This week, one of my friends reminded me of the newspaper account of a Brinks armored truck, which was loaded with money which was nearly worn out and was on its way to be destroyed. The truck was involved in some kind of traffic accident, the result of which was that the doors flew open and the money was scattered in the intersection. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to visualize what happened. People jumped out of their cars, which they left to block the traffic, and frantically ran about, trying to gather as much money as they could hold.
Naturally, none of us would have done such a thing. Well, at least none of you would. But I would. One Christmas Eve, my younger brother and I had run to our neighborhood Safeway store to purchase some last minute provisions. We wanted to be sure to get what we needed, knowing that the stores would soon close for Christmas. When we got to the checkout counter, my brother overheard the checker telling a customer that all the bread which was on the shelves was free for the taking, since it would be too old to sell after Christmas.
Besides my brother and I, several other customers heard the good news, and began to work their way over to the breads. They walked slowly, and they picked through the bread, being careful to take only a loaf or two. Not so with us. We grabbed a couple empty shopping carts and began sweeping loaves of bread into them, starting of course with the expensive specialty breads. Fortunately, we had come in my van, which we loaded with bread. Calling friends and relatives, we shared the blessing of the free bread.
These stories of human greed may strike you as amusing, but they are also relevant to the account of God’s provision of manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, described in Exodus chapter 16. Having run out of food in the desert, so that the Israelites feared they would starve to death, one can only imagine the zeal with which they harvested the first provision of manna. There was enough manna, it would seem, for every Israelite to have filled his tent with it. From the account it appears that some tried, only to discover that it would not keep, turning foul and wormy. The efforts to hoard the provision of manna was in direct disobedience to God’s instructions. Their greed, like mine, and yours (admit it, you would have been trying to out maneuver me at that Safeway store), was evidenced in their attempt to hoard a surplus supply of manna, so that they could feel secure about the future.
In the passage which we will be studying in this message, Israel is guilty of two sins: greed and grumbling. We discover that both of these sins are symptomatic of an even more serious underlying sin. It is that sin which is characterized, and which God works to cure, in our text.
The background of God’s provision of manna for His people is to be found in the final verses of the previous chapter. Not finding water for three days, the Israelites came upon the waters of Marah, which they were unable to drink because they were bitter. The people initially cried out to God, and then began to grumble against Moses. They demanded to know what they were to drink. The Lord first made provision for the sweetening of the bitter waters of Marah (which means bitter), and then He spoke these words: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you” (Exod. 15:26).
God’s words suggest to me that there is a relationship between the plagues which are brought upon the Egyptians and the sweetening of the waters at Marah. For all intents and purposes, the “bitter” waters of Marah were as useless to the Israelites as the “bloody” water of the Nile after the first plague was brought upon Egypt. The Egyptians were plagued by God because they failed to heed the instruction of God to “Let His people go.” When God’s command to the Egyptians was disobeyed, the plagues ensued. Now, God is laying down commands to His people, the Israelites. If they disregard His commands, they will be plagued, just as the Egyptians were. The response of Israel to the bitter waters at Marah reveals that the Israelites are sinful, too. God’s commands will be given to His people to test them.164 To fail to obey will be to invite His judgments on them.
While God’s statement to Israel is a general command to them, the first of the “commands and decrees” which God refers to here are given in chapter 16.165 These commands are God’s instructions regulating the gathering and use of the manna which He is about to provide for His people. It is these commands which serve as a test of Israel’s faith and obedience. It is these same commands which serve to strengthen Israel’s faith and to teach His people to obey Him.
After the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai and Israel’s failure to possess the promised land, Israel’s wilderness wanderings are a part of her judgment, due to her unbelief. But here, at the beginning of Israel’s journey from Egypt toward Canaan, the time spent in the wilderness is not disciplinary (the result of her sin), but didactic (intended to instruct), an occasion for teaching Israel the necessity of faith and obedience. Chapters 16 and 17 describe God’s “boot camp” for Israel. Keeping God’s commands and decrees pertaining to the gathering and use of manna will teach God’s people to trust and obey.
A month passed between the time Israel departed from Egypt to the time when the nation reached the Wilderness of Sin.166 Water had already been a problem (cf. 15:22-26), and now they had run out of food.167 Their growling stomachs soon produced grumbling lips. The whole assembly grumbled against Moses and Aaron (16:2). They said they would rather have died in Egypt than to have been brought out into the desert to starve to death (16:3).
