Exodus 16


‘The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert, the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’ Exodus 16:1-3

The fifteenth day would be one month after leaving Egypt since they left on the fifteenth of the previous month, Exodus 12:18. The next destination for Israel was Mount Sinai, God had an important meeting in mind for them there, and they had to go through the Wilderness of Sin to get to Sinai.

The whole congregation began to murmur against Moses and Aaron because they did not have enough food in the desolate wilderness. Their mummering was not completely without merit, they did need to eat, and there was little available for food.

The problem was they did not see the big picture, and Moses and Aaron did. They could see where God had brought them from, and where God would take them, all the congregation of Israel could see was the present difficulty.

Now remember the manner in which the firstborn died in Egypt, it was a painless death. And it seems by this point in time they preferred to die painlessly in Egypt rather than die of starvation in the wilderness. Now we can relate to them being hungry to a degree, but once again they forgot very quickly what had just happened over a month ago.

They forgot about the plagues, they forgot about the cloud and fire, and they forgot about the Red sea escape. And so they have forgotten what God did for them but isn’t it amazing how they didn’t forget how well fed they were in Egypt?

Numbers 11:5 tells us what they were eating whilst in Egypt. Oh the taste of the fish, mouth-watering cucumber, and melons, Oh the aroma from the leeks, onions and garlic.

It was a good thing that Israel was not ruled by a democracy at this point, things would have gone rather badly for Moses and the children of Israel had they listened to ‘majority rule’.

As is typical for murmurers, the congregation of Israel has a rather selective memory of the past, they don’t have the big picture that Moses and Aaron did. How easy it is for murmurers to assign evil motives to those they question! As if Moses and Aaron had nothing better to do than wipe out a whole nation!

Manna And Quail

‘Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way, I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day, they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’ Exodus 16:4-5

God announces the coming of bread from heaven to Moses. The blessing of bread from heaven came with the responsibility of obedience, and that responsibility would test Israel, and measure their obedience.

‘Manna’ was the name given by murmuring Israel, God almost always called it bread from heaven, Nehemiah 9:15 / Psalm 78:24 / Psalm 105:40 / Psalm 78:25. Or angels’ food. ‘Human beings ate the bread of angels; he sent them all the food they could eat.’

Jesus made it clear where the true bread from heaven comes from, the Father sent Jesus as the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, John 6.32-33.

The test would come on the sixth day when they were to gather twice as much, so the seventh day could be received as a day of rest.

‘So, Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning, you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?’ Moses also said, ‘You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.’ Exodus 16:6-8

Moses tells the people about God’s coming provision. 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 were murmuring against Moses and Aaron, but really, they were murmuring against the Lord, Exodus 16:2.

Moses says that the Lord will give them meat to eat in the evening, the promise God made to Moses of this is not recorded.

‘Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud. The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.’ Exodus 16:9-14

In this early beginning of the nation of Israel, God was patient with their complaints while providing for them. But the time would come when their complaints would be rewarded with punishment, Numbers 14:11-12. God provides quail for meat and bread from heaven.

The mercy of God is displayed large, instead of answering their complaints with judgement or discipline. God gives them what they need instead. One might think God would be afraid of rewarding their complaining hearts, yet He knows He has plenty of ways to teach them, now, they need food! John 6:32-40.

Quails are interesting birds, which were about the size of a pigeon. They mostly fly at night and after migration, they usually fly with the wind but are so exhausted they fly so low that they can be easily caught by using a small net.

And just like the manna, the amount of quail in and around the Hebrew camp would have been astounding, Psalm 78:27.

Cole, in his commentary, says the following.

‘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 favourite delicacy of the Egyptians’.

The bread from heaven came with the dew each morning, as a ‘residue’ from the dew. It was small, round and fine as frost on the ground. Thus, it was not easy to gather It would have to be ‘swept’ up from the ground.

How could they sweep it up off the desert floor and not have dirt in it? Jewish legends say that when God sent manna, He would first send a north wind to sweep the floor of the desert, then rain to wash it clean. Then the manna would descend.

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 colour of bdellium, a pear-like colour. It was either baked or boiled, Exodus 16:23.

What did manna taste like? Jewish legends have their own spin.

Ginzberg says the following.

‘One only had to desire a certain dish, and no sooner had he thought of it, then manna had the flavour 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 say that manna was bitter in the mouth of Gentiles.’

What was this bread from heaven?

Buckingham, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Many have sought to identify with what the Arabs today call ‘manna’, 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.’

Though the bread from heaven may have been similar to the modern-day manna in the Sinai Peninsula, it wasn’t the same thing. The modern-day manna never appears in great quantities, it doesn’t last year-round, and it is confined to a small geographic region.

