Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The journey to the wilderness of Sin. Manna and Quails given
In the main from P, with short passages from the parallel narrative of J. The marks of P are particularly evident in the parts assigned to him in the text: some (not all) are pointed out in the notes. The general representation is the same in both narratives: but only P mentions the quails (in J the quails are given later, after a complaint of the monotony of the manna, Numbers 11:4-34), and only J the disobedience on the seventh day of some of the people (vv. 27–30). Both narratives bring the gift of manna into connexion with the sabbath, and make it an occasion for inculcating its observance (vv. 22–26; 27–30); J also (v. 4b, cf. v. 28) makes it a means of testing Israel’s obedience. Vv. 33 f., if not vv. 9 f. (see the notes) as well, presupposing the existence of the Tent of Meeting, seem to indicate that P’s account of the manna (v. 2 ff.) stood originally at a later point in his narrative (Bä.), after the erection of the Tabernacle had been described, perhaps (Ew. Hist. ii. 174; Di. p. 165 , and on v. 2; Kittel), after Numbers 10. Cf. S. A. Cook, Jewish Quart. Rev. 1906, p. 742 ff.
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.1. the congregation] P’s standing expression (Exodus 12:3). So v. 2 &c.
the wilderness of Sin] Exodus 17:1, Numbers 33:11-12†. In Numbers 33:10 the people are said to have halted, between Elim and the wilderness of Sin, at the Red Sea. Accepting the oasis in W. Gharandel as Elim (on Exodus 15:27), the ‘Red Sea’ station can hardly have been anywhere but at or near the mouth of Wâdy Ṭaiyibeh,—perhaps in the littoral plain of el-Murkheiyeh, just beyond it. There is no passage along the coast from W. Gharandel to W. Ṭaiyibeh, the abrupt projecting cliffs of the lofty Jebel Ḥammam Far‘un (‘Mountain of Pharaoh’s Bath,’—1570 feet) effectually stopping it: the Israelites, if they came in this direction, must have retraced their steps up the W. Gharandel to the point where (see on Exodus 15:26) W. Hawwârah enters it (Ordn. Surv. 75, 76), and then have turned to the right for 12 miles over the desert uplands at the back of J. Ḥammam Far‘un, till they arrived at the top of W. Shebeikeh (the ‘Wâdy of network’), by which they could descend, ‘through an amazing labyrinth of chalky hillocks and ridges,’ to the head of W. Ṭaiyibeh, and so pass straight down to the coast—in all 21 miles (O.S. 156). In W. Ṭaiyibeh, a little above its mouth, there are a few brackish springs, with some stunted palms growing near them (O.S. 81).
From the mouth of W. Ṭaiyibeh there are two principal routes to Jebel Serbâl and Jebel Mûsâ—one, the northern route, back up to the head of W. Ṭaiyibeh again (4 miles), then to the right along the W. Ḥamr (18 miles), to the long upland plain called Debbet er-Ramleh (the ‘Plain of sand’), and thence through a succession of mountain valleys to either J. Mûsâ or J. Serbâl; the other, the coast route, on to the broad flinty plain of el-Markhâ, and then, either leaving this plain on the E., up the Seiḥ Sidreh, and afterwards along the W. Mukatteb into the Wâdy Feiran, or else keeping along the coast for 7 miles beyond the SE. end of el-Markhâ, and there ascending the W. Feiran from its mouth,—in either case, the W. Feiran leading on to both Serbâl and J. Mûsâ. Knob., followed by Keil and Canon Cook, advocated the former of these routes, supposing the ‘wilderness of Sin’ to be the Debbet er-Ramleh. But, if the Israelites were already on the ‘Red Sea’ (Numbers 33:10), at the mouth of W. Ṭaiyibeh or beyond, the latter is much the more natural route for them to have followed (so Rob. i. 73, 120; and the members of the Ordnance Survey Expedition): in this case el-Markhâ will be the wilderness of Sin. But it must be admitted that neither Debbet er-Ramleh nor el-Markhâ is at all naturally described, as a glance at the map will shew, as ‘between’ Elim and Sinai, at least if Elim be in the W. Gharandel.
