Manna and quails (Ex 16:1-16:36)

“The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim.  Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.   The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.  You have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”

They set out from Elim, into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They began to complain.  Would it not have been better to die in Egypt where they could eat bread whenever they were hungry?

“Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.  By this way I will test them whether they will follow my instructions or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’   So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of Yahweh, because he has heard your complaining against Yahweh.  For what are we, that you complain against us?’  Moses said, ‘Yahweh gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because Yahweh has heard your complaining that you utter against him.  What are we?  Your complaining is not against us but against Yahweh.’”

Yahweh told Moses that he was going to rain bread from heaven each day.  This was a test to see if they could follow instructions.   Moses warned that their complaining against him was actual complaints against Yahweh.

 “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, draw near to Yahweh, for he has heard your complaining.’   And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud.  Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaints of the Israelites.  Say to them, At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread.  Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, your God.’”

Aaron gathered all the people as the glory of Yahweh appeared in a cloud.  Yahweh told Moses that he had heard their complaints so that he was going to send meat and bread.  This way they would know that Yahweh was their God.

“In the evening quails came up and covered the camp.  And in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.   When the layer of dew lifted, there was on the surface of the wilderness a fine, flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.   When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’  They did not know what it was.  Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that Yahweh has given you to eat.  This is what Yahweh has commanded. `Gather as much of it as each of you need, an omer to a person according to the number of the persons for those in their own tents.’ The Israelites did so.  Some gathered more, some less.  But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.  They gathered as much as each of them needed. Moses said to them, ‘Let no man leave any of it over until morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses.  Some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul.  Moses was angry with them.  Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as each needed.  But when the sun grew hot, it melted.”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was layer of dew around the camp.   They were confused about the dew with its fine flaky substance.  Moses explained that it was bread.  Manna comes from the expression, what is that?  They had no confusion about the quails, although it is not clear whether they were dead or alive.  The quails seem to fly in at twilight and then let themselves be captured and eaten.  Then they went out to gather the bread, as much as they needed.  Whether you gathered a lot or a little, there was no shortage or overage. They were not to leave any of it until morning. But they did not listen to Moses.  Moses was angry with them.  Every morning they gathered it as much as they needed, but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

“On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece.  When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, ‘This is what Yahweh has commanded. Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to Yahweh.  Bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’   So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them.  It did not become foul, and there were no worms in it.  Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to Yahweh.  Today you will not find it in the field.  Six days you shall gather it.  But on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.’”

On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece.  An omer is nearly four quarts. On the Sabbath, the seventh day, there would be no heavenly bread.  The food from the day before would not rot.

“On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. Yahweh said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my instructions?  See! Yahweh has given you the Sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days.  Each of you stay where you are.  Do not leave your place on the seventh day.’   So the people rested on the seventh day.”

On the seventh day, some of the people went out to gather food and there was nothing.  Yahweh was mad at Moses, saying they were not keeping his instructions.  Once again, the emphasis on the Sabbath dominates.

“The the house of Israel called its name manna.  It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.  Moses said, ‘This is what Yahweh has commanded.  Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’   Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before Yahweh, to be kept throughout your generations.’  As Yahweh commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant for safe keeping.  The Israelites ate the manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land.  They ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.  An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.”

The text itself tries to explain what manna is, like a coriander seed, white, with the taste of honey.   Coriander is both a spice and an herb like cilantro.  Other commentators have called it a honey-dew excretion of insects that feed on a tamarisk tree.  Anyway, Moses wanted to keep an omer of this manna for future generations, in order that they may see the food that they ate in the wilderness. They took a jar with an omer of manna in it and placed it before Yahweh.  The Israelites ate this manna for 40 years.  In case you did not know, the text explains that an omer is a tenth of an ephah, roughly the equivalent to a bushel or 33 liters.


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