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Exodus: Chapter 16

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1Setting out from Elim, the whole Israelite community came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. 2In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.”

4And the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day's portion—that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not. 5But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “By evening you shall know it was the LORD who brought you out from the land of Egypt; 7and in the morning you shall behold the Presence a Others “glory.” of the LORD, because He has heard your grumblings against the LORD. For who are we that you should grumble against us? 8Since it is the LORD,” Moses continued, “who will give you flesh to eat in the evening and bread in the morning to the full, because the LORD has heard the grumblings you utter against Him, what is our part? Your grumbling is not against us, but against the LORD!”

9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole Israelite community: Advance toward the LORD, for He has heard your grumbling.” 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole Israelite community, they turned toward the wilderness, and there, in a cloud, appeared the Presence of the LORD.

11The LORD spoke to Moses: 12“I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Speak to them and say: By evening you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; and you shall know that I the LORD am your God.”

13In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp. 14When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” b Heb. man hu; others “It is manna.” —for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. 16This is what the LORD has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat, an omer to a person for as many of you as there are; each of you shall fetch for those in his tent.”

17The Israelites did so, some gathering much, some little. 18But when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered as much as they needed to eat. 19And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20But they paid no attention to Moses; some of them left of it until morning, and it became infested with maggots and stank. And Moses was angry with them.

21So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it wouldmelt. 22On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, 23he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the LORD. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.” 24So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered; and it did not turn foul, and there were no maggots in it. 25Then Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath of the LORD; you will not find it today on the plain. 26Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.”

27Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. 28And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? 29Mark that the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you two days' food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no one leave his place on the seventh day.” 30So the people remained inactive on the seventh day.

31The house of Israel named it manna; a Heb. man. it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers b Meaning of Heb. ṣappiḥith uncertain. in honey. 32Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: Let one omer of it be kept throughout the ages, in order that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.” 33‐And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, put one omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept throughout the ages.” 34‐As the LORD had commanded Moses, Aaron placed it before the Pact, c Others “Testimony.” to be kept. 35‐And the Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a settled land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36The omer is a tenth of an ephah.

Notes:

a Others “glory.”

b Heb. man hu; others “It is manna.”

a Heb. man.

b Meaning of Heb. ṣappiḥith uncertain.

c Others “Testimony.”

Text Commentary view alone

16.1–36 :

Provision of food in the wilderness. This narrative is generally assigned to the Priestly source, but redundancies (such as God's two responses to the people's complaint [vv. 4–5 and 11–12 ]) and difficulties in the order (vv. 6–8 presuppose vv. 9–12 ) suggest the presence of a second source (JE) as well. Another episode in which God provides quail, which also refers to the manna, appears in Num. ch 11 ; it is in part a doublet of this episode.

1–3 :

A month after the exodus (Num. 33.3 ), having left the oasis of Elim and run low on food, the Israelites turn on Moses and Aaron and begin to idealize life in Egypt (cf. 14.11–12; Num. 11.5 ).

4 :

The people's need for food is real, but their accusatory complaint portends rebellion, so God determines to provide food subject to rules that test their obedience and trust (vv. 19–20, 25–29 ).

5 :

When it is apportioned, the manna collected on the sixth day will miraculously double and suffice for the next day as well. Cf. Lev. 25.20–22 . Apportion: Halakhic exegesis assigns the Heb word its more common meaning, “prepare,” and infers a general rule that cooked food for the Sabbath must be prepared before the Sabbath (b. Shab. 117b; b. Pes. 47b; b. Betzah 2b; see also v. 23 ).

6–7 :

Divinely provided food and the appearance of God's Presence will remind the people that, contrary to their charge in v. 3 , it was God, not Moses and Aaron, who took them from Egypt (cf. 15.6 n. , 17.17 n.) and that their complaints are really against Him. The Presence of the Lord, the visual form in which God appears to humans, usually described as fiery or as enveloped in cloud or fire (v. 10; 24.17; 40.34–38 ), though sometimes as a human form ( 33.18, 22; Ezek. 1.26–28 ). But since this is to happen in the morning, Rashi holds that this v. does not refer to the theophany of (vv. 9–10 but to the manna, which appeared in the morning (vv. 8, 12–13 ). In that case the Presence of the Lord refers to an act of providence or miracle that manifests His power, as in Num. 14.22; Ps. 96.3 .

8 :

Flesh…bread, in the form of quail and manna (v. 13 ).

9–10 :

Advance toward the Lord, perhaps toward the pillar of cloud/fire ( 13.21–22 ). If so, there, in a [or “the”] cloud, appeared the Presence of the Lord would seem to mean that His fiery Presence became more visible within the cloud.

12 :

You shall know that I the Lord am your God: See 7.5 n.

13 :

Quail: Quail migrating, often in great numbers, between Africa and Europe in the spring and fall often drop exhausted in the Sinai and are caught by hunters. This experience was repeated in Num. 11.31–32 but did not become a regular occurrence as did the manna. The quail were not a supernatural phenomenon, but their timely appearance at God's promise was an act of divine providence.

14 :

A fine and flaky substance, named manna in v. 31 . If this has a natural explanation, it is probably the sweet, edible honeydew (still called “manna” in Arabic) found in parts of the Sinai in June and July. Scale insects and plant lice ingest the sap of tamarisk trees and excrete it onto the branches, from which it crystallizes and falls to the ground as sticky solids. Bedouin use it as a sweetener. If this was the manna, the miracle was that it arrived just when the Israelites needed it, that enough was produced to feed the entire people but never more than an ‘omer (about 2.3 liters, 2.1 quarts [dry measure]) per person daily, that it doubled on the sixth day and did not appear on the Sabbath, and that contrary to its natural pattern it appeared year‐round.

16 :

Omer: See v. 36 .

19 :

Using up the manna before morning shows trust that God will provide more the next day (hence Moses' anger in v. 20 ).

21–30 :

The Sabbath. Since God observes the Sabbath, He will not provide manna on the seventh day but will provide a double portion on the sixth day and Israel will observe the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath, having been “created” in Gen. ch 2 , is first revealed to Israel here.

22 :

See v. 5 n. Told Moses, of the mysterious fact that the day's yield turned out to be double the amount of food (Heb “leḥem mishneh,” lit. “double the bread”). This v. is the source of the Jewish custom of placing two loaves of bread (called “leḥem mishneh”) on the table at the main Sabbath and festival meals.

23 :

Day of rest…sabbath, Heb “shabbaton…shabbat.” Both Heb terms literally refer to “cessation” of activity. The seventh day is a day of cessation from normal labor ( 20.10 ), such as gathering and cooking food, because it is a holy day of cessation to God: He does not provide manna on it because He ceased creative activity on it, blessed it and declared it holy (Gen. 2.1–3 ). Bake…and boil…: cf. Num. 11.8 . And all that is left put aside…: This means either “cook today for two days, and save what you don't eat today for tomorrow” (Rashi) or “cook what you will eat today and eat the rest raw tomorrow” (Ibn Ezra).

28 :

Refuse to obey My commandments…: Unless this means simply that they refused to believe that there would be no manna on the Sabbath, it must mean that they violated the implicit command not to go out for manna on the Sabbath (vv. 25b–26 ) or the explicit command to eat the manna that was kept overnight (v. 25a ).

29 :

Given you the sabbath: God has given the Sabbath, previously holy only to Him (Gen. 2.1–3 ), as a gift to Israel. Let no one leave his place, to gather manna. Rabbinic exegesis saw here a broader prohibition on all Sabbath travel and inferred that one may not walk more than 2,000 cubits (roughly 1,000 meters, 3,000 feet) beyond the city limits on the Sabbath. This distance (based on Num. 35.5 ) is called the “Sabbath boundary” (“teḥum shabbat”).

31 :

Named it manna (Heb “man”), playfully reinterpreting their original question, “what (Heb ‘man') is it?” (v. 15 ), as a declaration, “it is ‘man.’” In essence, then, the term means “whatchamacallit” and expresses the manna's unprecedented character in Israelite experience. Tasted: Num. 11.8 , a different tradition, says “it tasted like rich cream” and notes various ways to prepare it. This gave rise to the rabbinic tradition that the manna had many different tastes, suiting the palate of each person.

32–34 :

One day's portion of manna is to be preserved as a future reminder of God's care for the Israelites in the wilderness. Cf. Lev. 23.42–43 .

34 :

Before the Pact, before the Ark of the Pact ( 25.10–22 ), P's term for the Ark of the Covenant (Num. 10.33; Josh. 3.6 ); the suggestion is that the jar of manna stored in front of the Ark could be taken out to show to future generations.

35 :

Until they came to the border of the land of Canaan, see Josh. 5.10–12 .

36 :

Ephah, about 23 liters (21 quarts).

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