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Manna and quails

Query for the Month


June 2006

Next up-date: July 1st 2006 (God willing).

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Exodus 16:11-15

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak to them, saying, At even you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.”

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.  

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 [or, What is this?]” for they knew not what it was.  And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

 What was manna like and why is it connected with the quails?



 Let’s start with a fundamental principle which we need to keep clear in our minds as we read.  This principle was just as much in force in the Old Testament times as it is in the New Testament, and is set out in the following verses.

*************** (Begin quote)

1 Corinthians 6:

19 What?  Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? 20 For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit [character], which are God's.


1 Corinthians 10:

31 “Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

*************** (End quote)

 During the exodus and the subsequent wilderness wanderings thorough sanitary regulations were in place.  For example; “You shall have a [designated] place also outside the camp [as a toilet area], where you shall go forth abroad: and you shall have a paddle upon your weapon [staff]; and it shall be, when you will ease yourself abroad, you shall dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which comes from you.” Deuteronomy 23:12-13.  “And whomsoever he touches that has the issue [a sickness], and has not rinsed his hands in water, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.”  Leviticus 15:11. Millennia before Europeans learnt these things, God’s people were practicing them.

These regulations were enjoined on the people, not only as necessary to health, but as the condition of retaining among them the presence of the Holy One.  By divine authority Moses declared to them, “The LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you;  . . . therefore shall your camp be holy.” Deuteronomy 23:14.  We tend to overlook many of these points because today they are a fundamental part of our hygiene, but we need to learn the ones we have missed, if we would have the LORD closer to us.

The education of the Israelites included all their habits of life.  Everything that concerned their well-being was the subject of divine concern, and came within the province of divine law.  Even in providing their food, the Son of God sought their highest good.  The manna with which He fed them in the wilderness was designed to promote physical, mental, and moral strength.  Though so many of them rebelled against the restriction of their diet, and longed to return to the days when, they said, “We sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full [overeating?]” (Exodus 16:3), yet the wisdom of God's choice for them was vindicated in a manner they could not argue with. 

When they ate meat many of them died of sickness. 

When they ate God’s choice, despite the hardships of their wilderness life, there was not a feeble one in all their tribes – they died only as a result of God’s protection being rejected.

But although they had a plain “Thus says the LORD,” backed up by experience, most of them continued to mourn and weep, and murmur and complain, until the LORD was helpless against their choice.  Because they were so determined to have the flesh of dead animals, He gave them the very diet He had withheld from them as an evidence of His protecting care.

Whenever their appetite was restricted, the Israelites were dissatisfied, and murmured and complained against Moses and Aaron, and therefore against God.  But the Son of God was proving His people.  In order to develop what was in their hearts, He allowed them to pass through the severe trials which they brought upon themselves.  When they failed, He brought the survivors around to the same point again, allowing them to be tried a little more closely and severely, for success was vital to their happiness and eternal life.

In Egypt their taste had become perverted.  The LORD designed to restore their appetite to a pure, healthy state, in order that they might enjoy the simple fruits that were given to Adam and Eve in Eden.  He was about to establish them in a second Eden, a goodly land, where they might enjoy the fruits and grains that He would provide for them.  He wanted to remove the unhealthy diet upon which they had existed in Egypt, for He wished them to be in perfect health and soundness when they entered the land to which He was leading them, so that the surrounding heathen nations might be constrained to glorify the God of Israel, the God who had done so wonderful a work for His people.  But unless the people who acknowledged Him as the God of heaven were in perfect soundness of health, His name could not be glorified and not many would reach out for protection.

If the Israelites had submitted to God's requirements, they would have been very healthy and had healthy children.  But they chose to follow their own way, walking after the imagination of their own hearts, not just in the matter of diet.  They gratified all their appetites and consulted their own tastes and wishes in all things constantly.  As a result, the wilderness was strewn with their dead bodies.  Of all the vast multitude that left Egypt, six hundred thousand mighty men of war, besides women (possibly a million people), only two of the adults entered the promised land. 

After only three days' journey from the Red sea open complaints were heard.

*************** (Begin quote)

Exodus 15:

22 So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called “Marah”.

24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”

25 And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet.  There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, 26 and said, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, and will do that which is right in His sight [not your own desires], and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that heals you.” [What a promise!]

*************** (End quote)

These complaints originated with the Pagans in the mixed marriages, many of whom were not fully united with Israel, and who were continually watching for some cause of censure.  At first the complainers were not pleased with the direction of the march, for at times it led directly away from the road to Canaan, and they were continually finding fault with the way in which Moses was leading them, though they well knew that he, as well as they, was following the guiding cloud.  However, dissatisfaction is contagious, and it soon spread in the encampment. Now they had become dissatisfied with their food.

The Son of God might as easily have provided them with flesh as with manna, but the restriction was placed upon them for their good.  It was His purpose to supply them with food better suited to their wants than the spicy diet to which many had become accustomed in Egypt.  Their perverted appetite was to be brought into a more healthy state, that they might enjoy the food originally provided for man – the fruits of the earth, which God gave to Adam and Eve in Eden.  It was for this reason that the Israelites had been deprived, in a great measure, of animal food.

Satan tempted them to regard this restriction as unjust and cruel.  He caused them to lust after forbidden things, because he saw that the unrestrained indulgence of appetite would tend to produce sensuality, and by this means the people could be more easily brought under his control.  The author of disease and misery will always assail men and women where he can have the greatest success.  Through temptations addressed to the appetite he has, to a large extent, led humanity into sin from the time when he induced Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.  It was by this same means that he led Israel to murmur against God.  Intemperance in eating and drinking, leading as it does to the indulgence of the lower passions, prepares the way for men to disregard all moral obligations.  When assailed by temptation, they have little power of resistance. 

This is the record of the first instance of the giving of flesh:

*************** (Begin quote)

Exodus 16:

1 And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to 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 [about six weeks into the exodus]

2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel [not just the mixed multitude] murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: 3 and the children of Israel said to 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 you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Even today some people think they cannot miss a meal without feeling faint and weak.]

4 Then said the LORD to 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.  . . .

11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak to them, saying, At even you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and [then] you shall know that I am the LORD your God [who only has your welfare in My heart].”

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. 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. 15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, “It is ‘manna’ [or, ‘What is this?’]”: for they wist not what it was.  And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."

*************** (End quote)

What did manna look and taste like?

It was “small and round”  Exodus 16:14.

“It was like coriander seed, white;

and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”  Verse 31.


“And the manna was as coriander seed,

and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium [a dark red colour like resin].”  Numbers 11:7.

 [It would seem that it could have various colours and flavours and be cooked in many ways.] 

 “And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil.”  Verse 8.  

 And it didn’t keep:

*************** (Begin quote)

Exodus 16:

19 And Moses said, “Let no man leave of it till the morning.”

20 Notwithstanding they hearkened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them. 21 And [so] they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.

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. 23 And he said to them, “This is that which the LORD has said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath to the LORD: bake that which you will bake today, and seethe [boil] that you will seethe; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.” 24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.

25 And Moses said, “Eat that today; for today is a Sabbath to the LORD: today you shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, in it there shall be none.”

*************** (End quote)

Thus by a miracle with the manna God preserved the Sabbath law through the forty years of wilderness wandering.

The LORD could have given them flesh permanently had it been essential for their health, but He who created and redeemed them, while leading them on the long journey in the wilderness, educated and disciplined and trained them in correct habits.  The Son of God understood what the influence of flesh eating has upon the human system.  He wanted to have a people that would, in their physical appearance, bear the divine credentials of God’s guidance, notwithstanding their long journey.

One of the great errors that many insist upon today is that muscular strength is dependent upon animal food.  But the simple grains, fruits of the trees, and vegetables have all the nutritive properties necessary to make good blood.  This a flesh diet cannot do despite what the nutritionists tell us, not even the “clean” animals.  We are composed of what we eat, and eating much flesh, whether animal, bird, or fish will diminish intellectual activity.  Students would accomplish much more in their studies if they never tasted meat.  When the animal part of the human agent is strengthened by meat eating, the intellectual powers diminish proportionately.  In like manner, a religious life can be more successfully gained and maintained if meat is discarded, for this diet stimulates into intense activities lustful propensities, and enfeebles the moral and spiritual nature.  “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” we are told, and diet is one area where we are constantly under threat.  Galatians 5:17.

At the giving of the manna, just before Israel reached Sinai, the LORD had granted them flesh in answer to their clamours; but it was supplied for only one day. Exodus 16:13.  As time passed, many again began to clamour for flesh to eat.  Though abundantly supplied with manna, they were not satisfied.  The Israelites, during their bondage in Egypt, had been compelled to subsist on the plainest and simplest food; but then keen appetite induced by privation and hard labour had made it palatable and enjoyable.  Many of the Egyptians, however, who were now among them, had been accustomed to a luxurious diet; and these were again the first to complain. 

