Then You Shall Know That I Am the LORD Your God | Exodus 16:1-12

Having been redeemed from their slavery in Egypt, chapters 15-19 of Exodus provide us with a description of Israel’s journey from the Red Sea to the foot of Sinai. Through the wonders that the LORD worked upon the land of Egypt, God made His name known to Israel, to Egypt, and to Pharaoh personally. In the wilderness, God continues to work wonders for the purpose of revealing Himself as Israel’s Provider and as their God. Indeed, as the rest of Scripture makes clear, the LORD was their shepherd, and they were God’s flock. In our previous passage, God gave His bleating sheep water in the wilderness, and in our present text, He promises to give them food, even bread from heaven.


Our passage begins by setting the scene for this event:

They set 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.

As we noted at the end of chapter 15, Elim represented a place of God’s abundant provision in the wilderness. Its twelve springs corresponded with Israel’s twelve tribes, and the seventy palm trees with Israel’s elders. Indeed, it was a small foretaste of the abundance of Canaan that the LORD would bring them to. However, Elim was not the Promised Land, and although Israel would likely have longed to stay there, they needed to move on.

Bunyan displayed this truth marvelously in The Pilgrim’s Progress by describing the refreshment that the pilgrims received at places like Interpreter’s House, Beautiful, and the Delectable Mountains. Yet none were the Celestial City; therefore, the pilgrims needed to continue onward and always came to trial afterward. Ryken notes:

The spiritual geography of Israel’s exodus from Egypt can be mapped on the experience of our own souls. Although there are times of refreshing, usually they do not last for long. Soon it is time to head back into the desert, which is a place of testing and spiritual growth.[1]

We ought to remember this and take it to heart. We ought to enjoy fully the times of refreshment that the LORD gives to us, yet we must even then be prepared for the wilderness once more. Indeed, let us keep 1 Peter 4:12 ever in our hearts:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Throughout the wilderness of this world, it is comfort rather than suffering that ought to take us by surprise. We ought to expect the wilderness and rejoice whenever the LORD sees fit to bring us for a little while to an oasis.


Since the exodus took place on fifteenth day of the first month, Moses now places our text exactly one month after Israel was thrust out of Egypt, and once they were within the wilderness of Sin, they once again grumbled:

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 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.”

This complaint is certainly an escalation from what Moses reported occurring at Marah. First, they had a genuine need in Marah. They were three days without water and found only undrinkable water. If anything, Israel’s question (“what shall we drink?”) was too mild, for they should have cried out to the LORD to quench their thirst. Here, however, the Israelites were not about to die from hunger, as Ryken notes:

Really the Israelites had nothing to complain about. They were not running out of food. This is what they said, of course–“We’re starving out here!”–but it simply wasn’t true. In the next chapter they talk about needing water for their livestock (17:3). Obviously they still had the flocks and herds that they had brought out of Egypt. They could drink milk and make cheese; if necessary, they could even eat meat. So they were not starving. This is confirmed by Psalm 78, which speaks of “the food they craved” (Psalm 78:18, 30), not the food essential for their survival. The Israelites confused what they wanted with what they needed. This is often the source of our discontent—thinking that our greeds are really our needs.[2]

Thus, this was an escalation in terms of what they were complaining about, but it was also an escalation in how they actually complained. Like Jonah’s self-pity over God’s mercy toward Nineveh, the Israelites actually claim that the LORD should have killed them in Egypt rather than placing them in this situation. As ridiculous as that sounds to us reading it, I do not think that we need to explain it away as an exaggeration. Instead, sin distorts the sinner’s view of reality, making it impossible to see things as they really are. Therefore, I think that the Israelites here were genuinely thinking that it would have been better for them to have died in Egypt than to be hungry in the wilderness.

Indeed, we see their distorted vision whenever they remember their life in Egypt through their remembrance of meat and bread in abundance. Although we have no reason to trust that Israel really did have overflowing meat and bread as they are remembering here, let us grant them that it was, in fact, reality. Let us grant them that they did really have an abundance of meat and bread while they were in Egypt. Even so, such abundance of meat and bread would have been a grace from the LORD to comfort them in the midst of their slavery. Now they were actively allowing that grace to override the memory of their sweaty labor under the desert sun, beaten backs, and slaughtered infants under Pharaoh’s hand. They were romanticizing their slavery!

Of course, we have no right to look upon the Israelites with moral superiority, for we just as easily may fall into the same pattern. Whether it is when we reflect back upon our life before Christ or simply looking back upon a previous period of our lives as being golden through and through, discontentment with our present circumstances always distorts our vision of the past.

There is also a larger lesson to be learned here. As I have said before, the default tendency of our society is to revile the past. We are very often guilty of what Lewis called chronological snobbery. However, we must also take care that the pendulum does not swing over into idealizing the past, which is just as easy to do. Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells us, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” We must take care not to veer into either error; instead, we must strive to have a proper vision of the past, gleaning its wisdom and striving to learn from its errors. In the case of the Israelites, they ought to have looked back upon the meat and bread that they had in Egypt with thanksgiving that the LORD had provided them with some measure of pleasure in the house of their slavery, allowing that thanksgiving to reinforce their faith that God would be all the more faithful to provide for them within the wilderness.


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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

Notice God’s grace in responding to Israel’s initial grumblings here. In these first days after coming out of Egypt, the LORD is not bringing plagues and judgments upon them for their mutinous complaints; instead, He is giving them exactly what they desired. Indeed, if we think of discipline as using both pleasure and pain to implement a positive change, then God is here using pleasure with His people. They grumbled over not having meat and bread, so He will literally rain bread down upon them from heaven and give them the meat of quail to eat, which was considered one of the finest delicacies in Egypt.

As time goes on, we see the LORD more and more use pain to rouse Israel away from their sin, for like Psalm 119:67 Israel very often went astray from God’s ways until He afflicted them. Such is the tragic nature of our sin. Just as children will often give no heed to their parents’ commands until a consequence is brought into the picture, so are we with our sin. God’s blessings very rarely speak as loudly to us as His hand of affliction.

Indeed, we only need to look at our present state of the world as an example. Humanity, as a whole, has never known even a fraction of the comfort, ease, and abundance that most of the world has today through recent inventions like the internet, refrigeration, and antibiotics. Even so, we are still prone to become anxious over every doom-and-gloom headline (of course, is there really any other kind of headline?) and to believe whole-heartedly that this is the very end of the world, that things have never been worse than they are right now. You see, we are masters at normalizing the blessings that God gives to us, so we very rarely learn as much from God’s showers of grace as we do from the trials that He brings upon us.

While we will discuss this more fully next week, notice also that God’s test would be a kind of micro-dosing of His law, His torah. At Sinai, they would receive God’s law and covenant with them, but even here in the wilderness of Sin, the LORD was giving them a piece of His law to test whether they would obey Him or not. That little bit of law was simply for the Israelites to collect their daily bread that the LORD would give to them and to collect a double portion on Friday for the Sabbath. As you would expect, they were not even able to walk in this simple command. But again, before we look down upon the Israelites, we ought to consider that we have a far greater privilege than they did. They were given the grace to eat daily from the bread of heaven, but we have God’s full written Word before us, which is more necessary to our living than physical bread. Even so, how difficult is it for us to come consistently to God’s Word each day?


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, 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?” 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.”

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.’” 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. And the LORD said to Moses, “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.’”

In these verses, we have four rounds of speaking. First, Moses and Aaron speak to the people (vv. 6-7). Second, Moses speaks to them (v. 9). Third, Moses tells Aaron what to speak to the congregation (vv. 9-10). Fourth, the LORD speaks to Moses what he must say to Israel (vv. 11-12).

Let us first notice that the first two speeches in verses 6-9 both end with Moses and Aaron declaring to Israel the true nature of their grumbling. While verse 2 told us that Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, they both noted that Israel was really grumbling against the LORD. Moses and Aaron were simply servants of God. They were Israel’s physical leaders, certainly, but God was ultimately leading Israel. Moses and Aaron were God’s earthly representatives; thus, to grumble against them was actually to grumble against God.

This is a beneficial thought to take with us as we consider sharing the gospel with others, especially since the fear of rejection is one of the most common hindrances. Yet like Moses and Aaron, we are servants of Christ. Indeed, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Thus, difficult though it may be, we must never take a rejection of the gospel personally, for we are merely ambassadors of Christ.

This is an important insight about the sin of complaining. All our dissatisfaction and discontent ultimately is directed against God. Usually we take out our frustrations on someone else, especially people who are close to us. A psychologist would call this displacement. In the case of the Israelites, although they were taking things out on Moses, they were really angry with God. This is why God always takes our complaints personally. He knows that when we grumble about our personal circumstances, our spiritual leaders, or anything else, what we are really doing is finding fault with him. We are complaining about what he has provided (or not provided, as the case may be). A complaining spirit always indicates a problem in our relationship with God.[3]

Indeed, verse 6 and verse 12 both reflect that to be true. In those verses, we are given a glimpse at the roots of Israel’s grumbling: they did not know the LORD. They still had not grasped the primary purpose of God bringing them out of the land of Egypt, which was now becoming a compounding problem because He had more to teach them. Matthew Henry notes the lessons well, saying, “When God plagued the Egyptians, it was to make them know that he was the Lord; when he provided for the Israelites, it was to make them know that he was their God.”[4] They still did not rightly comprehend God’s sovereign power, which He displayed in Egypt; therefore, they could neither rightly comprehend God’s sovereign provision, which He was displaying to them in the wilderness.

Again, God wanted to bring Israel out of Egypt and into communion with Him. He was determined to give them far greater blessings than they actually desired to have. They would have been perfectly happy in Egypt as slaves so long as they were not beaten too severely or too frequently. Yet God wanted them to know Him, the Blessed One from whom all blessings flow. Israel was, as all of us are, “half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who want to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[5]

That is not Israel’s problem. That is humanity’s problem. That is my problem and your problem. God longs to give us the very best of all things, which is Himself, but we only want lesser things. That, of course, was the great ministry of Christ. It is through Christ that God has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Christ reveals to us the fullness of God’s unsurpassed glory so that, as we look upon His face, the things of earth become strangely dim.

Indeed, this brings us to our final point from within these verses: God gave Israel bread from heaven in order to display His glory. Of course, God displays His glory to Israel within the cloud in verse 10; however, in verse 7 says, “in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD…” The heavenly bread would come to Israel in the morning whenever the dew had gone up. The bread that Israel gathered from the ground was just as much a display of God’s glory as the plagues or pillars of cloud and fire were. Since God’s glory is the radiance or shining forth of His nature and character, to see God’s glory is know Him more fully. Thus, God’s glory was revealed through giving Israel bread to eat because He was revealing to them more of Himself.

I think that Spurgeon’s analysis of this passage and point is well worth noting:

It seems to us a difficult thing to supply food for the hundreds of thousands (or the millions) who were in the wilderness. But, difficult as that was, the supply of food was not so difficult as the education. To train that mob of slaves into a nation under discipline—to lift up those who had been in bondage and make them fit to enjoy national privileges—this was the Herculean task Moses had to perform. And their God, who loved the children of Israel and chose them, undertook to teach them—and the used their food as part of the means of their education. Animals are often taught through their food. And the Lord, who knew of what a coarse nature Israel was composed, took care to teach them by every means, not only by the higher and the more spiritual, by the typical and symbolic, but he also taught them by their hunger and by their thirst. He wanted them to know him. If they knew God, they would know all else, for, after all, the proper study of mankind is God. And when one knows his God, he knows himself. But if he thinks that he knows himself while he does not know his God, he is greatly mistaken.[6]

Of course, the LORD still does the same with us today. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” At the most basic level, we do this by giving thanks to God for whatever we have received. Each drink of water and each bite of food are no less the provision of our Father than Israel received in the wilderness. That was merely a miraculous provision, whereas our lunch today comes from God’s ordinary providential provision. Even so, He is no less deserving of our praise.

Yet Paul notably places that exhortation in the middle of his discussion of the Lord’s Supper. Just as the bread Israel received was a physical display of God’s glory to His people in the wilderness, so this bread and cup are physical displays to us of God’s glory as it was magnified to us upon the cross of Jesus Christ. Upon that tree, the good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, and the true Bread from heaven was broken that “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). In this bread and cup, we are able to taste and see the goodness and glory of our God as they summon us to look upon how marvelously our sins have been forgiven in Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] Daily Strength, 28.

[2] Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 390.

[3] Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 391.

[4] Matthew Henry, Commentaries Vol I: Genesis-Deuteronomy, 341.

[5] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 26.

[6] Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Study Bible, 94.


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