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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Exodus 16

2. Quails and manna in the wilderness of Sin ch. 16

This chapter records another crisis in the experience of the Israelites as they journeyed from Goshen to Mt. Sinai that God permitted and used to teach them important lessons.

Verses 1-3

The wilderness of Sin evidently lay in the southwestern part of the Sinai peninsula (Exodus 16:1). Its name relates to Sinai, the name of the mountain range located on its eastern edge. Aharoni believed that Paran was the original name of the entire Sinai Peninsula. [Note: Y. Aharoni, "Kadesh-Barnea and Mount Sinai," in God’s Wilderness: Discoveries in Sinai, pp. 165-70.]

This was Israel’s third occasion of grumbling (Exodus 16:2; cf. Exodus 14:11-12; Exodus 15:24). The reason this time was not fear of the Egyptian army or lack of water but lack of food (Exodus 16:3).

"A pattern is thus established here that continues throughout the narratives of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. As the people’s trust in the Lord and in Moses waned in the wilderness, the need grew for stricter lessons." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 273.]

Verses 4-12

The manifestation of God’s glory was His regular provision of manna that began the next day and continued for 40 years (Exodus 16:7). The glory of the Lord here was the evidence of His presence in the cloudy pillar (Exodus 16:10). This was probably a flash of light and possibly thunder, both of which later emanated from the cloud over Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:18).

Verses 13-21

"These [quail still] fly in such dense masses that the Arab boys often kill two or three at a time, by merely striking at them with a stick as they fly. . . . But in spring the quails also come northwards in immense masses from the interior of Africa, and return in autumn, when they sometimes arrive so exhausted, that they can be caught with the hand. . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:66-67.]

Egyptian art pictures people catching the birds in hand nets. [Note: Hannah, p. 134.]

The Hebrew word man, translated into Greek manna and transliterated from Greek into the English word "manna," is an interrogative particle that means "What?" The Greek word manna means "grain" or "bread." From this has come the idea that the manna was similar to bread. An omer is about two quarts dry measure (Exodus 16:16).

Jesus Christ compared Himself to the manna (John 6:33; John 6:47-51; John 6:53-58). It is a type (a divinely intended illustration) of Christ. Our Lord gave Himself unreservedly, but each Christian has no more of Him experientially than we appropriate by faith. Manna also represents Christ in His humiliation giving His flesh so we might have life (John 6:49-51). To meditate on Him is to feed on the true manna (John 6:38-40).

Students of Exodus have explained Exodus 16:18 in various ways. Some old Jewish commentators said it describes what happened when each family had finished collecting the manna and had gathered in their tent to pool their individual amounts. Then they discovered that they had collected just the right quantity for their needs. Some Christian commentators have suggested that the Israelites gathered all the manna each day in one central place and from there each family took as needed. There was always enough for everyone. The former explanation seems to fit the context better.

Verses 22-30

The Israelites had not observed the Sabbath or a day of rest until now (Exodus 16:23). This is probably one reason they did not immediately observe it faithfully as a special day. As slaves in Egypt they probably worked seven days a week. However, God was blessing them with a day of rest and preparing them for the giving of the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). This is the first reference to the Sabbath as such in Scripture.

Verses 31-36

Evangelical commentators generally have felt that the manna was a substance unique from any other edible food (Exodus 16:31). Some interpreters believe it was the sap-like secretion of the tamarisk tree or the secretion of certain insects common in the desert. [Note: E.g., F. S. Bodenheimer, "The Manna of Sinai," Biblical Archaeologist 10:1 (February 1947):2-6.] In the latter case the miracle would have been the timing with which God provided it and the abundance of it. Normally this sap only flows in the summer months. If this is the explanation, it was a miracle similar to the plagues, not totally unknown phenomena but divinely scheduled and reinforced. Even though there are similarities between these secretions and the manna, the differences are more numerous and point to a unique provision. [Note: Cf. Ellison, pp. 89-90; and Davis, pp. 181-83.]

The "testimony" was the tables of the Mosaic Law that Aaron later kept in the ark of the covenant (cf. Exodus 25:16). Moses told Aaron to preserve a pot of manna before the Lord’s presence (Exodus 16:33-34; cf. Numbers 17:10-11). [Note: See Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp. 274-75.] These physical objects memorialized God’s faithful provision of both spiritual and physical foods (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Israelites were not completely separate from other people during their years in the wilderness. As they traveled the caravan routes they would meet travelers and settlements of tribes from time to time. They evidently traded with these people (cf. Deuteronomy 2:6-7). Consequently their total diet was not just manna, milk, and a little meat, though manna was one of their staple commodities. [Note: See Itzhaq Beit-Arieh, "Fifteen Years in Sinai," Biblical Archaeology Review 10:4 (July-August 1984):28-54.]

God sought to impress major lessons on His people through the events recorded in this chapter. These included His ability and willingness to provide regularly for their daily needs and His desire that they experience His blessing. He gave them Sabbath rest to refresh and strengthen their spirits as well as ample, palatable food for their bodies: manna in the mornings and quail in the evenings.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-16.html. 2012.