This is the record of the second time of demonstration:

*************** (Begin quote)

Numbers 11:

31 And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high [about 3ft or 1 metre thick] upon the face of the earth.

32 And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers [about 6 bushels or 220 litres]: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp [they didn’t share it]. 33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the LORD was kindled against the people [He had to remove His protection], and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague [possibly strokes or heart attacks brought on by excitement].

34 And he [Moses] called the name of that place “Kibroth-hattaavah” [graves of lust]: because there they buried the people that lusted.

*************** (End quote)

The LORD had suggested that one homer of manna per adult person per day was sufficient. Moses had told them, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take you every man for them which are in his tents.”  Exodus 16:16.  Yet he that gathered the least of the quail gathered ten homers!  And died for it!

The LORD still intends to bring His people back to live upon simple fruits, vegetables, and grains to save them from early deaths.  He led the children of Israel into the wilderness, where they could not get a flesh diet; and He gave them the bread of heaven.  “Man did eat angels' food.”  Psalm 78:25. But they craved the fleshpots of Egypt, and  mourned and cried for flesh, despite the fact that the LORD had promised them that if they would submit to His will He would carry them into the land of Canaan and establish them there, a pure, holy, happy people, and there should not be a feeble one in all their tribes; for He would take away all sickness from among them.  Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 7:15. 

 In another place He said, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that heals you.”  Exodus 15:26.

Having said all that, we must realise that if we are ignorant of these things when called into service in His kingdom, we can still witness for Him successfully. That which lies at the foundation of religious integrity and of true success is the recognition of God's ownership, and this should always be attached to the everlasting gospel.  “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters’.”  Revelation 14:6-7. The Creator of all things, He is the original proprietor.  We are His stewards.  All that we have is a trust from Him, to be used according to His direction.

This is an obligation that rests upon every human being.  It has to do with the whole sphere of human activity.  Whether we recognize it or not, we are stewards, supplied from God with talents and facilities, and placed in the world to do a work appointed by Him. To every man and woman is given “his/her work” (Mark 13:34), the work for which his capabilities adapt him, the work which will result in greatest good to himself and to his fellow men, and in greatest honour to God. 

Thus our business or calling is a part of God's great plan, and, so long as it is conducted in accordance with His will, He Himself is responsible for the results.  “Labourers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9), our part is faithful compliance with His directions.  Thus there is no place for anxious care.  Diligence, fidelity, caretaking, thrift, and discretion are called for.  Every faculty is to be exercised to its highest capacity.  But the dependence will be, not on the successful outcome of our efforts, but on the promise of God.  The word that fed Israel in the desert, and sustained Elijah through the time of famine, has the same power today.  He says,  “Take no thought [be not therefore anxious], saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?  . . .  Seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you [we can learn about them as time goes by, as the people of the exodus should have].” Matthew 6:31-33. 

If all the teachings given by Christ when enshrouded in the pillar of cloud, had been obeyed, the Jewish nation would have stood forth to glorify God above every nation and people upon the face of the earth.  Jewish Jerusalem need not have been destroyed.  Jesus cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not [let Me]! Matthew 23:37. But she disregarded the commandments of God, while professedly regarding them.

If the Israelites had been given the diet to which they had been accustomed while in Egypt, they would have exhibited the unmanageable spirit that the people of the world are exhibiting today.  In the diet of men and women in this age there are included many things that the LORD would not permit the children of Israel to eat.  The human family as it is today is an illustration of what the children of Israel would have been if God had allowed them to eat the food and follow the habits and customs of the Egyptians.  Many among us consider them to have been badly behaved during their wanderings, but they were a lot better than their contemporaries.

Precious were the lessons taught to Israel during their sojourn at Sinai a few weeks later.  This was a period of special training for the inheritance of Canaan.  And their surroundings there were favourable for the accomplishing of God's purpose.  On the summit of Sinai, overshadowing the plain where the people spread their tents, rested the pillar of cloud which had been the guide of their journey.  A pillar of fire by night, it assured them of the divine protection; and while they were locked in slumber, the bread of heaven fell gently upon the encampment.  On every hand, vast, rugged heights, in their solemn grandeur, spoke of eternal endurance and majesty.  Man was made to feel his ignorance and weakness in the presence of Him who has “weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance.” Isaiah 40:12.  Here, by the manifestation of His glory, the Son of God sought to impress Israel with the holiness of His character and requirements, and the exceeding danger of transgression, for it leads to eternal death. 

