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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 16

Verse 1

1. And they took their journey. Moses relates, that, when after a month the people came to the wilderness of Sin near Mount Sinai, and when their provision failed, they rebelled against God and Moses, and manna, a new and unusual kind of food, was given them from heaven. It is uncertain with what foods they were sustained in the meantime. Some conjecture that they brought sufficient flour from Egypt for their supply; but to me it seems probable that other kinds of food were used in addition; for the barrenness of the country through which they passed was not so great but that it produced at least fruits and herbs. Besides, we may readily suppose, from the battle, in which it will soon be related that they conquered the Amalekites, that they were not far from an habitable territory. But, when they were carried away farther into the desert, all their provision began to fail, because they had no more commerce with the inhabitants. Hence their sedition was increased, because hunger pressed upon them more than usual. For, although we shall afterwards be able to gather from the context that there was some previous disturbance in the camp, still famine, which now began to affect them more, because in these uncultivated and miserable regions the barrenness on all sides alarmed them, gave strength to their murmurs and impatience.

Verse 2

2. And the whole congregation. Moses says not that some of the people only murmured, but that they were all gathered into mobs as in a conspiracy, or, at any rate, as they were arranged by hundreds and thousands, that they murmured with one consent. Yet the universal term admits of exception; nor need we suppose that all to a man were comprehended in this impious rebellion. The best remedy for their hunger would have been to pray to God, whom they had found to be in all respects a bountiful Father, and whom they had heard to have wonderfully provided for their parents, when the Egyptians and inhabitants of Canaan were wasting with hunger in such rich and fertile places. If they had only been persuaded that the earth is made fertile by God’s blessing, it would at the same time have occurred to them, that it is His peculiar office to feed the hungry, and immediately they would have directed their prayers to Him; now, their unbelief betrays itself in their turbulent clamor. It is indeed astonishing that wretched men, whom their necessity should have humiliated, rose insolently against God, and that their hunger, so far from bending their hearts to gentleness, was the very incentive of their arrogance. But this is too common with the wicked, (because they do not trust that God is reconciled to them,) to neglect prayer, and to cry out in confusion, to utter their curses, and to rush, like mad dogs, furiously here and there. This was the case of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sin. The want of all things, which presents itself to them, is an invitation to them from God, that they may feel His power, by which He created the world out of nothing, to be independent of all foreign assistance for the maintenance of mankind. But despair seizes upon their faithless minds, so that they reject His aid and beneficence. And not only so, but their malignity and ingratitude instigates them to quarrel with Moses; and this is the sum of their complaint, that they were dragged away from abundance of bread and meat, that they might perish in the desert of hunger. Therefore they call Moses and Aaron, by whose hand and means they had been delivered, their murderers.

Verse 4

4. Then said the Lord unto Moses. It is probable that Moses passes over much in silence, because it is not consistent that the insolence of the people was left without even a single word of chastisement. For, although God in His extraordinary kindness gave food to these depraved and wicked men, who were unworthy of the sunlight and the common air, still He was without doubt unwilling to foster their sin by His silence, and, whilst He pardoned their ingratitude, sharply reproved their forwardness. But Moses, passing over this, proceeds to a history especially worthy of narration, how God fed this wretched people with bread from heaven, when He made the manna to fall from the clouds like dew. I call it “the bread of heaven,” with the Prophet, (Psalms 78:24,) who honors it with this magnificent title, and extols God’s bounty towards His people, as if they had been admitted to the tables of angels. For St. Paul calls the manna “spiritual meat,” (1 Corinthians 10:3,) in another sense, viz., because it was a type of the flesh of Christ, which feeds our minds unto the hope of eternal life. The Prophet, however, makes no allusion to that mystery, but alleges in this circumstance an accusation against the people, because they not only despised the food which springs from the earth, but also were disgusted with that bread, for which they saw the heavens in a manner opened. But on this point somewhat must be hereafter repeated. God now declares that He will give them daily their allowance, as it were, that in this way He may prove the obedience of His people. Though on this latter head interpreters are not agreed; for some understand it as if God, by kindly providing food for the Israelites, would bind them to obedience by His bounty; as though He should say, “I will try whether they are altogether intractable or submissive; for nothing shall be wanting to retain them in the way of duty.” But others confine the meaning of the word to “their daily food;” for that this was the proof of their fear and reverence, that they should not desire more than was given them, but that they should he contented with their daily provision, and thus depend on the providence of God. The former sense pleases me best, and I have endeavored to explain it more clearly than it can be understood from others. There is no occasion to enter into controversy about the word “Law,” (171) for (as we shall soon see) it is used to express the measure or rule of a pious and just life. Therefore, He says, that He will know whether they are disposed to honor Him, and to submit themselves to His command. But if any one prefer to embrace the other sense, I leave him to enjoy his own opinion.

(171) “Some refer this probation or trial to that particular law and precept of gathering but a certain portion of manna every day. So Vatablus, Borrha, Galas. , Tostat. , Rupert. Some understand it as well of that precept, as of the other, not to gather any upon the Sabbath. — Simler. Some will have it taken more largely of all the precepts, and commandments touching manna, which were eight in all. — Lyranus. But it is better to take it in a more general sense. The Lord, as he had tried them before with crosses and adversities, so now he would prove them by His benefits, to see whether they will afterward walk in His fear, and in obedience before Him. So Ferus, Calvin, Osiand. , Pelarg. And thus by this particular benefit God would prepare them to the obedience of His law, which should be given afterwards. — Oleaster. ” — Willet’s Hexapla in loco.

Verse 5

5. And it shall come to pass. Because mention is immediately made of the Sabbath, some would confine to its observance what is said respecting the law, and extract this sense from it, that God made the experiment whether the people would faithfully observe the rest enjoined to them on each seventh day. But there is a poorness in this explanation. The fact is, that after God had promised daily supplies to His people, He now adds the exception, viz., that on the sixth day they should collect a double quantity, and lay aside half of it for the use of the Sabbath. Thus the seventh day was really hallowed before the promulgation of the Law, although it is questionable whether it had already been observed by the patriarchs. It appears probable that it was; but I am unwilling to make it a matter of contention.

Verse 6

6. And Moses and Aaron said. The statement that the people should know that their coming out of the land of Egypt was the Lord’s work, is opposed to their wicked taunt, in which they had complained of being betrayed by Moses and Aaron, when they had been brought into the wilderness. They therefore answer, that God would openly show that He was the author of their deliverance, that they should make no more complaints against His ministers. But although a sharp reproof is implied, still it is joined with a promise of God’s continued favor. They therefore admonish them, that by this event it would be proved that God was the Leader and Deliverer of the Israelites, because he does not leave the work of His hands unfinished. (Psalms 138:8.) The continuance, then, of His favor, shows that the same God, who proceeds in the prosecution of His powerful work, had from the first begun what He carries on even to the end. The knowledge, which they were to receive in the evening, refers to the quails, in which God gave an instance of His power; but, because it shone forth more brightly next day in the manna, Moses says, that in the morning they should see the glory of the Lord. But, lest they should be induced by this favor to think highly of themselves, and should flatter themselves in their iniquity, he reminds them that this was not given them in return for their sins, but that God contended after this manner with their obstinate perversity; as much as to say that God would appear to them, so that, beholding by the brightness of His countenance their own impiety, they might altogether be filled with shame, and feel the profaneness of the rebellion with which they had dared to insult Him. And, lest they should prevaricate, and say that they had only made an attack upon Moses and Aaron, he gives the reason why he declares them to have waged war against God Himself, viz., because neither he nor his brother had acted of themselves, nor had personally assumed anything in the matter; for this is the meaning of the words, “what are we, that ye murmur against us?” as if he disclaimed any separation from God. Now, since by this testimony he proves himself to have been a faithful servant; of God, we gather that none may rightly claim honor for themselves in the Church, so as to be accounted lawful pastors, but those who are divinely called, and thus have God. as the authorizer of their office, and who advance nothing of themselves, but only execute what is commanded them. Whilst such as these (172) may not be despised without dishonoring God, whose person they represent, so do they, who exercise dominion with no authority but their own, vainly alarm the simple in God’s name, and (173) instead of the truth, are only wearing’ an empty mask. The eighth verso merely contains an exposition of the same sentiment, except that he goes on to say in connection, that the Israelites, when in the evening they shall have been filled with flesh, and when bread shall have been given them in the morning, would perceive that God is their Deliverer. Then comes the antithesis, “Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.”

(172) “Qui resemblent a Moyse.” — Fr.

(173) “Et sont a rejetter comme pipeurs, veu qu’ils n’ont qu’une fausse masque pour la verite;” and must be rejected as deceivers, since they have only a false masque instead of the truth. — Fr.

Verse 9

9. And Moses spoke unto Aaron. There is no question but that he here cites them as criminals before the tribunal of God, as if he had said that they were mistaken, if they thought that their murmurings were unobserved. Nevertheless, he alludes also to the cloud, which was the visible symbol of God’s presence; and thus reproves their folly in not hesitating to provoke a God, who was so near, and almost; before their very eyes. First, then, we must remark, that they were in a manner drawn from their hiding-places, that their pride might be broken; and, secondly, that their stupidity was rebuked, for not reverencing God though present. And this is made more clear by the context, where it is said, that the glory of the Lord appeared “toward the wilderness,” by which word I imagine the less habitable region to be indicated. For, although the country on all sides was barren, and uninhabited, yet on one side the Amalekites were near, and other tribes, as we shall soon see. The glory of God I suppose to mean, not that which they saw daily, but which was now manifested to them in an unusual manner to inspire alarm; because they were hardened against its ordinary manifestations.

Verse 11

11. And the Lord spoke (174) unto Moses Moses here shows that he had done nothing without God’s command, but had faithfully and modestly discharged the office of a minister. And, surely, unless he had spoken according to God’s word, he would have been rash in promising what we have already seen. Therefore, this is put last in order, though it happened first; and, consequently, I have used (175) the causal particle instead of the copula. The sum is, as before, that God will vindicate His own glory, which the people had impiously impugned, and that He would do good to them, unworthy as they were, in order to glorify His name; as if He had said, After you shall have been convicted of ingratitude, you will then be obliged to confess that I am really the only God, and at the same time your Father.

(174) Had spoken. — Lat.

(175) J’ai mis le mot Car, pource que ceste sentence rend la raison du precedent. — Fr.

Verse 13

13. And it came to pass. We shall afterwards see, that, when from weariness of the manna they began to desire meat, quails were again given them; but, while they were yet in their mouths, a terrible punishment was inflicted upon their gluttony. When here they had only complained of their want of food, God for once satiated them with flesh, that He might show them that He has in His hand all kinds and quantity of meats. Yet, it was His will that they should be content with one single sort; for, although they had complained that they were deprived of flesh, at the pots of which they had formerly sat, yet it was not reasonable that He should comply altogether with their unholy desires. Besides, it was profitable for them that certain bounds should be set, that they might learn dependence on His will.

Verse 14

14. And when the dew that lay was gone up. The shape of the manna is here briefly described, viz., that it was like the dew condensed into small round grains. Its taste will be also mentioned elsewhere; but here it was sufficient to show, that this fecundity was not natural, but miraculously given to the clouds, so that they should daily rain manna. For as to the idle talk of certain profane persons, (176) that the manna falls naturally in certain countries, who would thus display the force of their genius, as if they convicted Moses of falsehood, because he mightily extols a mere trifle, — it! is all an absurdity which may be easily refuted. It is indeed true, that in certain parts of the world they collect white grains, to which the name of manna has been vulgarly given, but (177) which one of the Rabbins will have to be Arabic; but it is neither a food, nor does it drop daily from the clouds, nor has it anything in common with this food, which the Prophet properly dignifies with the title of “angels’ food,” because God, who opens the bowels of the earth for the ordinary food of man, at that time made provision for the nourishment of His people from heaven. And that it may appear beyond a doubt that this food was then created miraculously, and contrary to the order of nature, these points are to be taken into consideration. First, It did not appear in the wilderness before the hour assigned by Moses in obedience to God’s command. Secondly, No change of weather prevented the manna from dropping in a regular measure; neither frost, nor rain, nor heat, nor winter, nor summer, interrupted the course of its distillation. Thirdly, A quantity sufficient for the immense multitude was found every day, when they took up an omer for every individual. Again, on the sixth day, the quantity was doubled, that they might lay by a second omer for their Sabbath food. Fifthly, If they preserved any beyond their due allowance, it was subject to putrefaction, whereas, on the Sabbath day, the second portion remained good. Sixthly, Wherever they were, this blessing of God always accompanied them, whilst the neighboring nations lived on corn, and the manna was only known in their camp. Seventhly, As soon as they entered a fruitful and corn-growing country, the manna ceased. Eighthly, That portion, which Moses was commanded to lay up in a vessel, did not grow corrupt. Let these points be well weighed, and the miracle will be more than sufficiently conspicuous, and will disperse all the clouds of objection by its intrinsic brightness.

(176) “And even now in all that place this manna comes down in rain, according to what Moses then obtained of God, to send it the people for their sustenance.” — Josephus. Antiq. , 3: 1. 6. Burekhardt identifies it with a substance called manna, obtained still by the Arabs from the tarfa or tamarisk; and Rosenmuller speaks of it as being obtained from various trees in different countries. We can well understand the name having been given to any substance, which in some respects resembled it; but there does not appear to be any real correspondence in those which the critics mention.

(177) This is from S. M. , who says that Aben-Ezra has affirmed man to be an Arabic noun. — W.

Verse 15

15. And when the children of Israel saw. The Israelites manifested some appearance of gratitude in calling the food given them from heaven, Man, (178) which name means “something prepared;” but if any prefer their opinion who expound it, “a part or portion,” I do not debate the matter, although the former is more correct. Yet, whichever you choose, by this word they confessed that they were dealt with bountifully, because God presented them with food without their having to labor for it; and, therefore, they indirectly condemn their own perverse and wicked murmuring, since it is much better to gather food prepared for them, than to acquire it by the laborious and troublesome culture of the earth. For although this confession was extorted from them by the incredible novelty of the thing, yet at that particular moment their intention was to proclaim God’s loving-kindness. But, since unbelief had clouded their senses, so that they saw not clearly, Moses says that “they wist not what it was.” In these words he rebukes their slowness of heart, because, although previously advertised of the miracle, they were astonished at the sight, as if they had heard nothing of it before. We perceive, then, that they did but half acknowledge God’s mercy; for their gratitude was clouded with the darkness of ignorance, and they were compelled to confess that they did not altogether understand it; and therefore their stupidity is reproved not without bitterness, when Moses tells them that this was the food promised them by God. For, if they had recognized in it the fulfillment of the promise, there was no need of recalling it to their recollection. As to the words themselves, the answer of Moses has misled the Greek and Latin translators, into rendering them interrogatively, (179) “What is this?” But their difficulty is easily removed; for Moses does not directly state that they inquired about it as of some unknown thing, but expresses their knowledge mixed with ignorance, for the matter was partly doubtful, partly clear; for the power of God was visibly manifest, but the veil of unbelief prevented them from apprehending God’s promised bounty.

(178) מן, Man. If this word be referred to the root מנן, it may mean a prepared thing; if to the root מנה, it would mean an assigned portion; but in Syriac and Chaldee man is incontestably what, and the LXX. bear testimony to the existence of the same monosyllabic relative in Hebrew by so rendering it here, to which the V. adds its authority, by saying, Man hu? Quod significat, Quid est hoc? C. found the two first interpretations in the notes of S. M. , who makes no allusion to this last rendering. — W.

(179) See margin A. V.

Verse 16

16. This is the thing. The exception (180) follows, that in gathering the food, they should take account of the Sabbath. A certain daily measure is prescribed; but they are commanded on the day before the Sabbath to lay up twice as much, that they may observe its rest. But, unquestionably, God so far extended His liberality as abundantly to satisfy them. It is well known that an omer is the tenth part of an ephah; (181) and perhaps we might discover its proportion to the measures which are now in use amongst us; but I am unwilling to dispute respecting’ an unnecessary point; since it is enough to be sure, that not less was given than was amply sufficient for them.

(180) The rule is here prescribed — the exception does not occur till verse 23.

(181) See Exodus 16:36. “In Josephus’s time it contained 43 1/5 eggshells, (for the Jews, like many of Oriental nations, reckoned their measures by the contents of middle-sized hens eggs.) But it is by no means probable t at during the 1500 years which elapsed from the time of Moses to that of Josephus, the measures of the Hebrews remained the same, there being nothing more liable to change.” — Rosenmuller.

Verse 17

17. And the children of Israel did so. I do not think that the obedience of the people is here greatly praised; since soon afterwards Moses adds that some, not contented with their due allowance, collected more than was permitted them, and that others also transgressed what was enjoined them as to the Sabbath day. But I thus paraphrase the passage, that, when they had applied themselves to the gathering of it, the whole amount was found sufficient to fill an omer for every individual. For they did not each of them collect a private store; but, when all had assisted, at length. they took their prescribed portion from the common heap Thus, as each was more especially diligent, the more he bone. flied his slower and less industrious neighbor, without any loss to himself. This is aptly applied by Paul to almsgiving, (2 Corinthians 8:14,) wherein every one bestows of what he possesses on his poor brethren, only let us remember that this is done (182) figuratively; for though there be some likeness between the manna and our daily food, yet there is a distinction between them to be observed, on which we shall elsewhere remark. Since, then, the manna was a food differing from what we commonly use, and was given daily without tillage or labor almost into their hands, it is not to be wondered that God should have called each one of the people to partake of it equally, and forbade any one to take more than another. The case of ordinary food is different; for it is necessary (183) for the preservation of human society that each should possess what is his own; that some should acquire property by purchase, that to others it should come by hereditary right, to others by the title of presentation, that each should increase his means in proportion to his diligence, or bodily strength, or other qualifications. In fine, political government requires, that each should enjoy what belongs to him; and hence it would be absurd to prescribe, as to our common food, the law which is here laid down as to the manna. And Paul, also, wisely makes the distinction, in enjoining that there should be an equality, not arising from a promiscuous and confused use of property, but by the rich spontaneously and liberally relieving the wants of their brethren, and not grudgingly or of necessity. In this way he reminds us, that whatever goods we possess, flow from the bounty of God, like the manna; but, since each now possesses privately and separately whatever is given them, the same law is not in force for the mutual communication of property, whereby God bound His ancient people. Thence it appears that the distribution of the manna, as it is related by Moses, is properly applied to almsgiving. This doctrine, too, extends still further; for Paul warns believers not to be over-anxious lest they should exhaust themselves by their bounty, because no man’s provision failed, when the Israelites by God’s command divided the manna among them.

(182) Per anagogen. — Lat.

(183) “Pour nourrir les hommes en amitie et paix;” for sustaining men in friendship and peace. — Fr.

Verse 19

19. And Moses said, Let no man. Moses here recounts that, when he had commanded them all not to take more than enough for their daily food, and to gather a double portion the day before the Sabbath, some were disobedient on both points. As to the former, since God would supply their food to them just as the breast is given to babes, it was a sign of perverse unbelief that they would not depend on God’s providence, but sought for a provision which would last them many days. It was also a proof of their obstinacy that they would give credit to no warnings until they were convinced by experience that they laid up in their houses nothing’ but a mass of corruption; for they were not induced to cease from their insatiable greediness till they had received their just punishment. Now, although the case of the manna and the food of our ordinary nourishment is not; altogether similar, yet the comparison holds to a certain extent, for it is so far lawful to keep our corn and wine laid up in granaries and cellars, as that all should still ask truly their daily bread of God. And this will be, if the rich do not greedily swallow up whatsoever they can get together; if they do not avariciously scrape up here and there; if they do not gorge themselves upon the hunger of the poor; if they do not, as far as in them lies, withhold the blessing of God; in a word, if they do not immoderately accumulate large possessions, but: are liberal out of their present abundance, are not too anxious as to the future, and are not troubled, if needs be, that their wealth should suffer diminution; nay, if they are ready to endure poverty, and glory not in their abundance, but repose upon the paternal bounty of God. And surely we often see that what misers collect by theft, rapine, fraud, cruelty, trickery, or meanness, is often turned into corruption. When he adds that, after they saw that their intemperate ardor profited them nothing, they submitted to the command, he implies that their obedience was not voluntary, but extorted from them, for fools are never wise except after adversity. (184) The melting of the manna when the sun waxed hot was a stimulus to correct their idleness or laziness; for, if the manna had remained entire during the whole day, they would not have been so intent upon their duty. Wherefore, by giving them only a short time for its collection, God urged them to diligence.

(184) “Sinon apres avoir este bien batus;” except after being well beaten. — Fr.

Verse 22

22. And it came to pass on the sixth day. The violation of the Sabbath is not yet recounted, but only the stupidity or dense ignorance of their rulers is set forth, for although they had heard from the mouth of Moses that God would on that day give what would be sufficient for two days’ provision, still they marvel, and tell it to Moses as if it were something strange and incredible. It is plain enough that they obeyed the command, and did not spare their labor in gathering the double quantity; but their unbelief and folly betrays itself in their astonishment when they see that God has really performed what he promised. We may conjecture that they accurately observed what awakened in them so much astonishment; so that it follows that they refused to credit God’s word until its truth was effectively proved. It came to pass, then, in God’s admirable wisdom, that their wicked and perverse doubting availed both for the confirmation of the miracle and the observation of the Sabbath. Hence occasion was given to Moses again to enjoin upon them what otherwise, perhaps, they would have neglected, viz., that they should honor the seventh day by a holy rest.

Verse 27

27. And it came to pass. This is the second transgression, that by going out on the seventh day they trenched upon its religious observance; and this monstrous greediness arose from their not believing to be true what we have just heard Moses saying, for he had plainly declared to them that they would not find the manna. They, therefore, accuse him of falsehood, refusing’ to believe anything but their own eyes. Meanwhile the obligation of the Sabbath was set at naught by them, nay, they sought to profane the day which God had hallowed, so that it should in no wise differ from other days. Therefore does God justly inveigh against them with much bitterness, for, addressing Moses, in his person He arraigns the obstinate wickedness of the whole people. Assuredly Moses was not of the number of those who had refused to obey God’s laws, but by this general charge, the multitude, who had transgressed, were more severely rebuked, and a greater obligation is laid on Moses to chastise the people, when a part of the blame is transferred to himself. By the expression “How long?” God implies the intolerableness of their perversity, because there is no end of their offenses, but, by thus provoking greater vengeance by new crimes, they prove themselves to be incorrigible.

Verse 31

31. And the house of Israel called. It is not without reason that Moses repeats what he had said before, that the name of Manna was given to the new kind of food which God had supplied, in order that they might be brought under condemnation for their stubborn impiety, who shall dare to raise a question on so manifest a point, since the conspicuous nature of the thing had extorted this name from people otherwise malicious and ungrateful. Its form is mentioned to prove the certainty of the miracle, viz., that its grains were round and like coriander-seed, because nothing like it had been seen before. Its taste reproves the people’s ingratitude in rejecting a food which was not only appropriate and wholesome, but also very sweet in savor.

Verse 32

32. And Moses said. Moses does not proceed with the history in order, but by interposing these circumstances by anticipation, he the more confirms the fact that this food was then created for the people by God’s special bounty, because He desired an omer of it to be preserved as a memorial, which, undergoing no putrefaction, handed down to posterity the gloriousness of the miracle. And first, he propounds generally God’s command, and then, in the next verse, describes the manner in which it was done, viz., that Aaron put it in a bottle or pot, and laid it up by the Ark of the Covenant. Whence, too, it appears how high importance God would have attached to this His bounty, since he wished its memorial to exist in the sanctuary together with the tables of His covenant. The two expressions, conveying the same meaning, “before the Lord,” and “before the Testimony,” are used in commendation of the worship of the Law, that the people might know God’s power to be near them in the sanctuary, not as if he were shut up in that place, or wished their minds to be fixed upon the visible sign, but, desiring to provide against their weakness, He in a manner descends to them, when he testified to the presence of His power by external images. He descends to them, therefore, not (185) to occupy their minds with a gross superstition, but to raise them up by degrees to spiritual worship.

(185) “Non pas pour plonger leurs pensees en terre, qui eust ete une lourde superstition:” not to plunge their thoughts in earth, which would have been a gross superstition. — Fr.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.