That Evening Quail Came and Covered the Camp

16: 13-36

    DIG: What were the promises and requirements associated with God’s provision of the manna? Why allow some to gather much and some to gather little? Why provide food that only lasts for one day? What was different about the sixth and seventh days? What does this say about the trust relationship God desires?

   REFLECT: The Torah commands that Isra'el keep the Sabbath holy. But Isra'el hadn’t reached Mount Sinai and the commandments had not yet been given (20:8-11). Why did God teach about the Sabbath here?

    That evening quail came and covered the camp (Psalm 78:26-29), and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp (16:13). The habits of quail lend itself to the Biblical picture. First, the bird flies mostly at night. Secondly, after migration the birds are so exhausted that they can be caught with bare hands. Lastly, they make use of favorable winds (Numbers 11:31). Like the manna, the amount of quail in and around the Hebrew camp was astounding.305 God rained meat down on them like dust, flying birds like sand on the seashore (Psalm 78:27). The Holy Spirit spends most of His time here describing the manna because everyone knows what quail is. But manna is quite a different story.

    When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor (16:14). The miracle was that the manna was found in such giant quantities. To feed two million people, they would have needed about nine million pounds of manna per day; that equals about forty-five hundred tons per day, or about a million tons annually for forty years. All very remarkably scheduled every morning! So any natural cause would seem to be quite a stretch.

    When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other: What is it? In Hebrew, this is two words, man hu, translated “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them: It is the bread God has given you to eat (16:15). Psalm 78:23-25 describes it as the grain of heaven and the bread of angels.

    This is what ADONAI has commanded to you: Each one is to gather as much as he needs. This was exactly the formula given at the Egyptian Passover (12:4). Take an omer, probably about two quarts, for each person you have in your tent (16:16). The point was that no one should hoard any food. An omer is one tenth of an ephah (16:36). It should not be assumed that manna was the only thing the Israelites ate for forty years. We must remember that they brought large flocks and herds with them out of Egypt (12:38; 17:3). They continued to possess these not only in Sinai (34:3) but had them when they reached Edom and the country east of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 2:6-7). That wheat and meats were available to them is clearly implied in such references as Exodus 17:3, 24:5, 34:3; Leviticus 8:2, 26, 31, 9:4, 10:12, 24:5; and Numbers 7:13, 19).181

    The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little (16:17). And when they measure it by the omer, each person who gathered much did not have too much, and each person who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as needed to be satisfied from hunger (16:18). Paul cites this as an illustration for believers who share their possessions with each other (Second Corinthians 8:15).

    However, the greed of some Hebrews caused some to keep what they had collected over night. Then Moses said to them: No one is to keep any of it until morning, but should trust in God that He would provide for them each and every day (16:19). No one was duty bound to eat the whole omer, but what was not eaten was supposed to be thrown away. However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but when morning came they discovered that it was full of maggots and began to smell. This seems to be a deliberate allusion to the first plague on Egypt in which the Nile was contaminated and smelled (7:18). So Moses was angry with them (16:20). There is no stronger verb in the Hebrew to reflect wrath or anger, than the one used here. The Hebrews were again living by sight and not by faith.307

    The manna had to be gathered early in the morning because when the sun grew hot, it melted away. Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed (16:21). The rabbis teach that what was left in the field melted and flowed away in streams. Animals drank of it, and these animals were hunted by other peoples who, by eating the flesh, experienced the taste of the manna and thereby appreciated Israel’s honor. But a different rule applied to the Sabbath. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much – two omers for each person – and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses (16:22).

    God not only supplied food for the people of Israel, he also provided rest. He said to them: This is what ADONAI commanded to you: Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to ADONAI. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning because it would not be spoiled (16:23). So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it (16:24). Any other time if it were left overnight, it would have decayed, but not on the seventh day. Moses said: Eat today because today is a Sabbath to ADONAI. You will not find any of it on the ground today (16:25). Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any manna on the ground for you to eat (16:26). Therefore, the concept of the Sabbath was given even before the children of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai.

    Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none (16:27). Then ADONAI said to Moses His servant: How long will you refuse to keep My commands and instructions about the Sabbath (16:28)? Moses asked Pharaoh a similar question: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me (10:3)? The Israelites, therefore, were stubbornly disregarding the Word of God like Amenhotep II. And if they continued to rebel, they would receive the same diseases that fell like plagues upon the people of Egypt (15:26).

    God Himself spoke and announced that the Sabbath is a divine gift to His people. Bear in mind that ADONAI has given you the Sabbath; this why on the sixth day He gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out to gather manna (16:29). So the people rested, the Hebrew word sabat, on the seventh day, the Hebrew word seba (16:30). Today the people of Israel call the Sabbath the shabbat, or rest. Moses would then gave some editorial commentary regarding the giving of manna throughout the rest of the desert wanderings.

    First, he summarized the previous material from this chapter. The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like a round coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey (16:31). Numbers 11:8 describes its taste as something made with olive oil.

    ADONAI commanded Moses to take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt. It served as a continual reminder of God’s provision for His people in their time of need. Then Aaron took a golden jar filled with manna and put it in the ark, that it might be kept for future generations (Exodus 16:32-34; Hebrews 9:4). Moses inserted this when he wrote the book of Exodus to show that the Hebrews did fulfill the commands God gave when the manna was given to them. The rabbis teach that these verses should logically follow the account of the erection of the Tabernacle, but is placed here to stress the miracle of the manna.

    The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a Land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan (16:35). The number forty became a symbol of hardship and trial (Genesis 7:12; First Samuel 17:16; Matthew 4:2). Once in Canaan, they no longer needed manna when they celebrated their first Passover. As a result, the LORD stopped supplying it (Joshua 5:10-12).

    In Deuteronomy 8:4 we find that during the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert their feet did not swell. One of the common causes of foot-swelling in the Orient is an improper diet. It is interesting that the manna had all the vitamins and minerals that they needed to keep their feet from swelling as they journeyed through the desert. The manna was adequate to meet their needs.308

    But God had a much greater purpose for giving manna to the children of Israel than merely to feed them. Moses later commented that: He 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 God . . . He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you (Deuteronomy 8:3 and 16). The most important reason that manna was given was to teach His people to depend on Him and His Word. Our continued existence depends on Him and Him alone. When Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread during His forty days of fasting, Jesus answered: It is written that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).


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