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.
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.
Marah laid the pattern for the life of the nation of Israel that would obtain throughout the wilderness journey. There the people first began to murmur because of the rigor of the life they were called to lead. There God clearly demonstrated that He was perfectly able to provide for them in all of their need. There God set forth His statute and ordinance to prove them, saying, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ea; to his commandments, and keep his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”
From Marah Israel moved to Elam. There they camped. It was a pleasant place to be with its seventy palm trees and twelve wells bf water. During the stay at Elam the camp was quiet; but underneath there was a deepset division that had developed. There were those who remembered the marvelous works of Jehovah their God and trusted in His abiding love. For them the Song of Moses still re-echoed in their hearts. They looked forward in faith, confident in the promises of God. And there were also the others. They too had sung the Song of Moses on the shore of the Red Sea; but already it was forgotten. They were discovering that the way of the wilderness was to be hard, and doubts were creeping in. They wanted material prosperity, and, as long as it did not come, they would object. Henceforth this division would become ever more evident in the life of the nation. The two elements would be Constantly vying together for control of the nation. The latter group being by far the more numerous, except for the repeated intervention of Jehovah, they would surely overcome.
Elam provided a peaceful camp. Under the shade of its palms, the people found rest. But it could not last. The cloud of Jehovah would lead them onward. Soon the tents were packed, and Israel set forth again to the rigor of the wilderness way.
A few days of travel passed, and again the discontents had an opportunity to speak. This time it was food. The supply was getting low, and looking about in the wilderness, they saw none that was to be had. First there were just sullen faces with mutterings under the breath; but before long there were animated and angry conversations. Men circulated through the camp spreading the flames of rebellion. What were they going to do for food? Soon what they had would be gone, and they would all be left without. This was not what they had been promised. It was not right. It was not fair. Some became outspoken, and united themselves into a crowd. With flushed faces they made their way to Moses and Aaron. Their voices were angry and loud. “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 the wilderness, to kill the whole assembly with hunger.”
To them Moses and Aaron would not answer. They would not meet anger with anger, heated words with heated words. The implication was very clear. They, Moses and Aaron, were being blamed for the fear of the people. The people accused them because they were men, and the people dared not lay the blame to God. Silently Moses and Aaron turned to do the only thing they could. They went in prayer to God. As they prayed, God came to Moses and spoke. “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.”
Meanwhile, as the people waited, a hushed silence fell over the camp. Tension was drawn to the point of breaking. One short month had passed since their departure from Egypt, and already the third crisis had come. The trouble was in the route they had been made to take. They never knew what was coming next. Every day anew the way ahead looked impossible. It made them uncertain and afraid. Why could they not travel an easier road? Then they would not feel so much like rebelling. Still, there were some whose discernment went deeper than this. They had an underlying awareness of guilt. As yet, they realized, they had never really been in need. The presence of Jehovah was before them in the cloud, and He had always provided for them in time. It was just that they had to trust so exclusively in Him. There was never anything tangible upon which they could rely. That made it so hard.
Finally Moses and Aaron returned. First they went to the waiting group of leaders. With stern words of reprimand, they spoke. “At even, then ye shall know that the Lord hath brought you out from the land of Egypt: 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? 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.”
Next, all of the congregation was called together. The people gathered at the edge of the camp, and Aaron stood before them. Tensely the people waited for him to speak; but at the same time, there was an awareness of the cloud of Jehovah that hovered at a distance in the wilderness. Aaron’s pronouncement was short. “Come near before the Lord: for he hath heard your murmurings,” and with that he pointed them toward the cloud. Before their eyes the cloud began to glow. Brighter and brighter it shone until the glory, the beauty, the awful light of God’s presence blinded their eyes. While the people stood trembling, Moses was commanded to speak to them again. “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.”
Slowly the people returned to their tents and waited.They had seen the glory of Jehovah and heard the messages of Aaron and Moses. A feeling of anxious anticipation filled the camp. They could try to go about their usual activities, but their minds would only reflect again on what they had seen and heard. They had been told that they would eat flesh, but from where? They had been told that they would have bread, but how? It all seemed again so utterly impossible; yet they could not dismiss it from their minds. In groups or alone, they waited. And then, there arose an excited cry. A dark cloud had been sighted on the horizon. For a moment their hearts beat faster. Was it an approaching storm of judgment such as they had seen roll repeatedly over Egypt? They knew that they had displeased Jehovah by their complaining. But no, it approached too swiftly for that. Closer and closer it came vibrating as though with life and with the sound of many thrashing wings. It was a flock of birds covering the sky, quails without number. The birds came; they hovered over the camp; and then they settled down. In sheer amazement the people hesitated; but then they reached out and captured the birds with bare hands, as many as they wanted.
Countless fires burned brightly that night in the camp of Israel. The people had fresh meat to eat. They had thought it to be impossible, but Jehovah had brought it to pass. To the faithful it was an occasion of greatest joy. They were assured of the faithfulness of their God and of His abiding love. Repenting from their murmuring, they had peace in their souls. But there were also the others. In their mouths the meat was tasteless, and bitter in their stomachs. They would have almost preferred not to have seen the quails even if many had starved. Then they would have been justified in their complaints. Now they stood condemned.
And still there was more to come.
Early the next morning another excited cry went up. The earliest risers, awaking in the morning’s dawn, found the ground covered with white like snow. Quickly the people turned out to examine this new thing which they saw. Small, white kernels, like coriander seeds, covered the ground as far as the eye could see. The people looked and cried, “Manna? (What is it?) ” It was a substance such as human eyes had never before seen. They stooped and sifted it through their fingers. They lifted it to their lips and found it sweet to the taste like honey. It was a miraculous substance perfectly adapted for food. It could provide all of the nourishment needed by the human body even amid the rigorous life of the wilderness. Moses stood before the people and explained. “This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. 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 people; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.”
A feeling of festivity filled the camp as the people hastened to find containers. They found this new kind of food exciting. It was a delicious food, and an omer (perhaps about 5 pints), was sufficient for every man’s daily need. Soon they discovered that not only could it be eaten raw, but it could be seethed or baked as they chose. The manna was an indisputable testimony that Jehovah their God was fully capable of supplying their every need, and He did even when they were unthankful and wicked. But the manna was also a means by which they were being proved. Some there were who followed Moses’ command exactly, gathering only enough for one day. They understood that God would supply more food every morning and believed that it was so. But there were others who would take no chance. They gathered as much manna as they could until under the heat of the sun it melted away. They wanted to be sure that they would have food for the morrow regardless of what Moses said. The next morning a putrid stench hung over the camp for worms had invaded the pots where this extra manna was kept. With angry words Moses administered to them their reprimands.
With the sixth day of the week a new command was given. Moses brought it to the people. “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.” Again there were some that obeyed. They trusted the word of the Lord. But there were others that feared the stench. They preferred to gather in the morning even if it were the sabbath. But in the morning there was none, and it remained for them to go hungry. Again Moses spoke, “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? 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 sabbath day.”
Jehovah was teaching Israel a great lesson. They could exist as a nation only through complete dependence upon Him. It was the truth set forth by Moses and later quoted by Jesus, “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3). It was as though they heard beforehand the words of Jesus, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:25, 33).