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Bread from Heaven


The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and 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. 2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the L ord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4 Then the L ord 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. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the L ord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the L ord, because he has heard your complaining against the L ord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8And Moses said, “When the L ord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the L ord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the L ord.”

9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the L ord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the L ord appeared in the cloud. 11The L ord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining 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 the L ord your God.’ ”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the L ord has given you to eat. 16This is what the L ord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” 17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18But 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. 19And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23he said to them, “This is what the L ord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the L ord; 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.’ ” 24So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the L ord; today you will not find it in the field. 26Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28The L ord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29See! The L ord 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.” 30So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32Moses said, “This is what the L ord 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.’ ” 33And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the L ord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34As the L ord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36An omer is a tenth of an ephah.

2. And the whole congregation. Moses says not that some of the people only murmured, but that they were all gathered into mobs as in a conspiracy, or, at any rate, as they were arranged by hundreds and thousands, that they murmured with one consent. Yet the universal term admits of exception; nor need we suppose that all to a man were comprehended in this impious rebellion. The best remedy for their hunger would have been to pray to God, whom they had found to be in all respects a bountiful Father, and whom they had heard to have wonderfully provided for their parents, when the Egyptians and inhabitants of Canaan were wasting with hunger in such rich and fertile places. If they had only been persuaded that the earth is made fertile by God’s blessing, it would at the same time have occurred to them, that it is His peculiar office to feed the hungry, and immediately they would have directed their prayers to Him; now, their unbelief betrays itself in their turbulent clamor. It is indeed astonishing that wretched men, whom their necessity should have humiliated, rose insolently against God, and that their hunger, so far from bending their hearts to gentleness, was the very incentive of their arrogance. But this is too common with the wicked, (because they do not trust that God is reconciled to them,) to neglect prayer, and to cry out in confusion, to utter their curses, and to rush, like mad dogs, furiously here and there. This was the case of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sin. The want of all things, which presents itself to them, is an invitation to them from God, that they may feel His power, by which He created the world out of nothing, to be independent of all foreign assistance for the maintenance of mankind. But despair seizes upon their faithless minds, so that they reject His aid and beneficence. And not only so, but their malignity and ingratitude instigates them to quarrel with Moses; and this is the sum of their complaint, that they were dragged away from abundance of bread and meat, that they might perish in the desert of hunger. Therefore they call Moses and Aaron, by whose hand and means they had been delivered, their murderers.

4. Then said the Lord unto Moses. It is probable that Moses passes over much in silence, because it is not consistent that the insolence of the people was left without even a single word of chastisement. For, although God in His extraordinary kindness gave food to these depraved and wicked men, who were unworthy of the sunlight and the common air, still He was without doubt unwilling to foster their sin by His silence, and, whilst He pardoned their ingratitude, sharply reproved their forwardness. But Moses, passing over this, proceeds to a history especially worthy of narration, how God fed this wretched people with bread from heaven, when He made the manna to fall from the clouds like dew. I call it “the bread of heaven,” with the Prophet, (Psalm 78:24,) who honors it with this magnificent title, and extols God’s bounty towards His people, as if they had been admitted to the tables of angels. For St. Paul calls the manna “spiritual meat,” (1 Corinthians 10:3,) in another sense, viz., because it was a type of the flesh of Christ, which feeds our minds unto the hope of eternal life. The Prophet, however, makes no allusion to that mystery, but alleges in this circumstance an accusation against the people, because they not only despised the food which springs from the earth, but also were disgusted with that bread, for which they saw the heavens in a manner opened. But on this point somewhat must be hereafter repeated. God now declares that He will give them daily their allowance, as it were, that in this way He may prove the obedience of His people. Though on this latter head interpreters are not agreed; for some understand it as if God, by kindly providing food for the Israelites, would bind them to obedience by His bounty; as though He should say, “I will try whether they are altogether intractable or submissive; for nothing shall be wanting to retain them in the way of duty.” But others confine the meaning of the word to “their daily food;” for that this was the proof of their fear and reverence, that they should not desire more than was given them, but that they should he contented with their daily provision, and thus depend on the providence of God. The former sense pleases me best, and I have endeavored to explain it more clearly than it can be understood from others. There is no occasion to enter into controversy about the word “Law,”171171     “Some refer this probation or trial to that particular law and precept of gathering but a certain portion of manna every day. So Vatablus, Borrha, Galas., Tostat., Rupert. Some understand it as well of that precept, as of the other, not to gather any upon the Sabbath. — Simler. Some will have it taken more largely of all the precepts, and commandments touching manna, which were eight in all. — Lyranus. But it is better to take it in a more general sense. The Lord, as he had tried them before with crosses and adversities, so now he would prove them by His benefits, to see whether they will afterward walk in His fear, and in obedience before Him. So Ferus, Calvin, Osiand., Pelarg. And thus by this particular benefit God would prepare them to the obedience of His law, which should be given afterwards. — Oleaster.” — Willet’s Hexapla in loco. for (as we shall soon see) it is used to express the measure or rule of a pious and just life. Therefore, He says, that He will know whether they are disposed to honor Him, and to submit themselves to His command. But if any one prefer to embrace the other sense, I leave him to enjoy his own opinion.

5. And it shall come to pass. Because mention is immediately made of the Sabbath, some would confine to its observance what is said respecting the law, and extract this sense from it, that God made the experiment whether the people would faithfully observe the rest enjoined to them on each seventh day. But there is a poorness in this explanation. The fact is, that after God had promised daily supplies to His people, He now adds the exception, viz., that on the sixth day they should collect a double quantity, and lay aside half of it for the use of the Sabbath. Thus the seventh day was really hallowed before the promulgation of the Law, although it is questionable whether it had already been observed by the patriarchs. It appears probable that it was; but I am unwilling to make it a matter of contention.

6. And Moses and Aaron said. The statement that the people should know that their coming out of the land of Egypt was the Lord’s work, is opposed to their wicked taunt, in which they had complained of being betrayed by Moses and Aaron, when they had been brought into the wilderness. They therefore answer, that God would openly show that He was the author of their deliverance, that they should make no more complaints against His ministers. But although a sharp reproof is implied, still it is joined with a promise of God’s continued favor. They therefore admonish them, that by this event it would be proved that God was the Leader and Deliverer of the Israelites, because he does not leave the work of His hands unfinished. (Psalm 138:8.) The continuance, then, of His favor, shows that the same God, who proceeds in the prosecution of His powerful work, had from the first begun what He carries on even to the end. The knowledge, which they were to receive in the evening, refers to the quails, in which God gave an instance of His power; but, because it shone forth more brightly next day in the manna, Moses says, that in the morning they should see the glory of the Lord. But, lest they should be induced by this favor to think highly of themselves, and should flatter themselves in their iniquity, he reminds them that this was not given them in return for their sins, but that God contended after this manner with their obstinate perversity; as much as to say that God would appear to them, so that, beholding by the brightness of His countenance their own impiety, they might altogether be filled with shame, and feel the profaneness of the rebellion with which they had dared to insult Him. And, lest they should prevaricate, and say that they had only made an attack upon Moses and Aaron, he gives the reason why he declares them to have waged war against God Himself, viz., because neither he nor his brother had acted of themselves, nor had personally assumed anything in the matter; for this is the meaning of the words, “what are we, that ye murmur against us?” as if he disclaimed any separation from God. Now, since by this testimony he proves himself to have been a faithful servant; of God, we gather that none may rightly claim honor for themselves in the Church, so as to be accounted lawful pastors, but those who are divinely called, and thus have God. as the authorizer of their office, and who advance nothing of themselves, but only execute what is commanded them. Whilst such as these172172     “Qui resemblent a Moyse.” — Fr. may not be despised without dishonoring God, whose person they represent, so do they, who exercise dominion with no authority but their own, vainly alarm the simple in God’s name, and173173     “Et sont a rejetter comme pipeurs, veu qu’ils n’ont qu’une fausse masque pour la verite;” and must be rejected as deceivers, since they have only a false masque instead of the truth. — Fr. instead of the truth, are only wearing’ an empty mask. The eighth verso merely contains an exposition of the same sentiment, except that he goes on to say in connection, that the Israelites, when in the evening they shall have been filled with flesh, and when bread shall have been given them in the morning, would perceive that God is their Deliverer. Then comes the antithesis, “Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.”

