These are some of my notes for Sunday April, 11, 2010 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible Series
The book referenced here is Exodus: New American Commentary, by Douglas Stuart
As the Israelites had left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month, and are noted in 16:1 as arriving at the desert of Sin on the fifteenth day of the second month, they’ve been on the road exactly a month when this incident happened. They were moving south along the Gulf of Suez, probably following a long established road Egyptian miners used in expeditions during the months of January to March. Now in April to early May, the Israelites would not have met anyone.
Even an established road could be perilous for a very large party to travel, as the Israelites certainly were. Whatever supplies they had left Egypt with were likely running low, and while they had various cattle, they were a renewable resource (milk, breeding) the Israelites would hesitate to slaughter except at the direst need. One suspects the Israelites’ grumbling was not so much that they were starving, but rather at the point of “if this keeps up”.
16:3 is the first time the Israelites use the “if only we had died in Egypt” complaint, but it won’t be the last (Num 11:4,18; 14:2; 20:3; Josh 7:7). Obviously they didn’t want to die, but considered death in the wilderness slower and more painful perhaps than the plagues of Egypt.
Pots of meat and bread: Thanks to the Nile Egypt was the Middle East’s bread basket, a source of overabundant crops. The Israelites as shepherds and laborers would have been provided well with food, if only to keep up with their labors for the Egyptians. This is the sort of “good old days” thinking people commonly have when faced with a crisis.
Needless to say, the Israelites had yet to learn the believer’s first lesson: That God is the source of all things, and He faithfully provides His people with what they need.
God’s solution to the food crisis thus addresses both the food problem and the spiritual one: “Bread from heaven” would both feed the Israelites and teach them where their true provision came from: God in heaven.
The test (Hebrew nasa, “test, try, prove”) God mentions is a sort of preliminary to Sinai, obscured in many a translation, because “follow my instructions” is literally “walk in my law”. Thus the Israelites’ capacity to follow the rules regarding manna are a little step toward learning to follow the much larger set of laws given at Sinai.
Verse10 gives the preliminary to this portion of the lesson passage. Aaron is summoning the people before God, at which point the “glory of the LORD” appears in the cloud. This glory is hard to pin down. Sometimes it is like a blinding light(Ex 24:16-17) and sometimes it is more an incense-like cloud, a sort of fog (Ex 40:35). The idea seems to be that whatever the manifestation, it is something that overwhelms the vision of the beholder(s).
The LORD then tells Moses who either speaks himself or tells Aaron to pass on God’s message. He has heard the Israelites (heard in this archaic sense is more than hearing sound with ears. It means the hearer has accepted what is being said and will act upon it).
“Eat meat” and “be filled with bread” are parallel. God would provide more than enough food for the Israelites morning and night.
This is the only mention of quail, which are presumably a one-time treat, as it were, for the Israelites, to relieve the hunger they groan about before God puts them on His manna diet. In ancient times meat wasn’t able to be preserved for long, so one ate a killed animal quickly. The large number of quail is conveyed by the fact that they “covered” the camp.
“What is it” in Old Hebrew is “man hu”, which became “man” and formed the basis for our “manna”. To this day no one knows exactly what it is, as the several naturalistic explanations do not fit all the characteristics given for the biblical manna, especially its tendency to last one a day most of the week but two days around the Sabbath . It may have been formed of separate flakes, or larger sheets that flaked off when grasped.
This verse can be taken as a sort of mini-miracle story, but the miracle is not so much in the collection of the proper amount (because in 16:16 the amount is specified) than in the capacity of that standard amount to feed men, women, and children alike.
The measure translated “quarts” in the HCSB is the “omer”, about two quarts. We know this from deduction made from ephah jars found at the archaeological site at Lachish. The ephah is about ten omers (Ex. 16:36), and these ephah jars were found to hold about twenty quarts.
One person’s daily ration of manna (one omer/two quarts) were ordered to be kept as a sign of God’s provision. Verse 34 seems to indicate the manna’s eventual home, within the very Ark of the Covenant, with the tablets of the Law and Aaron’s rod. Exactly where the manna jar was kept before the construction of the Ark (Ex 25:1-22; 37:1-9) is a good question.
A second question is how the Israelites saw the specific manna jar and its contents, once it was inside the Ark? Stuart suggests that the high priest might have been allowed to open the ark during travels when the Tabernacle was not set up, or the contents of the Ark might have been brought out for display during religious festivals.