Before we consider God’s response to the grumblings of His people, it may be worthwhile to point out some of the characteristics of Israel’s grumbling in this incident. Very likely, we will find that grumbling was not only a problem then, but that it is also a problem in our lives as well.
(1) Grumbling is a problem with pain or problems. Grumbling almost never occurs when we are experiencing pleasure, but nearly always when we are in pain. In our passage, there is a definite relationship between the Israelites’ growling stomachs and their grumbling lips. We grumble because we do not like the pain or the discomfort of the situation we are in. We grumble because we think that we should experience pleasure rather than pain, affluence and ease rather than adversity and deprivation.
(2) Grumbling is a problem of perception. Grumbling results from a difference between the way we perceive things to be and the way we think they should be. The problem is that when we grumble our perception of how things are is distorted. Grumbling invariably distorts the facts. In our text, Israel greatly exaggerated the benefits of Egypt. They said they “sat” (v. 3) by their flesh pots, and that they ate “all they wanted” of a great variety of foods and meat. This is, quite frankly, hard to believe. If the Egyptians made them gather their own straw and were attempting to kill boy babies, why would they be concerned to feed the Israelites so well? Also, their perception of their own imminent danger of starvation was greatly exaggerated. They believed that their hunger was starvation. No one had yet starved; at best, a few had begun to feel hunger. Worst of all, perhaps, they accused Moses of leading them into the wilderness in order to kill them. Their perception of Moses’ motivation was entirely distorted. Finally, Israel’s perception of God’s care and compassion is minimized to grotesque proportions. They failed to perceive the loving hand of a sovereign God in their sufferings.
(3) Grumbling is a problem of submission. The Israelites grumbled against their leaders, Moses and Aaron. The people had forgotten that it was God who was leading them, not only by Moses, but also by the cloud which was before them (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; 16:10). Ultimately, then, Israel’s grumbling was a protest against God’s leadership, as Moses pointed out (16:7-8).
(4) Grumbling is a sin of the tongue, which is closely related to disobedience. Grumbling occurs when we can’t control our situation. Disobedience occurs when we have an option and we choose to do other than that which God has commanded.
(5) Grumbling is a communicable disease. We are told in verse 2 that, “the whole community grumbled …” I would suggest that the grumbling of a handful of people spread into the epidemic plague of the grumbling of the whole congregation. Grumbling is not only a malady of the mouth, it is a malady which is spread by the mouth.
(6) Grumbling is the result of a failure in our faith. Grumbling is a sin, but it is a symptomatic sin. It reveals a lack of faith, for the grumbler does not see that good hand of God, refuses to accept the adversity, and sees disaster rather than blessing as the outcome of their circumstances. In fact we can go farther and say that grumbling is allowing our present circumstances to nullify our confidence in God’s purposes and promises.
Knowing that Israel’s grumbling was the result of her lack of faith, God responded to it in a way which I would not expect. Later on, the grumbling of the Israelites resulted in some painful chastisement. The difference between God’s response to Israel’s grumblings here in Exodus 16 and His more severe dealings in Numbers 11 is explained, I believe, by the difference in time spent with God in the wilderness. Here, the Israelites have spent but one month following God, and are relatively immature in their faith. Later on, God’s Law has been given, and His faithfulness to Israel has been repeatedly demonstrated.
Consequently, God responded gently and graciously to the grumblings of the Israelites. Rather than to rebuke them for their complaining, He did two things, both of which were intended to demonstrate His presence with His people in their affliction and adversity. First, He revealed His glory to the Israelites by some special manifestation of Himself in the cloud by which He had been leading them (16:10). Second, God provided His people with quail168 and with manna (16:11-14).
As usual, there are many who attempt to demonstrate that the manna which was provided for the Israelites was not miraculous at all.169 This is very difficult to believe in the light of what the text tells us about the manna which God provided for His people.
(1) The manna which God provided appears to be very nutritious, as would be required for desert rations. Israel was given nourishment and energy for the rigorous task of desert travel. It may not have had the most exciting flavor, or at least the Israelites eventually tired of it, asking for something more spicy (cf. Numbers 11:4-9).
(2) The manna which God provided could be prepared in different ways. It could be baked or boiled (v. 23).
(3) The manna was not necessarily the only item which constituted Israel’s diet.170
(4) The manna was provided in abundance, so much so that limits had to be placed on how much was gathered (cf. vss. 13-21).
(5) The manna was miraculously provided. It was “rained down from heaven” (v. 4). It was like nothing the Israelites had ever seen before (v. 15). It appeared every morning, except on the Sabbath. At the end of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness it ceased falling (Joshua 5:12).
(6) The manna appeared in the morning and disappeared in the heat of the day.
(7) The manna would not keep, except over the Sabbath.
(8) Some of the manna was miraculously preserved, as a memorial of God’s provision for future generations (vss. 31-36).171
When God provided the Israelites with this “bread from heaven” (16:4), He also gave instructions as to how this bread was to be gathered and used. These instructions were intended to test the Israelites as well as to teach them obedience and increase their faith. We will therefore review these instructions briefly and then consider their role in promoting Israel’s faith.
(1) Israel was to gather only what was required for that day (v. 16).
(2) It would appear that every Israelite was required to gather manna for his own needs (v. 16).
(3) Manna was to be gathered daily, and only enough for that day was to be gathered. Any excess from that day was to be disposed of at the end of the day (v. 19). In other words, manna could not be stored up or hoarded.
(4) Israel was to gather twice as much on the sixth day, and to gather none on the Sabbath (vss. 23-26).
God was not imposing needless rules and regulations on the Israelites, as we sometimes accuse our government of doing today. God’s rules always have reasons. The purpose of God’s provision of manna and for His exacting rules regarding its collection and use, can be best understood in the light of the rest of the Bible, beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy and ending in the Book of Revelation. I will briefly survey the major references to manna in these texts, and then summarize their relevance to our lives today.
The temptation of our Lord (Matt. 4:1-4; cf. Deut. 8:1-3). Israel was led into the wilderness to be tested by God for forty years (Deut. 8:2). Our Lord was led of God into the wilderness to be tested (including hunger also) for forty days (Matt. 4:1-2). At the end of the forty day period, Satan approached our Lord to tempt Him. The first attempted temptation172 centered around food. Since our Lord was hungry after His forty day fast, it seemed only logical that He should eat. Satan challenged Him to prove His deity by satisfying His human need for food, doing so by the exercise of His divine power.
Our Lord’s answer was to refer Satan to Deuteronomy chapter 8, which was a theological reflection of incidents such as that recorded in Exodus chapter 16. The lesson drawn from Deuteronomy 8 was that one’s physical needs are secondary to one’s spiritual responsibilities—namely to be obedient to the will of God. Our Lord’s hunger, like Israel’s, was the will of God. To satisfy the physical need for food and, at the same time, to disobey God’s will, was wrong. In point of fact, Jesus was saying that obedience to the will of God is more life-saving for a hungry man than is the eating of bread. Obedience to the will of God is the basis for survival, and is of higher priority than the act of eating. The pertinent principle is this: Submission to the will of God is more important than the satisfaction of our physical, bodily, needs.
Think about this principle as it helps us to understand our study of the Book of Exodus. Egypt was the bread basket of the world, both in the days of Joseph, and in the days of Moses. When Pharaoh, his officers, and the Egyptians disobeyed the command of the Lord to “let His people go” that “bread basket” was virtually emptied. The plagues show the progressive agricultural and economic devastation of that nation. Thus, disobedience to the will of God brought the Egyptians to physical hunger.
On the other hand, the barren desert was no place to find food, but because the Israelites obeyed God and followed Moses and the guiding cloud, God provided the hungry Israelites with a bumper crop of manna, six out of every seven mornings, for forty years. Disobedience turned a bread basket into an empty basket. Obedience turned a barren wilderness into a breadbasket. Submission to the will of God is of higher priority than the meeting of our physical needs.
The words of our Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:11). Our Lord taught His followers to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Given the backdrop of God’s daily provision of manna in the wilderness for forty years, it is almost impossible to conceive of this prayer being unrelated to the purpose of the giving of the manna in Exodus 16. I would suggest to you that the divine daily provision of manna in the wilderness taught the Israelites to look daily to God for their daily sustenance. The Israelites had to trust God very literally for their “daily bread.” Those of us who are not living “hand-to-mouth” need to look to God as the source of our life, whether or not we have a supply of food adequate for the week. Dependence is a daily matter, and our prayers should demonstrate this kind of dependence. Whether or not we have a surplus of goods is not the issue, so much as on whom or what we have our sense of dependence. As Paul instructed Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17).
