Exodus 16 – Manna for the Children of Israel
A. God’s promise to provide.
1. (1) From Elim to the Wilderness of Sin.
And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt.
a. On the fifteenth day of the second month: This marked one month after leaving Egypt, since they left on the fifteenth of the previous month (Exodus 12:18).
b. The Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai: They came out from Elim, an oasis of rest and comfort (Exodus 15:27). They headed towards Sinai, a place to meet with God and receive His law. In between Elim and Sinai was the wilderness of Sin.
i. In the original text the name “Wilderness of Sin” has nothing to do with sin and could just as easily be translated Wilderness of Zin. Yet as the story unfolds, we see that this wilderness had a lot to do with sin.
2. (2-3) Israel complains against Moses and Aaron.
Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
a. Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: They complained because they did not have enough food. The supplies they carried with them from Egypt began to run out, and they had to be sustained in the wilderness.
i. It would seem that starvation was more anticipated than experienced. In other words, they did not live through weeks and weeks of famine, nor did they saw their family and friends die of malnutrition, or even have to kill all their livestock for food. Instead they started to feel hungry and anticipated starvation.
ii. They went from singing to complaining very quickly.
b. When we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full: Israel selectively remembered the past and thought of their time in Egypt as a good time. They lost sight of God’s future for them, and they also twisted the past to support their complaining. This thinking is common among those who complain.
c. You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly: This is another common practice among those who complain. They insisted that Moses and Aaron had bad or evil intentions. Of course, Moses and Aaron had no interest in killing the people of Israel, and this was a horrible accusation to make. Yet a complaining heart often finds it easy to accuse the person they complain against of the worst motives.
i. “Human nature can never be reduced to a more abject state in this world than that in which the body is enthralled by political slavery, and the soul debased by the influence of sin. These poor Hebrews were both slaves and sinners, and were therefore capable of the meanest and most disgraceful acts.” (Clarke)
3. (4-5) God announces to Moses the coming of bread from heaven.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”
a. Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you: This was a remarkable promise. Bread doesn’t normally rain from heaven. Yet God promised that He would provide for Israel in this unexpected way.
i. This reminds us that God may provide from resources that we never knew existed. Sometimes He provides from familiar resources, sometimes from unexpected resources.
ii. Murmuring Israel called this bread from heaven “manna” (Exodus 16:31). God almost always called it bread from heaven (Nehemiah 9:15, Psalm 78:24 and Psalm 105:40) or sometimes it was called angels’ food (Psalm 78:25).
b. The people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day: God promised to send bread from heaven, but He didn’t promise to drop it into their mouths. They still had to go out and gather what they needed for every day.
c. That I may test them: The blessing of bread from heaven came with the responsibility of obedience. This responsibility would test Israel and measure their obedience. The test came on the sixth day, when they were to gather twice as much, so the seventh day could be received as a day of rest.
4. (6-8) Moses tells the people about God’s coming provision.
Then Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “At evening you shall know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD; for He hears your complaints against the LORD. But what are we, that you complain against us?” Also Moses said, “This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him. And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the LORD.”
a. At evening you shall know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt: One would think that with the experience of the plagues, Passover, and the deliverance at the Red Sea, Israel would already know that the LORD had brought them out of Egypt. Yet experiences, even great experiences, don’t change the heart as much as we often think.
b. In the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD: They would not see the glory of God as in His enthroned radiance; but in His great, loving provision for His people. That is a real display of God’s glory.
i. The glory of the LORD: “The sheer weight, gravity (kabed, ‘to be heavy,’ then ‘to glorify’) of his divine presence.” (Kaiser)
ii. One way that God showed His glory was through this display of mercy and goodness. God didn’t send them hell from heaven; He sent bread instead. Nor did He demand that they stop their complaining before they ate. Just like Jesus would later command us, God loved and fed those who acted like His enemies.
c. He hears your complaints against the LORD… your complaints against the LORD… Your complaints are not against us, but against the LORD: The people thought they complained against Moses and Aaron (Exodus 16:2). Really, they complained against the LORD.
d. When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening: At Exodus 16:4, God promised to give bread from heaven in the morning. Here He also promised to give meat to eat in the evening.
B. God’s provision of Manna.
1. (9-12) God shows His glory and promises to provide.
Then Moses spoke to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your complaints.’” Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
a. The glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD spoke to Moses: It’s difficult to know if everyone heard the LORD speak to Moses, or if Moses alone heard this. Certainly, everyone knew God spoke to Moses because of the display of glory, but we don’t know if they could hear what the LORD said to him.
b. I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel: Since Moses already knew this (based on Exodus 16:4-5), these words give more weight to the idea that God said this publically, more for the benefit of Israel than for the benefit of Moses.
2. (13-14) God provides quail for meat and bread from heaven.
So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground.
a. So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp: In a miraculous way, God provided Israel with plenty of meat in the wilderness. This was a significant display of the mercy of God. When Israel complained God could have answered with judgment or discipline, and He gave them meat instead.
i. The quails mentioned here “migrate regularly between south Europe and Arabia across the Sinai Peninsula. They are small, bullet-headed birds, with a strong but low flight, usually roosting on the ground or in the low bushes at nightfall. When exhausted, they would be unable to… take off again. The birds are good eating, and were a favorite delicacy of the Egyptians.” (Cole)
b. A small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground: The bread from heaven came with the dew each morning, as some kind of residue from the dew. It was small, round and fine as frost on the ground. Therefore, it was not easy to gather. It had to be swept up from the ground.
i. Exodus 16:31 further describes the bread from heaven as like coriander seed (about the size of a sesame seed), and sweet like honey. Numbers 11:7 says it was the color of bdellium (a pearl-like color). It was either baked or boiled (Exodus 16:23).
