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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 16

Introduction

Chapter 16 God Provides Manna and Quails for His People - The Sign of the Seventh Day (Exodus 16:2-36 ).

In this chapter God provides both meat and ‘bread’ for His people. The passage continues to reveal chiastic patterns, a pattern which also appears in Leviticus and predominates in the book of Numbers (see our commentary). The chapter can be divided into two. Up to Exodus 16:15 it deals specifically with the promise of bread from heaven and the provision of the manna and the quails, and the remainder deals with various provisions and especially the institution of the Sabbath. This is then concluded in the final few verses by describing the storing up of the manna as a memorial.

Verse 1

‘And they took their journey from Elim and all the congregation of the children of Israel came into the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.’

The analysis suggest that this verse closes the passage just completed. After a short stay they continued their journey. They had now been travelling for a full moon period. ‘The second month.’ Their year was now determined from the time of their release (Exodus 12:2).

“All the congregation of the children of Israel.” Since leaving Egypt the group has been called ‘Israel’ (Exodus 14:30-31; Exodus 15:22) and ‘the people’ (Exodus 15:24) although reference is made to ‘the children of Israel’ at worship in Exodus 15:1. (Exodus 15:19 refers back to prior to the final deliverance). This is now defined here as ‘all the congregation of the children of Israel’, a new term found only here in Exodus (Exodus 16:2; Exodus 16:9-10; Exodus 17:1) and in Exodus 35:1; Exodus 35:4; Exodus 35:20, but consider ‘the congregation of Israel’ (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6; Exodus 12:19; Exodus 12:47). It is found in Leviticus 16:5 (without ‘all’); Exodus 19:2 and more regularly in Numbers. It has here no direct connection with cult worship and is therefore not yet a technical cult term. Rather it defines the constituency of the new Israel, all those who have joined the gathered people, including the mixed multitude, and emphasises the oneness of the whole (it is always in Exodus prefaced by ‘all’). They have become ‘children of Israel’ which is now used as an equivalent term (Exodus 16:3; Exodus 16:6).

It is probable that they had to travel in smaller groups until they were able again all to meet up in the wilderness of Sin on the way to Sinai, and this would be a pattern on their journeys. We must not necessarily see the Israelites as always moving in one large group. The pattern became more organised when leaving Sinai in Numbers 1-4. Different sections would take slightly different routes, and in such places as they had just left they would spread out making good use of all the facilities. The flocks and herds having fed well at Elim and the surrounding area would be able to endure without water for a goodly period. The people too would be learning to survive on little water, especially under the guidance of Moses the experienced wilderness dweller, and sometimes they would find water by digging, for the water table is not far below the ground in certain parts of the Sinai peninsula (Numbers 21:16-18), or would survive on milk from their domestic animals.

Note for Christians.

This incident at Marah reminds us that on our spiritual journey we must expect to come across bitter wells as well as sweet ones, but when we do we can be confident that our Lord can make the bitter sweet. And in His goodness He has provided for us a Law which is sweet to the taste (Psalms 19:10; Psalms 119:103). From the incident we are also to learn that one of the secrets of blessing is obedience. For as we continue in obedience we will discover that we are brought eventually to a place of springs and palm trees.

End of note.

Verses 2-15

Chapter 16 God Provides Manna and Quails for His People - The Sign of the Seventh Day (Exodus 16:2-36 ).

In this chapter God provides both meat and ‘bread’ for His people. The passage continues to reveal chiastic patterns, a pattern which also appears in Leviticus and predominates in the book of Numbers (see our commentary). The chapter can be divided into two. Up to Exodus 16:15 it deals specifically with the promise of bread from heaven and the provision of the manna and the quails, and the remainder deals with various provisions and especially the institution of the Sabbath. This is then concluded in the final few verses by describing the storing up of the manna as a memorial.

The Promise of Bread From Heaven and the Provision of the Manna and the Quails (Exodus 16:2-15 ).

a The people murmur and wish that they had died in Egypt where they had flesh and bread, rather than being brought into the wilderness to be killed with hunger (Exodus 16:2-3)

b Yahweh promises food from heaven which the people can gather every day (Exodus 16:4-5).

c They will know that Yahweh has brought them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 16:6).

d They will see the glory of Yahweh for He has heard their murmuring, He will give them flesh and bread (Exodus 16:7-8 a).

e Yahweh has heard their murmurings (Exodus 16:8 b).

e Yahweh has heard their murmurings (Exodus 16:9).

d They look towards the wilderness and see the glory of Yahweh Who has heard their murmurings and will give them flesh and bread (Exodus 16:10-12 a).

c They will know that He is Yahweh their God (Exodus 16:12 b).

b Food comes from heaven in the form of quails and manna (Exodus 16:13-15 a).

a They are told that it is the food which Yahweh has given them to eat (Exodus 16:15 b).

