Bread from Heaven

Exodus 16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2016

If you are with us for the first time, we do in-depth Bible study.  We have been studying the Book of Exodus. Today, we come to the sixteenth chapter of the book.  The Jews were slaves in Egypt.  God sent Ten Plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh let them leave. They crossed the Red Sea. They are heading to the Promised Land but between Egypt and the Promise Land is the wilderness.  The Jews had to go through the wilderness just like we have to go through a period of trials.  God does not save us and immediately take us to heaven.

In Exodus 16, the Jews are in the wilderness.  This chapter takes place exactly one month after the Exodus.  How do we know?  Exodus 16:1 says that these events happened on the fifteenth day of the second month.  If you go back to Exodus 12, you will find that the Jews left Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month.  This was one month later.

Thirty days after the Exodus, they come to the wilderness of Sin. The word “Sin” is simply short for “Sinai”.  It has nothing to do with our English word “sin”.  It has nothing to do with doing anything bad.  The Wilderness of Sin sounds like something right out of the book Pilgrim’s Progress but there is a little play on words here.  It was in the Wilderness of Sin that the Jews sinned.

God redeemed them out of their slavery in Egypt and thirty days later they sinned in the Wilderness of Sin.  How much longer after God redeemed us do we sin?  Our sin is often much worse than theirs was.  Their sin was the sin of grumbling.  They complained.  They criticized.

Who did this?  The whole congregation grumbled.  Exodus 16:2 says, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness” (ESV).  They grumbled at Moses before.  This time they are mad at both Moses and Aaron.  It is pretty serious to have two and a half million people mad at you. It is like having the whole church mad at the pastoral staff, not just a couple of people mad at you.

Why were they mad?  They say in Exodus 16:3, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (ESV).

They were really mad at God, not Moses.  We see that in Exodus 16:7.  Moses was simply following orders.  This was not his idea to bring the Jews out of Egypt.  It was God’s idea.  Moses did not even want to do it.  God appeared to him in a burning bush and Moses argued with him.  This was really an act of rebellion.  Moses and Aaron were just God’s representatives.

Why were they complaining?  They were hungry.  Their food supply ran out.  They had a food crisis.  It was serious.  They were in the wilderness.  There was no food.  They were starving and there were a lot of them there (over two million people).

Was it a legitimate need?  Yes. If you do not eat, you die.  It was a real need, like the needs we have today.  The problem is that they did not go to God and trust him to provide for their need.  God had already performed not one but many miracles for the Jews within the last month.  They had miracle upon miracle.  First, He DELIVERED them out of their bondage.  They were not slaves any more.

Second, He PROTECTED them from their enemies.  He split open the Red Sea and killed the Egyptian troops that came after them, one of the most spectacular miracles in the whole Bible.  Third, He GUIDED them every day by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  Fourth, He PROVIDED for them.  When they were thirsty, He provided them water to drink.

Now they are hungry and they do not believe that God can provide for them.  We do the same thing.  We have a need.  God meets our need and then we face a need in a completely different area of our life and we panic like they did.

Egypt was starting to look good to them.  They wanted to go back to a life of slavery.  They thought that was better than being in the wilderness.  They preferred their pots of meat and slavery to hunger and freedom.  This is the language of addiction.  They would rather be in bondage and have food than to be free from slavery and be hungry.

They were thinking “I was in bondage but at least I was happy”. Of course, their memory was a little selective.  They remembered the good and not the bad things.  They forgot the abuse, mistreatment and the beatings.  They remembered the food but even that was selective.  They ate like slaves, not like kings. Notice God’s response.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall KNOW that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. (16:4-7 ESV)

God did sent the Ten Plagues so Pharaoh would know that He is the Lord and He did this miracle so the Hebrews would know that this was God at work.  He comes through and meets their need abundantly.  Not only did God feed them in the wilderness, He fed them angel’s food.  The two things the Hebrews complained about were meat and bread.  Those were the two things they had in Egypt but did not have in the wilderness – the fleshpots (pots full of meat) and the bread of Egypt.

God said, “I am going to give you both meat and bread.” He sent them quail (16:13) and manna (16:14-15).  He gave them meat in the evening and bread in the morning.  The Jews had never seen anything like manna.  They never had anything like this in Egypt. They didn’t know what it was (16:15).

I want to spend some time talking about this manna.  What was it and why is it important to us today.  There are some powerful applications that we can learn from this chapter.  There is also some deep theology from it as well.  Before we look at that, I have to give you some background information about manna.  What do we know about it?