9. And Moses spoke unto Aaron. There is no question but that he here cites them as criminals before the tribunal of God, as if he had said that they were mistaken, if they thought that their murmurings were unobserved. Nevertheless, he alludes also to the cloud, which was the visible symbol of God’s presence; and thus reproves their folly in not hesitating to provoke a God, who was so near, and almost; before their very eyes. First, then, we must remark, that they were in a manner drawn from their hiding-places, that their pride might be broken; and, secondly, that their stupidity was rebuked, for not reverencing God though present. And this is made more clear by the context, where it is said, that the glory of the Lord appeared “toward the wilderness,” by which word I imagine the less habitable region to be indicated. For, although the country on all sides was barren, and uninhabited, yet on one side the Amalekites were near, and other tribes, as we shall soon see. The glory of God I suppose to mean, not that which they saw daily, but which was now manifested to them in an unusual manner to inspire alarm; because they were hardened against its ordinary manifestations.

11. And the Lord spoke174174     Had spoken. — Lat. unto Moses Moses here shows that he had done nothing without God’s command, but had faithfully and modestly discharged the office of a minister. And, surely, unless he had spoken according to God’s word, he would have been rash in promising what we have already seen. Therefore, this is put last in order, though it happened first; and, consequently, I have used175175     J’ai mis le mot Car, pource que ceste sentence rend la raison du precedent. — Fr. the causal particle instead of the copula. The sum is, as before, that God will vindicate His own glory, which the people had impiously impugned, and that He would do good to them, unworthy as they were, in order to glorify His name; as if He had said, After you shall have been convicted of ingratitude, you will then be obliged to confess that I am really the only God, and at the same time your Father.

13. And it came to pass. We shall afterwards see, that, when from weariness of the manna they began to desire meat, quails were again given them; but, while they were yet in their mouths, a terrible punishment was inflicted upon their gluttony. When here they had only complained of their want of food, God for once satiated them with flesh, that He might show them that He has in His hand all kinds and quantity of meats. Yet, it was His will that they should be content with one single sort; for, although they had complained that they were deprived of flesh, at the pots of which they had formerly sat, yet it was not reasonable that He should comply altogether with their unholy desires. Besides, it was profitable for them that certain bounds should be set, that they might learn dependence on His will.

14. And when the dew that lay was gone up. The shape of the manna is here briefly described, viz., that it was like the dew condensed into small round grains. Its taste will be also mentioned elsewhere; but here it was sufficient to show, that this fecundity was not natural, but miraculously given to the clouds, so that they should daily rain manna. For as to the idle talk of certain profane persons,176176     “And even now in all that place this manna comes down in rain, according to what Moses then obtained of God, to send it the people for their sustenance.” — Josephus. Antiq., 3: 1. 6. Burekhardt identifies it with a substance called manna, obtained still by the Arabs from the tarfa or tamarisk; and Rosenmuller speaks of it as being obtained from various trees in different countries. We can well understand the name having been given to any substance, which in some respects resembled it; but there does not appear to be any real correspondence in those which the critics mention. that the manna falls naturally in certain countries, who would thus display the force of their genius, as if they convicted Moses of falsehood, because he mightily extols a mere trifle, — it! is all an absurdity which may be easily refuted. It is indeed true, that in certain parts of the world they collect white grains, to which the name of manna has been vulgarly given, but177177     This is from S. M., who says that Aben-Ezra has affirmed man to be an Arabic noun. — W. which one of the Rabbins will have to be Arabic; but it is neither a food, nor does it drop daily from the clouds, nor has it anything in common with this food, which the Prophet properly dignifies with the title of “angels’ food,” because God, who opens the bowels of the earth for the ordinary food of man, at that time made provision for the nourishment of His people from heaven. And that it may appear beyond a doubt that this food was then created miraculously, and contrary to the order of nature, these points are to be taken into consideration. First, It did not appear in the wilderness before the hour assigned by Moses in obedience to God’s command. Secondly, No change of weather prevented the manna from dropping in a regular measure; neither frost, nor rain, nor heat, nor winter, nor summer, interrupted the course of its distillation. Thirdly, A quantity sufficient for the immense multitude was found every day, when they took up an omer for every individual. Again, on the sixth day, the quantity was doubled, that they might lay by a second omer for their Sabbath food. Fifthly, If they preserved any beyond their due allowance, it was subject to putrefaction, whereas, on the Sabbath day, the second portion remained good. Sixthly, Wherever they were, this blessing of God always accompanied them, whilst the neighboring nations lived on corn, and the manna was only known in their camp. Seventhly, As soon as they entered a fruitful and corn-growing country, the manna ceased. Eighthly, That portion, which Moses was commanded to lay up in a vessel, did not grow corrupt. Let these points be well weighed, and the miracle will be more than sufficiently conspicuous, and will disperse all the clouds of objection by its intrinsic brightness.