The point behind the chiasmus is to stress how what Yahweh has promised He fulfils In ‘a’ they began by fearing that they would be killed with hunger and in the parallel finished up with a the food that Yahweh has given them to eat. In ‘b’ they were promised food from heaven, and in the parallel they receive food from heaven. In ‘c’ they will know that Yahweh has brought them out of the land of Egypt, and in the parallel they will know that He is Yahweh their God. In ‘d’ they were promised that they would see the glory of Yahweh and they did see the glory of Yahweh for He has heard their murmuring, and in the parallel they look towards the wilderness and see the glory of Yahweh Who has heard their murmurings. In ‘e’ we are simply informed that Yahweh has heard their murmurings.

Exodus 16:2

‘And all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness.’

On arrival in the wilderness of Sin the children of Israel again murmur against Moses and Aaron (compare Exodus 15:24; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 14:36; Numbers 16:11; Numbers 16:41; Numbers 17:5; Numbers 17:10; Deuteronomy 1:27), this time because of lack of food. Their murmuring is prominent in the passage (Exodus 16:8-9; Exodus 16:12). It was an indication of hearts that were inward looking and servile, and had no confidence in God, and was a continuing problem. This is in stark contrast to the continual revelation of God’s power and provision. The one thing that is made clear is that they deserved nothing at His hand, and yet He continually provided for them. He was like a father watching over a petulant child (compare Deuteronomy 1:31). Murmuring is an indication of poverty of spirit.

Exodus 16:3

‘And the children of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, when we ate bread to the full. For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” ’

After leaving Elim they had moved along the coast of the Gulf of Sinai and again found the going tough. They found this wilderness life not to their liking. The land was barren, and shortage of pleasant food, having to preserve their supplies, shortage of water, and the constant trudging, not knowing what lay ahead, was more than they had expected. And when they arrived in the Wilderness of Sin things were no better. So they vented their feelings on Moses and his mouthpiece Aaron. They looked back with longing to what they thought of as the good and plentiful food of Egypt. It would have been better to have died there than to die here. It is easy in such circumstances to remember and exaggerate the best things and forget the worst.

Moses here suffers the common lot of leaders of large caravans who tend to be blamed for any shortcomings on the journey. It did not bode well for the future. But we must remember in mitigation that they had been slaves for many years and had lost any sense of enterprise or initiative.

“By the hand of Yahweh.” This may suggest that they were thinking of the judgment that would have come on them if they had disobeyed Him. But it may simply be a contrast between dying naturally in Egypt and being ‘killed’ (by starvation) by Moses in the wilderness. This is an exaggeration as they had their herds and flocks with them. They could survive if necessary, it was the little luxuries that they missed. We may be puzzled at the situation as we note that they had plentiful supplies of cattle and sheep. But they would not want to eat too many of their beasts. They had the future to think of. It does, however, bring home the fact that they were not really at the last extremity, and that their murmuring was therefore not excusable.

“Flesh pots.” Meat containers.

Exodus 16:4-5

‘Then Yahweh said to Moses, “See, I will rain food from heaven for you, and the people will go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove whether they will walk in my law or not. And it shall be that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.’

Moses had presumably sought Yahweh’s advice. It is noteworthy that His approaches to Yahweh are often assumed rather than stated (Exodus 14:15 and here. Contrast Exodus 15:25). Yahweh’s reply is that He will send them food from heaven. And this will be provided in such a way that it will be a test for them. This is a second reference to the fact that God was proving them as to whether they would obey His law or not (compare Exodus 15:25). The purpose of testing was in order to strengthen them through their experiences. If we would but recognise that in our difficulties God is testing out our obedience, and that through them we are being strengthened if we respond in the right way, we might be more positive in our response to them.

“I will rain food from heaven.” This is described in Exodus 16:14 as ‘a small flake, small as the hoar frost on the ground’ which came with the dew. The dew, of course, fell from heaven literally. This ‘manna’ was white like coriander seed and it tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31). It could clearly be ground and used in cooking and baking.

There have been a number of suggestions as to what the Manna consisted of. The sweet juice of the Tarfa which exudes from the tree and forms small white grains has been suggested, but the quantity required is against this, as are the other descriptions. The same applies to the honeydew excretions on tamarisk twigs produced by certain plant lice and scale insects which at night drop from the trees onto the ground where they remain until the heat of the sun brings out the ants which remove them. In favour is the fact that the Arabic word for plant lice is ‘man’, equivalent to the Hebrew for Manna. But these are seasonal and do not fit all the criteria (see on Exodus 16:31). We are not told whether the Manna was seasonal or not, although many consider it was permanent. (The Arabic word may actually have resulted from this story).

More pertinently examples have also been cited of an unidentified white substance which one morning covered a fairly large area of ground in Natal and was eaten by the natives, and also of falls of whitish, odourless, tasteless matter in Southern Algeria which, at a time of unusual weather conditions, covered tents and vegetation each morning. While not being the same as the Manna, or lasting over so long a period, these do indicate the kind of natural phenomena which God may have used to bring about His miracle, for it was clearly a time of unusual weather conditions as demonstrated by the plagues of Egypt. But we must remember that the Manna lasted for forty years (Exodus 16:35; Joshua 5:12), did not appear on the seventh day, and continued from the Wilderness of Sin to the entry into Canaan in all manner of environments.

“Gather a day” s portion every day.’ This was a test to see if there were those who would disobey and gather too much through fear of its non-arrival on the following day (‘that I may prove them’). Then on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much as there would be none on the seventh day. The reason for this will be explained later (Exodus 16:23).

Exodus 16:6-8

‘And Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “In the evening, then you will know that Yahweh has brought you out from the land of Egypt, and in the morning, then you will see the glory of Yahweh, in that he hears your murmurings against Yahweh. And what are we that you murmur against us?”. And Moses said, “So it will be when Yahweh will give you flesh to eat in the evening and bread to the full in the morning in that Yahweh hears your murmurings which you murmur against him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against Yahweh.” ’

Firstly Aaron, as the mouth of Moses, spoke to the children of Israel telling them that in the evening they would know that it was Yahweh, ‘the God Who is there to act’, Who had delivered them, and that in the morning they would see the revealing of His glory. Then Moses himself declared how Yahweh would reveal the significance of His name and His glory, in that in the evening they would have meat to eat and in the morning they would have bread to the full. This was His direct reply to their longings for the meat and bread of Egypt (Exodus 16:3). And it was because Yahweh had heard their murmurings against Him.

“Moses and Aaron.” Aaron speaks but he speaks the words of Moses. Yet his words are slightly enigmatic, so in the second part Moses clarifies them for the people. The repetition is a typical technique of ancient literature to bring home an important point to the listeners

“In the evening then you will know ---.” We could paraphrase what follows as - ‘you will know that it is YAHWEH Who has brought you out of the land of Egypt’. The thought is again of ‘knowing Yahweh’ (see on Exodus 6:3) as He is revealed in His beneficent provision of meat and plentiful bread in response to their murmurings against Him. Thus will they see His glory.

“What are we that you murmur against us?” They must realise that when they murmur against Moses and Aaron they murmur against Yahweh, for they as the mouthpieces are nothing, it is The Speaker Who matters. Thus Moses can warn them, ‘your murmurings are not against us but against Yahweh’.

“Flesh to eat --- bread to the full.” Compare ‘we sat by the flesh pots -- we did eat bread to the full’ (Exodus 16:3). This is God’s response. They may have both flesh and bread.

Yahweh Fulfils His Promise That They Will See His Glory and Receive Food From Heaven (Exodus 16:9-15 ).

Exodus 16:9

‘And Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, “Come near before Yahweh for he has heard your murmurings.”

Aaron again acts as Moses’ mouthpiece. It is a touching sign of Moses’ human weakness that he so often calls on Aaron to speak for him. At times he is bold but at others he feels insufficient (just as the Apostle Peter would be later). In view of the importance and prestige of Moses this delegating of the right to speak God’s instruction (God’s ‘law’) is significant and an evidence of the genuineness of the narrative.

“Come near before Yahweh.” This is a call to an act of worship, humility and submission in view of the fact that Yahweh had heard their murmurings. This would be connected with Yahweh’s visible, but hidden, presence in the cloud that accompanied them (see Exodus 16:10; compare Exodus 13:21-22) or possibly with the old Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11).

It is clear that the murmuring of the people were not looked on lightly. They were a clear sign of lack of faith and of unwillingness to face even the least hardship. They were indicative of ungrateful hearts and a desire for self-indulgence.

Exodus 16:10

‘And so it was that, as Aaron spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, they looked towards the wilderness, and behold, the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud.’

Being called to worship and humble submission the people look towards the cloud which revealed to them the presence of Yahweh (Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19; Deuteronomy 1:33), the cloud which led the way before them, which was nearby in the wilderness. Perhaps they had got too used to it and were seeing it as only a symbol. And ‘the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud’. In some way Yahweh revealed His glory in the cloud so that its appearance altered and for a while they became aware of His immediate and glorious presence.

