God feeds his people. 16:1-35


Again our author relates a foundational story that serves to shape the ongoing life of the people of Israel. This time it concerns the miraculous provision of food during the wilderness journey.

The passage

v1-3. We are given an itinerary for the journey which today we are unsure of. The people either journeyed by the sea, or by an inland route. Our writer is focused on who leads them rather than their exact route. We are again informed of Israel's murmuring (their constant blaming of Moses, their little faith and their desire for the "fleshpots of Egypt"). On this occasion Moses is accused of destroying the nation of Israel. The writer views the complaint as an expression of pure selfishness. They want "bread aplenty", not just bread.

v4-5. The Lord speaks with Moses. He ignores the murmuring of Israel and promises to provide heavenly food for the journey. Israel is constantly putting the Lord to the test, now the Lord does the testing. Will they accept his promise?

v6-8. Moses speaks with Israel. The people will see God in two signs. They will be fed meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The complaint of the people is that Moses has led them into the wilderness with ill intent. As far as Moses is concerned, the people's complaint is really against God; they are trying to conceal their unbelief by directing their complaint toward him.

v9-12. Aaron gathers the people and the Lord reveals himself to them in a wilderness theophany. Through Moses, the Lord promises to satisfy their grumbling.

v13-21. The writer now records the miracle. The gift of meat is mentioned only once, so we should take it as a one-off gift. The bread from heaven comes daily. It is like thin flakes of frost and is given the name "Manna". Everyone is to gather one omer (aprox. 2 liters) per person. A social principle of sharing applies so that "he who gathered little did not have too little". The sharing is also part of the miracle in that each person ends up with one omer. Those who fail to trust the Lord's promise to supply the Manna each morning find their extra supply rotten by the next day.

v22-30. We are now given an insight into the sabbath. On the sixth day the people gather twice as much manna. Moses explains this miracle of provision in terms of the sabbath regulations. The people are to take their ease and enjoy this special day. Some, of course, go looking, but find nothing. Once again the theme of God's testing shows up Israel's weak faith; they fail to trust His provision.

v31-35. The bread from heaven, which God continued to supply to the people until they entered the promised land, is again named and described both in taste and appearance. Numbers 11 said it had the "taste of cakes baked in oil." This description has never been reconciled with the one given here. The Rabbis concluded that it changed in flavour to suit each person's taste.



We are told that a jar of manna was preserved "before Yahweh", "before the Testimony." The Ark was not yet constructed, but our writer is more interested in theology than chronology. The jar of manna served as a witness of God's gracious kindness and stood in his presence as a reminder to the people.

Spiritual food

The Rabbis used the story of Israel's miraculous feeding in the wilderness to illustrate God's care for his people in the midst of difficult times. The provision of manna demonstrated God's love for Israel, a love that remained firm despite their little faith.

The New Testament writers had little concern with the physical properties of manna, rather they saw it as a sign of God's grace. The manna was incapable of supplying the Israelites with genuine life, eternal life, for that generation perished in the wilderness. Yet, the manna did serve to illustrate the gift of God's saving grace, a reality now found in Christ.

The prophets understood that the historic kingdom of Israel was fatally flawed. It would not survive, and the people would again find themselves slaves in an alien land. Yet, the Lord would lead them out of slavery and again feed them in the wilderness. After the Babylonian exile, the people of Israel did journey home to Palestine, but the restored kingdom was a poor shadow of Solomon's kingdom. The prophecies of the new Israel can only find their fulfillment in Jesus. He, the representative Israel, is tested forty days in the wilderness. Unlike Israel of old, he stands the test, does not grumble and does not lose faith. As he reminds Satan, "man shall not live by bread alone." Like Israel of old, in the face of his testing the angels minister to him. Then there is that crowd wondering hungry in the wilderness, and Jesus, the new Moses, feeds them from virtually nothing. Jesus himself becomes the divine source of heavenly food. Finally, John in his gospel, 6:31-58, tells us that Christ is himself the heavenly food and drink. The image of eating and drinking his body and blood serves to illustrate our coming to Jesus and believing in him.

The imagery of God's provision for his people in the wilderness, comes with a warning. We must not forget that Israel "ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink", but forfeited that grace and perished in the wilderness. Let us not lose faith, cf. 1Cor 10:1-13.


Explain how the Exodus is an image of God's grace.

[Seed logo]  
[Printer icon]   Print-friendly: Sermon Notes.

Index of studies: Resource library
[Pumpkin Cottage]
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons