1 They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of 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. 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. – Exodus 16:1-18 ESV
In the wilderness of Shur, God had answered the Israelites’ bitter discontentment over their lack of water by graciously and miraculously transforming the bitter water of Marah into a safe and plentiful source of refreshment. In doing so, He had proven His ability to care for any and all of their needs. They had been given a powerful lesson in the providential provision of their God, but it had come with a condition.
“If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” – Exodus 15:26 ESV
In return for God’s gracious provision, the Israelites were expected to “do that which is right in his eyes.” God was demanding that they live in obedience to His revealed will. Up to this point, He had not articulated any of His commandments or statutes, but that day was quickly coming. As they made their way to the land of Canaan, the Lord would begin to reveal His will for them, and these incidents in the wilderness were designed to test their readiness to hear and obey what He had to say. The Hebrew word יָשָׁר (yāšār) can be translated as “right” or “pleasing, correct, proper, or upright.” It conveys the idea of doing that which is righteous in the eyes of God.
God described Himself as their “healer” or physician. He was the only one who could restore them to full spiritual health. The Hebrew word רָפָא (rāp̄ā’) was used to describe one who makes another whole or complete. God was in the process of transforming His spiritually deficient people into a nation of committed followers who would live in obedience to His sovereign will for them.
And He repeatedly showered them with undeserved grace and mercy in order to prove His love for them. In fact, when they left Marah and headed toward the wilderness of Sin, He led them to a place called Elim, “where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water” (Exodus 15:27 ESV). Had they only trusted God and followed His leading, they would have arrived at Elim and found an ample source of water to meet their needs. The events at Marah would never have had to happen. But this was all part of the learning process they would have to go through as they made their way to Canaan. God was testing the degree of their faithfulness and assessing the level of their commitment to live according to His will.
So, as they made their way south, they eventually arrived at the wilderness of Sin, which Moses describes as lying “between Elim and Sinai” (Exodus 16:1 ESV). This point of reference will become important as the story unfolds because it will be at Sinai that the people receive the full complement of God’s law. But before they ever reach the base of Mount Sinai, they will have to answer for their less-than-righteous response to the situation in Sin.
For the third time since leaving Egypt, the Israelites will reveal their propensity for vocalizing their dissatisfaction. After completing the long and difficult journey from Shur to Sin, the people find another reason to complain.
…the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. – Exodus 16:2 ESV
This time, their complaint had to do with their lack of food. After nearly two months of traveling through some rather inhospitable places, the unleavened bread the people had brought with them from Egypt must have run out. This basic staple to their diet was essential for their survival and they began to worry that they were going to starve to death in the wilderness. Their overly dramatic portrayal of their circumstances conveys the degree of their concern and their lack of faith in God.
“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” – Exodus 16:3 NLT
This melodramatic outburst from the people did not phase God. He simply responded by telling Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people will go out and gather the amount for each day, so that I may test them” (Exodus 16:4 NLT).
He had heard their complaint and He was going to address it in a miraculous way. But the key would be whether they were willing to obey the conditions that came with His provision. He was going to graciously “rain bread from heaven” so that they would have more than enough to eat each day. But would they do the right thing and follow God’s commands? Would their greed get the best of them? Whether they realized it or not, this was a divine test of their faith and faithfulness.
Moses gathered the people together and informed them of God’s plan to meet their perceived problem. Moses also let them know that their grumbling, while directed at him and Aaron, had really been an expression of dissatisfaction with God.
“…the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” – Exodus 16:8 ESV
The people had a bad habit of shooting the messenger. But Moses wanted them to understand that God took their complaints seriously personally. They were a blatant display of disrespect for the very one who had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.
As Moses and Aaron addressed the people, God appeared before them in the pillar of cloud. Somehow, God manifested His presence in a visual and audible way. Perhaps the people saw flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder emanating from the cloud. But whatever the case, they knew that God was near. And from the cloud, Moses heard God say, “During the evening you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be satisfied with bread, so that you may know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16:12 NLT).
God had decided to address their need by providing two different sources of sustenance. First, He would provide them with meat in the form of quail that would appear every evening in such vast quantities that the Israelites could catch as many as they wanted. Then, in the morning, God would cause a bread-like substance to appear on the ground. This would happen every day for six days, and the people were told to “Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent” (Exodus 16:16 ESV). And Moses makes it clear that if the people followed God’s instructions, no one would go without.
Once again, God proved Himself to be their faithful provider. He could and would meet all their needs, but He demanded that they trust and obey Him. He wanted them to replace their complaints with willing compliance to His will. He would provide for them. He would graciously sustain them. They would never face a need that He could not meet. But His provision must be accompanied by their adherence to His commands. They were going to learn to do things His way or suffer the consequences. Providing His people with bread and meat was no problem for God. But convincing His people to comply with His commands was going to be another matter altogether.
Moses would later remind the Israelites of the lesson found in the miracle of the manna.
“Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” – Deuteronomy 8:3 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.