The Provision of Manna
1#sn Exod 16 plays an important part in the development of the book’s theme. It is part of the wider section that is the prologue leading up to the covenant at Sinai, a part of which was the obligation of obedience and loyalty (P. W. Ferris, Jr., “The Manna Narrative of Exodus 16:1-10,” JETS 18 : 191-99). The record of the wanderings in the wilderness is selective and not exhaustive. It may have been arranged somewhat topically for instructional reasons. U. Cassuto describes this section of the book as a didactic anthology arranged according to association of both context and language (Exodus, 187). Its themes are: lack of vital necessities, murmuring, proving, and providing. All the wilderness stories reiterate the same motifs. So, later, when Israel arrived in Canaan, they would look back and be reminded that it was Yahweh who brought them all the way, in spite of their rebellions. Because he is their Savior and their Provider, he will demand loyalty from them. In the Manna Narrative there is murmuring over the lack of bread (1-3), the disputation with Moses (4-8), the appearance of the glory and the promise of bread (9-12), the provision (13-22), the instructions for the Sabbath (23-30), and the memorial manna (31-36). When#tn The sentence begins with a preterite and vav (ו) consecutive, which can be subordinated to the next clause with the preterite and vav consecutive. Here it has been treated as a temporal clause. they journeyed from Elim, the entire company#tn The word is often rendered “congregation” (so KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV), but the modern perception of a congregation is not exactly what is in mind in the desert. Another possible rendering is “community” (NAB, NIV, NCV, TEV) or “assembly.” The Hebrew word is used of both good and bad groups (Judg 14:8; Ps 1:5; 106:17-18). of Israelites came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their exodus#tn The form in the text is לְצֵאתָם (lÿtse’tam, “after their going out”). It clearly refers to their deliverance from Egypt, and so it may be vividly translated. from the land of Egypt. 2 The entire company#tn Or “community” or “assembly.” of Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died#tn The text reads: מִי־יִתֵּן מוּתֵנוּ (mi-yitten mutenu, “who will give our dying”) meaning “If only we had died.” מוּתֵנוּ is the Qal infinitive construct with the suffix. This is one way that Hebrew expresses the optative with an infinitive construct. See R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 91-92, §547. by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by#tn The form is a Qal infinitive construct used in a temporal clause, and the verb “when we ate” has the same structure. the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full,#sn That the complaint leading up to the manna is unjustified can be seen from the record itself. They left Egypt with flocks and herds and very much cattle, and about 45 days later they are complaining that they are without food. Moses reminded them later that they lacked nothing (Deut 3:7; for the whole sermon on this passage, see 8:1-20). Moreover, the complaint is absurd because the food of work gangs was far more meager than they recall. The complaint was really against Moses. They crave the eating of meat and of bread and so God will meet that need; he will send bread from heaven and quail as well. for you have brought us out into this desert to kill#tn לְהָמִית (lÿhamit) is the Hiphil infinitive construct showing purpose. The people do not trust the intentions or the plan of their leaders and charge Moses with bringing everyone out to kill them. this whole assembly with hunger!”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain#tn The particle הִנְנִי (hinni) before the active participle indicates the imminent future action: “I am about to rain.” bread from heaven for you, and the people will go out#tn This verb and the next are the Qal perfect tenses with vav (ו) consecutives; they follow the sequence of the participle, and so are future in orientation. The force here is instruction – “they will go out” or “they are to go out.” and gather the amount for each day, so that I may test them.#tn The verb in the purpose/result clause is the Piel imperfect of נָסָה (nasah), אֲנַסֶּנוּ (’anassenu) – “in order that I may prove them [him].” The giving of the manna will be a test of their obedience to the detailed instructions of God as well as being a test of their faith in him (if they believe him they will not gather too much). In chap. 17 the people will test God, showing that they do not trust him. Will they walk in my law#sn The word “law” here properly means “direction” at this point (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 146), but their obedience here would indicate also whether or not they would be willing to obey when the Law was given at Sinai. or not? 5 On the sixth day#tn Heb “and it will be on the sixth day.” they will prepare what they bring in, and it will be twice as much as they gather every other day.”#sn There is a question here concerning the legislation – the people were not told why to gather twice as much on the sixth day. In other words, this instruction seems to presume that they knew about the Sabbath law. That law will be included in this chapter in a number of ways, suggesting to some scholars that this chapter is out of chronological order, placed here for a purpose. Some argue that the manna episode comes after the revelation at Sinai. But it is not necessary to take such a view. God had established the Sabbath in the creation, and if Moses has been expounding the Genesis traditions in his teachings then they would have known about that.
