Exodus 16:1-27
God's Provision

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2017, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV



“Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”[1]

Virtually all people who go through life with an understanding that there is a God who cares for them and they can pray to have a tendency to use the gift of prayer to ask God to give us something, whether it is healing or health, property or provisions.  It is certainly in our human nature to desire to receive something of value, and any time there is a source of provision it is in our spirit to exploit that source. 

It is axiomatic that the LORD does, indeed, provide for those whom He loves.  The nature of creation itself is a part of that provision as we have the air to breathe, survivable climate, etc., that gives us life.  God has specifically promised to care for those who seek him.[2]  However, rather than “buying” us a Mercedes Benz, a color television, or a night on the town (references to the Joplin lyrics), the LORD provides for us in ways that (1) meet basic needs, (2) reveal His nature, and (3) inspire our obedience.  We will see each of these characteristics of the LORD’s provision in His gift of manna, given to the wandering nation of Israel for a period of about forty years following their exodus from Egyptian bondage.

THE PROBLEM

Exodus 16:1.  And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.

It has been two and one-half months since Israel left Egypt.  When they initially coalesced as a nation, it was in many ways like a new birth.  They were given a singular identity as a nation of people who were descendants of Israel.  The LORD demonstrated Himself to them as their God, and unlike the mythical superheroes that were spawned in Egyptian mythology and had no evidence of power, the God of Israel demonstrated His reality, His power, and His presence in the Egyptian plagues and the parting of the waters of the Red Sea when He destroyed the armies of the Pharaoh.  From this experience the nation found faith in God, a faith that had not been known for almost fourteen generations.

Moses was also established by the LORD as their leader.  When they first gathered for their journey, they had very little knowledge of Moses, but by the time he led them through the Red Sea, the Israelites fully recognized him as a man who was close to God, and empowered by Him to lead them.

However, rather than take the Israelites on the shortest and easiest route to Egypt, the LORD led them, using the Pillar of Fire, the Shekinah Glory, through the desert where food and water was scarce.  Though the Israelites had now come to recognize the LORD as their God, and Moses as their leader, they still had much to learn about how the LORD would shape the relationship that He has with His people.  The people needed to, not only know who God is, but come to trust in Him.  Theirs was a young faith, one of identity, but not of content or context.  Where people of faith today have the resource of thousands of years of faith history and its record in the biblical narrative, the Israelites had very little information upon which to build an understanding of what faith in God entails.  They were certainly amazed by Him, His power, and His presence, and they had no doubt as to His existence and His beneficent involvement in their lives.  However, they had a lot yet to learn, and the journey they are about to take was provided by the LORD to meet that purpose.

We find that the trust that they had in the LORD following the experience at the Red Sea quickly ebbed when they found themselves in the wilderness and short on water.  After only three days, while in the region of Marah, the people began to murmur against Moses for their lack of water.[3]  This would be the first “test” of the Israelites that would become a pattern in their wilderness experience.  Finding a plentiful source of water in the form of a large pool, they discovered it was bitter and not fit to drink.  The LORD led Moses to select a branch from a specific tree, and upon casting it into the pool, the water became potable and sweet.  Again, the LORD demonstrated to the people that He could be trusted.  They then went on to a large oasis in Elim where there was an abundance of water and dates, and they camped there.  This passage picks up after they have left Elim and moved back out into the desert, into the Wilderness of Sin.[4]

THE PROTEST

Exodus 16:2-3.  And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: 3And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

It has not taken long after their encampment in Elim to become hungry for food.  Providing food for about two million people would be a task beyond imagination.  Of course, the Israelites would be searching for anything to eat as they journeyed, but food would be scarce in the desert.  One might find enough food to feed a few people, but certainly not two million.  Again, the people found themselves faced with an impossible dilemma.  Just as they had no hope of survival when their backs were against the Red Sea, they believed that they had no chance of survival here in the desert.  We might be critical of the “lack of faith” in God that is demonstrated in these people, though we should be reminded that they are only two and one half months out of Egypt, and they are just beginning to know Moses and to know God. 

