Bread from Heaven | Exodus 16:13-36

While this chapter of Exodus most notably describes the miraculous gift of manna (the bread of angels) to the Israelites in the desert, we began the chapter last week without discussing the manna much at all. Instead, we focused upon the grumbling of the Israelites, the provision of God, and the reason for both of those things. Namely, the Israelites grumbled because they did not yet know the LORD, and God was providing them bread from heaven that they would know that He is their God.

The remainder of the chapter that is before us now concerns the angelic bread that God gave to Israel. These verses divide neatly into three parts. First, in verses 13-21 we find God’s daily gift of manna. Second, in verses 22-30 we find God’s weekly gift of a Sabbath. Third, in verses 31-36 we have God’s perpetual gift of remembrance to all future generations. Within each of these three sections, we read of God’s good provision, His command for Israel to place their faith in Him as their Provider, and a testimony of their disobedience.


Although verse 13 states that God gave to them quail in the evening, which was considered a great delicacy in Egypt (and I affirm that consideration!), it is not mentioned again in this chapter. This was an abundantly gracious provision from the LORD, granting them their desires rather than simply meeting their needs. And like all truly generous givers, the LORD passes by this extravagance without much comment or attention. Instead, the focus of these verses is upon God’s daily provision of bread, which miraculously appeared on the ground in the wilderness each morning.

As with all the miracles within the book of Exodus, many secular-minded scholars have attempted to find natural explanations for this daily manna. However, no explanation comes close to satisfying all of the descriptions that Moses gives. That it was flakey like frost, had the texture of coriander seed, tasted like honey, perfectly satisfied regardless of how much or how little someone gathered, rotted in the tent if kept overnight, preserved only on the seventh day of the week, and melted in the afternoon sun. Again, as with the other miracles of this book, Moses is laboring in his descriptions to affirm that this was a supernatural act of God. Furthermore, just because we call the ancients superstitious for attributing spiritual causes to natural phenomena, we should not think of them as ignorant children who could not tell the difference between the natural and the supernatural.

In verse 15, we are told why it is called manna in verse 31. The question what is it? in Hebrew is man hu, which apparently is what they simply kept calling it. Moses, however, answered that question directly by saying, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat” (v. 15). But with this provision came a command: Gather 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 (v. 16). Each person in Israel was to gather an omer of food, which is about two quarts or two liters. Thus, if there was a family of six in a tent, they would gather six omers of bread. I think this is to emphasize God’s individual provision for each Israelite. The human tendency, of course, is to vacillate between individualism and collectivism, but in Scripture God repeatedly holds the individual and the community together. Here we see the same truth. The LORD provided for Israel as a whole. Amen! Yet it is also just as important to note that He provided for each Israelite personally.

In verses 17-18, we learn that Israel largely obeyed God’s command. They gathered, some more and some less, but when they measured it, all came home with an omer of food. And all that their fill with nothing left over. This is another miraculous characteristic of the manna. All ate an omer of bread, and all were satisfied. The same amount filled those with greater and smaller appetites.

It is worth noting that Paul cites verse 18 in 2 Corinthians 8:15 as an encouragement for them to give generously and sacrificially. Here is how one commentator explains the connection:

Though told to gather one omer each (about two liters), some of the Israelites gather more, others less (Ex. 16:16-17). The curious thing about the account, to which Paul draws attention in 2 Corinthians 8, is that those who gather more do not in fact have more, while those who gather less have plenty. This is an OT illustration of the principle throughout 2 Corinthians that the way up is down and the way down is up. God’s scale is not ours. Hoarded manna goes bad (Ex. 16:20). But those who trustingly gather only what is needed for that day (or twice as much on the Sabbath) have no lack. Drawing the Corinthains’ mind back to Exodus, Paul nudges them to act accordingly, mindful that largeheartedness with one’s resources does not threaten one’s flourishing but, on the contrary, secures it.[1]

Indeed, abundant generosity reflects the abundant generosity of God Himself. Of course, since God is infinite someone might argue that God has every reason to be generous, for He can never lack anything. He is able to give without measure without any strain upon Himself because He is measureless. Yet the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus displays the very greatest act of God’s generosity toward us, which coincided with God the Son taking on our finiteness, our finitude. Also, God demands our generosity so that, as we look more and more like Him, we also learn more and more to depend upon Him. He calls us to lean upon His infinite shoulders.

We should also note the importance of God requiring the Israelites to gather the manna each day. As Henry notes, “God’s bounty leaves room for man’s duty; it did so even when manna was rained: they must not eat till they have gathered.”[2] So, it very often is with God’s variety of blessings. He makes them free for the taking, yet He requires us to still gather them. For example, the daily bread of God’s Word is always available to us, and we can eat each day as much or as little as we like. However, we must still obey our Bibles to read or hit play on the audio Bible to listen. This requirement is not burdensome, yet we so often want to be spoon-fed God’s blessings.

Unfortunately, Israel’s obedience was not universal. We read in verses 19-21:

And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till morning.” 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. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

Philip Ryken notes of Moses’ command:

In other words, “No hoarding!” This meant that the people had to trust God for tomorrow as well as today. In this case, rather than storing up for the future (which God allows and even commands in many situations), they were called to believe that God would continue to provide what they needed on a daily basis. Every day God tested their faith in his providence. He was teaching them to trust Him for their daily bread. Day by day, week by week, and year by year, they had to depend on him for everything.[3]

Sadly, like the Israelites, there is almost nothing that we dislike more than being dependent upon God. Although saving is certainly a part of wise stewardship, Jesus also expects us to depend daily upon our Father, for He taught us to pray for our daily bread. We may not be fed today with literal manna, but each bite of food is no less God’s provision and ought to be received with thanksgiving as such.

It is also right that we relate manna to God’s Word, for Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, saying, “And [the LORD] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Thus, Moses explicitly says that God was using their physical needs to teach them about their spiritual needs. They needed God’s Word more than they needed God’s bread. And like manna, we must listen to God’s Word morning by morning. Yesterday’s Bible reading is not sufficient for today’s need. We need the bread of God’s Word daily that, like the Israelites, we may learn to trust in Him.


In these verses, the focus is not so much on the gift of manna but upon the gift of the Sabbath. On the sixth day, the Israelites were commanded to gather two omers of manna, for God would not provide manna for them to gather on the Sabbath. In another miraculous display of God’s power, the manna which would rot overnight was preserved only from the sixth to the seventh day.

But, again, the preservation of the manna for the Sabbath is really to highlight God’s gift of the Sabbath to Israel. Although Moses had likely not written down Genesis yet, the people would have certainly still been familiar with the histories that were passed down to them orally from one generation to the next. Thus, while they may not have actually observed the Sabbath, they were clearly familiar with the Sabbath from the account of creation. Indeed, their reason for being unable to keep the Sabbath in Egypt was that the Egyptians did not recognize a day of rest for themselves, and they certainly would not have given one to their slaves. Thus, God is establishing Himself as a far more merciful ruler over Israel than Pharaoh was.

Yet the Israelites had just as much difficulty keeping this command as they did with the daily gathering. Just as some Israelites attempted to hoard manna for the next day, others also refused to collect double on the sixth day and were disappointed to find nothing in wilderness on the Sabbath. Although these were opposite errors, they ultimately came from the same distrustful heart. First, they did not trust God to provide bread the next day, then on the sixth day, they did not trust God to preserve the manna for the Sabbath.

Yet since God is clearly using manna here to instruct His people in keeping the Sabbath, we should spend at least a moment of our time discussing the significance of the Sabbath day. Notice that in verses 23 and 25 Moses calls it a Sabbath to the LORD, which is certainly consistent with the Sabbath commands that would later be given to Israel. God set apart the Sabbath day from the other six days of the week to be kept holy, to be used for worshiping Him and meditating upon His Word. Yet the Sabbath was also a gift to the Israel, as verse 29 makes clear: See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath… Of course, this is always God’s pattern. That which most glorifies Him is always inevitably for our good as well.

Indeed, the Sabbath glorifies God by displaying our dependence upon Him, which is why it is naturally tied to the manna in this chapter. Both were teaching the same lesson of trusting in God’s faithful provision. The LORD commands a Sabbath to be kept, so that we may be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). For six days, we are commanded to work, but for one day a week, God commands us to stop working and to remember that He is ultimately sovereign over all of creation and over all of our lives.

Ultimately, we must recognize that God takes our rest very seriously, just as parents take seriously their children’s sleep. And our refusal to rest is declaration of our distrust in God’s good provision, which is a sin that God takes very seriously, as we see in Ezekiel 20:10-13:

So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them.

I can hardly find a greater example of God’s goodness than the commanding of His people to rest, and there is scarcely a greater example of our fallen, sinful nature than our hatred of this rest. As I have said before, we are all high-functioning toddlers, and our rebellion against a Sabbath is a hardy proof. Just like my one-year-old revolts against taking a nap while rubbing her eyes and running into things from exhaustion, God our Father commands us to stop what we are doing and rest, and we throw a tantrum and scream, “No!”

Indeed, to further explore our revulsion against God’s commanded rest, notice how God commanded the Sabbath to be observed here in verse 29: Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day. Each person’s place here is no doubt his tent, as referenced in verse 16. Thus, God was, in effect, saying to Israel, “Stay home, and rest. That is how I want you to glorify Me.” The LORD was forcing them to have one day each week during which they would have no excuse for not living out God’s later command for them to diligently speak together of God’s Word “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). For six days, the members of each household may be largely scattered throughout the majority of the day, but God removed all excuse on the seventh day.

But, you may be wondering, are we not under the New Covenant in Christ? Has He not fulfilled the Sabbath? Yes, He certainly is Himself our Sabbath rest. Amen! Through our redemption in His blood, we are now able to rest in Christ from our vain and futile attempts to earn God’s favor through our broken obedience.

Indeed, the very fact that we now worship together on Sunday, which we call the Lord’s Day, is a reflection of our rest in Christ. Not only is our weekly gathering on Sunday a proclamation that Christ has risen from the grave; it is also a declaration that rest is no longer the culmination of our week of labor. Instead, our week now begins with rest and then goes into work. This is a reflection of the gospel, which by no means abolishes our call to do good works that honor and obey God. In Christ, our good works contribute nothing at all to our justification before God. That is the work of Christ alone. Our good works do, however, flow from us once we are justified before God. Our good works are now done as an offering of love to our Father who did not spare His only begotten Son to ransom us from our sins.

We should also note that God’s command for each person to remain in his or her place looks a bit different under the New Covenant as well. While we certainly ought to spend time with our own households, each Lord’s Day we leave those particular households in order to gather together as a congregation, which is rightly called the household of God (Ephesians 2:19) or the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).[4]


Our text ends with the following verses:

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. 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.’” 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.” As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. 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. (An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.)

Here the LORD commanded a portion of manna to be kept throughout Israel’s generations as a perpetual reminder of God’s miraculous provision to their ancestors. If our eyes have glazed over at every mention of an omer until now, I suggest we attempt to focus them now. You see, God does not include anything within Scripture that is not for our instruction and benefit and that includes weights and measurements. So, why has this portion of Scripture emphasized that the Israelites each gathered an omer, regardless of how much or how little they gathered? Because they were now commanded to set that exact portion of manna aside as a memorial to future generations, a perpetual testimony of what God gave to each Israelite each day of their journey through the wilderness.

Note that verse 35 ought to serve as both a warning and a wonder. Whether Moses wrote this during their forty-year wandering or someone else added it as an editorial comment after Moses’ death, it serves to foreshadow the greater sin of Israel and even greater mercy of God still to come. Of course, they would spend forty years in the wilderness because of their great rebellion against God, which is the warning. Yet even as God allowed the entire exodus generation die in the wilderness without entering the land of Canaan, God still gave them manna each day of their long sojourn, which is the great wonder. Although this wilderness was an uninhabitable land, God sustained His people for more than forty years.

This single omer of manna was a testimony of that provision, and it is still a reminder today of how God always works. Each Israelite ate, at least, 14,600 omers of manna over the course of their time in the wilderness, and this jar declared that reality to each subsequent generation. There is a sense in which each Christian’s life ought to be a similar testimony to the faithfulness of God. The salvation of one person is certainly a proclamation of how God showered His grace upon that person each day of his or her life, yet it is also a declaration of who God is and how He saves His people as a whole.

That is very much the lesson that author of Hebrews wants us to take from chapter 11, the so-called Hall of Faith, for he goes on to say, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1). I do not think we are meant to read that verse as a cloud of spectators cheering us on; rather, every saint who has died in the faith before us forms a great cloud of testimonies, declaring to us the faithfulness of God that we might also have faith in Him to finish our race and join their witness. Indeed, we ought to frequently consider what kind of testimony we will leave for future generations, for like this manna who we are each ordinary day will be the testimony of our lives in their entirety.  

Yet the write goes on in verse 2 to set our minds upon the greatest Witness of our faith: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Consequently, that is the testimony of the Lord’s Supper before us now. Like the omer of manna, this bread and this cup are testimonies of the great wonder that God ever enacted on behalf of His people. Let us, therefore, taste and see the goodness of our God as we eat and drink in proclamation of Christ’s death until He comes.

[1] Dane Ortlund, ESV Expository Commentary, Vol X: Romans-Galatians, 507.

[2] Matthew Henry, Commentaries Vol 1: Genesis-Deuteronomy, 342.

[3] Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 397.

[4] Technically, both of those passages appear to be speaking of the universal or invisible church; however, each local congregation is a physical and earthly representation of that spiritual reality. Therefore, I believe it rightly serves as a description of the local congregation as well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s