6 Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening#tn The text simply has “evening, and you will know.” Gesenius notes that the perfect tense with the vav consecutive occurs as the apodosis to temporal clauses or their equivalents. Here the first word implies the idea “[when it becomes] evening” or simply “[in the] evening” (GKC 337-38 §112.oo).sn Moses is very careful to make sure that they know it is Yahweh who has brought them out, and it will be Yahweh who will feed them. They are going to be convinced of this now. you will know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see#tn Heb “morning, and you will see.” the glory of the Lord, because he has heard#tn The form is a Qal infinitive construct with a preposition and a suffix. It forms an adverbial clause, usually of time, but here a causal clause. your murmurings against the Lord. As for us, what are we,#tn The words “as for us” attempt to convey the force of the Hebrew word order, which puts emphasis on the pronoun: “and we – what?” The implied answer to the question is that Moses and Aaron are nothing, merely the messengers. The next verse repeats the question to further press the seriousness of what the Israelites are doing. that you should murmur against us?”
8 Moses said, “You will know this#tn “You will know this” has been added to make the line smooth. Because of the abruptness of the lines in the verse, and the repetition with v. 7, B. S. Childs (Exodus [OTL], 273) thinks that v. 8 is merely a repetition by scribal error – even though the versions render it as the MT has it. But B. Jacob (Exodus, 447) suggests that the contrast with vv. 6 and 7 is important for another reason – there Moses and Aaron speak, and it is smooth and effective, but here only Moses speaks, and it is labored and clumsy. “We should realize that Moses had properly claimed to be no public speaker.” when the Lord gives you#tn Here again is an infinitive construct with the preposition forming a temporal clause. meat to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to satisfy you, because the Lord has heard your murmurings that you are murmuring against him. As for us, what are we?#tn The words “as for us” attempt to convey the force of the Hebrew word order, which puts emphasis on the pronoun: “and we – what?” The implied answer to the question is that Moses and Aaron are nothing, merely the messengers. Your murmurings are not against us,#tn The word order is “not against us [are] your murmurings.” but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole community#tn Or “congregation” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV); the same word occurs in v. 10. of the Israelites, ‘Come#tn The verb means “approach, draw near.” It is used in the Torah of drawing near for religious purposes. It is possible that some sacrifice was involved here, but no mention is made of that. before the Lord, because he has heard your murmurings.’”
10 As Aaron spoke#tn Heb “and it was as Aaron spoke.” The construction uses the temporal indicator and then the Piel infinitive construct followed by the subjective genitive “Aaron.” to the whole community of the Israelites and they looked toward the desert, there the glory of the Lord#sn S. R. Driver says, “A brilliant glow of fire…symbolizing Jehovah’s presence, gleamed through the cloud, resting…on the Tent of Meeting. The cloud shrouds the full brilliancy of the glory, which human eye could not behold” (Exodus, 147-48; see also Ezek 1:28; 3:12, 23; 8:4; 9:3, et al.). A Hebrew word often translated “behold” or “lo” introduces the surprising sight. appeared#tn The verb is the Niphal perfect of the verb “to see” – “it was seen.” But the standard way of translating this form is from the perspective of Yahweh as subject – “he appeared.” in the cloud, 11 and the Lord spoke to Moses: 12 “I have heard the murmurings of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘During the evening#tn Heb “during the evenings”; see Exod 12:6. you will eat meat,#sn One of the major interpretive difficulties is the comparison between Exod 16 and Num 11. In Numbers we find that the giving of the manna was about 24 months after the Exod 16 time (assuming there was a distinct time for this chapter), that it was after the erection of the tabernacle, that Taberah (the Burning) preceded it (not in Exod 16), that the people were tired of the manna (not that there was no bread to eat) and so God would send the quail, and that there was a severe tragedy over it. In Exod 16 both the manna and the quail are given on the same day, with no mention of quail on the following days. Contemporary scholarship generally assigns the accounts to two different sources because complete reconciliation seems impossible. Even if we argue that Exodus has a thematic arrangement and “telescopes” some things to make a point, there will still be difficulties in harmonization. Two considerations must be kept in mind: 1) First, they could be separate events entirely. If this is true, then they should be treated separately as valid accounts of things that appeared or occurred during the period of the wanderings. Similar things need not be the same thing. 