The purpose of giving the bread from heaven was not only to provide for the material needs of Israel but to teach them eternal lessons of dependence on God, Deuteronomy 8:3. When God puts us in a place of need, He wants us to do more than meet the need, He wants to teach an eternal lesson.

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.

Spurgeon says the following.

‘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.’

The miracle isn’t just about how the manna appeared, the miracle is also about the quantity. To feed 2.5 million people, they would have needed about nine million pounds of manna per day, which equals about forty-five hundred tons per day, or about a million tons annually for forty years.

‘When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.’ Exodus 16:15

The people call the bread from heaven manna. The name manna, given later in Exodus 16:31 means ‘what’s that?’ and comes from the question asked in this verse. When God’s provision comes, we often do not recognise it as God has promised to meet our needs, not our expectations.

‘This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’ Exodus 16:16-19

Instructions on the gathering of bread from heaven. The bread from heaven was to be gathered on an individual or a family basis. Every household had to provide for itself, and a rich family could not hire a poor family to do their work for them.

An omer could be as much as a gallon, but early, it may have meant only a ‘cupful’, an imprecise measure.

‘However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So, Moses was angry with them. Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.’ Exodus 16:20-21

Moses became angry with them, but why? Well quite simply because the Israelites hadn’t learned a thing from the events of Egypt, the Red Sea event, and the water supplied by God. They were simply living by sight and not by faith.

Some of the people fail God’s test. Notwithstanding, they did not heed Moses. We can clearly hear and clearly know God’s command, and yet still somehow think ourselves exempt! It bred worms and stank, this is the product of our disobedience!

Apparently, bread from heaven had to be gathered and prepared early in the morning, because when the sun became hot, it melted. This was God’s gracious way of forcing a work ethic upon the children of Israel.

‘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. He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So, bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ So, they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. ‘Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’ Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is 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.’ So, the people rested on the seventh day.’ Exodus 16:22-30

God provides double on the day before the Sabbath. This is the first time God speaks to Israel about the Sabbath, and God essentially ‘forces’ them to keep it by not providing any bread from heaven on the Sabbath day, Exodus 20:8-11.

Despite what God said, some go looking for bread from heaven when He said there would be none, today, people still look for life and fulfilment in places God has said there would be none.

This was the first time God spoke to Israel about the Sabbath. God essentially forced them to honour the Sabbath by not providing any bread from heaven on the Sabbath day.

Doesn’t this blow you away in terms of just how powerful God is over every little detail? If you keep that bread overnight it will go off and stink but if you keep it overnight on the sixth day it will be fine.

I just can’t even begin to imagine what our God is capable of and it’s such a shame that some of the Israelites couldn’t grasp that either. Because even though they were there, some of them had the greed or the complete audacity to go out on the Sabbath day to look for more.

‘The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Moses said, ‘This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘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 wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’ So, Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come.’ As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.)’ Exodus 16:31-36

God commands some bread from heaven be set aside as a testimony to His provision. 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.

How could these things be placed in the ark, if the ark hadn’t been built yet?


Notice that the text only tells us that Aaron did lay it up, but it doesn’t tell us when. And so it’s obvious just like the next verse tells us about them eating manna for forty years that was done afterwards when the ark was built. In other words, Moses inserted this when he wrote the Book of Exodus to show that the Israelites did fulfil the commands God gave when the manna was given to them.


Even Jewish rabbis teach that these verses should logically follow the account of the erection of the Tabernacle, but they are placed here to stress the miracle of the manna. And when they finally get into Canaan, they no longer needed manna when they celebrated their first Passover and so God stopped supplying it.


But God had a much greater purpose for giving manna to the children of Israel than merely to feed them, Deuteronomy 8:3. The most important reason that manna was given was to teach His people to depend on Him and His Word.


When Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread during His forty days of fasting, Jesus answered him in Matthew 4:4, “It is written that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. John 6:25-59 tells us that it is Jesus, who is the Word of God, He is the true bread from the Father in heaven, He is the bread of life who offers everlasting life.

So what exactly is the Lord trying to teach them and even us today through this event? Matthew 6:11 “Give us today our daily bread.” No wonder Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3:22-23 “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

It’s so important to take our faith one day at a time and enjoy the blessings of today, why? Because we will receive brand new blessings tomorrow. Every day of our lives, we need to get out of our beds and look for the living bread, we need to read it, digest it and live by it.

As important as it was for God to provide the manna, it was important for God to stop providing it, it was essential that Israel be put again in the position to receive God’s ‘normal’ provision, through hard work.

God providing through giving us the means to work and all that goes with it is really no less miraculous than the giving of bread from heaven.

Go To Exodus 17


"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."