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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 16

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Here we have the third instance of the murmuring of Israel (Exodus 16:1-3), the promise of God to give them bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4-12), God’s promise fulfilled (Exodus 16:13-20), the events surrounding the very first mention of “sabbath” in the word of God (Exodus 16:21-30), the manna named and memorialized (Exodus 16:31-36).

This chapter is the nemesis of Biblical critics, as confessed by Harford, “This chapter is a crux for critics… the dispute turns on the question of whether J or E is present, and how much of either, and if more or less of P!”(F1) Harford declined to give any analysis based upon the alleged sources of the Pentateuch. Our own analysis finds Moses in every line of it with perhaps a single addition by the inspired Joshua.

Of course, one of the most important questions arising from this chapter regards the institution of the sabbath. See notes below.

Verses 1-3

“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, the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would that we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

“The congregation of Israel (Exodus 16:1)… this whole assembly (Exodus 16:3)” The use of two different words here for the entire body of Israel is by no stretch of imagination a sign of different sources, as some critics claim, for example, this: “The use of the word `congregation’ reflects basic terminology of the later Israelite period.”(F2) Back of such a comment, of course, is the allegation of various sources, but as Allis observed, the use of various words to describe a single entity may not be regarded as “a suspicious feature suggesting diversity of authorship, that idea being a fundamental error.”(F3) We may only marvel at the naivete that supposes Moses could not have known both words - assembly and congregation. Again from Allis, “There is no warranty for such hair-splitting analysis.”(F4)

“The wilderness of Sin” Despite Israel’s sin being a principle feature of the narrative here, it has nothing to do with the name of this wilderness. “The name Sin has no connection with the English word sin. The names Sin and Sinai are very similar, but the meaning of these names is uncertain.”(F5) The similarity of names leads some to identify this wilderness as lying in the vicinity of Sinai.

“The fifteenth day of the second month after” indicates the passage of about six weeks after the departure from Egypt.

“The whole congregation murmured against Moses and against Aaron” This is the third instance of Israel’s murmuring, the others being at Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 14:10-12), and at Marah (Exodus 15:24). Upon this occasion of their murmuring, God heard their cry and sent bread from heaven.

“Would we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt… This cry puts on the garb of piety, and names the name of Jehovah, but indicates a lack of faith in Him, His power, and His promises.”(F6) We cannot be too harsh, however, in our judgment of Israel. It was a real hardship they endured. They were suffering from hunger. Whatever supplies they had brought out of Egypt were exhausted, and they were tasting the bitter truth that freedom exacts a price of those who would attain it.

“When we sat by the flesh-pots… eat bread to the full” Later on, they also remembered “the cucumbers… melons… leeks… onions… and garlic” (Numbers 11:4-5). These passages indicate that Pharaoh did indeed feed his slaves, and presumably his livestock, well, but we may not suppose that all was as well with Israel in Egypt as these hungry Israelites romantically remembered it. “The good old days” were never actually that good! It was an inescapable burden of their freedom that they should have encountered many dangers and hardships, but this they seemed incapable of realizing at the time.

Verses 4-8

“Then said Jehovah unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not. And it shall come to pass on the sixth day, that they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily. And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that Jehovah hath brought you out from the land of Egypt; and in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of Jehovah; for that he heareth your murmuring against Jehovah: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when Jehovah shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that Jehovah heareth your murmuring which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against Jehovah.”

“Bread from heaven for you” Our Lord Jesus Christ utilized this passage in his magnificent announcement that, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), and in his words that, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). How is Jesus the Bread of Life?

He came from heaven, like the manna.

He gives life (spiritually) as the manna did physically.

He is the only hope of eternal life; manna was the only hope for Israel in the wilderness.

He is for ALL people, as the manna was for all Israel.

He was not recognized by Israel; neither did they know the manna.

He was a test for ALL people; this manna was a test for Israel.

“Know that Jehovah hath brought you out from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:6). This contrasts with the complaint of Israel to Moses and Aaron that, “Ye have brought us forth into this wilderness” (Exodus 16:3).

“At even… and in the morning… ye shall see the glory of Jehovah” Some understand this as reference to a visible display of some glory, as of fire, standing over the wilderness, or seen in the cloud. There was such a glory mentioned in Exodus 16:10. In his comment on that Dummelow said, “Here a special radiance is meant… as with an appearance of fire.”(F7) It appears that Keil’s view on the glory here is correct:

Here, seeing the glory of Jehovah did not consist in the sight of the glory of the Lord which appeared in the cloud, as mentioned in Exodus 16:10, but in their perception or experience of that glory in the miraculous gift of flesh and bread.(F8)

The Jewish understanding of this place is like that of Keil’s. “In Exodus 16:7, the [~kabowd] (glory) manifested itself by the miraculous gift of manna.”(F9)

“Gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). it is believed by some that this is the O.T. root of that line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”(F10) By providing only one day’s rations at a time, God would prove, or test, Israel to find out if they would really trust in God and walk according to his rules.

Here also is the first of a number of rules concerning the manna which were to be faithfully observed by Israel:

A. THE LAW AS TO QUANTITY. Only one day’s portion to be gathered at a time. The same amount for each person.

B. THE LAW AS TO TIME. To be gathered only in the mornings. None to be gathered on the seventh day.

C. THE LAW AS TO USE. None of it to be left until the next day. A lesson against hoarding.

It would be wonderful if it could be reported that Israel observed these rules regarding the manna, but the truth is:

They failed at each point. They tried to hoard (Exodus 16:20).

They went out to gather on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:27). They showed both disobedience and unbelief, for it had been distinctly said of the seventh day, “in it there shall be none” (Exodus 16:26)… God had miraculously supplied their wants, yet so little sensible were they of his goodness, that they declined to obey even the few simple rules which God had laid down for the reception and use of his benefits.(F11)

In these observations, of course, there appears the manna as a type of the Gospel of Christ, which is: (1) from heaven, not from earth; (2) which must be gathered early, heeded early in life; (3) which must be gathered daily (one cannot store up enough gospel to last for the future); (4) if hoarded (not shared with others) it becomes foul; and (5) it must be eaten (Revelation 10:1-11). (We cannot observe communion for a month, or a year, on one particular Sunday).

“On the sixth day” “The sixth day here probably means the sixth day after the appearance of the manna,”(F12) and it has no connection with a certain day of the week, nor with a sabbath, the latter having nowhere been mentioned at this point in the entire O.T.

“Ye murmur against him (Jehovah)” (Exodus 16:8). Here is established a principle which holds throughout all dispensations of the grace of God, including our own. Murmuring against those men whom God has called to teach his Word is actually murmuring against God. An apostle has warned us, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured and perished by the destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:10).

Verses 9-12

“And Moses said unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before Jehovah; for he hath heard your murmurings. 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 Jehovah appeared in the cloud. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, I 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 Jehovah your God.”

It was a magnificent condescension on God’s part that he heard the murmurings of Israel, not the prayers which they should have offered, but their murmuring complaints instead. This God did, no doubt, because of the genuine nature of their plight. They were hungry!

The glory mentioned in Exodus 16:10 was something similar to the glory that appeared in the pillar of fire by night; and here it was a pledge of God’s concern and care for His people. The promise of quails in Exodus 16:11 is a mystery for some, due to there having been afterward another instance when Israel became tired of the manna and murmured for “flesh to eat,” following which (Numbers 11:31-35), God sent a plague among them. These are not two variable accounts of the same event. There is not the slightest evidence of variable sources. There is nothing at all here except two events, both faithfully reported by God’s servant Moses. The appearance of quails in this verse is not stressed at all, a scant ten words being devoted to it. They appeared here concurrently with the coming of the manna for the purpose, evidently, of suggesting that God had many ways by which the hunger of His people could be alleviated.

Many scholars have stressed the fact of the migratory quails making long flights until overcome by exhaustion, then light upon the ground where they may be literally picked up, or gathered. There are only two instances of such an appearance of quails during the whole forty years wanderings, i.e., only two are recorded; there might have been many; but it is usually understood that this was a rare phenomenon.(F13)

Verses 13-15

“And it came to pass at even, that the quails came up and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about every camp. And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness a small round thing, small as the hoar-frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, What is it? for they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them, It is the bread which Jehovah hath given you to eat.”

These verses record the coming of the manna. We shall pass over all of the so-called natural explanations of this, such as the resinous gum of the tamarisk trees, or the honey-like secretions of insects, and the substance called “commercial manna” traded in by Arabians to this day. This was an unqualified miracle of Almighty God that bears no resemblance, except superficially, to anything known on earth either before or since those times. This manna simply could not have been merely a natural substance:

The amount of it (for 2,000,000 people) means that it was no ordinary substance.

It appeared upon God’s promise through Moses.

It continued for a full forty years.

It disappeared when they entered Canaan.

It did not appear on the sabbaths.

It produced twice as much on the sixth days.

It bred worms and became foul when certain of God’s rules were violated.

It did not spoil on sabbath days.

It could be boiled, or baked (Exodus 16:23), neither of which was true of natural manna.

The Jews (presumably Moses also) did not recognize it as anything natural.

“What is it…?” It is generally accepted by most of the writers whom we have consulted that here lies the source of the name “manna”; but Rawlinson translated the Hebrew word here as meaning, “It is a gift.”(F14) Also, a Jewish writer has this very interesting observation: “An alternative reading of this is, “Who is he?”(F15) In view of Jesus’ identification of himself as the “Bread from Heaven,” there must be some validity in the alternative reading. Nevertheless, we shall use the word in its ordinarily accepted sense. Fields pointed out that the usual Hebrew word for “What” is [~mah], not [~man], as here, but that the form [~man] is found in the Tel El-Amarna letters,(F16) which are dated by the Encyclopedia Britannica as prior to 1375 B.C.(F17) Thus, we have another proof that dates Exodus, not in the times of a later priesthood who would not have known this word, but in the times of Moses. Payne also noted that the word used here is “paralleled in Canaanite texts of the second millennium B.C.”(F18)

Verses 16-20

“This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded. Gather ye of it every man according to his eating; an omer a head, according to the number of your persons, ye shall take it, every man for them that are in his tent. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered some more, some less. And when they measured 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. And Moses said unto them, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it till the morning, and it bred worms, and became foul: and Moses was wroth with them.”

The injunction here was addressed to the problem of greed and hoarding, and the wonder that each had exactly enough whether he gathered much or little was used by the apostle Paul as an incentive to Christian giving (See 2 Corinthians 8:14). He also added that Christian liberality is commanded and that such is God’s way of “proving Christians” (2 Corinthians 9:13).

“An omer a head” Although not a matter of world-shaking importance, it is amazing that scholars describe this measure variously as “seven pints,”(F19) “just over two liters,”(F20) “approximately four pints”(F21) “six and 1/2 pints,”(F22) and “six half-pints.”(F23)

“And Moses was wroth with them” It is amazing that the people had so little trust in God that they violated His laws with impunity, and such an attitude on the part of many in Israel was enough to have kindled the anger of any righteous man. Nevertheless, Moses loved them, and later, he actually offered his life as a sacrifice to save them, an offer which God declined to accept.

Verses 21-30


“And they gathered it morning by morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted. And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one: and all the rulers came and told Moses. And he said unto them, This is that which Jehovah hath spoken, Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy sabbath unto Jehovah: bake that which ye will bake, and boil that which ye will boil; and all that remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not become foul, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a sabbath unto Jehovah: today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that there went out some of the people to gather, and they found none. And Jehovah said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that Jehovah hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”

It should be noted that there were two great miracles connected with the introduction of the Sabbath. First, there was the fact that whether men gathered much or little, it always measured out exactly what God allowed; and second, there was the fact that on the sixth day of this wonder, every man measured out exactly two omers a head, exactly twice as much as on the previous six days. The Jews did not know what to make of that. Even the rulers of the people went to Moses for an explanation. As Keil noted:

“It is perfectly clear from this event, that the Israelites were not acquainted with any sabbatical observances at that time, but that, while the way was practically opened, it was through the Decalogue that it was raised into a legal institution.”(F24)

Therefore, we must finally reject the allegations that, “The sabbath was an ancient institution observed by pre-Mosaic Hebrews.” Such an allegation was made by Rylaarsdam(F25) and others, but the facts regarding the sabbath are as follows:

1. There is no sabbath commandment in Genesis. Some cite Genesis 29:7 as such, but “sabbath” is not in the passage.

2. The very first occurrence of the word “sabbath” in the entire Bible is right here in Exodus 16:23.(F26)

3. Furthermore, in this passage, the sabbath is not introduced as The Sabbath, but merely as a rest. Misunderstanding of this has come about because of an unfortunate rendition in the King James Version, which has “The rest of thy Holy Sabbath.” Rawlinson cited the inaccuracy of this rendition, pointing out that, “the absence of the article is a strong indication that the idea was new.”(F27)

4. God revealed his sabbath, not to Adam, nor to anyone on the other side of the Flood, nor to anyone ever born upon earth before Moses, for the prophet of God stated that “God revealed His holy sabbath through Moses (Nehemiah 9:13-14).

5. Furthermore, the very first revelation of it was “in the wilderness,” as we have it in this chapter. Ezekiel wrote: “I (God) brought them into the wilderness… and gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them” (Exodus 20:10-12).

6. The sabbath was never a sign between God and all people, but a sign between God and Israel (Exodus 31:17).

7. The reason assigned by God for keeping the sabbath was not the prior existence of the institution, but the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 5:15).

8. The prophet Amos foretold that the sabbath would be “gone” when God caused the sun to go down at noon and the earth to be darkened on a clear day (Amos 8:9).

9. Paul categorically declared that the sabbath was “nailed” to the cross of Christ (Colossians 2:14).

10. The very name “sabbath” is Jewish to the core, deriving from the Hebrew word [~shabbath], meaning “rest.”(F28) This would never have been the case if the sabbath had derived from some pre-Mosaic period.

Therefore, in the light of the Word of God, those who find a pre-Mosaic sabbath institution in this chapter are finding something that definitely is NOT in it. As Ralph Langley put it, “The origin of the sabbath is datable to the wilderness period, and in particular to the manna-miracle.”(F29)

Verses 31-36

“And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste thereof was like wafers made with honey. And Moses said, This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded, Let an omer-ful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread wherewith I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer-ful of manna therein, and lay it up before Jehovah, to be kept throughout your generations. As Jehovah commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat the manna, until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan. Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.”

It is a gross error to date this paragraph late because it “implies the Ark and the Tabernacle.”(F30) To be sure, these were not yet given to Israel, but Moses, writing near the end of the forty-year wilderness experience, included right here in the narrative where it belongs the things that God did later to memorialize the manna. It is impossible to construe any sacred writing as a chronological account of everything mentioned. Anyone familiar with the gospels is aware that many things are recorded out of sequence chronologically. As Dobson explained it:

“The writer of Exodus is not saying that the manna was put in the Ark of the Covenant in the wilderness of Sin. He is describing here something that was done later on, because it has to do with the manna, which is the subject of the story. Students of the Gospels will know that the Gospel writers also sometimes arranged what they wanted to write according to subject, and not always according to the time when it happened.”(F31)

Who can fail to be amused at Dummelow’s “contradiction,” based on the fact that, “The pot of manna was said to be deposited before the Testimony (the tables of the Decalogue), but in Hebrews 9:4 it is said to have been in the Ark.”(F32) For the benefit of all such nit-pickers, both the tables of the Law and the pot of manna were in the Ark!”

It is also a matter of great importance to some commentators that the mention of the children of Israel and their coming into the borders of Canaan, and the continuation of the manna until that time is boldly ascribed to some later writer. Such a deduction of course is founded upon the rather naive conclusion that the Servant of God who so magnificently prophesied the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was incapable of prophesying such a thing as the cessation of the manna when Israel came into Canaan. We do not believe that a deduction of that kind is intelligent. Nevertheless, if God needed another, and a later writer, to include these details in the narrative, he might very well have used Joshua or Ezra, both of whom were inspired and who could easily have done so. As Fields stated it:

Exodus 16:35 sounds as if it were written after the manna had ceased to be provided. If so, this one verse was inserted by Joshua, or some other writer after Moses’ death. This probability no more casts doubt on the Mosaic authorship of Exodus, than does the insertion of the facts about Moses’ death casts doubt on the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy.(F33)

We should remember, as one of the wisest men of a whole millennium stated it, that, “Joshua wrote some things in the Law of God (the Pentateuch) (Joshua 24:26)… these were public books and therefore not written without the authority of Moses.”(F34)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-16.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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