And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
The the wilderness of Sin - The desert tract, called Debbet er Ramleh, extend nearly across the peninsula from the Wady Nasb in a south-easterly direction, between the limestone district of Et Tih and the granite of Sinai. The journey from the station at Elim, or even from that on the Red Sea, could be performed in a day: at that time the route was kept in good condition by the Egyptians.
And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
Murmured - The want of food was first felt after six weeks from the time of the departure from Egypt, see Exodus 16:1 : we have no notice previously of any deficiency of bread.
And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
By the hand of the Lord - This evidently refers to the plagues, especially the last, in Egypt: the death which befell the Egyptians appeared to the people preferable to the sufferings of famine.
Flesh pots, and ... bread - These expressions prove that the servile labors to which they had been subjected did not involve privations: they were fed abundantly, either by the officials of Pharaoh, or more probably by the produce of their own fertile district.
Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
That I may prove them - The trial consisted in the restriction to the supply of their daily wants.
And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
It shall be twice as much - They should collect and prepare a double quantity.
And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt:
And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD; for that he heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us?
The glory of the Lord - the visible appearance described in Exodus 16:10.
And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.
And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the LORD: for he hath heard your murmurings.
And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
Appeared in the cloud - Or, "was seen in a cloud." The definite article would imply that the cloud was the same which is often mentioned in connection with the tabernacle. The people saw the cloud here spoken of beyond the camp.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.
And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
Quails - This bird migrates in immense numbers in spring from the south: it is nowhere more common than in the neighborhood of the Red Sea. In this passage we read of a single flight so dense that it covered the encampment. The miracle consisted in the precise time of the arrival and its coincidence with the announcement.
And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.
And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.
It is manna - "Man" or "man-hut," i. e. white manna, was the name under which the substance was known to the Egyptians, and therefore to the Israelites. The manna of the Peninsula of Sinai is the sweet juice of the Tarfa, a species of tamarisk. It exudes from the trunk and branches in hot weather, and forms small round white grains. In cold weather it preserves its consistency, in hot weather it melts rapidly. It is either gathered from the twigs of tamarisk, or from the fallen leaves underneath the tree. The color is a greyish yellow. It begins to exude in May, and lasts about six weeks. According to Ehrenberg, it is produced by the puncture of an insect. It is abundant in rainy seasons, many years it ceases altogether. The whole quantity now produced in a single year does not exceed 600 or 700 pounds. It is found in the district between the Wady Gharandel, i. e. Elim, and Sinai, in the Wady Sheikh, and in some other parts of the Peninsula. When therefore the Israelites saw the "small round thing," they said at once "this is manna," but with an exclamation of surprise at finding it, not under the tamarisk tree, but on the open plain, in such immense quantities, under circumstances so unlike what they could have expected: in fact they did not know what it really was, only what it resembled.
This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.
An omer - i. e. the tenth part of an Ephah, see Exodus 16:36. The exact quantity cannot be determined, since the measures varied at different times. Josephus makes the omer equal to six half-pints. The ephah was an Egyptian measure, supposed to be about a bushel or one-third of a hin. The word omer, in this sense, occurs in no other passage. It was probably not used at a later period, belonging, like many other words, to the time of Moses. It is found in Old Egyptian. See Leviticus 19:36.
And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.
Some more, some less - It is evidently implied that the people were in part at least disobedient and failed in this first trial.
And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
Had nothing over - Whatever quantity each person had gathered, when he measured it in his tent, he found that he had just as many omers as he needed for the consumption of his family.
And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.
Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them.
It bred worms - This result was supernatural: no such tendency to rapid decomposition is recorded of common manna.
And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.
It melted - This refers to the manna which was not gathered.
And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
Twice as much bread - See Exodus 16:5.
From this passage and from Exodus 16:5 it is inferred that the seventh day was previously known to the people as a day separate from all others, and if so, it must have been observed as an ancient and primeval institution.
And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.
Tomorrow ... - Or, Tomorrow is a rest, a Sabbath holy to Yahweh: i. e. tomorrow must be a day of rest, observed strictly as a Sabbath, or festal rest, holy to Jehovah.
Bake ... - These directions show that the manna thus given differed essentially from the natural product. Here and in Numbers 11:8 it is treated in a way which shows that it had the property of grain, could be ground in a mortar, baked and boiled. Ordinary manna is used as honey, it cannot be ground, and it melts when exposed to a moderate heat, forming a substance like barley sugar, called "manna tabulata." In Persia it is boiled with water and brought to the consistency of honey. The Arabs also boil the leaves to which it adheres, and the manna thus dissolved floats on the water as a glutinous or oily substance. It is obvious that these accounts are inapplicable to the manna from heaven, which had the characteristics and nutritive properties of bread.
And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.
And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field.
Eat that today - The practical observance of the Sabbath was thus formally instituted before the giving of the law. The people were to abstain from the ordinary work of every day life: they were not to collect food, nor, as it would seem, even to prepare it as on other days.
Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.
There went out some of the people - This was an act of willful disobedience. It is remarkable, being the first violation of the express command, that it was not visited by a signal chastisement: the rest and peace of the "holy Sabbath" were not disturbed by a manifestation of wrath.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?
How long - The reference to Exodus 16:4 is obvious. The prohibition involved a trial of faith, in which as usual the people were found wanting. Every miracle formed some part, so to speak, of an educational process.
See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
Abide ye every man in his place - The expression in Hebrew is unique and seems almost to enjoin a position of complete repose: "in his place" is literally under himself, as the Oriental sits with his legs drawn up under him. The prohibition must however be understood with reference to its immediate object; they were not to go forth from their place in order to gather manna, which was on other days without the camp. The spirit of the law is sacred rest. The Lord gave them this Sabbath, as a blessing and privilege. It was "made for man." Mark 2:27.
So the people rested on the seventh day.
And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
manna - It was not indeed the common manna, as they then seem to have believed, but the properties which are noted in this passage are common to it and the natural product: in size, form and color it resembled the seed of the white coriander, a small round grain of a whitish or yellowish grey.
And Moses said, This is the thing which the LORD commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt.
And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.
A pot - The word here used occurs in no other passage. It corresponds in form and use to the Egyptian for a casket or vase in which oblations were presented.
As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.
The Testimony - See the marginal references.
And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.
Did eat manna forty years - This does not necessarily imply that the Israelites were fed exclusively on manna, or that the supply was continuous during forty years: but that whenever it might be needed, owing to the total or partial failure of other food, it was given until they entered the promised land. They had numerous flocks and herds, which were not slaughtered (see Numbers 11:22), but which gave them milk, cheese and of course a limited supply of flesh: nor is there any reason to suppose that during a considerable part of that time they may not have cultivated some spots of fertile ground in the wilderness. We may assume, as in most cases of miracle, that the supernatural supply was commensurate with their actual necessity. The manna was not withheld in fact until the Israelites had passed the Jordan.
Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.