Yahweh constantly revealed His presence to them by that cloud, and by the fire at night. It was a hidden presence and yet very real. But now for a time that presence was openly revealed and they saw something of His glory. This cloud would ascend Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 24:16) and would later descend on the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle) (Exodus 40:34-35), a reminder of the continuing presence of God. They were not aware of the fact but He was preparing them for the greater revelation of His glory on Mount Sinai.

“Looked towards the wilderness.” It was in the wilderness that He had first revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:1-2) and to the wilderness that they intended to go to worship Him (Exodus 3:18 and often). Thus at this stage it may be they saw the wilderness as being in a sense the dwelling-place of Yahweh.

Exodus 16:11-12

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying, “I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘In the evening you will eat flesh, and in the morning you will be filled with bread, and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God.’ ” ’

The constant reference to the murmurings (Exodus 16:2; Exodus 16:7-9; Exodus 16:12) shows how important they were seen to be. Their murmurings could not be treated lightly. And yet God graciously responds to them. He has heard their murmurings and yet there is no specific condemnation but an attempt to satisfy their needs. God is very patient with them. He recognises that they have to learn to know Him as the God Who acts.

“You shall know that I am Yahweh your God.” The knowing of Yahweh as He is, is a constant theme of Exodus (see Exodus 6:3). The provision of meat and bread in the wilderness will be absolute evidence of Who and What He is, the One Who is there and acts.

Notice the reversal in idea of Exodus 16:10 and Exodus 16:12 compared with Exodus 16:6 and Exodus 16:7. In Exodus 16:6 ‘you shall know that it is Yahweh who--’ and in Exodus 16:7 ‘you shall see the glory of Yahweh ---’. Here the glory of Yahweh is revealed in Exodus 16:10 and they will know that He is Yahweh in Exodus 16:12. But the revelation of the glory in Exodus 16:10 is not directly that in Exodus 16:6 for the latter would be in the morning when the bread from heaven came. Thus He reveals His glory in the cloud, then He reveals His glory in a different way in the giving of the bread from heaven.

Exodus 16:13-14

‘And so it was that in the evening quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay round the camp, and when the dew that lay had gone up, behold, on the face of the wilderness a small flake (or ‘round thing’), small as the hoar frost on the ground.’

This was the fulfilment of Yahweh’s promise, meat and bread to the full. For the ‘small flakes’ see on Exodus 16:4. The quails were a type of partridge, valued as a delicacy. In spring they migrate from Africa to the north and some, although not vast numbers, fly over the Sinai peninsula. They fly low and, tired with their long journey, will often land on the ground exhausted, when they are easy to catch. Here they ‘covered the camp’. Thus were the children of Israel able to fill their flesh pots. This was then followed the next day by the fall of small round flakes to the ground with the morning dew.

Exodus 16:15

‘And when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” (or ‘it is man’). For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the food which Yahweh has given you to eat.’

“They said ‘man hu”.’ The use of ‘man’ for ‘what’ is Aramaic rather than Hebrew although this may indicate that it was so used in early Hebrew. So the question ‘what is this?’ becomes the derivation for the name. Alternately this may be translated “this is ‘man’.” This might suggest that it resembled something they had known in Egypt, ‘man’ then being the transliteration of an Egyptian word. This would explain why they called this new thing ‘man’ (Hebrew for Manna - see Exodus 16:31). Alternately, as mentioned earlier, the Arabic for the plant lice was ‘man’. If this was so in early Hebrew this might explain the name if they recognised that as its source. But reading back from the Arabic is not always wise (even though sometimes it is all we have to help us).

Moses brings home the lesson, reminding them of how they had murmured against Yahweh. “It is the food which Yahweh has given you to eat.’ Rather than forsaking them He had provided in abundance.

Verses 16-18

‘This is what Yahweh has commanded. You gather of it every man according to his eating. An omer a head, according to the number of your persons you will take it, every man for those who are in his tent. And the children of Israel did so, some more, some less. And when they measured it out with an omer he who gathered much had nothing over and he who gathered little had no lack. They gathered every man according to his eating.’

The people are commanded by Yahweh to gather an omer of manna per head. But the fact that they may take according to their eating may suggest not so much the use of an exact measurement as an indication of the size of vessel to use per person. But ‘according to their eating’ may simply mean according to how many there are who will need to eat. For the overall impression is of an omer a head. And as it turned out that provided sufficiency for all with nothing left over.

“An omer.” This is only found here. It was probably a small bowl which contained the tenth part of an ephah (Exodus 16:36).

“An omer a head.” This exact measurement suggests that ‘every man according to his eating’ means according to the eating requirements of his whole family at an omer a head. That is, that he collected an omer for each family member, and not that every man gathered according to how much he wanted.