2) Secondly, strict chronological order is not always maintained in the Bible narratives, especially if it is a didactic section. Perhaps Exod 16 describes the initiation of the giving of manna as God’s provision of bread, and therefore placed in the prologue of the covenant, and Num 11 is an account of a mood which developed over a period of time in response to the manna. Num 11 would then be looking back from a different perspective. and in the morning you will be satisfied#tn The verb means “to be sated, satisfied”; in this context it indicates that they would have sufficient bread to eat – they would be full. with bread, so that you may know#tn The form is a Qal perfect with the vav (ו) consecutive; it is in sequence with the imperfect tenses before it, and so this is equal to an imperfect nuance. But, from the meanings of the words, it is clear that this will be the outcome of their eating the food, a divinely intended outcome. that I am the Lord your God.’”#sn This verse supports the view taken in chap. 6 concerning the verb “to know.” Surely the Israelites by now knew that Yahweh was their God. Yes, they did. But they had not experienced what that meant; they had not received the fulfillment of the promises.
13 In the evening the quail#sn These are migratory birds, said to come up in the spring from Arabia flying north and west, and in the fall returning. They fly with the wind, and so generally alight in the evening, covering the ground. If this is part of the explanation, the divine provision would have had to alter their flight paths to bring them to the Israelites, and bring them in vast numbers. came up and covered the camp, and in the morning a layer of dew was all around the camp. 14 When#tn Heb “and [the dew…] went up.” the layer of dew had evaporated,#tn The preterite with vav (ו) consecutive is here subordinated as a temporal clause to the main clause; since that clause calls special attention to what was there after the dew evaporated. there on the surface of the desert was a thin flaky substance,#sn Translations usually refer to the manna as “bread.” In fact it appears to be more like grain, because it could be ground in hand-mills and made into cakes. The word involved says it is thin, flakelike (if an Arabic etymological connection is correct). What is known about it from the Bible in Exodus is that it was a very small flakelike substance, it would melt when the sun got hot, if left over it bred worms and became foul, it could be ground, baked, and boiled, it was abundant enough for the Israelites to gather an omer a day per person, and they gathered it day by day throughout the wilderness sojourn. Num 11 says it was like coriander seed with the appearance of bdellium, it tasted like fresh oil, and it fell with the dew. Deut 8:3 says it was unknown to Israel or her ancestors; Psalm 78:24 parallels it with grain. Some scholars compare ancient references to honeydew that came from the heavens. F. S. Bodenheimer (“The Manna of Sinai,” BA 10 : 2) says that it was a sudden surprise for the nomadic Israelites because it provided what they desired – sweetness. He says that it was a product that came from two insects, making the manna a honeydew excretion from plant lice and scale insects. The excretion hardens and drops to the ground as a sticky solid. He notes that some cicadas are called man in Arabic. This view accounts for some of the things in these passages: the right place, the right time, the right description, and a similar taste. But there are major difficulties: Exodus requires a far greater amount, it could breed worms, it could melt away, it could be baked into bread, it could decay and stink. The suggestion is in no way convincing. Bodenheimer argues that “worms” could mean “ants” that carried them away, but that is contrived – the text could have said ants. The fact that the Bible calls it “bread” creates no problem. לֶחֶם (lekhem) is used in a wide range of meanings from bread to all kinds of food including goats (Judg 13:15-16) and honey (1 Sam 14:24-28). Scripture does not say that manna was the only thing that they ate for the duration. But they did eat it throughout the forty years. It simply must refer to some supernatural provision for them in their diet. Modern suggestions may invite comparison and analysis, but they do not satisfy or explain the text. thin like frost on the earth. 15 When#tn The preterite with vav consecutive is here subordinated to the next verb as a temporal clause. The main point of the verse is what they said. the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,#tn Heb “a man to his brother.” “What is it?” because they did not know what it was.#tn The text has: מָן הוּא כִּי לאֹ יָדְעוּ מַה־הוּא (man hu’ ki lo’ yadÿ’u mah hu’). From this statement the name “manna” was given to the substance. מָן for “what” is not found in Hebrew, but appears in Syriac as a contraction of ma den, “what then?” In Aramaic and Arabic man is “what?” The word is used here apparently for the sake of etymology. B. S. Childs (Exodus [OTL], 274) follows the approach that any connections to words that actually meant “what?” are unnecessary, for it is a play on the name (whatever it may have been) and therefore related only by sound to the term being explained. This, however, presumes that a substance was known prior to this account – a point that Deuteronomy does not seem to allow. S. R. Driver says that it is not known how early the contraction came into use, but that this verse seems to reflect it (Exodus, 149). Probably one must simply accept that in the early Israelite period man meant “what?” There seems to be sufficient evidence to support this. See EA 286,5; UT 435; DNWSI 1:157. Moses said to them, “It is the bread#sn B. Jacob (Exodus, 454-55) suggests that Moses was saying to them, “It is not manna. It is the food Yahweh has given you.” He comes to this conclusion based on the strange popular etymology from the interrogative word, noting that people do not call things “what?” that the Lord has given you for food.#sn For other views see G. Vermès, “‘He Is the Bread’ Targum Neofiti Ex. 16:15,” SJLA 8 (1975): 139-46; and G. J. Cowling, “Targum Neofiti Ex. 16:15,” AJBA (1974-75): 93-105.
16 “This is what#tn Heb “the thing that.” the Lord has commanded:#tn The perfect tense could be taken as a definite past with Moses now reporting it. In this case a very recent past. But in declaring the word from Yahweh it could be instantaneous, and receive a present tense translation – “here and now he commands you.” ‘Each person is to gather#tn The form is the plural imperative: “Gather [you] each man according to his eating.” from it what he can eat, an omer#sn The omer is an amount mentioned only in this chapter, and its size is unknown, except by comparison with the ephah (v. 36). A number of recent English versions approximate the omer as “two quarts” (cf. NCV, CEV, NLT); TEV “two litres.” per person#tn Heb “for a head.” according to the number#tn The word “number” is an accusative that defines more precisely how much was to be gathered (see GKC 374 §118.h). of your people;#tn Traditionally “souls.” each one will pick it up#tn Heb “will take.” for whoever lives#tn “lives” has been supplied. in his tent.’” 17 The Israelites did so, and they gathered – some more, some less. 18 When#tn The preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive is subordinated here as a temporal clause. they measured with an omer, the one who gathered much had nothing left over, and the one who gathered little lacked nothing; each one had gathered what he could eat.
19 Moses said to them, “No one#tn The address now is for “man” (אִישׁ, ’ish), “each one”; here the instruction seems to be focused on the individual heads of the households. is to keep any of it#tn Or “some of it,” “from it.” until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some#tn Heb “men”; this usage is designed to mean “some” (see GKC 447 §138.h, n. 1). kept part of it until morning, and it was full#tn The verb וַיָּרֻם (vayyarum) is equivalent to a passive – “it was changed” – to which “worms” is added as an accusative of result (GKC 388-89 §121.d, n. 2). of worms and began to stink, and Moses was angry with them. 21 So they gathered it each morning,#tn Heb “morning by morning.” This is an example of the repetition of words to express the distributive sense; here the meaning is “every morning” (see GKC 388 §121.c). each person according to what he could eat, and when the sun got hot, it would melt.#tn The perfect tenses here with vav (ו) consecutives have the frequentative sense; they function in a protasis-apodosis relationship (GKC 494 §159.g). 22 And#tn Heb “and it happened/was.” on the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers#tn This construction is an exception to the normal rule for the numbers 2 through 10 taking the object numbered in the plural. Here it is “two of the omer” or “the double of the omer” (see GKC 433 §134.e). per person;#tn Heb “for one.” and all the leaders#tn The word suggests “the ones lifted up” above others, and therefore the rulers or the chiefs of the people. of the community#tn Or “congregation” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV). came and told#sn The meaning here is probably that these leaders, the natural heads of the families in the clans, saw that people were gathering twice as much and they reported this to Moses, perhaps afraid it would stink again (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 197). Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a time of cessation from work,#tn The noun שַׁבָּתוֹן (shabbaton) has the abstract ending on it: “resting, ceasing.” The root word means “cease” from something, more than “to rest.” The Law would make it clear that they were to cease from their normal occupations and do no common work. a holy Sabbath#tn The technical expression is now used: שַׁבַּת־קֹדֶשׁ (shabbat-qodesh, “a holy Sabbath”) meaning a “cessation of/for holiness” for Yahweh. The rest was to be characterized by holiness. to the Lord. Whatever you want to#tn The two verbs in these objective noun clauses are desiderative imperfects – “bake whatever you want to bake.” bake, bake today;#tn The word “today” is implied from the context. whatever you want to boil, boil today; whatever is left put aside for yourselves to be kept until morning.’”
24 So they put it aside until the morning, just as Moses had commanded, and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the area.#tn Heb “in the field” (so KJV, ASV, NASB, NCV, NRSV); NAB, NIV, NLT “on the ground.” 26 Six days you will gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather it, but they found nothing. 28 So the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse#tn The verb is plural, and so it is addressed to the nation and not to Moses. The perfect tense in this sentence is the characteristic perfect, denoting action characteristic, or typical, of the past and the present. to obey my commandments and my instructions? 29 See, because the Lord has given you the Sabbath, that is why#sn Noting the rabbinic teaching that the giving of the Sabbath was a sign of God’s love – it was accomplished through the double portion on the sixth day – B. Jacob says, “God made no request unless He provided the means for its execution” (Exodus, 461). he is giving you food for two days on the sixth day. Each of you stay where you are;#tn Heb “remain, a man where he is.” let no one#tn Or “Let not anyone go” (see GKC 445 §138.d). go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The house of Israel#sn The name “house of Israel” is unusual in this context. called its name “manna.”#tn Hebrew מָן (man). It was like coriander seed and was white, and it tasted#tn Heb “like seed of coriander, white, its taste was.” like wafers with honey.
32 Moses said, “This is what#tn Heb “This is the thing that.” the Lord has commanded: ‘Fill an omer with it to be kept#tn Heb “for keeping.” for generations to come,#tn Heb “according to your generations” (see Exod 12:14). so that they may see#tn In this construction after the particle expressing purpose or result, the imperfect tense has the nuance of final imperfect, equal to a subjunctive in the classical languages. the food I fed you in the desert when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.’” 33 Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put in it an omer full of manna, and place it before the Lord to be kept for generations to come.” 34 Just as the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony#sn The “Testimony” is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant; so the pot of manna would be placed before Yahweh in the tabernacle. W. C. Kaiser says that this later instruction came from a time after the tabernacle had been built (see Exod 25:10-22; W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:405). This is not a problem since the final part of this chapter had to have been included at the end of the forty years in the desert. for safekeeping.#tn “for keeping.”
35 Now the Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was inhabited; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (Now an omer is one tenth of an ephah.)#tn The words “omer” and “ephah” are transliterated Hebrew words. The omer is mentioned only in this passage. (It is different from a “homer” [cf. Ezek 45:11-14].) An ephah was a dry measure whose capacity is uncertain: “Quotations given for the ephah vary from ca. 45 to 20 liters” (C. Houtman, Exodus, 2:340-41).sn The point of this chapter, with all its instructions and reports included, is God’s miraculous provision of food for his people. This is a display of sovereign power that differs from the display of military power. Once again the story calls for faith, but here it is faith in Yahweh to provide for his people. The provision is also a test to see if they will obey the instructions of God. Deut 8 explains this. The point, then, is that God provides for the needs of his people that they may demonstrate their dependence on him by obeying him. The exposition of this passage must also correlate to John 6. God’s providing manna from heaven to meet the needs of his people takes on new significance in the application that Jesus makes of the subject to himself. There the requirement is the same – will they believe and obey? But at the end of the event John explains that they murmured about Jesus.