Hunger plays a prominent role in the biblical narrative. From the very beginning, it was mankind’s hunger that broke up their fellowship with the Divine. Remember Adam and Eve? They saw that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good, and pleasing to the eye, and desirable. Their hunger was natural, even God created, but they hungered for the wrong thing. As a result, they ate but were not satisfied.
In the exodus story, God set the captives free from the oppressive land of Egypt. With Egypt in their rearview mirror, they faced the hunger and thirst of the desert before them. God provided them with manna to eat. But not satisfied with a food so strange to them that they called it “what is it?” (the literal translation of “manna”), they hungered for something better.
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11.4-6)
And so they ate the quail that God sent down, but they were not satisfied because a severe plague came with the craved meat.
The prophets would use this image of hunger that is wrongly quenched. Isaiah said,
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55.1-2)
And again, the prophet Jeremiah used this image when he said,
My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2.13)
Hunger even enters the Jesus narrative. Led by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, Jesus got hungry, of course, because He was made like us in every way. The Devil tempted Him to solve his hunger problem by turning the stones into bread. In resisting the Devil, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8. Here is the whole verse from which His reply came,
3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8.3)
From the beginning, hunger is the natural craving placed in our stomachs by our creator. But hunger is also a symbol that points to a greater reality. Our souls hunger, too. Our souls naturally crave something that it lacks, something (or someone) whose absence is painful. And from the beginning, mankind has been trying to quench that painful thirst with broken cisterns, with bread that does not satisfy.
Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5.6, that those who want to be satisfied, those who want their souls to be quenched, those who want to be filled must long for the true source of quenching. Later in His ministry, Jesus would say it like this:
I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. (John 6.53-58)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.