And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:2. murmured] Exodus 15:24, Exodus 17:3.
2, 3. The people’s murmurings: they would rather have died suddenly by Jehovah’s hand in Egypt, in the enjoyment of plenty, than have been thus brought, by the fault of their leaders, to a lingering and painful death in the wilderness.
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.3. Would that, &c.] Cf. the similar wish, and similar complaint, in Numbers 20:3-5; also ch. Exodus 14:11-12.
by the flesh pots, &c.] Cf. the picture in Numbers 11:5.
4, 5 (J). Jehovah promises that He will give the people bread from heaven. The promise here, it is to be noted, relates only to the ‘bread’ (i.e. the manna); the ‘flesh between the two evenings’ (i.e. the quails) is promised only in P (v. 12).
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.4. Then] The Heb. is simply, And (Jehovah said &c.).
rain, &c.] Cf. Psalm 78:24 f. (‘rained,’ ‘corn of heaven,’ ‘bread of the mighty,’ i.e. angels), Psalm 105:40 (‘bread of heaven‘), Nehemiah 9:15, Wis 16:20 (ἀγγέλων τροφή, ‘angels’ food’), John 6:31.
that I may prove them (Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 13:3 : see on Exodus 17:2), &c.] it will be a test of their obedience, if they are attentive to carry out the injunction which I lay upon them. Cf. Deuteronomy 8:16, and below, p. 156.
my law] properly, my direction; see p. 162.
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.5. prepare] viz. for eating (see Numbers 11:8); cf. Genesis 43:16 (‘make ready’).
twice as much] The meaning seems to be that, as the supply will be more abundant on the 6th day, so every one will naturally gather more; and when they come to prepare it, they will find that it is just twice a much as they gather usually.
Vv. 9–12 should follow here. The verses are accidentally misplaced: as they stand, the message given to the people (vv. 6–8) precedes the command to deliver it (vv. 9–12).
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:6. that Jehovah, &c.] and not Moses and Aaron (v. 3) only: the word in the Heb. is in an emphatic position. They will know this, by the food which He will then provide.
6–8. Moses communicates to the people Jehovah’s intention (vv. 9–12) of giving them food twice a day, viz. flesh in the evening, and bread in the morning.
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?7. see the glory, &c.] His might and greatness will be declared by His gift of manna.
and what, &c.] i.e. since what &c.: we are merely His agents; your murmurings therefore are really against Him. Cf. Numbers 16:11 b (P).
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.8. ‘An explanatory gloss of the compiler on vv. 6, 7’ (Di.).
This shall be] i.e. Ye shall know and see what I have told you (v. 6 f.).
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.9. Come near] for the sacred purpose: cf. Exodus 12:48, Exodus 36:2.
before Jehovah] at the place where He manifests Himself. The expression commonly means, especially in P (e.g. v. 33, Exodus 27:21, Numbers 16:7; Numbers 16:16-17), before the Ark or the Tent of Meeting; and if, as is probable from v. 33 f., P’s account of the manna once stood at a later point in his narrative, this will be the meaning here (so Di.).
9–12. The sequel to v. 3: the murmurings have been heard by Jehovah: the people are told to draw near to Him, while He gives His answer to them; and He communicates His reply to Moses.
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.10. that they looked, &c.] Cf. the very similar passage, Numbers 16:42. The ‘wilderness’ is however remarkable: as Di. remarks, they were in the wilderness (vv. 1, 2, 3), so that some more definite direction would be expected: originally, as he suggests, probably ‘toward the sanctuary,’ or ‘the tent of meeting’ (as Nu. l.c.), stood here (so Bä., McNeile).
the glory of Jehovah, &c.] A brilliant glow of fire (cf. on Exodus 13:21 f.), symbolizing Jehovah’s presence, gleamed through the cloud, resting (if the conjecture in the last note be accepted) upon the Tent of Meeting. The cloud shrouds the full brilliancy of the glory, which human eye could not behold. The ‘glory of Jehovah’ is often mentioned in P in the same sense: Exodus 24:16 f.; and in connexion with the Tent of Meeting, Exodus 29:43, Exodus 40:34-35 (cf. 1 Kings 8:11, Ezekiel 43:4-5); and especially Leviticus 9:6; Leviticus 9:23, Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19; Numbers 16:42; Numbers 20:6. Comp. in Ezekiel’s visions, Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:23; Ezekiel 8:4; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:4; Ezekiel 10:18-19; Ezekiel 11:22-23; Ezekiel 43:2; Ezekiel 43:4-5; Ezekiel 44:4; also Luke 2:9. Cf. DB. ii. 184–6, v. 639 f.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,11. Jehovah, who has thus manifested Himself, now declares His will to Moses. Notice ‘flesh,’ as well as ‘bread,’ here, as against ‘bread’ alone in the promise of v. 4 (J).
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.12. Between the two evenings] see on Exodus 12:6.
and ye shall know, &c.] see on Exodus 6:7.
After v. 12, vv. 6–8 should follow: see above.
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.13a. In the evening the quails came up with the wind (cf. Numbers 11:31) in such numbers that they covered the camp. Quails belong to the partridge family. They are migratory birds; and in March and April come up from Arabia and other southern countries and cross the Mediterranean,—from the Levant to Malta,—in vast numbers; and return southwards from Europe in even more enormous flights towards the end of September. They always fly with the wind (cf. Numbers 11:31). When they alight, which they generally do at night, they cover the ground (cf. Numbers 11:31 b, 32a); and being usually exhausted, can be captured by hand in great numbers. By the Egyptians they were not cooked, but cured (Hdt. ii. 77); cf. Numbers 11:32 b (spread out to dry in the sun). See further NHB. p. 229 ff.
13b–15a. Description of the manna (perhaps from J). There are other descriptions in v. 31 (P), and Numbers 11:7-9 (JE), the latter given when it is told how the Israelites afterwards became tired of such poor food.
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.14. The Hebrews conceived dew to fall from heaven (Deuteronomy 33:13; Deuteronomy 33:28, Proverbs 3:20 al.); and the manna falls with it (so Numbers 11:9): cf. v. 4, where it is said to be rained ‘from heaven.’
a thin flake (RVm.)] properly, it seems, from the Arabic, ‘a thin scab or scale-like thing’ (see Di., and Lex.). The word is a peculiar one, and occurs only here: but ‘round’ (Saad., Kimchi, EVV.) has no philological support.
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.15a What is it?] Heb. mân hû’. The question is intended as a popular etymology of ‘manna’ (Heb. mân). Mân, however, in the sense of What? is not a Hebrew word, though, as a contraction from mâ dçn, ‘what, then?’ (mâ being the ordinary Aramaic for what?) it is common in Syriac; and man (not mân) in both Aram. and Arab. means Who? Mân is evidently used here merely for the sake of the etymology: and, though we do not know how early the Aram. contraction mân came into use, the verse seems to have been written by one who was acquainted with it. The real origin of the Heb. mân, Arab. man, ‘manna,’ is not known: Ebers, 226–8, identifies it with mannu in two (Ptolemaic?) inscriptions at Edfu; but, though this may be ‘manna,’ it is still uncertain if it is an Egyptian or (Ebers) Bedawi word.
wist not what it was] Here the proper Heb. word for ‘what’ (mâh) is employed.
15b–21. Directions for gathering the manna.
15b. It] Heb. That (Genesis 41:28, 1 Kings 1:45).
bread] The manna is always spoken of as bread (v. 4): it was a substitute, not for other food (e.g. flesh), but, as Numbers 11:8 especially shews (‘ground’ in the hand-mill, and made into ‘cakes’), for corn, or other grain.