“They measured it out with an omer. He who gathered much had nothing over and he who gathered little had no lack. They gathered every man according to his eating.” This probably means that those who had large families and those who were only a small entity, both found that they had sufficiency. Some have suggested that it means that those who had gathered too much gave any excess to those who had not gathered enough.

Verses 16-18

‘This is what Yahweh has commanded. You gather of it every man according to his eating. An omer a head, according to the number of your persons you will take it, every man for those who are in his tent. And the children of Israel did so, some more, some less. And when they measured it out with an omer he who gathered much had nothing over and he who gathered little had no lack. They gathered every man according to his eating.’

The people are commanded by Yahweh to gather an omer of manna per head. But the fact that they may take according to their eating may suggest not so much the use of an exact measurement as an indication of the size of vessel to use per person. But ‘according to their eating’ may simply mean according to how many there are who will need to eat. For the overall impression is of an omer a head. And as it turned out that provided sufficiency for all with nothing left over.

“An omer.” This is only found here. It was probably a small bowl which contained the tenth part of an ephah (Exodus 16:36).

“An omer a head.” This exact measurement suggests that ‘every man according to his eating’ means according to the eating requirements of his whole family at an omer a head. That is, that he collected an omer for each family member, and not that every man gathered according to how much he wanted.

“They measured it out with an omer. He who gathered much had nothing over and he who gathered little had no lack. They gathered every man according to his eating.” This probably means that those who had large families and those who were only a small entity, both found that they had sufficiency. Some have suggested that it means that those who had gathered too much gave any excess to those who had not gathered enough.

Verses 19-20

‘And Moses said to them, “Let no man leave of it until the morning.” In spite of this they did not listen to Moses but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.’

Each days supply was to be for that day alone, and Moses ordered them not to leave any over until the morning. But some, having learned in the wilderness to preserve food supplies, were disobedient and kept some for the next day. Then to their horror they found it teeming with worms (or ants - the Hebrew word is a general one and can be used of ants or any number of wriggling creatures) and smelling. This counts against seeing it as the excretion of plant lice as, while that is gathered by ants, it does not smell horribly.

Verse 21

‘And they gathered it morning by morning, every man according to his eating, and when the sun grew hot it melted.’

Each morning they gathered an omer per person according to the number in each tent. And ‘when the sun grew hot it melted’. While this does not exclude ants as partly consuming it, it demonstrates that it was not mainly ants which disposed of it.

Verse 22

‘And it happened on the sixth day that they gathered twice as much food, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.’

The gathering of twice as much was in accordance with the instruction in Exodus 16:5. It is noteworthy that Moses was keeping a close watch on what was happening, for the ‘rulers’, the chiefs, reported back what was happening.

“The rulers of the congregation.” As with ‘children of Israel’ which was abbreviated to ‘Israel’ when applied genitivally to ‘the elders’ (Exodus 3:16; Exodus 3:18), so ‘all the congregation of the children of Israel’ can be abbreviated to ‘congregation’ when used genitivally with ‘the rulers’. The ‘rulers’ or ‘princes’ are the leaders of the sub-tribes (Numbers 2:3 etc). The ‘congregation’ means here the children of Israel as a whole.

The subject the rulers wanted to discuss was presumably as to what they should do about the extra that had been gathered. If they were fully familiar with the law of the Sabbath this is surprising as in that case they would have been expecting that food for the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before. (This is the first mention of the Sabbath in Scripture). Many therefore see this as suggesting that the Sabbath was not yet a recognised institution at this point in time. And this might be seen as backed up by Moses’ explanation. Note that he speaks of ‘a sabbath’ not ‘the Sabbath’.

Verse 23

‘And he said to them, “This is that which Yahweh spoke. Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy sabbath to Yahweh. Bake what you will bake and seethe what you will seethe and all that remains over lay up for yourselves to be kept until the morning.” ’

The impression given here is that Moses is imparting new information. He explains that the seventh day is to be a holy sabbath, and therefore also every seventh day after that. It may well therefore be that this is in fact the time when the regular seventh day sabbath was first established, in order to commemorate the giving of the Manna as something better than the bread of Egypt. Previously holy rest days had been mentioned (Exodus 12:16) although not called sabbaths.

Because it is a sabbath (shabbath) they are to rest on it. It is a holy rest (shabbathon). This would hardly need to be explained if they were familiar with it. Moses elsewhere tells us that the reason why God commanded the observance of the regular seventh day sabbath was because He had delivered them from the land of Egypt (in Deuteronomy 5:15). This also would tie in with a post-deliverance establishment of the Sabbath. The Creation account says nothing about the Sabbath.

“Shabbathon”, ‘a solemn rest’ is a word only used of observance of the Sabbath (shabbath).