Even faithful people today can find their faith challenged when they face seemingly impossible situations.  Rather than seek the LORD in times of what we think of as a dire need, we will often act more like these ancient Israelites and begin complaining and condemning.  It is natural that we would point fingers of blame at others, or even at ourselves, as we try to bring some context to our experience.  However, just as the LORD had a very specific purpose for the experiences that He brought into the Israelite community, the LORD has a very specific purpose for the experiences that he brings into the lives of the faithful today.[5]

The murmuring of Israel against Moses and Aaron was not simply a few complaints that were brought to them, but rather it was a conversation that was taking place among the people, a conversation that brought into question the very calling and purpose of Moses and Aaron.  They blamed these two leaders for what they perceived is their imminent demise to hunger.  There is no indication that they considered the LORD in their plight as they did when they were suffering under Egyptian bondage with no leader on whom they could place blame.  This is why this trek through the wilderness would be necessary.  It would be very difficult for the Israelites to learn to trust in the LORD if they were to meet all their needs on their own.  They needed this wilderness experience to learn to trust in the LORD to provide for them.

THE PROMISE

Exodus 16:4-5.  Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. 5And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.

There would be little doubt that Moses and Aaron were experiencing another crisis of leadership.  There was a difference, however, in how Moses and Aaron would approach this crisis, and how the Israelites approached this crisis: Moses and Aaron sought the LORD.  Though the narrative does not explicitly state that they were praying to the LORD concerning the crisis of food, it is clear that the LORD is speaking to them in response to their need. The LORD told Moses His plan to provide food for the multitude while they are in the wilderness.

Note that this provision did not come until the nation was out of Egypt for almost three months, and the people had a legitimate need for food.  They were not starving, but they were certainly in a position of fear, for the rate at which they were finding food would lead them to starvation very soon.  The LORD’s plan was to meet the need of the people, doing so in a way that the people would know that it was a provision from Him, a means by which the Israelites could learn to trust in Him. 

First, the LORD revealed his plan to Moses: He would provide an edible “bread” on the ground in the morning from the first day of the week to the sixth, Sunday through Friday.  They are to gather a daily amount each day, and a double amount on Friday, so that gathering on Saturday would not be necessary.  God’s purpose was to (1) show the people whether or not they can obey God’s command, and (2) establish the Sabbath.

Exodus 16:6-7.  And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: 7And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD; for that he heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us?

Not only did Aaron trust in the LORD, he trusted in Moses’ testimonies concerning what the LORD is communicating to him.  There is no indication that the LORD spoke to Aaron, and by this time Aaron was already quite accustomed to following Moses’ lead.  The faith of both of them is demonstrated by their prophetic announcement to Israel.   

Exodus 16:8-9.  And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD. 9 And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the LORD: for he hath heard your murmurings.

Before the receipt of the meat and “bread,” it is important that the Israelites understand the nature of their behavior.  They are well-aware that their complaints and condemnation have been directed at Moses and Aaron, and when bereft of any understanding of the LORD’s purpose for them, such criticism would seem warranted.  If they are ignoring the LORD, they would certainly think of Moses and Aaron as the ones who have led them into the wilderness.  Israel needs to understand that their chronic condemnation of Moses and Aaron is misdirected, as it is the LORD who is leading them through Moses and Aaron.  It is the LORD who brought them out of Egypt.  It is the LORD who brought them across the Red Sea.  It is the LORD who gave them water at Marah, and took them to Elim.  It is the LORD who has now brought them out to the desert to the point of need.  Moses made it clear that, though they are directing their ire at Aaron and himself, they are actually directing their faithless complaining to the LORD, YAHWEH, who is leading them.

Yet, in spite of their belligerence towards the LORD, rather than discipline or punish them for their murmuring, He will demonstrate His love and grace by meeting their need for food.  By bringing the declaration of His intent through Moses and Aaron, it will be evident to all that it is the LORD who is meeting their need.

