayer so far, this should come as a bit of a shock — or at least a clear ‘gear shift’ in the prayer. To this point the prayer has been saturated with the glory and praise of our Triune God, with the heavenly realities of the age to come, and with the accomplishment of the everlasting will of our God, out of the love of the Father, in the accomplished work of Christ the Son and in the Spirit’s application of that work through the Word, to everlasting life for all who believe.

But in the fourth petition we get something like, ‘Lord, please provide for us today that sustenance we need every day’. There is a major difference in focus here (no matter what ‘daily bread’ means, which we’ll get to in a minute), but it’s important to recognize that it’s a shift in the prayer, not a contradiction between two mutually exclusive realities.

It should be really encouraging for us that our Lord was not like us, who so often seem to pit these things against one another. We seem either to get caught up in heavenly things (without recognizing and pursuing their here-and-now significance and relevance) — or we get caught up in our day to day life (looking down at our stumbling feet instead of pressing on toward the goal). Jesus here upholds the importance of both the big picture and the small picture, the ‘telephoto’ lens and the ‘macro’ lens in the Christian faith and life, even while giving clear priority to the heavenly viewpoint. So we must give priority to ‘setting our minds on things above’ as well, although always understanding and meeting the day-to-day needs we all have here below.

There is such wisdom here. Jesus doesn’t neglect our basic concerns and needs, or pretend they aren’t ‘real’, but he calls us to look to our gracious heavenly Father’s provision, for all our needs, both now and forever. Looking at life through the lenses of the age to come doesn’t mean not looking at life — it means looking at it clearly, with the eyes of faith, in light of the abundant life that we have through and in Christ.

So we can recognize that Jesus is bringing ‘heaven’ to bear in our concrete situations on the ground, so to speak, but more specifically we have to ask, What does “daily bread” actually mean? There are three clear options:

  1. Daily bread means roughly ‘day-to-day provision of our needs by God’. This is a very important theme in Matthew, and we can think especially of Jesus’ calling his disciples not to worry about their life, what they will eat or wear, and so on, since our heavenly Father is more than able and willing to take care of us better than any grass or sparrow (6:25-34). The end of this section is especially close to the language of the fourth petition: ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble’ (vv. 33-34). As in the Lord’s Prayer earlier, Jesus calls his disciples to look first to their gracious Father in heaven, then trust his provision for their daily needs. We can also consider in this light Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand (14:17ff.) and four thousand (15:33ff.). Finally, Jesus may be alluding to Prov 30:8-9: ‘…feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”, or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.’ Notice this also has to do with honouring the name of God.
  2. Daily bread means roughly ‘the continually nourishing word of the gospel of Christ’. This option is especially clear in Jesus’ temptation by Satan. When Jesus is completely famished and the devil tempts him to prove himself by turning stones into bread, Jesus’ well-known answer is, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’, quoting Deut 8:3. There is another interesting use of bread as a metaphor for the gospel of salvation in 15:26-28. Jesus responds to a Canaanite woman’s plea for help for her daugher by saying, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She replied, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table’ — then Jesus praises the greatness of her faith and heals her daughter instantly. My point is that the children’s bread, and the dogs’ crumbs, is the redeeming work of Christ received by faith. And any ‘dog’ who recognizes the constant and abiding sustenance this bread provides receives this saving nourishment by faith. Last (but certainly not least!!) is the Lord’s Supper. Christ himself is the bread we eat for nourishment to everlasting life (see 26:26). Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the true and lasting manna in the wilderness, as he says throughout John 6.
  3. Daily bread means both; there is purposefully a double meaning. Think of such statements from Jesus as, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find…Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?…If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ (7:7-11). He uses the example of ordinary basic provision of needs in order to speak of God’s physical and especially spiritual provision for all who call upon him. While we should always be careful reading an author’s words as saying two different things at the same time with the same language on purpose (since it is the author’s intended language and not his intent that we actually read), this is possibly what’s going on here. This is especially the case since the two meanings are not mutually exclusive; often in Matthew the basic bread we must continually eat to sustain life is compared to the saving work of God that we must continually feed on for everlasting life. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus says to his disciples in ch. 16? He tells them to ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’, and they think he’s referring to their forgetting to bring bread on their journey (vv. 5-7). Notice what Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and hw many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?…’ (vv. 8-11). Jesus here interprets the meaning of the physical feeding of the multitudes as pointing to spiritual realities. We are called to understand all Jesus’ words and actions (discerningly!) in the context of his mission and its redemptive character.

In sum, whichever meaning we should go with here, they’re related — and whether or not its implicitly a double meaning (meaning 3), the reality of meaning 1 should nevertheless consistently point us to the reality of meaning 2, and be understood in its light. Jesus is by the Spirit our nourishment for everlasting life, and the daily provision we need for our faith and life in this pilgrimage here below. And on this pilgrimage, our gracious and faithful heavenly Father’s provision of all things necessary for us — primarily his kingdom and his righteousness — should give us confidence of his adding to these everything else we may need according to his purposes and our good. Christ is the one who truly and really nourishes us, by the Spirit through faith, on his shed blood and broken body as our bread and wine unto everlasting life together with them and the Father. And this same God provides just as faithfully for our earthly good as he does for our spiritual and heavenly good, daily sustaining us through whatever trouble is enough for each day, feeding us until the day we won’t be hungry anymore, but always feasting and always satisfied.

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9 Comments
  1. 30 April, 2008 12:26 pm

    nice new logo at the top. psyche. sorry i’ve been busy brannan. 4 more weeks to go.
    hey i checked out the SC set to music. it was cool but i know we could do better. seriously.
    my new summer project.

  2. 2 May, 2008 4:38 am

    Hi Brannan, Phil, and others at Creed or Chaos:

    I opened a new Reformed doctrine blog at the link – http://www.reformeddoctrine.wordpress.com . Check it out. Today’s article is titled “Attributes of God”.

    Best wishes,
    Bill Hornbeck

  3. susan baringer permalink
    22 June, 2008 5:03 pm

    I would like to know if My sunday school teacher is right or I am right.
    I believe my version is right. My belief is that God was expecting us to look into the bible for all of our needs. At the time people still received miraculous things from God, and knew God spoke to them. When the bible came out that was our only way now to speak to God,of course metephorcally people can still talk to God. So Daily Bread I believe is the bible that provides for your needs spiritual needs which in turn can and mostly will provide for your physical needs if you are willing to put forth effort. God is not going to let us just lay around and beg and whine and be lazy. When I think of Ethiopia though it breaks my heart. But than I believe God tells people who have better means and are blessed to provide for Ethipias needs and he fondly enrich you with all of the spiritual nourishment you will ever need as long as you do it because you want to work for the Lord and be spiritually blessed, which will fullfill everyones needs in a way materials never could. So ask God if you should go to a poor community if you feel you are spiritually starving

  4. creedorchaos permalink*
    23 June, 2008 3:29 am

    Susan~

    What’s your Sunday school teacher’s understanding of ‘daily bread’?

  5. solomon permalink
    1 September, 2008 6:46 am

    hello my fellow menber in christ i wantyou to
    get me understand,the read and understanding.

  6. 1 September, 2008 10:11 am

    okeedoke.

  7. Ben permalink
    12 February, 2010 6:42 am

    Amazing insight, very biblical I believe. Also, good cross-references to make the point on the purposeful double meaning of “Daily Bread”. God Bless!

  8. 11 May, 2010 3:08 am

    This posting is pretty awesome! Well written and EXTREMELY helpful. God’s blessings upon you in Jesus’ name! I look foward to reading more and joining in fellowship. Thanx! – Bo

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