Read the Passage: Exodus 16
As the narrative in this chapter begins, Israel had been on their wilderness trek for roughly 30 days (cf. Exod. 12:18; 16:1). Naturally, the provisions the people had carried out of Egypt were beginning to run out. Since they had found no food in the wilderness, at Exod. 16:1–3 Israel began to complain to Moses, as they had done earlier (cf. Exod. 14:11; 15:24). Almost unbelievably, the people proclaimed, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exod. 16:3). In short, the people were being nostalgic, yearning for “the good old days” of their captivity in Egypt. What the people didn’t realize is that our view of the past is always tainted by the mind’s tendency to sanitize memories and emotions (cf. Eccl. 7:10).
Despite the peoples’ self-righteous grumbling, the Lord graciously purposed to provide bread for the nation. Yet, the provision of bread—or, more specifically, God’s directions for gathering the manna—would constitute a test, of sorts, of the people. Here God told Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.” (Exod. 16:4). The narrative later reports that this test consisted of the people faithfully gathering manna for six days, and refraining from gathering on the Sabbath (cf. Exod. 16:26). Observe Moses’ later reflection on this event, “The Lord . . . fed you with manna . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:2–3).
At Exod. 16:2 it is recorded that the people “complained against Moses.” In fact, in Exod. 16:6–12 it is reiterated six times that Israel complained or grumbled about their condition. Yet, significantly, in the midst of this passage Moses declared to the people, “The Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord” (Exod. 16:8). While the Lord’s anger over this grumbling is not explicitly stated in this passage, in reflecting upon the people’s complaints, the psalmist Asaph later wrote, “They tested God in their hearts by asking for the food of their fancy. . . . Therefore, the Lord heard this and was furious; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation” (Ps. 78:18, 21–22).
Exod. 16:13-21 records the actual provision of food for the people, which consisted of both quail and manna. The quail are only mentioned in this chapter at Exod. 16:13 (cf. Ps. 105:40). The provision of quail seems to have been an isolated event during this part of the exodus; however, we learn in Num. 11:31 that God later provided quail again when the nation had departed from Sinai, which was roughly a year later (cf. Num. 10:11). It seems likely that the provision of quail on both occasions was an act of divine judgment (cf. Ps. 78:26–31). Note that the later provision of quail was the result of the people’s complaint about only having manna to eat (cf. Num. 11:9). The people’s grumbling here is quite brash, for the manna is described as “angels’ food” (Ps. 78:25a), could satiate the people (cf. Ps. 78:25b), and could be prepared in many different ways (cf. Exod. 16:23).
Exod. 16:22–30 gives the details of the people’s gathering of the manna, the provision of which is recorded in the preceding verses. It is important to note that “some of the people” (Exod. 16:27) failed the test of manna collection described earlier at Exod. 16:4. Specifically, the people went out to collect manna on the Sabbath day, which they had been told not to do. This defiance resulted in a rebuke from the Lord (cf. Exod. 16:28–29). Note that the Lord was angered by the peoples’ disobedience, but more importantly it was a symptom of their own self-reliance and failure to trust in God’s salvation (cf. Ps. 78:22). Self-idolatry is always behind mankind’s sinful acts. Significantly, in Exod. 16:31–36 the Lord commanded that a sample of manna be collected and kept as a reminder to future generations of God’s provision for His people.
- Is Israel’s complaining about their circumstances unreasonable? Do modern Christians act any differently when faced with difficult situations?
- In what ways can nostalgia be sinful? What can we learn from the universal desire to return to “the good old days” (cf. Matt. 13:16–17; John 8:56; 1 Pet. 1:10–12)?
- Do you find it more difficult to trust God when you are flourishing or when you are in need (cf. Phil. 4:10–13)? When does our working become self-reliance?
- If some people gathered much manna, and others gathered very little, how did each person end up with just the right amount (cf. 2 Cor. 8:15)?
- How important is it that we set up landmarks, or keep mementos, in our lives to remind us of God’s past provision?