Characteristics of Manna


This food came straight came from heaven. It was heavenly bread.  This was not processed or made in a bakery by man.  Our food comes from earth.   This was miracle food.  It came from the sky every day.  Now the quail food was providential.  The manna was completely miraculous and this miracle lasted for forty years.  They saw a miracle every day for forty years.  The supernatural became natural.

Was Manna a Genuine Miracle?

Skeptics try to explain this miracle away as some natural secretion (e.g., from a tamarisk tree) but it simply cannot be done.  Exodus is a book of miracles.  This is one of the great miracles in the OT.  How do we know it was a miracle? John Calvin answered this question about four hundred years ago.[1]  He gave eight reasons why this was completely miraculous.  They are still good arguments to this day. I will summarize his main points.

1. There was no manna in the wilderness before the time of Moses.

2. The manna only fell on the Israelites.  It did not fall on any other people.

3. The manna fell daily despite weather or seasonal changes. The secretion from the tamarisk tree appears only in the rainy season.  Manna was not seasonal or affected by weather conditions.

4. Every day enough manna fell for two million people to eat.  That is a massive amount of food.

5. Every sixth day of the week, the amount of manna that fell from the sky was doubled.

6. Any extra manna collected went bad, except for one day of the week (the sixth day when the quantity was doubled).

7. The manna stopped falling as soon as they entered the Promised Land (16:35).  If it was a natural phenomenon, it would still be falling today.

8. None of the manna stored in the jar kept in the tabernacle went bad.  It was miraculously preserved.  That was a perpetual miracle (16:32-33).  God wanted people to remember what He did for forty years.  He wants us to remember what He does in our lives as well.

2. It was FREE.

There was no cost to this manna.  You could not buy this manna.  It was a free gift from heaven but there was one catch.  Even though it was completely free, people still had to gather it.  God provided it for them but they still had to collect it.  This was not breakfast in bed.  Notice Exodus 16:15-16.

And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat” (ESV).  God GAVE it to them but they still had to GATHER it and put it in jars or buckets.  God did not do everything for people.  There are some things we have to do for ourselves.

They had to work but it was not hard work.  They did not have to go and search for hours to find it.  It was all over the place.  They just had to go outside and pick it up.


God could have given them food that was tasteless.  He gave them food that tasted good.  It was sweet (16:31).  It tasted honey.  It was not honey but it tasted like honey and they ate it for forty years.  God must have a sweet tooth.

4. It was ABUNDANT.

God provided enough food for two million people to eat for forty years.  That is a lot of food.  There were no restaurants or grocery stores in the wilderness.  Everyone got two quarts of manna.  That is about nine million pounds of manna every day consumed.

5.  It was NUTRITIOUS.

None of the people in the wilderness suffered from malnutrition in the wilderness.  God took care of them.  This manna must have been nourishing. It was called angel’s food (Psalm 78:25).

6. It was TEMPORARY.

We always make fun of people who do not believe that God does not do miracles today.  We are absolutely right.  God is still a miracle-working God.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever but he is not raining manna down from heaven to feed people today.  He used to do that but no longer does that today.

There are some things in the Bible that God used to do that He is no longer doing today.  The day they entered the Promised Land the manna ceased and has never appeared again (Josh 5:10-12).  He still provides for people today but He does it in a different way.

7. It was a TEST.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may TEST them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (16:4 ESV).

Now this is strange.  Manna was not only an incredible provision for their needs; it was a test. How was it a test?  God gave the Jews manna but He also gave the Jews very specific rules about how and when to eat the manna to see if they would obey him.

We do not have rules about manna but we have other instructions in the NT.  Some Christians act as if these commands are optional.  They are not.  Jesus said, “IF you love me, keep My commands” (John 14:15).  He also said, “You are My friends IF you do what I command you” (John 15:13).  Talk is cheap.  Anyone can say that they love Jesus.  The test is obedience.  We do not like the idea that we have any commands.  We like to do whatever we want to do but Jesus has given us some commands.

What was the manna test?  There were several tests.  The first test was THE LAZINESS TEST.  They had to get the manna in the morning.  If they were lazy and slept in and went out late, there was no manna.  Once the sun got hot, the manna melted (16:21). The Bible says if you don’t work, you do not eat.

The second test was THE FAITH TEST.  They were only supposed to get enough for that day.  If they gathered too much and tried to save some for the next day, it went bad.  It would stink and get worms (16:24).  They had to depend upon God each day to meet their needs.  Each day was to be a day of trust.

The third test was THE SABBATH TEST.  They were not allowed to gather any manna on the Sabbath.  It was a day of rest.  They had to gather twice as much the day before.  If they tried to get manna on the Sabbath, they found none (16:25, 27).  We will talk more about the Sabbath when we get to the Ten Commandments.

You say, “Why does any of this chapter on manna matter to me?”  It matters for two reasons.  First, there is deep theology in this manna.

Theological Significance of Manna

Manna was a type of Christ.  It is a picture of Jesus.  Jesus is the ultimate bread.  Jesus fed five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish and said “I am the bread of life.”   Jesus compared himself to manna.  That is why one preacher called manna “Christmas Bread.”

“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:31-35 ESV).  How is Jesus like manna?

Manna: A Type of Christ 

1. Manna came from heaven

Manna came from heaven.  Jesus came from heaven.  We were alive for about nine months before we were born.  Where were we before that?  We didn’t exist.  Jesus existed before He was born.  He came down from heaven to earth at the Incarnation.  Manna fell from heaven.  It was angel’s food.

2. Manna fed the hungry

Manna fed their bodies.  Christ feeds our souls.  His bread sustains people in a different way.  Manna saved the Jews from death and so did Jesus. Manna saved them from physical death.  Jesus saves people from spiritual death.  His bread is salvation.

The people who ate the manna in the wilderness eventually all died (John 6:49).  Jesus is the greater bread.  Jesus said, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (6:35).  If you come to Jesus you will be satisfied.  You will not go back to Buddha or Muhammad.

3. Manna had to be eaten

Manna had to be eaten or it did not do you any good.  Jesus came to earth, suffered and died for us but unless we personally receive Him, it does us absolutely no good.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever BELIEVES has eternal life. I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone EATS of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:47-51 ESV)

4. Manna was given to rebels

It was given to people who grumbled and murmured against God (16:8).  God rewarded grumbling with food.  He gave angel’s food to unworthy people.  God could have rained fire down from heaven.  Instead, he rained bread down from heaven.

Instead of frying them, He feeds them.  He gives them rain bread. This was an act of compassion.  God did not give them bread because they deserved it but because He is good.  Jesus did not come to earth to judge but to save, to seek and to save what was lost.

Practical Application from Manna

There is also a practical application to us today.  There is a connection between manna and Bible study.  Manna is a picture of Bible study.  How do we know?  God says it is in Deuteronomy 8:3

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with MANNA, which you did not know, nor did your 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 Yahweh” (ESV).

Manna and Bible Study

1. Manna came from heaven

Manna came from heaven.  It wasn’t natural.  The Bible also came from heaven.  It is not an ordinary book. It is inspired by God.  No other book in the world is inspired by God.  Paul said in I Thessalonians 2:13 “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (ESV)

2. Manna was food

Manna was physical food and the Bible is spiritual food.  They needed manna for the body.  We need it to grow.  We need God’s Word for the soul.  It is soul food.  Scripture is described as milk and meat.  Paul talks about the milk and meat of the Word.  It is also compared to bread.

The Bible is even described as honey.  Psalm 19:9-10 says, “The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (NIV).  Manna tasted like honey and so does God’s Word.  Many crave sweets.  The Psalmist says the Bible is sweeter than honey.

3. Manna was to be eaten

Manna had to be eaten to help people.  It did not good to go out and collect the manna, store it, look at it and admire it.  It had to be eaten.  God’s Word must be eaten as well.  In many homes, Bibles are at home collecting dust.  They are never read. They are just decorations.  You can tell when you open them that they have never been read. There is no excuse for that.  We have all kinds of different modern translations.

4. Manna was eaten daily

Manna was not only eaten; it was eaten every day.  You can’t live on yesterday’s manna, just like we cannot live on yesterday’s food.    Yesterday’s manna will not do for today.  Today’s manna will not do for tomorrow.  We should read God’s Word every day.  We should meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2; Joshua 1:8).  It should not be a book that we open once in a while ever the Spirit moves us.  We would not think of going a day without eating.  How many of us go days without reading God’s Word?  Have you had your manna today?

5. Manna was gathered in the morning

There is something else interesting here.  Manna had to be collected in the morning. Now we can read the Bible any time of the day.  It will not collect worms but we can learn a lesson from this.  There is value in studying the Bible in the morning before the day begins.  There is value in getting your spiritual breakfast each day.


[1] The reasons are given in Calvin’s comments on Exodus 16:14 which can be accessed online at

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