So while no indication is specifically given as to whether this is a new observance on each seventh day or the perpetuation of what was already the custom, the probability seem to lie with the former. The sabbath has not previously been mentioned, and the only mention of a seventh day feast previously is Exodus 13:6 and there it would not in future be on the same day of ‘the week’ each year, as it was tied to the 14th-21st of Abib, and new moons did not follow an exact twenty eight day pattern. And in that feast there was also a special feast on the first day of the feast as well as the seventh. It may well be therefore that this incident of the Manna is the first establishing of the strict seven day week pattern and of the regular Sabbath. Previously they may simply have utilised periods of the moon for recording time, or simply followed the ways of the Egyptians.

Indeed had the Sabbath and the seven day week already been a well recognised feature we might have expected that those who broke it (Exodus 16:27) would be put to death (see Numbers 15:32-36). Instead they were only rebuked for having disobeyed the command not to gather.

It is also interesting to note that there is no specific emphasis here of doing no work, although it may possibly be seen as implied in Exodus 16:23 and Exodus 16:26-27, the latter only being stated, however, after the failure to observe the Sabbath. This may again be why they were only rebuked.

But its introduction was probably made easier by the fact that ‘seven days’ (not then directly related to our week) was often seen as a holy period (see Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:10; Genesis 8:10; Genesis 8:12; Genesis 8:22; Genesis 29:27-28; Genesis 50:10; Exodus 7:25; Exodus 12:15; Exodus 12:19; Exodus 13:6-7 and often). Seven was the number of divine perfection. Thus from now on their life was in a sense to be made up of many holy periods in which God provided their food. Instead of being controlled by sun and moon, their time was now divinely controlled.

It is true that in Genesis 2:1-3 God stopped working on ‘the seventh day’ from all His activity in creation, but that is not applied there to the requirement for man to observe it, and had it been a requirement when that was written we would have expected it to be mentioned. Nor is the seventh day there called the sabbath (although shabbath is related to shabath, to stop, be at a standstill, stop working which is used there). Later in Exodus 20:10 (see also Exodus 31:17) this example is given as proving that the idea of the seventh day was something which God has blessed but there is no necessary suggestion or indication that the sabbath itself was inaugurated at the time of creation. As we have seen, in Deuteronomy 5:14-15 it is the deliverance from Egypt that is given as the reason why God instituted the Sabbath. The bondmen had become free and in gladness and gratitude would honour Yahweh by dedicating a work-free day to Him.

Attempts have been made to link the sabbath with the Babylonian ‘sabbatum’, but that was on the day of the full moon and not a day of rest or cessation from work, (this is revealed by contract tablets), and they had a five-day week. Ceasing of work on certain days in the Assyrian period by certain limited important people such as kings and priests was simply due to a desire to ward off bad luck.

“Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil.” This makes clear that the Manna was cooked before eating. On the sixth day they would presumably do all the cooking, and set aside what had not been eaten for the morrow.

Verse 24

‘And they laid it up until the morning as Moses ordered them, and it did not smell nor was there any worm in it.’

When they laid up Manna for the seventh day it did not go bad. It may be that it had been cooked on the previous day and that that prevented this. (Cooking was certainly later forbidden on the Sabbath - Exodus 35:3).

Verse 25

‘And Moses said, “Eat that today. For today is a sabbath in honour of Yahweh. Today you will not find it in the surrounding area (field, countryside). Six days you will gather it, but on the seventh day is the Sabbath, in it there will be none.” And so it was that on the seventh day some of the people went out in order to gather, and they found none.’

No Manna could be gathered on the Sabbath because there was none available. It was ‘a Sabbath unto Yahweh’, a day of quietness for the purpose of honouring and worshipping Him. Yet inevitably some went out to see what they could find. But they found none as they had been told. There can be no explanation for this except the hand of Yahweh. It is a reminder that God often controls the natural, as He had done in Egypt, rather than doing spectacular miracles.

Verse 28

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?”

Yahweh rebukes the disobedient people through Moses but there is no penalty. This can surely only be because it was a new institution. The cry of Yahweh hear is reflected in every generation. How He longs that His people will obey Him.

Verses 29-30

“See. Because Yahweh has given you the Sabbath, that is why he gives you on the sixth day food for two days. Let every man of you remain in his place. Let no man go out of his place on the Sabbath day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.’

The purpose of the solemn Sabbath is so that every man will remain in his place, presumably his tent, although the minimum need for the tending of the herds and flocks will be necessary. This gives them a chance to rest and to think and to remember Yahweh’s doings. This is the primitive Sabbath. It would remind them of their bondage in Egypt and of the giving of the manna. Later these requirements would be amplified to forbid all forms of work.