The feeding of the five thousand and the resulting discussion and discourse (John 6). The crowds had followed our Lord to a desolate place (dare I say a wilderness? cf. Mark 6:35), where there was no food available. Our Lord gave them bread and meat (fish) to eat, just as God had given the Israelites bread and meat (quail) in the wilderness in Exodus 16. The response of the crowd was to look to the Lord Jesus to become a “meal ticket” for them for the rest of their days: “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread” (John 6:34). In response, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe” (John 6:35-36).
Jesus not only fed the 5,000 to meet their physical needs, He sought to show them their spiritual needs, which He had come to supply. Like the manna in the wilderness, which saved the lives of the Israelites from physical death, He was the “bread of heaven” (a play on words which goes back to the manna which God “rained down from heaven,” Exod. 16:4). Unlike the “bread from heaven” which God gave the Israelites (the manna), the new “Bread from heaven” would give men eternal life. Jesus was not only claiming to be bread, but to be better bread.
If the parallel is not clear enough, we find that just as the Israelites grumbled in the context of the manna which God gave in Exodus 16 (and later on, cf. Num. 11, esp. v. 6), so, too the Israelites grumbled about our Lord as the “bread from heaven”: At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41). The New Testament therefore shows us that the “bread of heaven” is the instrument of God’s salvation. The former “bread of heaven” preserved men’s physical lives. The final “bread of heaven” is Him who saves men's souls from eternal death. This He has done by giving His life as a sacrifice. It is no wonder that one of the two symbols present at the Lord’s Table which we partake of each Sunday is bread.
The teaching of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 and 2 Corinthians 8:14-15. The Corinthian church was a self-indulgent church. There were those living in sexual immorality (cf. 1 Cor. 6). The church even condoned a man living with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). Not only was the church self-indulgent in matters of their sexual appetites, they were also self-indulging in the area of food. Rather than to abstain from certain foods for the benefit of a weaker brother, some of the Corinthians indulged in the sumptuous meals which were related to pagan worship and sacrifice (cf. 1 Cor. 10:14-33). Even at the Lord’s table, some did not have sufficient self-control to wait for those who had to come later (1 Cor. 11:17-34). In taking a public role in the worship meeting of the church, many indulged themselves to the exclusion of others, depriving the church of edification (1 Cor. 14).
Paul speaks to the Corinthian self-indulgence by turning their attention back to the exodus of the Israelites:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them, God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer (1 Cor. 10:1-10).
I would suggest that while there is much more referred to here than just the events of Exodus chapter 16, there is a common theme, a common element—that of self-indulgence in matters of the physical appetites. That is why the verses immediately preceding this section pertain to the self-discipline required of the Christian (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
The manna which God provided in abundance in the wilderness provided the Israelites with the opportunity of over-indulging, but God’s commands pertaining to the harvesting and use of it prohibited such excesses. The manna was thus given to give God’s people a lesson in self-restraint. When Paul refers to the “spiritual food” of the Israelites, he does so in the context of self-control, and no wonder. That is what manna was all about—self-control.
The warnings and promises to the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17). The church at Pergamum had fallen into an error which our Lord referred to as “the teaching of Balaam” (v. 14). We know from the context that this involved “things sacrificed to idols,” and “acts of immorality,” the very same evils as were present in the Corinthian church (see above). To those who were faithful and would be overcomers, our Lord gave this promise, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17).
I would like to suggest that our Lord is promising His “hidden manna,” that is His provision of the inner needs (not just physical needs) of those who were faithful, and who exercised the self-control necessary to deny the fleshly lusts which were being peddled by the false teachers referred to as the “teaching of Balaam.”
From the New Testament references to the manna of the Israelites, I would suggest that several principles were being taught in the provision of this “bread from heaven” which are just as applicable to Christian living today as they were for the Israelites.
(1) Manna teaches us the priority of submission to the revealed will of God. The great danger which Israel faced was not starvation in the midst of a wilderness, but the wrath of God. God could make a breadbasket into an empty basket, as He had just done to the Egyptians. God could also turn a desert into a breadbasket, as He did with the manna. As the closing verses of Exodus chapter 15 reveal, Israel’s reaping of God’s blessings and her healing from Egypt’s judgments are dependent upon her careful obedience to the commands and decrees of God. It is our response to the revealed will of God that results in either life or death, blessing or judgment.
This points out the importance of our Lord’s self-revelation as the “bread of heaven.” Our Lord came from heaven to save men from the divine wrath of God, which we all deserve. God offers healing to all who will accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, as the one who died in their place, and who bore the penalty for their sins. Just as God’s provision of manna, the “bread from heaven” was not “steak and ale,” it was the only means God had provided for her life. So, too, Jesus Christ is God’s only provision as the “bread from heaven” whom we must partake of in a personal way, if we are to be delivered from the wrath of God. Obedience to the revealed word of God is a matter of life and death.
(2) Obedience to the will of God is diametrically opposed to the self-indulgent orientation of our culture. Obedience to the word of God therefore requires self-denial and self-discipline. Few cultures have been more oriented toward self-indulgence and self-fulfillment than our own. In this sense, our culture is diametrically opposed to the Word of God. The self-sacrifice of our Lord (cf. Philippians 2:5-8) is the pattern for every saint, who must “take up his cross daily” to follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Obedience to the Word of God is our highest calling, even if this means physical deprivation or even death.
Our obedience to God therefore requires self-denial, and self-denial requires self-discipline. If we would be obedient to our Lord, we must obey His commands. Since He has commanded us to deny ourselves daily and to take up our cross (Luke 9:23), we must have self-discipline to replace self-indulgence (encouraged both by our culture and our fallenness) with self-denial. More and more I can understand why God did not immediately lead His people from Egypt into Canaan. They did not have the discipline necessary to survive either the adversity or the affluence of the land of Canaan.
The more I read the New Testament, the more I see the importance of self-discipline, which, you will recall, is one of the manifestations of the Spirit of God: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Reading through Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, along with his letter to Titus has underscored in my mind the vital role which self-discipline plays in the Christian’s life. And, incidentally, it is also noteworthy to observe that one of the common characteristics of the false teacher is self-indulgence: “These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16, cf. also v. 18; 2 Pet. 2:10, 13-22).
I would like to suggest two very practical outworkings of self-discipline in our daily lives. I must warn you, they are not easy, nor are they pleasant (which is exactly why self-discipline is required). The first suggestion I would make is that we must learn to do without those things which we cannot afford. Such a suggestion is so obvious, you may wonder why I make it. The reason is that contemporary advertising and credit buying consistently encourage us to buy what we neither need nor can afford. We are told that “we owe it to ourselves,” “we are worth it,” and in addition, we are given credit sufficient to enable us to buy those things which we don’t have the money to buy. I am not saying that all credit buying or borrowing is wrong. I am saying that most of us buy things we cannot afford, simply to indulge ourselves.
The second practical suggestion I would make is that we need to develop the ability to deny ourselves of some things which we can afford. I have a negative illustration from personal experience. This week, a friend took me and another friend to lunch. It was a buffet, so that once you paid, you could eat all you wanted. I ate two pieces of angel food cake, with gooey icing. Affording the cake was not the issue. Let’s face it, I indulged, I over-indulged. All of us need to learn to say no to things which we could have, but need to do without for the sheer discipline of it. That is what God required of the Israelites. They could have harvested huge quantities of manna, but He told them to take only what was required for that day.
(3) Self-discipline is not something which man can produce from within himself, but comes from God. When I speak of self-discipline, I want to be clear that I am not speaking of the teeth-gritting, self-effort which is merely a form of “works” which is displeasing to God. There are those who engage in self-denial, in a way that is offensive to God.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Col. 2:20-23).
No, we are not talking about the kind of self-denial which we generate within ourselves, feeling that such asceticism makes us more holy in God’s eyes. We are talking about the self-control which the Spirit of God works within the believer and which characterizes those who are mature in their faith and sets them apart from false teachers (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:1-7; 3:3; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 6, 12). We are talking about that discipline which is motivated by our love for God, and our love for men.
The tension which we face here, with regard to self-discipline, is a part of the broader tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The manna God provided Israel in Exodus 16 illustrates the fact that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are inter-related. God provided the manna which Israel needed, but He commanded them to collect, cook, and keep it, in accordance with His instructions. So, too, self-control is something which God produces in the saint through His Spirit, but it is something in which we participate as well.
Let me attempt to draw these matters of self-indulgence and self-control to a conclusion by summarizing several principles which relate to them:
(1) The Christian frequently must choose between immediate pleasure and eternal blessings. Self-indulgence inclines one to pursue the former, while self-discipline is required to gain the latter. Hebrews chapter 11 is filled with the names of those who chose to deny themselves of immediate pleasure for the certainty of God’s eternal blessings.
(2) The Christian who would rid himself of self-indulgence must learn to be content with the condition and the circumstances in which God has placed him (cf. Phil. 4:10-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10).
(3) The Christian who would overcome the tendency toward self-indulgence must develop a sense of daily dependence upon God to meet his every need (cf. Matt. 6:11). For those of us who have enough food for today and tomorrow and the next several weeks, we must recognize that it is God who is our provider. We must seek to avoid a false sense of confidence based upon our material wealth (1 Tim. 6:17), and we must be free to share out of our surplus (2 Cor. 8; 1 Tim. 6:18). We must recognize that we are dependent upon God daily for our life, for health, and for the grace to deal with all that comes our way. These are things which money cannot buy.
May God give us the grace to learn to live with affluence, and to avoid the perils of self-indulgence by the development of self-discipline and self-denial in our lives.
164 Note the words of Exodus 15:25: “There the Lord made a decree and a Law for them, and there he tested them.” This suggests to me that God tests men by the decrees and laws which He gives them. Surely this was the case with Adam and Eve. So, too, it is the case with Israel, and with us. Our obedience to God is revealed by our response to His commands.
165 Ultimately, the commands and decrees of God will be spelled out on Mt. Sinai, as summarized in the 10 commandments, but initially the commands of God which are referred to are those regulations regarding the gathering and use of manna.
166 In Exodus 12 we learn that the Passover meal was eaten on the night of the 14th day of the first month (12:2, 6). Israel departed early the next morning. In 16:1 we are told that Israel arrived at the Desert of Sin on the 15th day of the second month.
There is no commonly accepted view of the location of the Wilderness of Sin. Davis outlines four views, and gives his preference. This is not really a matter which bears upon the interpretation or the application of the text. Cf. John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), pp. 178-179.
168 At this time the quail are barely mentioned. God gave the Israelites what they desired, and without any negative consequences. The quail were provided once, while the manna was a daily provision. It is the manna which is clearly in focus in this chapter.
169 So far as I have read, there are two primary natural explanations of the manna which is provided in Exodus 16. One is a “mossy manna,” which produces “pea-sized globules, found in central Asia, but absent from Sinai during the last 150 years.” The other is a substance which comes from the tamarisk trees, which grow in thickets in that part of the world. Cf. Davis, pp. 181-182.
It is somewhat disturbing to find Cole leaning toward the natural explanation of manna. He writes, “The manna was white, round and sweet. It was obviously unknown to later Israelites: hence the careful characterization. This description, and its quality of disappearing in the heat of the sun (when collected by ants), prove almost conclusively that it was the Arabic man, a globular exudation of two types of scale insects, living on twigs of tamarisk. This substance is chemically composed of natural sugars and pectin, and is found today only in the south-western part of the Sinai Peninsula after the rains of spring.” R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 133.
As to the origin of the term manna, the text informs us that the name manna originated from the question of the Israelites, when they first saw the manna, “What is it?” (v. 15). While the Hebrew expression rendered “What is it?” is not identical to the expression “manna,” they are similar. Davis (p. 180) quotes Bohl, who argues that there was another form of the question which closely approximates the term manna.
170 “It should not be assumed from these passages that manna constituted the only part of the diet of the Hebrews during this forty-year period. … That wheat and meats were available is clearly implied in such references as Exodus 17:3; 24:5; 34:3; Leviticus 8:2, 26, 31; 9:4; 10:12; 24:5; and Numbers 7:13, 19.” Davis, p. 181.
172 I refer to this as an “attempted temptation” because we know from James 1:13 that God is not temptable. This was a temptation so far as Satan’s motivation was concerned, however. Satan’s desire was to tempt our Lord, but we learn that He could not be tempted to sin because there was no inclination to sin in Him. Jesus had no sin nature, and just as a magnet cannot attract a non-metalic object, so Satan found nothing in our Lord which was inclined toward or desirous of sinning.