Sermon: The Testing Of The Manna

Exodus 16.1-36

Levi Durfey



The Israelites had seen God’s miracle of the Red Sea and the healing of the bitter waters of Marah, yet they still had trust issues.




Exodus 16:1 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. 

Exodus 16:2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: 


Who were they complaining against? It appears to be “Moses and Aaron,” but they are only the physical, visible targets of their complaints. Our discontent is really always against God, isn’t it? Moses nails it later:


Exodus 16:7 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

Exodus 16:8 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.


We may complain that our boss doesn’t give us a raise, but it’s really that we aren’t content with God himself. Complaining is an dashboard warning light that something is wrong with our relationship with God.


Complaining is saying that we really don’t trust God with some aspect of our lives. It says that something could be better for us, and God has failed to bring that “better” thing to us.


The Israelites were so convinced that God had held out on giving them the “better” that he had promised, that they were willing to go back to Egypt.


Exodus 16:3 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. 


It was 1775. Virginians had gathered at the St. John’s church in Richmond to debate a resolution whether or not to fight the British. In a passionate speech, Patrick Henry declared,


Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death![1]


The Israelites, however, were in no mood for liberty—their lives were so dear and peace was so sweet, that they were willing to submit to chains and slavery again.


What makes this doubly amazing and twice as sad is that the Israelites weren’t really out of food. Look at the next chapter:


3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? (Exodus 17:3)


They still had livestock, and so they had access to milk, cheese, and they could even have meat, if necessary. They weren’t starving. The real problem was, according to Psalm 78:18, is that they wanted “meat for their lust.”


Isn’t that just like us? We think that our greed is our need. It’s not. When we go over our budgets, how much could we really live without? How much could we simplify—basic cable instead of the full package, for instance?


In spite of the Israelite’s whining, God responded graciously with a provision of food, but a provision that was nonetheless a test.




Exodus 16:4 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. 


The Lord was testing them—would they walk in his law? Generally, this referred to their entire way of life. Would they trust and obey the Lord in everything?


But more specifically, as we’ll learn later, this had to do with whether or not they would trust God to provide food on a specific schedule and if they would obey the Sabbath.


Exodus 16:11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 

Exodus 16:12 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. 


The Lord wanted to be known by the Israelites as their Lord and God. His provision for them was one way that he could accomplish that purpose.


Exodus 16:13 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. 

Exodus 16:14 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. 

Exodus 16:15 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. 


The “quails” are migratory birds who, after a long travel, are easy to catch by hand. They are only briefly mentioned here because they were only a one-time supper.


What was to become a staple of their diet was the “manna.” The Israelites knew not what it was, and so named it, literally, “What is it?” or, “manna.” Later we read:


Exodus 16:31 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. 


Refined sugar did not exist in those days, so one way of sweetening food was with honey. The manna that the Israelites ate those forty years was not a stale, dry bread. It was the most delicious food you could imagine. In the Psalms, we read…


24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, And had given them of the corn of heaven. 25 Man did eat angels’ food: He sent them meat to the full. (Psalm 78:24–25)


Of course, there have been attempts to identify what the manna was—some ideas come pretty close, but you have to ignore certain details from the Bible to make the ideas work. Here’s one common idea:


Particularly in rainy years the tamarisk bush, indigenous to arid areas, is invaded by a species of plant louse. The insect sucks the sap and transforms its carbohydrates into a variety of high fructose products. These are secreted through the body and fall to the ground as small drops. There they crystallize into small white pellets, which can be consumed like sugar or honey. Since they melt in the sun, they have to be gathered early in the morning, just like the biblical manna. Still today the bedouins call them in Arabic man, which corresponds to the Hebrew word for “manna.”[2]


But this does not explain why the manna rotted after one day (except on the sixth day), since the stuff described here doesn’t rot right away. 


Neither does it account for enough food to feed a nation or even a small group of people. Furthermore, it was seasonal, and Biblical manna was present everyday for forty years.


The provision of food did not mean no work for the Israelites—they had to go out and gather this “manna.”


Exodus 16:16 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. 

Exodus 16:17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. 

Exodus 16:18 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. 


They were careful only to gather what they needed to eat and even measured what they gathered so as not to get too much.


A limitation on the manna was that it would not last until the next day, so that each one would have to trust the Lord for his “daily bread.”


Exodus 16:19 And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. 

Exodus 16:20 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. 


Another limitation was that the sun would cause the manna to melt, so it had to be gather early in the morning. 


Exodus 16:21 And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted. 


God had no use for sleepy heads. You got up early to get your food or you missed it.


So a primary lesson that God was teaching the Israelites was to trust him each day for their daily bread. To get up early to work and receive that which he provided.


But the Lord also chose to use the provision of manna to teach the Israelites how to rest.




Exodus 16:22 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. 

Exodus 16:23 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. 

Exodus 16:24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. 


Well, here’s another miracle. One day a week they were allowed to gather a double portion, and then eat their portion for the day, and the remaining portion would not spoil by the next morning (the Sabbath)—unlike all the other days of the week.



Exodus 16:25 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. 

Exodus 16:26 Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. 

Exodus 16:27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. 


Some people are lazy, and did not get up on time to get their manna. Others, like these, are what we call industrious, hardworking—God just calls them disobedient. They decided that they would try to gather manna on the Sabbath. God’s words are sharp—


Exodus 16:28 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? 

Exodus 16:29 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. 

Exodus 16:30 So the people rested on the seventh day. 


We could argue all day whether or not Christians are required to observe the Sabbath or not, but certainly the principle of the Sabbath is one that we need to implement in our lives. 


If you asked most Christians where the Sabbath was found first in the Bible, they’d probably say the Ten Commandments. But listen, it’s interesting that this chapter here takes place before the Ten Commandments were given (in Exodus 20). Furthermore, in Genesis, God rested on the seventh day to set an example for us humans. 


We cannot claim that obedience of the Sabbath is necessary to be a Christian, or even to be a good Christian. But the principle of the Sabbath is one that we all need to take a look at implementing into our lives.


Why is it difficult for us to rest one day a week? Because, like the Israelites, we think it is necessary for us to work all the time to survive. 


Some of the Israelites went out on the Sabbath to do what? To gather food! What better reason could anyone have for work? To provide food for themselves, for their children? 


And yet it was shot down by the Lord. He said that they had been given all they needed to survive—that on the sixth day they got their special double portion—now it was time to rest.


Many of the problems that people have—physical, relational, and so forth—are problems that could be eased or eliminated if those people took a sabbath every week to spend time with the Lord, with their families, and resting their bodies from work.


The Sabbath principle has not been demolished by the New Covenant, it’s been demolished by our own pride in thinking that we can keep going and going without rest.




God used manna to test the Israelites in two ways: trusting him to provide it each day and trusting him to provide enough that they could rest on the Sabbath. 


For the Christian, there is one more aspect to manna that we need to consider—that Jesus Christ is our manna.


Manna was to teach the Israelites to depend on God and to look to him as the source of all life. Later, Moses said:


3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:3)


Jesus, of course, used these words to fight the temptation of the Devil—


3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. (Matthew 4:3)


Again, the issue was trust. Jesus hadn’t eaten in forty days—could he trust the Father to give him food at the right time?


4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)


This is what Jesus wanted his disciples to know—that they could trust God to provide everything they really needed for life. And he wasn’t just interested in providing physical food to get us to the next day. He wanted to provide everlasting life for us. Jesus said:


47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. 48 I am that bread of life. 49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:47–51)


Are you trusting in the living manna today?



[2] Göran Larsson, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), p. 115. qtd in Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005).

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