“How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” The incident is seen as reminding Yahweh of the many times they have disobeyed Him. Once again they have set a command of His at variance. All the previous failures come flooding back. The rebuke is for their general attitude as revealed by the particular misdemeanour.

“Because Yahweh has given you the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was not to be seen as a hard duty but as a gift. Only those whose lives are those of constant toil can appreciate how great a gift it was in those days. Those who ignore it do so to their own disadvantage.

“So the people rested on the seventh day.” This would hardly need to have been stated if it was already the normal state of affairs. It was to be a new convention.

Verses 31-36

The Manna Preserved As a Memorial For the Future (Exodus 16:31-34 ).

Exodus 16:31

‘And the house of Israel called its name Manna (Hebrew ‘man’), and it was white like coriander seed, and its taste was like wafers made with honey.’

Note the unusual ‘house of Israel’, only found in Exodus here and in Exodus 40:38, but compare ‘house of Jacob’ which parallels ‘children of Israel’ (Exodus 19:3). It contains an extra emphasis that Israel are one ‘household’.

We may sum up the information about the Manna.

1). It was ‘white’, or creamy yellow coloured (like coriander, and bdellium - Numbers 11:7), and, when cooked, tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31), and like cakes baked in oil (Numbers 11:7-8). Different methods may have been fond for cooking them which may have altered the taste somewhat.

2). It was sufficient to replace the bread of Egypt which had filled them to the full (Exodus 16:3-4; Exodus 16:8). Psalms 78:24 calls it ‘corn from heaven’.

3). It had to be cooked (Exodus 16:23), after being ground in mills, making cakes of it (Numbers 11:8).

4). It was small and flaky (Exodus 16:14).

5). It melted in the sun (Exodus 16:21).

6). It went bad, wormy and smelly if kept raw overnight (Exodus 16:20) but possibly not if cooked (Exodus 16:23-24).

7). If Exodus 16:4 is to be taken literally it came down like the dew (Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:13-14).

8). It continued to provide for them for forty years (Exodus 16:35) (although not necessarily all the time) until they reached Canaan where it was replaced by the corn of the land (Joshua 5:12).

This tends to exclude the popular examples of what it was and where it came from but leaves room for a natural explanation with a miraculous element, which is typical of many Old Testament miracles.

Exodus 16:32

‘And Moses said, “This is what Yahweh has commanded. Let an omerful of it be kept for your generations that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.”

Moses now explains, presumably to the elders of the people, that Yahweh has commanded that an omerful (a day’s provision for one person) be kept as a reminder to future generations so that they might be able to see the food with which Yahweh had fed them in the wilderness when He had brought them forth out of the land of Egypt.

Yahweh’s Commandment Is Obeyed (Exodus 16:33-36 ).

Resulting from Yahweh’ previously expressed commandment to lay up an omerful for future generations Moses makes provision accordingly.

Exodus 16:33

‘And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a pot and put an omerful of Manna in it, and lay it up before Yahweh to be kept for your generations.”

As Yahweh had commanded, an omerful of the Manna was put by Aaron into a pot to be preserved for the future. This was probably cooked which helped to preserve it and prevent it from melting. If it was placed in an earthenware jar, possibly later replaced by a golden one (Hebrews 9:4), this would also help to keep it cool (or it may have been put in a gold one from the start). It was to be a permanent reminder of God’s miraculous provision. It was probably put in the old Tent of Meeting. It was later put in the Ark (Hebrews 9:4), but by the time of Solomon it had disappeared (1 Kings 8:9).

Exodus 16:34

‘As Yahweh commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony to be kept.’

“The Testimony” means ‘the record of God’s covenant with His people’. So even prior to the covenant of Sinai there is a ‘Testimony’ which was kept, presumably in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11) which would later be replaced by the Dwellingplace (Tabernacle). At this stage it may well have been a container or containers containing the various covenant documents with respect to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which would make up much of Genesis (which Moses may have been putting in more completed form, along with the history of Joseph), reminders of God’s covenant with His people, together with the laws formulated by Moses and backed by Yahweh (Exodus 15:25). Being kept in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7-11), they would provide a focus for worshippers who sought Yahweh, who would know that they were there and represented God’s covenants with His people. This would then later be replaced by the Ark of the Covenant which also contained a covenant record, this time the covenant of the ten words (The Ten Commandments). But the old container with its sacred associations would almost certainly be preserved.

By the time of Solomon the pot and any other sacred objects which were kept in the Ark, other than the two tables of stone, had been lost (1 Kings 8:9). But these records may in fact never have been put in the Ark, being preserved in some other way, possibly in their old container. The central focus then being on the Sinai covenant.

Alternately we may see this as saying that Aaron, having preserved the pot containing the Manna, later put it ‘before the Testimony’ to be kept. But it seems more probable that there was already something called the Testimony on which the later references were patterned, the new Testimony replacing the old in importance at the time of the founding of the new nation.

“The Testimony” initially means the record of God’s covenant with His people. Thus after the making of the covenant at Sinai the ‘ten words’ on the tablets of stone are called ‘the Testimony’ (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:21; Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15; Exodus 34:29; Exodus 40:20; Leviticus 16:13; Number 9:15; 10:11). Then the Ark of the covenant which contains them is called the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 25:22; Exodus 26:34; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 30:26; Exodus 31:7; Exodus 39:35; Exodus 40:3; Exodus 40:5; Exodus 40:21; Numbers 4:5; Numbers 7:89; Joshua 4:16) and then by abbreviation ‘the Testimony’ as containing and including the Testimony (Exodus 27:21; Exodus 30:36; Leviticus 24:3; Numbers 17:4). The Tabernacle is also called the Tent or Tabernacle of the Testimony (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:50; Numbers 1:53; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:11). This demonstrates the supreme importance later given to the Sinai covenant so that it was not felt necessary or important to mention the other records.

It is significant that we know nothing of objects around which worship centred in the centuries prior to the Tabernacle and its contents. Once they were replaced or amalgamated they ceased to be of importance in ancient eyes. But there must have been some central object, on which their worship focused. This may well have been the Tent of Meeting mentioned in Exodus 33:7-11, which probably contained sacred objects, and would contain among other things the ancient covenant records and the primitive statutes laid down by Moses (Exodus 15:25).

Exodus 16:35

‘And the children of Israel ate the Manna forty years until they came to an inhabited land. They ate the Manna until they came to the borders of the land of Canaan.’

The Manna came for forty years and at times the children of Israel got sick of it (Numbers 11:6). But we are not told that it came every day summer and winter alike although that is often the assumption (but see Nehemiah 9:20). The question is, if it did not what other supplies were there? They would, of course, eat meat from sacrificial offerings and they may have traded at various times for other food, especially when at Kadesh. They may well have spent some time at different places in the wilderness, and thus been able to some extent to grow their own crops, both in the more fertile parts of the wilderness, and later when travelling through Transjordan, for we are told so little about the thirty eight years in the wilderness that we do not know how long they remained at the various places visited. But certainly the Manna was there at the end as at the beginning (Joshua 5:12).

Note that the writer knows that they had been able to eat it for forty years up to the border of Canaan, but does not say that it ceased there. He is remembering the past but making no comment about the future, as we would expect if the record was made by Moses and he died shortly after.

The analysis reveals how there is in Moses’ mind a connection between the Sabbath rest and the entry into Canaan.

Exodus 16:36

‘Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.’

The omer is only mentioned in this passage. This may therefore be a learned note added by a later scribe when the omer had gone out of use, but the chiasmus suggests that it is an integral part of the narrative. ‘An omer’ may have been the name of a standard vessel regularly in use. An ephah was a large cereal measure large enough to hold a person (Zechariah 5:6-10) and was an exact measure (Leviticus 19:36), being one tenth of a homer (Ezekiel 45:11). Its liquid equivalent the bath could contain about twenty two or so litres.

Note to Christians.

The theme behind this passage appears regularly in the New Testament and is specifically referred to by Jesus Himself in John 6:0. We would expect this to be so for bread is regularly a symbol of spiritual life and blessing. In John 6:0 Jesus tells us that He had come as the bread of life, so that those who came to Him would never hunger, and those who believed on Him would never thirst. By receiving Him as the bread of God men receive eternal life through the Spirit. Compare also 1 Corinthians 10:3.

There may be times of drought when that Bread seems far away, but in those times we must remember that He is ever near, and that they are often allowed in order to test us and strengthen our faith. What we must not do is murmur like the Israelites do (although many of us have had times in our lives when we have fully understood them). For we can be sure that just as happened with the Israelites here, He will eventually come to us and show us His glory.

The theme of the Sabbath reminds us that in gratitude for His giving of Himself for us and to us we should ensure that we keep a time as set aside in which to serve Him and glorify Him. For the Sabbath was given for men’s benefit (Mark 2:27-28), although not to do as they liked with. He did not abrogate the Sabbath and we must remember that He, and He alone, is the Lord of the Sabbath. But later in the New Testament Paul stresses that it is not which day we keep that matters, but ensuring that we do have time set aside for Him (Romans 14:5-6). Whether Sabbath or Sunday (or any other day) Jesus made clear that such a day was for works of compassion as well as for worship. It is especially a day for doing good and remembering those worse off than ourselves.

End of note.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 16". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/exodus-16.html. 2013.