ii. Numbers 11:8 says that they ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil.
iii. Jewish legends supposedly tell us what this bread from heaven tasted like. “One only had to desire a certain dish, and no sooner had he thought of it, than manna had the flavor of the dish desired. The same food had a different taste to everyone who partook of it, according to his age; to the little children, it tasted like milk, to the strong youths like bread, to the old men like honey, to the sick like barley steeped in oil and honey.” But they also wrote that manna was bitter in the mouth of Gentiles. (Ginzberg)
iv. Jewish legends also supposedly tell us how they could sweep it up off the desert floor and not have dirt in it. These legends say that when God sent manna, He first sent a north wind to sweep the floor of the desert and then a rain to wash it clean. Then the manna descended on clean ground.
c. A small round substance: It is difficult to precisely identify what this substance was. Some researchers identify it with what the Arabs today call mann, which is formed when “A tiny insect punctures the bark of the tamarisk tree, drinks the sap, and exudes a clear liquid that solidifies as a sugary globule when it hits the ground. When the sun comes up, it melts quickly and disappears.” (Buckingham)
i. Though the bread from heaven may have been similar to the modern day mann in the Sinai Peninsula, it wasn’t the same thing. The modern day mann never appears in great quantities, it doesn’t last year-round, and it is confined to a small geographic region.
d. As fine as frost on the ground: The purpose for giving the bread from heaven was not only to provide for the material needs of Israel, but also to teach them eternal lessons of dependence on God. This is demonstrated in passages like Deuteronomy 8:3: So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. When God puts us in a place of need, He wants to do more than meet the need. He wants to teach eternal lessons.
i. Feeding Israel through the bread from heaven was an example of God’s way of cooperating with man. Israel could not bring the manna and God would not gather it for them. Each had to do their part.
ii. “Animals are often taught through their food. When they could not be reached in any other way, they have been instructed by their hunger, and by their thirst, and by their feeding.” (Spurgeon)
3. (15) The people call the bread from heaven manna.
So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”
a. They said to one another, “What is it”: The name manna (given later in Exodus 16:31) means, “What is that?” and the name comes from the question asked in this verse.
b. For they did not know what it was: God provided for them, but they did not recognize it. When God’s provision comes, we often do not recognize it. God met the needs of Israel, but He did it in a way they did not expect.
4. (16-19) Instructions on the gathering of bread from heaven.
“This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.”
a. Let every man gather it according to each one’s need: The bread from heaven was to be gathered on an individual or a family basis. God did not command the creation of a tribal manna gathering and distribution center. Every household had to provide for itself, and a rich family could not hire a poor family to do their work for them.
b. One omer for each person: An omer could be as much as a gallon, especially in the later history of Israel. But at this early point in Israel’s history it may have meant only a cupful. It is an imprecise measure.
5. (20-21) Some of the people fail God’s test.
Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.
a. Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses: They clearly heard God’s command and they clearly knew God’s command. Yet for some reason they felt they did not have to obey God’s command. There was a harsh penalty for their disobedience – what they gathered in disobedience bred worms and stank.
b. So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need: The bad experience of their disobedience led them reluctantly to obedience.
c. When the sun became hot, it melted: Apparently the bread from heaven had to be gathered and prepared early in the morning. This was God’s gracious way of forcing a work ethic upon the nation of Israel.
6. (22-30) God provides double on the day before the Sabbath.
And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none.”
a. So it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread: God promised to provide twice as much on the sixth day, and He did. Perhaps this came as somewhat of a surprise to the people of Israel because they felt they had to report it to Moses (came and told Moses).
b. Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD: This was the first time God spoke to Israel about the Sabbath. God essentially forced them to honor the Sabbath by not providing any bread from heaven on the Sabbath day (today you will not find it in the field).
7. (27-30) No manna comes on the Sabbath.
Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.
a. Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather: Despite what God said, some went looking for bread from heaven when He said there would be none. Some will only learn by personal experience.
b. But they found none: God’s word was true, and they found none. This was a powerful lesson, teaching Israel to trust what God said before they had proven it true in experience.
i. People today still look for life and fulfillment in places God has said there would be none.
8. (31-36) God commands some bread from heaven be set aside as a testimony to His provision.
And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Then Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is one-tenth of an ephah.
a. And the house of Israel called its name Manna: This name means, what is that? It is based on the question asked in Exodus 16:15.
b. It was like white coriander seed: This refers to the small size of the particles of the bread from heaven. It meant that it had to be humbly, carefully gathered.
c. The taste of it was like wafers made with honey: God gave Israel good tasting food. He didn’t give them tasteless gruel or pasty porridge. Since it could be baked like bread or cake (Exodus 16:23), eating manna was like eating sweet bread every day.
d. Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations: This pot full of the bread from heaven was later put into the ark of the covenant, referred to here as the Testimony (Hebrews 9:4).
e. They ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan: As important as it was for God to provide this bread from heaven, it was also important for God to stop providing it. It was essential that Israel be put again in the position to receive God’s more normal provision, through hard work – which in itself is a blessing of God.
i. “Those who followed the cloud were always certain of their sustenance. Where the cloud brooded the manna fell.” (Meyer)
ii. This manna, this bread from heaven, is a powerful picture of Jesus Himself. After the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had a discussion with people who wanted Him to keep on feeding them with His miraculous power. They wanted Jesus to provide for them just Israel was provided for with manna in the wilderness. This is what Jesus said in reply:
Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:32-33)
iii. Jesus is the bread from heaven, and we have to receive Him like Israel received the manna.
· Aware of our need, hungry.
· Each for himself, family by family.
· Every day.
· Humbly – perhaps even on our knees.
· With gratitude, knowing we don’t deserve it.
· Eating it, taking the gift inside, to our innermost being.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission