Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Exodus 16

Verse 1

XVI.

THE JOURNEY FROM ELIM.—THE MANNA GIVEN.

(1) They took their journey from Elim. The stay at Elim was probably for some days. “Sin” was reached exactly one month after the departure from Egypt, yet there had been only five camping-places between Sin and Rameses, and one journey of three days through a wilderness (Exodus 15:22). Long rests are thus clearly indicated, and probably occurred at Ayun Musa, at Marah, and at Elim. The places named were the head-quarters of the camp on each occasion, but the entire host must have always covered a vast tract, and the flocks and herds must have been driven into all the neighbouring valleys where there was pasture. Wadys Useit, Ethal, and Tayibeh are likely to have been occupied at the same time with Wady Ghurundel.

All the congregation . . . came unto the wilderness of Sin.—“All the congregation” could only be united in certain favourable positions, where there happened to be a large open space. Such an open space is offered by the tract now called El Markha, which extends from north to south a distance of twenty miles, and is from three to four miles wide in its more northern half. To reach this tract, the Israelites must have descended by Wady Useit or Wady Tayibeh to the coast near Ras Abu Zenimeh, and have then continued along the coast until they crossed the twenty-ninth parallel. This line of march is indicated in Numbers 33:10-11, where we are told that “they removed from Elim, and encamped by the Red Sea; and they removed from the Red Sea, and encamped in the wilderness of Sin.”

Verse 2

(2) The whole congregration . . . murmured.—This is the third “murmuring.” The first was at Pi-hahiroth, on the appearance of the host of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:11-12); the second was at Marah, when the water proved undrinkable (Exodus 15:24); the third, in the wilderness of Sin, was brought about by no special occurrence—unless it were the exhaustion of the supplies of grain which had been brought out of Egypt—but seems to have resulted from a general dissatisfaction with the conditions of life in the wilderness, and with the prospects which lay before them.

Verse 3

(3) Would to God we had died.—Heb., Would that we had died. There is no mention of “God.”

By the hand of the Lord.—There is, perhaps, an allusion to the last of the plagues, “Would that we had not been spared, but had been smitten, as the Egyptians were! A sudden death would have been far better than a long and lingering one.” (Comp, Lamentations 4:9.)

When we did eat bread to the full.—The Israelites had been well fed in Egypt. They had been nourished upon flesh, fish, bread, and abundant vegetables, especially cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlick (Numbers 11:5). It was the habit of the Egyptians to feed well those whom they employed in forced labours (Herod. ii. 125), just as slave-owners commonly do their slaves. The remembrance of the past abundance intensified the pain felt at the present want.

To kill this whole assembly with hunger.—It is difficult to imagine that there could have been as yet any real danger of starvation. The cattle may have suffered considerably in the passage through the wilderness of Shur, but the bulk of it survived (Exodus 17:3), and there were lambs enough for the whole nation to observe a Passover a few months later at Sinai (Numbers 9:1-5). But it may well be that a considerable number of the Israelites had had no cattle; others may have lost what they had, or have consumed them. Want may have stared some in the face, and the nation generally may have come to see that the prospect before them was a dismal one. Even supposing that the desert was anciently four or five times as productive as it is now, it could not possibly have afforded sufficient pasturage to maintain such flocks and herds as would have been requisite to support on their milk and flesh a population of two millions. It may have been brought home to the people that their flocks and herds were rapidly diminishing, and they may have realised the danger that impended of ultimate starvation after the cattle was all gone.

Verse 4

(4) I will rain bread from heaven for you.—This first announcement at once suggests that the supply is to be supernatural. “Bread from heaven” was not simply “food out of the air” (Rosenmüller), but a celestial, that is, a Divine supply of their daily needs.

A certain rate every day.—Heb., a day’s meal each day—sufficient, that is, for the wants of himself and family for a day.

That I may prove them.—Human life is a probation. God proves and tries those most whom He takes to Himself for His “peculiar people,” and the trial is often by means of positive precepts, which are especially

Calculated to test the presence or absence of a spirit of humble and unquestioning obedience. Our first parents were tested by a positive precept in Paradise; the family of Abraham were tested by a positive precept—circumcision on the eighth day; the Israelites were tested, both in the wilderness and afterwards throughout their career as a nation, by a number of positive precepts, whereof this concerning the manna was one. Christians are tested by positive precepts with respect to common worship, prayer, and sacraments—the object being in all cases to see whether men “will walk in God’s law or no.” Men are very apt to prefer their own inventions to the simple rule of following at once the letter and the spirit of God’s commandments.

