The children of Israel continued their journey setting out from Elim towards Sinai and came to the wilderness of Sin. Elim was a beautiful oasis consisting of twelve springs and seventy palm trees that provided much needed refreshment. Now their food supplies ran precariously low and they were hungry, irritable and anxious.
For those interested in the route of the Exodus, the wilderness of Sin should not be confused with the wilderness of Zin which is diagonally opposite and located in Southern Israel. Sin most probably relates to Sinai and is located in the southwest Sinai peninsula. Numbers 33 recounts the various stops en route and clearly differentiate between their respective locations (Numbers 33:5-11, 36).
It was not long before Moses received his first complaint as apparently it would have been better to die in Egypt with full bellies than starve in the wilderness. What was going on behind the scenes considering the provision at Elim and the Exodus from Egypt? In view of Egypt’s undesirable conditions this remark was probably an outburst of biting and bitter sarcasm.
Tur Ha Aroch notes that on the realisation that they were advancing further into the desert, it would be deemed more preferrable to die in a place of dignity.[i] He has a point considering that Abraham carefully purchased a burial plot for Sarah (Genesis 23:1-20) and Joseph fulfilled his duty to Jacob by burying him in Abraham’s cave (Genesis 50:1-14). Joseph himself made instructions for his bones to be carried. Moses took Joseph’s bones in Exodus 13:19 and in Joshua 24:32 we discover that his bones were placed in Shechem in the piece of land that Jacob bought.
The bread from heaven
The Lord was about to rain bread from heaven to test whether they would walk in His law or not. This test has striking similarities to that of Elim in the previous chapter (Exodus 15:25b-26). If we fail to listen and obey the Lord, He may well permit us to pass through a similar test until we learn to trust and obey Him in that area. Israel would continue in the desert for forty years and would continue to complain. Wiersbe notes that sadly their request was granted since the older generation would die in Egypt and never entered the Promised Land.[ii]
Yet despite all the complaining, ingratitude and rebellion, the Lord graciously provided for them. When the children of Israel prepared food on the sixth day they would be able to prepare a double quantity which would last an extra day enabling them to enjoy Sabbath rest and fellowship. In the evening they would know that the Lord brought them out of Egypt and in the morning, they would see His glory! In the evening they would have meat and then in the morning bread would be provided.
Their groaning was directed towards Moses and Aaron, though Moses and Aaron explained to them, that it was actually directed against the Lord. Grumbling against those leading a congregation often takes place behind the scenes and is frequently about trivial if not secondary matters. Sometimes the grumbling arises through misunderstanding or ignorance or those with little control over their tongues. Some will try to justify their complaints via Scripture out of context and out of resentment. If you find yourself grumbling in such a way, remember that you might be grumbling against the Lord.
And so in the evening the quail arrived and the next morning manna was given. Notice there is more attention given to the description and detail surrounding the manna instead of the quail. There is much speculation about the identity of the manna but it would be helpful firstly to consider the following. They did not know what it was and it was the bread that the Lord gave them. If they left part of it till morning it bred worms and stank. The Lord commanded a pot of it to be kept throughout the generations and in Psalm 78:25 the manna is described as ‘angel’s food.’ If we apply those criteria, we can quickly rule out fanciful speculation concerning the sustenance available in that region some of which at least is seasonal.
Some listened to Moses and some left part of it until morning and it bred worms and stank. I remember organising an annual weekend away and reiterating that we had catered easily enough for the party and each year we would have more than enough left over and then some. If in times of plenty people still panic buy, so how much more will people desperately stock up in time of perceived need?
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread and it was a helpful reminder for them to take a step of faith each week and obey the Lord and trust in Him to provide for their needs. Nonetheless some went out to gather on the seventh day and found no sustenance. Over the course of forty years they would increasingly learn to depend on the Lord. Furthermore their clothing did not wear out either. When the Lord is directing your path, He will take care of your daily needs.
Keeping an omer of manna was early preparation for the Ark of the Testimony, the Tabernacle and the law. They were just a couple of stops away from Mount Sinai where the Lord would give Moses the Ten Commandments. These wonderful provisions foreshadowed Messiah who tabernacled among us and who is the bread of life.
The bread of life
In John 6 there are several direct links and allusions to the bread from heaven in Exodus 16. This is to reveal the identity of Messiah and show the reader how they can respond to Him. The Lord used Moses to explain what the manna was to feed the hungry children of Israel. The Lord Jesus fed the five thousand who needed bread.
Jesus fed the five thousand at Passover and Moses led the children of Israel at the first Pesach. But at this Pesach Jesus would demonstrate that He is the bread of life. In Exodus 16:4, the Lord rained bread from heaven to test the children of Israel to see whether they would walk in His law or not. In John 6:5-6, the Lord tested Philip concerning where they would obtain their bread. The disciples had neither enough money nor bread. When Jesus the Messiah fed the five thousand the verdict was that this was the Prophet (like Moses) who is come into this world (John 6:14 ; c.f. Deuteronomy 18:15-22).
Astonishingly the Lord and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee and on the way there Jesus walked on water. The crowd that remained crossed the Sea too and found Him at Capernaum. He explained to them that they were seeking Him for their superficial desire for food, not for the signs He performed and that they needed to believe in Him.
Today there are some who are always looking for signs and others that appear to be spiritual though their real motive is the gift rather than the Giver or life. The gospel is not “God has a wonderful plan for your life’ but centres around trusting in the Author of Life. The message is the same then as it is now and that is to repent and trust in the Lord and you will be saved and have eternal life.
Incredulously the crowd asked Jesus to perform a sign and made a reference to their fathers eating the manna in the wilderness. The previous day He had fed the five thousand and they wanted a sign. Maybe they wanted a whole nation to be fed? No more signs were needed so Jesus expounded to them that He is the bread of life.
In Exodus 16 the children of Israel grumbled and in John 6 the grumbling resumed. The Messiah had demonstrated His identity by fulfilling prophecy and performing signs. All they had to do was to believe in Him. Their fathers had eaten the manna in the wilderness and they died but the bread that He offered from eat would give them eternal life. Our Lord gave Himself so that those who believe in Him might never hunger again.
The daily bread
In Exodus 16, the children of Israel had manna every day. In the Lord’s prayer a request is made for ‘daily bread’ . We must regularly go to the Lord and the Scriptures rather than constantly seeking signs and indulging our carnal aspirations. We must not rely on experiences but the word of God. Every time we read the Bible God is communicating His truth to us and we must pray for understanding and the will and desire to obey Him and be transformed by it.
Our devotional times are like daily bread and we must feed on the word of God. We cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. Seven days without prayer makes one weak, seven days without reading the Bible makes one weak and seven days without fellowship also makes one weak!
What would your physical appearance look like if food did not exist but if you were solely nourished by God’s word? Would you be emaciated and on the verge of collapsing, or well nourished and full of spiritual life and vigour?
We must prioritise our devotional times and set aside a time and commit to it. If you missed a meal, it would make no sense to berate oneself and miss the next meal, so it is vital that we go to the Lord for heavenly manna. Go to the bread of life and keep feeding on Him and you will never hunger again.
[i] Tur Ha Aroch on Exodus 16 Sefaria.Org https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaArokh%2C_Exodus.16.7.2?ven=Tur_on_the_Torah,_trans._Eliyahu_Munk&vhe=Perush_al_ha-Torah,_Hanover,_1838&lang=bi
[ii] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary Old Testament (David C Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p171