15. And when the children of Israel saw. The Israelites manifested some appearance of gratitude in calling the food given them from heaven, Man,178178     מן, Man. If this word be referred to the root מנן, it may mean a prepared thing; if to the root מנה, it would mean an assigned portion; but in Syriac and Chaldee man is incontestably what, and the LXX. bear testimony to the existence of the same monosyllabic relative in Hebrew by so rendering it here, to which the V. adds its authority, by saying, Man hu? Quod significat, Quid est hoc? C. found the two first interpretations in the notes of S. M., who makes no allusion to this last rendering. — W. which name means “something prepared;” but if any prefer their opinion who expound it, “a part or portion,” I do not debate the matter, although the former is more correct. Yet, whichever you choose, by this word they confessed that they were dealt with bountifully, because God presented them with food without their having to labor for it; and, therefore, they indirectly condemn their own perverse and wicked murmuring, since it is much better to gather food prepared for them, than to acquire it by the laborious and troublesome culture of the earth. For although this confession was extorted from them by the incredible novelty of the thing, yet at that particular moment their intention was to proclaim God’s loving-kindness. But, since unbelief had clouded their senses, so that they saw not clearly, Moses says that “they wist not what it was.” In these words he rebukes their slowness of heart, because, although previously advertised of the miracle, they were astonished at the sight, as if they had heard nothing of it before. We perceive, then, that they did but half acknowledge God’s mercy; for their gratitude was clouded with the darkness of ignorance, and they were compelled to confess that they did not altogether understand it; and therefore their stupidity is reproved not without bitterness, when Moses tells them that this was the food promised them by God. For, if they had recognized in it the fulfillment of the promise, there was no need of recalling it to their recollection. As to the words themselves, the answer of Moses has misled the Greek and Latin translators, into rendering them interrogatively,179179     See margin A. V. “What is this?” But their difficulty is easily removed; for Moses does not directly state that they inquired about it as of some unknown thing, but expresses their knowledge mixed with ignorance, for the matter was partly doubtful, partly clear; for the power of God was visibly manifest, but the veil of unbelief prevented them from apprehending God’s promised bounty.

16. This is the thing. The exception180180     The rule is here prescribed — the exception does not occur till verse 23. follows, that in gathering the food, they should take account of the Sabbath. A certain daily measure is prescribed; but they are commanded on the day before the Sabbath to lay up twice as much, that they may observe its rest. But, unquestionably, God so far extended His liberality as abundantly to satisfy them. It is well known that an omer is the tenth part of an ephah;181181     See verse 36. “In Josephus’s time it contained 43 1/5 eggshells, (for the Jews, like many of Oriental nations, reckoned their measures by the contents of middle-sized hens eggs.) But it is by no means probable t at during the 1500 years which elapsed from the time of Moses to that of Josephus, the measures of the Hebrews remained the same, there being nothing more liable to change.” — Rosenmuller. and perhaps we might discover its proportion to the measures which are now in use amongst us; but I am unwilling to dispute respecting’ an unnecessary point; since it is enough to be sure, that not less was given than was amply sufficient for them.

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