Verse 5

(5) On the sixth day—i.e., the sixth day after the first giving of the manna (Kalisch). Although in Babylonia, from a time certainly earlier than the Exodus, a Sabbath was observed on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth day of each month (Sayce: Records of the Past, vol. vii., pp. 157-167), yet we have no evidence that the year was divided into weeks, much less that the several days of the week were known as the first, second, third, fourth, &c. In Egypt, the week of seven days was at this time unknown.

They shall prepare.—On the method of preparation see Numbers 11:8.

It shall be twice as much.—Some suppose this to be a command—“Ye shall gather twice as much;” but it is more natural to take it as an announcement of a fact—“You will find that what you have gathered turns out to be twice as much.” (So Kurtz, Kalisch, and Knobel.) A miraculous doubling of the quantity seems to be intended. (Comp. Exodus 16:22.)

Verse 6

(6) At even, then ye shall know . . . —The allusion is to the quails, which came up “at even,” and covered the camp. (See Exodus 16:12-13.)

Verse 7

(7) And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the Lord.—The reference here is to the manna, which “in the morning lay round about the host” (Exodus 16:13), not to the “appearance” of Exodus 16:10, which preceded the coming of the quails, and was not—as far as we are told—“in the morning.” The “glory of God” was strikingly revealed in a gift which was not transient, but secured permanently the subsistence of the people so long as it might be necessary for them to continue in the wilderness. (Comp. the parallelism of Exodus 16:8; Exodus 16:12.)

Verse 10

(10) The glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.—The Hebrew, as at present pointed, has “in a cloud,” but there can be no reasonable doubt that the “pillar of the cloud” is meant. It was before this that they had been required to appear (Exodus 16:9), and from this almost certainly that some bright radiance was now made to stream forth. The object was at once to rebuke their murmurings, and to uphold the authority of Moses and Aaron.

Verse 13

(13) At even the quails came up.—The common quail (Tetrao coturnix) is very abundant in the East, and regularly migrates from Syria and Arabia in the autumn of the year for the purpose of wintering in Central Africa, whence it returns in immense masses in the spring (Schubert: Reise, vol. ii., p. 361). Exhausted after a long flight over the Red Sea, the flocks drop to the ground as soon as they reach the coast, and it is then easy either to take the birds with the hand or to kill them with sticks. Diodorus says that “the inhabitants of Arabia Petræa were wont to prepare long nets, and spread them near the coast for many furlongs, by which means they caught a great quantity of quails, which were in the habit of coming in from the sea” (ii. 60), The flesh of the quail is regarded as a delicacy throughout the East, though if too many are eaten it is said to be unwholesome.

The dew lay.—Literally, there was a lying of dew. A heavy fall seems to be meant.

Verse 14

(14) Was gone up—i.e., was drawn up by the heat of the sun.

A small round thing, as small as the hoar frost.—What the manna was has been much disputed. There are two natural substances, quite distinct, with which it has been compared, and by some persons identified. One is a deposit from the air, which falls indifferently on trees, stones, grass, &c, and is generally thick and sticky, like honey, but under certain circumstances is “concreted into small granular masses.” This bas been described by Aristotle (Hist. An., v. 22), Pliny (H. N., xi. 12), Avicenna(p. 212), Ǽlian (Hist. An., xv. 7), Shaw, Forskal, and others. It has been called ὰερόμελι or “air-honey” (Athen. Deipn, xi., p. 500). It is collected by the Arabs, and eaten with their unleavened cakes as a condiment. It so far resembles the manna that it comes with the dew, is spread upon the ground generally, and melts when the sun’s rays attain a certain power (Œdmann: Misc. Collect., vol. iv., p. 7). But it is never found in large quantities; it does not fall for more than two months in the year; and it is wholly unfit to serve as man’s principal food, being more like honey than anything else. The other substance is a gum which exudes from certain trees at certain seasons of the year, in consequence of the punctures made in their leaves by a small insect, the Coccus manniparus. It has been described at length by C. Niebuhr in his Description de l’ Arabie (pp. 128, 129); by Rauwolf (Travels, vol. I., p. 94); Gmelin (Travels through Russia to Persia, Part III., p. 28), and others. It is comparatively a dry substance, is readily shaken from the leaves, and consists of small yellowish – white grains, which are hard, and have been compared to coriander seed by moderns (Rauwolf, 50s.100). The name “manna” attaches in the East to this latter substance, which is employed both as a condiment, like the “air-honey,” and also as a laxative. The special points in which it differs from the manna of Scripture are its confinement to certain trees or bushes, its comparative permanency, for it “accumulates on the leaves” (Niebuhr, p. 129), and its unfitness for food. It has also, like the “air-honey,” only a short season—the months of July and August.

