Bible Commentary: Exodus 16

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Exodus 16

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God Provides Daily Bread

A month after the departure from Rameses, the food that was prepared and stored for the journey was now depleted. But instead of beseeching God for their needs, the Israelites once again complained and murmured against Moses and Aaron. Moses reminded them that their complaints were not against him but against God Himself. Once again, though, God extended His patience and mercy to His people. He used the next miracle for a test. God now provides the Israelites with their physical daily bread. They called it "manna," meaning "what is it?," as it was a food item never before seen by human beings. Indeed, the Bible says it was "angels' food" (Psalm 78:25—not that angels, as spiritual beings, needed food but simply that they were allowed to enjoy the pleasure of eating, as we earlier read about them dining at Abraham's home, see Genesis 18). There were miracles contained in this new provision for the Israelites. Besides the actual miraculous appearance of the food itself, God gave specific instructions for its collection and storage. Storing the manna on any of six days of the week would result in spoilage and a foul odor. Yet this spoilage would not take place when twice as much manna was collected on Friday and stored for the Sabbath day (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset). The manna would now nourish the Israelites for the next 40 years until God allowed them into the Promised Land. God also commanded that a certain amount be set aside in a container to be preserved as a reminder of His promises—and this manna, kept in a golden pot and eventually stored in the side of the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:4), was miraculously kept from spoiling and stinking for centuries! The miraculous bread from heaven was given as a type of the "true bread from heaven," Jesus Christ (John 6:32-35).

God provided His people with the nourishment that they needed. For their part, the Israelites were expected to be obedient to God's laws, which He was beginning to reveal to them. Indeed, take note here that this episode preceded the events at Mount Sinai, wherein the Israelites were presented with the Ten Commandments and entered into what is now called the Old Covenant. The evidence from scriptures such as Exodus 15:26 and Exodus 16:28 as well as others (e.g., Genesis 2:3; Genesis 7:2; Genesis 26:5) prove that God's laws and statutes were in effect well before the Israelites even arrived at Mount Sinai. Thus, the Old Covenant is not what brought those laws into force—the fallacy argued by those who attempt to say that God's law was done away when the Old Covenant ended at Christ's death.

Again, God provided the miracle of the manna not just to feed the people but to teach them to keep the Sabbath (see verse 29)—to obey His law (verse 28)—before the covenant at Mount Sinai. And He gave it as a test (verse 4). Even today, the Sabbath remains a real test commandment, one that really shows in a public manner who is fully committed to the way of God. Indeed, in today's society, others will readily accept us if we live according to a code of not stealing, not murdering, not committing adultery, not cursing God, etc. But keeping the Sabbath? That's another matter. That's just plain "weird," some would say.

Sabbath-keepers have lost jobs and gone through all manner of other problems to observe the seventh day as God has commanded. In the end, though, their lives are always better for it—because keeping the Sabbath results in real blessing. Nevertheless, it sometimes takes real faith and courage to live by this conviction. No wonder the Sabbath is a true identifying sign of God's people (see Exodus 31:13)—a visible badge that shows who is willing to walk in God's way no matter what the obstacles are. Of course, this is not to say that everyone who observes the Sabbath is truly committed to God—it could be a pretense, as it was for most of the Pharisees in Jesus' day. Still, the Sabbath is an important outward sign that God has given to His people. And in today's society, it is a real test commandment.

Are you passing God's test? Even those of us who already know to observe God's Sabbath should regularly examine whether we are properly keeping it (see Isaiah 58:13-14).

Supplementary Reading:  "The Sabbath: In the Beginning," Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest, pp. 4-12.