But the people were slow to learn the lesson.  Accustomed as they had been in Egypt to material representations of the Deity, and these of the most degrading nature, it was difficult for them to conceive of the existence or the character of the Unseen One.  In pity for their weakness, God gave them a symbol of His presence.  “Let them make Me a sanctuary,” He said; “that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8.

In the building of the sanctuary as a dwelling place for God, Moses was directed to make all things according to the pattern of things in the heavens.  God called him into the mount, and revealed to him the heavenly things, and in their similitude the earthly tabernacle, with all that pertained to it, was fashioned. 

In that sanctuary the showbread was kept before the LORD as a perpetual offering.  Thus it was a part of the daily sacrifice.  It was called showbread (bread of the Presence), because it was always before the face of the LORD.  It was an acknowledgment of man's dependence upon God for both temporal and spiritual food, and that it is received only through the mediation of Christ.  The Son of God was feeding Israel in the wilderness with bread from heaven to teach them that they were dependent upon His bounty, both for temporal food and spiritual blessings.  Both the manna and the showbread pointed to Christ, the living Bread, who is ever in the presence of God for us.  He Himself said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.” John 6:48-51.  In the sanctuary incense representing prayers  was placed upon the loaves.  When the bread was removed every Sabbath, to be replaced by fresh loaves, the incense was burned upon the altar as a tribute before God.  Leviticus 24:5-9.

Today there are many minds in many places to whom the LORD has given knowledge of how to prepare foods that are healthful and palatable, as He sees that they will use this knowledge righteously.  Animals are becoming more and more diseased, and now animal flesh is being discarded by many besides God’s people.  Foods that are healthful and life-sustaining are available so that men and women do not need to eat meat any more.

But the LORD speaks against a prevailing practice today.  No one is to think that he or she is the possessor of all knowledge regarding the preparation of health foods, or that he has the sole right to use the LORD's treasures of earth and tree in this work.  No one is to feel free to use according to their own profit the knowledge God has given them on this subject.  “Freely you have received, freely give” is the principle.  Matthew 10:8.

He who fed the multitude with five loaves and two small fishes is able today to give us the fruit of our labour.  He who said to the fishermen of Galilee, “Let down your nets for a draught,” and who, as they obeyed, filled their nets till they broke, desires His people to see in this an evidence of what He will do for them today. Luke 5:4.  The God who in the wilderness gave the children of Israel manna from heaven still lives and reigns.  He will guide us and give us skill and understanding in the work we are called to do.  He will give wisdom to those of us who strive to do our duty conscientiously and intelligently, if we listen to His advice.  He who owns the world is rich in resources, and will bless everyone who is seeking to bless others.

The light that God has given and will continue to give on the food question is to be to His people today what the manna was to the children of Israel.  The manna fell from heaven, and the people were told to gather it and prepare it to be eaten.  So in the different countries of the world light has been given to the LORD's people, and health foods suited to these countries are being prepared.

So we too, stand where we can make the same choice as did Israel – manna (God’s choice) or meat (our choice). The results of both are plainly recorded in the Bible.  As Joshua, one of the two adults who survived the wandering time, says, “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood [over the river Euphrates in Babylon], and in Egypt; and serve you the LORD. And if it seem evil to you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom you will serve [don’t be indifferent]; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood [false Christianity], or the gods of the Amorites [Pagans], in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”  Joshua 24:14-15.

He was merely backing up what Moses had said in his farewell address to the people some years before.

*************** (Begin quote)

Deuteronomy 30:

15   See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; 16 in that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land whither you go to possess it. 

17 But if your heart turn away, so that you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I denounce to you this day, that you shall surely perish [in the second death], and that you shall not prolong your days upon the land [you’ll die young], whither you pass over Jordan to go to possess it.

19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live [be healthy]: 20 that you may love the LORD your God, and that you may obey His voice, and that you may cleave to Him: for He is your life, and the length of your days: that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

*************** (End quote)


Although meat eating is not prohibited in the Bible, it is not recommended.  Constant eating causes much sickness, dulls the mind, and shortens life dramatically, not to mention what it does to the animal, our fellow-creature. 

Even though Christ partook of the Passover lamb (once a year!); ate some boiled fish and honeycomb once to show that He was a living being and not a ghost (Luke 24:36-43); and supplied fish for the hungry fishermen after His resurrection (another one-off event, see John 21:5-14), flesh food is not a good choice in our diet. 



Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Some of the comments on this page are adapted from books in my library.  No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.
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