The manna of Scripture in certain respects resembles the one, and in certain other respects the other of these substances, but in its most important characteristics resembles neither, and is altogether sui generis. For (1) it was adapted to be men’s principal nourishment, and served the Israelites as such for forty years; (2) it was supplied in quantities far exceeding anything that is recorded of the natural substances compared with it; (3) it continued through the whole of the year; (4) for forty years it fell regularly for six nights following, and ceased upon the seventh night; (5) it “bred worms” if kept to a second day, when gathered on five days out of the six, but when gathered on the sixth day continued good throughout the seventh, and bred no worms. The manna of Scripture must therefore be regarded as a miraculous substance, created ad hoc, and not as a natural product. It pleased the Creator, however, to proceed on the lines of Nature, so to speak, and to assimilate His new to certain of His old creations.

Verse 15

(15) It is manna.—This is certainly a wrong translation. The words of the original, man hu, must either be rendered, as in the LXX. And the Vulg., “What is this ?” Or, as by Kimchi, Knobel, Gesenius, Kurtz, and others, “This is a gift.” It is against the former rendering that man does not mean “what” in Hebrew, but only in Chaldee, and that “what is this” would be a very strange name to give to a substance. Against the latter it may be said that neither is man found elsewhere in Hebrew in the sense of “a gift;” but it has that sense in Arabic; and in Hebrew manan is “to give.”

This is the bread—i.e., the promised bread. (See Exodus 16:4.)

Verse 16

(16) Every man according to his eating.—Comp. Exodus 12:4. Each man was to gather according to his immediate need and that of his family. No one was to seek to accumulate a store.

An omer-About three pints English.

For every man.—Literally, for every head. As families would average four members, each man would have to gather, on an average, six quarts. If even 500,000 men gathered this amount, the daily supply must have been 93,500 bushels.

His tents.—Heb., his tent.

Verse 18

(18) When they did mete it with an omer.—Each Israelite gathered what he supposed would be about an omer for each member of his family. Some naturally made an over, some an under estimate; but whatever the quantity collected, when it came to be measured in the camp, the result was always the same—there was found to be just an omer for each. This result can only have been miraculous.

Verse 19

(19) Let no man leave of it.—Moses must have been divinely instructed to issue this command. It was doubtless given in order that the Israelites might realise their absolute dependence upon God for food from day to day, and might so be habituated to complete trust and confidence in Him.

Verse 20

(20) It bred worms.—On the Sabbath it bred no worms (Exodus 16:24), so that we must view the result spoken of as a punishment for disobedience, not as produced naturally. Neither of the natural mannas is subject to any very rapid decomposition.

Verse 22

(22) On the sixth day they gathered twice as much.—See the third Note on Exodus 16:5.

The rulers . . . came and told Moses.—They were evidently surprised, and came to Moses for an explanation. Either he had not communicated to them the Divine announcement of Exodus 16:5, or they had failed to comprehend it.

Verse 23

(23) To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord.—Heb., to morrow is a rest of a holy Sabbath to Jehovah. If the translation of the Authorised Version were correct, the previous institution of the Sabbath, and the knowledge, if not the observance, of it by the Israelites would be necessarily implied, since no otherwise would the double use of the article be intelligible. But in the Hebrew there is no article either here or in Exodus 16:25. The absence of the article indicates that it is a new thing which is announced—if not absolutely, at any rate to those to whom the announcement is made. Much, no doubt, may be said in favour of a primæval institution of the Sabbath (see the comment on Genesis 2:2-3); and its observance in a certain sense by the Babylonians (see the first Note on Exodus 16:5) is in favour of its having been known to the family of Abraham; but during the Egyptian oppression the continued observance would have been impossible, and the surprise of the elders, as well as the words of Moses, show that at this time the idea was, to the Israelites, practically a novelty.

Bake . . . Seethe.—These directions imply a very different substance from any of the natural forms of manna. The heavenly “gift” could be either made into a paste and baked, or converted into a porridge.

Verse 25

(25) To day is a sabbath.—That is to say, a rest By these words the Sabbath was either instituted, or re-instituted, and became thenceforth binding on the Israelites. Its essential character of a weekly “rest” was at once assigned to it—(1) by its name; (2) by God’s resting on it from His self-imposed task of giving the manna; and (3) by the rest which the absence of manna on the seventh day imposed on the people. Thus the way was prepared for the stringent law of Sabbath observance laid down in the fourth commandment.

Verse 28

(28) How long refuse ye to keep my commandments ?—The people had already broken one of the positive precepts with respect to the manna (see Exodus 16:20); now they broke another—in the spirit, at any rate—since they would have gathered had they found anything to gather. Thus they provoked God a second time; yet was He “so merciful, that He destroyed them not,” but “turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath” (Psalms 78:38). Apparently He made allowance for the ordinance being a new one, to which they were not yet accustomed.

Verse 29

(29) Abide ye every man in his place.—Some Jews took this direction absolutely literally, and remained all the Sabbath Day in the position in which they found themselves at waking; but this slavish adherence to the letter was in general repudiated, and the command understood as having forbidden persons to leave the camp on the Sabbath. Hence the “Sabbath Day’s journey,” which was fixed at six stadia, because that was (traditionally) the extreme distance from the centre of the camp to its furthest boundary.

Verse 31

(31) Manna.—Rather, man. (See Note on Exodus 16:15.) “Manna” is a Greek form, first used by the LXX. translator of Numbers (Exodus 11:6-7; Exodus 11:9).

It was like coriander seed.—The appearance of the manna is compared above to hoar frost (Exodus 16:14); here, and in Numbers 11:7, to coriander seed. The former account describes its look as it lay on the ground, the latter its appearance after it was collected and brought in. The coriander seed is “a small round grain, of a whitish or yellowish grey.” In Numbers it is further said that the colour was that of bdellium, which is a whitish resin.

The taste of it was like wafers made with honey.—In Numbers the taste is compared to that of fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). The wafers or cakes used by the Egyptians, Greeks, and other ancient nations as offerings, were ordinarily composed of fine wheaten flour, oil, and honey. According to a Jewish tradition which finds a place in the Book of Wisdom (Exodus 16:20-21), the taste of the manna varied according to the wish of the eater, and “tempered itself to every man’s liking.”

Verses 32-35

(32-35) And Moses said . . . Fill an omer.—This narrative, which must belong to a later date than any other part of Exodus, since it assumes that the Tabernacle is set up (Exodus 16:34), seems to have been placed here on account of its subject-matter. The writer wishes to conclude the history of the manna, and has two further points to note concerning it: (1) the preservation of an omer of it as a perpetual memorial (Exodus 16:32-34); and (2) the fact of its continuance until the Israelites reached the borders of Canaan. The passage is probably an addition to the original “Book,” but contains nothing that may not have been written by Moses.

Verse 33

(33) Lay it up before the Lord.—Comp. Exodus 16:33, where Aaron is said to have “laid it up before the Testimony,” i.e., the Two Tables. According to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Ark of the Covenant contained three things only—the tables, the pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded (Hebrews 9:4). The deposit of the manna in so sacred a place may be accounted for by its typifying “the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32).

Verse 35

(35) The children of Israel did eat manna forty years.—Moses may have added this verse to the present chapter shortly before his death, when the manna had continued for thirty-nine years and nine months. He does not say that it had ceased to be given. We know that in fact it did not cease till the Jordan was crossed by the Israelites under Joshua, and Canaan was actually reached (Joshua 5:10-12).

Verse 36

(36) Now an omer.—The “omer” and the “ephah” were both of them Egyptian measures. One—the latter—continued in use among the Hebrews, at any rate, until the captivity (Ezekiel 45, 46); the other—the omer—fell out of use very early. Hence this parenthetic verse, which is exegetical of the word “omer,” and may have been added by the completer of Deuteronomy, or by some later editor—perhaps Ezra.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Exodus 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/exodus-16.html. 1905.