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.16. This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded] so v. 32. One of P’s standing formulae: Exodus 35:4, Leviticus 8:5; Leviticus 9:6; Leviticus 17:2, Numbers 30:2; Numbers 36:6†.
according to his eating] as Exodus 12:4. So vv. 18, 21. This, the rest of the verse goes on to state, would amount on an average to an omer a head in a family.
an omer] only found in this chapter. The Arab. ghumar is a small drinking-cup or bowl, said to be used by Arabs when travelling in the desert: in Heb., it seems, the corresponding word was specialized to denote a measure. The tenth of an ephah (v. 36) would be about 6½ pints (Kennedy, DB. iv. 912). It is remarkable that everywhere else, even in the same source P, the expression used is ‘the tenth part of an ephah’ (4 times), or the special word ‘issârôn (28 times [all P]). Perhaps ‘omer was an old word handed down with the story; the use in P of other expressions in its place seems to imply that when P was written, it was not in general use. Cf. v. 36 (though this might be an explanatory gloss, added afterwards).
a head] Heb. a skull (gulgóleth; cf. ‘Golgotha’). Used similarly in enumerations, by P (Exodus 38:26, Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:18; Numbers 1:20; Numbers 1:22; Numbers 3:47 [EVV. polls]), and in 1 Chronicles 23:3; 1 Chronicles 23:24.
persons] Heb. souls (see on Exo Exodus 1:5): cf. the same phrase in Exodus 12:4 (P).
And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.17. some more, some less] according to the number in their family.
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.18. They gathered, as well as they could judge roughly, according to the size of their families; when they afterwards measured what they had gathered, they found to their surprise that they had each gathered exactly an omer a head. The verse is quoted in 2 Corinthians 8:15.
mete] An archaism for ‘measure’: Matthew 7:1 al.
had … over] The Heb. verb is unusual, and found only in P (v. 23, Exodus 26:12-13, Leviticus 25:27, Numbers 3:46; Numbers 3:48-49†).
And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.19, 20. None to be left over till the morning. The manna was to be the daily food of the Israelites in the wilderness, and so to be eaten fresh every day. In the East, it is the custom to bake bread daily, and yesterday’s bread is not eaten.
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.
And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.
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.22. the rulers of the congregation] A standing phrase of P’s: see Exodus 34:31, Numbers 16:2; Numbers 31:13 al.; and often rulers (also rendered princes: lit. one lifted up above others, i.e. chief, ruler, &c.) alone.
22–26. Another surprise. On the 6th day they discover that they have gathered, without knowing it, a double quantity. Moses gives directions what is to be done with it; and draws from it a lesson on the observance of the sabbath.
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.23. This is that which Jehovah hath spoken] Leviticus 10:3 (P), also introducing an explanation of something unexpected.
a solemn rest] a cessation or resting; Heb. shabbâthôn (analogous in form to shiddâphôn, blasting, Deuteronomy 28:22, timmâhôn, astonishment, ib. v. 28, zikkârôn, memorial, Exodus 12:14, &c.), akin to shabbâth (‘sabbath’): there is nothing in the word to suggest the idea of ‘solemn.’ The term is a technical one in P: it is used of New Year’s Day, Leviticus 23:24, of the first and eighth days of the Feast of Booths, ib. v. 39, and of the sabbatical year, Leviticus 25:5; also, in the expression shabbath shabbâthôn, ‘sabbath of cessation’ (intensifying the idea of cessation from work), of the sabbath, Exodus 31:15; Exodus 35:2, Leviticus 23:3; of the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:32; and of the sabbatical year, Leviticus 25:4†.
bake, &c.] i.e. bake and boil to-day, in each way, whatever you please; and what you do not eat to-day, keep for to-morrow.
lay up] as Leviticus 7:15 (EVV. leave), in a similar connexion.
to be kept] Heb. for a keeping, as Exodus 12:6 (see the note), Numbers 19:9; and (for a permanency) vv. 32, 33, 34 below, Numbers 17:10. Another of P’s technical expressions.
27–30 (J). From the disregard shewn by some of the people to the promise of v. 5 (which was followed, presumably, in J, when J’s narrative was intact, by an express prohibition to gather the manna on the seventh day), Moses takes occasion to inculcate the observance of the sabbath.
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.
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.
And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?28. How long, &c.] Cf. the similarly introduced reproachful question, Numbers 14:11 (J); also Joshua 18:3.
my commandments and my laws] There has been no mention before the present chapter of the Israelites’ refusal to obey Jehovah’s commands. But P’s account of the manna probably stood originally (see p. 144) at a later point of the narrative.
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.29. in his place] where he is: see in the Hebrews 10:23, Habakkuk 3:16 al. (Lex. 1065b 2a). His place in the following clause is in the Heb. quite different.
So the people rested on the seventh day.30. rested] desisted (from work), or, kept sabbath. See on Exodus 20:8.
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.31. the house of Israel] Unusual: cf. Exodus 40:38, Numbers 20:29, Joshua 21:45 (all P). Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 17:3; Leviticus 17:8; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 22:18 (P and H) are rather different.
like coriander seed] So Numbers 11:7. Coriander is an umbelliferous plant, which grows wild in Egypt and Palestine, producing small greyish white round seeds, about the size of a peppercorn, with a pleasant spicy flavour. The seeds are used largely in the East as a spice to mix with bread, and to give an aromatic flavour to sweetmeats (NHB. p. 440). In Numbers 11:8 the manna is also said to have resembled bdellium (Genesis 2:12), i.e. the transparent wax-like gum or resin, valued for its fragrance, called by the Greeks βδέλλα.
wafers] Only here: LXX. ἐγκρίς, i.e. (Athen. xiv. 54, p. 645, cited by Kn.) pastry made with oil and honey. The root means in Arab. and Eth. to spread out. In Numbers 11:8 the taste of the manna is said to have been like a rich oily cake (לְשַׁד הַשֶּׁמֶן, i.e. oily richness; LXX. ἐγκρὶς ἐξ ἐλαίου, Vulg. panis oleatus; RVm. cakes baked with oil). Travellers state that the manna gathered from trees (see below) is used by the natives of the Sinaitic Peninsula as ‘a dainty instead of honey.’
31–34. A further description of the manna, and directions for a pot of it to be preserved in the sanctuary, as a witness to future generations how Israel had been sustained in the wilderness.
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.32. be kept] Heb. be for a keeping (cf. on v. 26). Comp. esp. Numbers 17:10.
for your generations] See on Exodus 12:14.
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.33. a pot] or jar: ṣinṣéneth, only here: LXX. σταμνὸς (an earthen jar).
lay it up] As Numbers 17:4, in a similar connexion.
before Jehovah] before the Ark, in the Tent of Meeting; cf. on v. 9.
As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.34. before the Testimony] i.e. before the Ark, which contained the ‘Testimony,’ P’s standing expression for the Decalogue (see on Exodus 25:16): cf. Exodus 30:36, Numbers 17:4; Numbers 17:10. Cf. Hebrews 9:4.
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.35. How the manna continued till the Israelites reached Canaan. Cf. Joshua 5:11 f. (P).
Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.36. An explanatory note: cf. on v. 16.
The manna of the Peninsula of Sinai is the sweet juice of the Ṭarfa, a species of Tamarisk. It exudes in summer by night from the trunk and branches, and forms small round white grains, which (as observed by Seetzen in 1809) partly adhere to the twigs of the trees, and partly drop to the ground: in the early morning it is of the consistency of wax, but the sun’s rays soon melt it (cf. v. 21, above), and later in the day it disappears, being absorbed in the earth. A fresh supply appears each night during its season (June and July). The Arabs gather it in the early morning, boil it down, strain it through coarse stuff, and keep it in leather skins: they ‘pour it like honey over their unleavened bread; its taste is agreeable, somewhat aromatic, and as sweet as honey’ (Burckh., p. 600). In a cool place it keeps for long: the monks of the Sinai monastery store samples of it, which they sell or give to travellers and pilgrims (Rob. i. 115; Ebers, p. 225), as their predecessors did, 13 centuries ago, to Antoninus (Itin. § 39). According to Ehrenberg (Rob. i. 590) it is produced by the puncture of an insect (now called Gossyparia mannifera). It softens in the heat of the hand, and consists almost entirely of sugar; so it cannot be ‘ground,’ or made into ‘cakes’ (Numbers 11:8). It is not found in all parts of the Peninsula; W. Gharandel, W. Ṭaiyibeh, W. Feiran, W. Sheikh (leading round on the N. from J. Serbâl to J. Mûsâ: see on Exodus 19:1), and W. Naṣb (8–10 miles SE. of J. Mûsâ), are named as parts in which it is abundant. It is found only after a rainy spring, and hence frequently fails altogether. The quantity yielded by the Peninsula in modern times is small—according to Burckhardt (in 1816), 500–600 pounds annually1.
 See further Knob. ap. Di., and McLean in EB., from whom the above particulars are mostly taken; also Ebers, p. 224 ff. The note in the Speaker’s Comm. p. 321a is translated almost verbally from Knob, without acknowledgement.
The manna described in the Pentateuch thus resembles the manna produced naturally in the Peninsula, in, approximately, the place (El Markhâ, between Wâdy Ṭaiyibeh and Wâdy Feiran,—if this was really the ‘wilderness of Sin’) of at least its first appearance; in colour, appearance, and taste (vv. 14, 31, Numbers 11:8); in being found and gathered in the early morning; in melting in the sun; and in being called by the same name which is still used in Arabic: it differs from it in being represented as found not under the tamarisk trees, but on the surface of the wilderness generally, after the disappearance of the dew; as falling in sufficient quantity to feed daily an immense multitude of people; as adjusting itself automatically to the household needs of each person who gathered it; as not falling on the sabbath, the needs of that day being supplied by a double amount being provided on the previous day; as being not confined to wet years, or to the districts on the W. of the Peninsula, but as lasting, apparently continuously, for forty years, throughout the whole journeyings of the Israelites to the border of Canaan; as being capable of being ‘ground’ and made into ‘cakes,’ like meal; and as putrefying if kept (except on the 6th day of the week) till the next morning. It is evident that the Biblical manna, while on the one hand (like the Plagues) it has definite points of contact with a natural phaenomenon or product of the country, differs from the natural manna in the many praeternatural or miraculous features attributed to it. According to Dillmann, ‘the intention of the story (Sage) followed by the writer was to explain how the Hebrews, during their long journey through the wilderness, where there is no corn, obtained their most important means of life. The question was solved by the supposition that God, in His infinite power, had sent them bread from heaven, in the shape of manna, which was of such a nature that it could be used as earthly corn.’
The narrative is to be taken as a signal and beautiful symbolical illustration of the great truth of God’s ever-sustaining providence: He supplies His people with food, He cares for them in their needs, and He makes the food which He gives them the vehicle of spiritual lessons. The writer of Deuteronomy (Exodus 8:3; Exodus 8:16 f.) points to the manna as illustrating the discipline of the wilderness; Israel was ‘humbled’ by being suffered to feel a want, and then by its being taught how, for its relief, and for its own very existence, it was dependent upon the (creative) word of God; it was further ‘proved,’ by the opportunity thus afforded it of shewing whether or not it would accommodate itself, trustfully and contentedly (contrast Numbers 11:6; Numbers 21:5), to this state of continued dependence upon an ordinance of God. In St John (John 6:31 ff.), our Lord, after the reference made by the Jews to the manna eaten by the fathers in the wilderness, uses imagery suggested by the manna to denote Himself as the ‘bread of life,’ which ‘cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.’ For other later allusions, see Wis 16:20 (with the last words here, ‘agreeing to every taste,’ of. the Rabb. legend that the manna adapted itself to the taste of every individual, tasting like what he himself desired it to be: set Jewish Encycl. s.v.), Exodus 19:21; 1 Corinthians 10:3 (πνευματικὸν βρῶμα); and Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, ed. 2, p. 178 f. In Apoc. Bar. xxix. 8, Sib. Orac. vii. 149 (cf. Revelation 2:17) it is to be the food of the elect in the future Messianic kingdom.