19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six 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, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 Now 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. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. 35 The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.) – Exodus 16:19-36 ESV
Moses had clearly instructed the people to refrain from hoarding the manna that God provided. The Lord had promised to provide just enough to meet their daily dietary requirements.
…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 16:18 ESV
But some within the camp of Israel refused to follow Moses’ instructions, choosing instead to preserve some of their manna for the following day. Underlying this action was a doubt in God’s ability to provide for their daily needs. Fearing that the manna might not show up the next day, they tried to preserve some of their rations to help tide them over. But when they woke the following morning, they found that their manna had spoiled and become inedible. And their actions angered Moses.
These people had no need to doubt God because He sent the manna every morning, like clockwork. And after the people had gathered what they needed, whatever manna was left over simply melted away from the heat of the sun. God graciously and miraculously met their needs, and no one among the millions of Israelites went hungry.
But God’s provision of manna came with a second and highly important test. Up until this point, the people had been instructed to gather just enough manna to meet their needs for that day.
“Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat.” – Exodus 16:16 ESV
But on the sixth day, Moses announced that they were to gather twice as much manna. When the leaders of the people questioned Moses about this surprising change in protocol, he revealed the message he had received from the Lord.
“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a time of cessation from work, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Whatever you want to bake, bake today; whatever you want to boil, boil today; whatever is left put aside for yourselves to be kept until morning.’” – Exodus 16:24 NLT
On this occasion, God altered His prohibition against attempting to keep manna for the next day. This time He told the Israelites to gather enough for two days and assured them that it would not spoil. But God had a specific reason for changing the rules of the game. He was establishing a new pattern for their daily lives by setting aside the seventh day of each week for the purpose of rest. Moses made God’s instructions perfectly clear.
“Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; 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.” – Exodus 16:25-26 ESV
God would provide double the amount of manna on the sixth day, but on the seventh day, there would be none to gather. He would remove any temptation for the Israelites to go out and gather on that final day of the week. But when that first “Sabbath” day arrived, some of the people refused to believe God’s word and went out to gather their daily quota of manna, only to find that the ground was bare. And this time, it was God who became incensed by the peoples’ refusal to obey His commands.
“How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” – Exodus 16:28-29 ESV
God was attempting to indoctrinate His people into this new way of life. From this point forward, the seventh day was to be a special day, set aside for rest. There would be no need to gather manna because God had already provided enough for that day. And there was to be no preparation of the manna on the seventh day because it was to be a work-free day. All of this was instituted to prepare the people for the fourth law that would be given to them on Mount Sinai.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV
God was making the seventh day a holy day. The Hebrew word for “holy” is קָדַשׁ (qāḏaš) and it means “to be set apart, to consecrate.” God was separating this day from all the rest, indicating that it was to be treated as sacred or hallowed. On this day, the people were to cease from their labors and, in so doing, they would be following the example given by God during the days of creation.
“The Israelites must keep the Sabbath by observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” – Exodus 31:16-17 NLT
God was giving His people a day set apart for rest and refreshment. But more than that, it was a day to remember His providential provision for all their needs. The God who made the heavens and the earth and all they contain was also capable of meeting all their needs. In time, the Israelites would understand the sanctity of this special day. It was a non-optional observance that came with severe consequences if it was ignored.
“Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. So you must keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you. Everyone who defiles it must surely be put to death; indeed, if anyone does any work on it, then that person will be cut off from among his people. Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must surely be put to death.” – Exodus 31:12-15 NLT
From this point forward, the observance of the Sabbath was to remind the people of Israel of their long tenure in Egypt, where they labored seven days a week without rest. They never knew where their next meal would come from. Their desire for rest was never met. But now, God had provided them with freedom from labor and the fear of want. He was their liberator, provider, and protector. And to commemorate this special act of provision, God instructed Moses, “Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 16:32 ESV). This specially preserved manna was placed in the ark of the covenant as a memorial and a reminder of God’s gracious providential care. And for the next 40 years, the lives of the Israelites would be preserved by this daily sign of God’s faithfulness and love.
It would become their bread of life and provide a foreshadowing of a future day when the Messiah would come to earth, offering Himself as the true bread of life. On one occasion, His disciples reminded Jesus, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:31 NLT). But Jesus responded, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33 NLT).
For now, the Israelites would have to be satisfied with manna. But it served as a sign of greater things to come. God was going to preserve their lives so that, one day, He could send His Son as one of their own so that He might become the true bread from heaven.
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.