The LORD has provided for all of their needs from the point that they left Egypt about twelve weeks prior, and He would not stop now.  Moses directed them, not to come to himself, but to “gather” together “before the LORD.”  Moses is directing the people to stop their murmuring and come together in the presence of the LORD in preparation for their receipt of His blessing.

Exodus 16:10-12.  And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto 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. 11And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 12I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.

As the people gathered and Aaron spoke to them, calling them to come before the LORD and look out over the wilderness, they witnessed the Shekinah Glory of God in the pillar of cloud.  The biblical narratives describe the nature of the Pillar of Fire as a cloud during the day that shows fire by night.  However, there are occasions when the Holy Fire is visible in the daytime, occasions when the LORD is speaking to His people, demonstrating His presence in the fire.  Also, the Pillar of Fire remains over the center of the camp during periods of encampment.  The grammar of the statement implies that they looked out over the wilderness and saw the Pillar of Fire.  However, the command that Aaron gave them was to look to the wilderness to see what the LORD was going to do for them.

Exodus 16:13-15.  And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host. 14And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. 15And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.

As the people looked to the wilderness they saw a great flock of quail as it came to the camp.  Though this passage does not provide many details, few are needed: the quail flock “covered” the camp.  Considering the size of the Israelite nation, the quail would have numbered in the millions.  The evening activity would have been to harvest the gift of quail that the LORD brought to them, and all would benefit from the preparation and eating of the meat. 

More attention has been given to the manna that was found on the ground in the morning.  Most “scholars” have little doubt as to the identity of this material that covered the ground after the dew evaporated and then evaporated later in the morning when the sun would heat the ground.  The most common position is that “Manna production is a biological phenomenon of the dry deserts and steppes. The liquid honeydew excretion of a number of cicadas, plant lice, and scale insects speedily solidifies by rapid evaporation. From remote times the resulting sticky and often times granular masses have been collected and called manna.”[6] 

It may be more likely that the manna was very similar to this common material.   The prolific quantities that are described in the biblical account, the consistent weekly rate of production, and the cessation of its production on the Sabbath that continued for forty years makes the scholar’s explanation unlikely.  This has left the physical identity of the manna unexplained.

Often translated “what is it?” the word, “manna” is common to several ancient languages, including Egyptian.  This is the only biblical reference to an Egyptian word, suggesting that the Israelites included Egyptian terms in their Hebrew language, a very reasonable byproduct of immersion in Egyptian culture for fourteen generations.  The event of the presentation of the manna to the wandering Israelites solidified the meaning of the term, and other languages that refer to the material found in the deserts of the middle east and use the term “man” or “manna” to specifically describe it post-date the Exodus.

The purpose of the gift of manna was not only to illustrate the provision of God, but to also test their obedience.  In order to realize the full benefit of the manna the people would have to be obedient to the LORD’s command.  “Part of the covenant obligation is obedience and loyalty. This purpose must be driven home hard to the people. They must be made to see the ease with which they can violate the relationship as well as the vital import of maintaining that relationship.”[7] 

THE PROVISION

Exodus 16:16-18.  This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents. 17And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. 18And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.

The LORD instructed the people to harvest the manna each morning.  Harvest would start when the manna solidified on the plants and leaves after the evaporation of the morning dew, and harvest must be complete before the heat of the sun evaporates it.  They were instructed to gather only enough to feed their family for this one day.  An “omer” is the amount that a single person would eat in a single day. 

Rabbinic history has made significant importance about the gathering, where each family received an appropriate portion of manna that would meet their need with little or no regard for the effort that they put into the harvesting of it.  Those who worked hard and gathered what they considered a lot found that they had gathered exactly what they needed for their household.  Those who did not gather as much still found that they had exactly what they needed.

Though some have used this argument to defend or denigrate those who are more lazy, the LORD’s provision for the people is a form of distribution that promotes peace.  If the LORD did not intervene and left the people to their own devices, their base nature would turn the distribution of the gift of manna into chaos with the more greedy and powerful people finding ways to profit by gathering excess and exploiting those who remain in need.  

Exodus 16:19.  And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. 20Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. 21And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.

Just as the amount that was realized from the daily harvest was controlled by the LORD, the command to leave none until morning was controlled also.  When people disregarded the LORD’s command and kept some for the next day they found it spoiled. 

THE FIRST SABBATH

Exodus 16:22-27.  And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. 24And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. 25And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a sabbath unto the LORD: today ye shall not find it in the field. 26Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. 27And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.

It is likely that the directive to collect a double portion of manna on the sixth day was realized on the morning of the sixth day that the manna was first provided.  No manna was found on the ground on the seventh day.  Though the Babylonians and other cultures had divided the 28-day lunar cycle into four 7-day segments, this is the first historical evidence of an established seven-day week, and certainly one that ended with a mandated day of rest.  One can argue that the convention of a seven-day “week” was firmly established on the first morning that manna was found.    

This is also the first biblical reference to the Sabbath, the day of rest at the end of the seven-day week.  The word used in the Hebrew is literally closest to the English word, “stop.”  The idea was simple:  at the end of the six days of work, characterized by the ancients as mostly devoted to the procurement and preparation of food, the people were given the double-portion on Saturday so that they could “stop” their work and be continually reminded on a weekly basis of where their manna was coming from.  The seventh day was to be used to honor the LORD who gave it.  It would not be until later, when they would arrive at Mt. Sinai (Mt. Horeb) that the LORD would give them the Ten Commandments and the command to keep the seventh day as a holy day was given.[8]

When we observe the gift of manna that would sustain the nation for the forty years of their wilderness wandering we may note at least three characteristics of the things that the LORD provides for us.

1.    The LORD provides what we need.  Some people act as though the LORD is a form of holy credit card that can be swiped every time we have a need.  Though the LORD does hear our prayers and is responsive to them, His promises to us always refer to our needs, not our wants.  It is unlikely that prayers will result in a Mercedes Benz in our driveway.

2.    The LORD reveals His presence and His nature in those things that He provides for us.  The cessation of the manna on the seventh day served as a continual reminder that the provision that they received was a gift from the LORD.  It was not something that they provided for themselves.

3.    The LORD provides for us as a way to strengthen our faith.  The miraculous nature of the presentation of the manna served to strengthen the faith of the Israelites as they were constantly reminded of the presence and power of God.  Up to this point in their experience, gods were traditional and mythical.  With the experiences of the Exodus and those following, they were continually reminded of the true power of the One true God.

4.    The LORD provides for us as a way to lead us to obedience.  When the Israelites failed to obey the simple rules that the LORD set down concerning their management of the gift of manna, they found that such disobedience resulted in the loss of the gift. 

Let us never take for granted the many ways that the LORD provides for us, always thanking Him, always praising Him, so that through them our faith can be strengthened, we can become more obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives, and we can come to experience the abundant life[9] that the LORD has promised to all who place their faith and trust in Him.


 

[1] 1970, Janis Joplin, Michael McClure, Bob Neuwerth.  Producer Paul A. Rochchild.  The acapella recording was the product of lyrics pieced together from these three individual writers, compiled in an impromptu poetry jam at Vahsen’s, a Port Chester, New York bar.

[2] 1 Peter 5:7.

[3] Exodus 15:24.

[4] Note that “Sin” is simply the name of the region and is not to be confused with the English word, sin.

[5] Romans, Chapter 8; James, Chapter 1.

[6] Bodenheimer, Friedrich Simon.  The manna of Sinai.  The Biblical Archaeologist, 10 no 1 Feb 1947, p 6.

[7] Ferris, Paul W.  Manna narrative of Exodus 16:1-10.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 18 no 3 Sum 1975, p 192.

[8] Exodus, Chapter 20.

[9] John 10:10.