BREAD OF HEAVEN
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
Exodus 16:31-36 (ESV) Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer [half a gallon] of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept.
The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.
Notes on the Scripture Refining sugar had not yet been invented, nor was sugar cane known outside of India at this time, so the only way to sweeten food known to the Egyptians/Hebrews was either to cut up dried fruit or to use honey. Honey, which is much sweeter than dried fruit, was fairly rare and a bit of a luxury.
The manna itself was akin to unleavened bread. Coriander seed is a light beige to yellowish beige; there is nothing to indicate that the manna resembled it except in colour. So the Hebrews were eating flat sweetened wafers — they were, in short, living on cookies!
Later (in the Book of Numbers) we are told that manna was sometimes “ground, pounded like a meal, boiled and made into cakes.” Other references state that it looked like a gum resin and, when cooked, tasted like a sweet cake baked with oil. (There is still a sweet-tasting gum collected from trees along the Iran-Iraq border — which Arabs call “mann” — that exactly fits the descriptions of manna in the Bible.
At the end of today’s Scripture, the timeline becomes jumbled. Unless there was something called a “testimony” that had been described in an earlier, now lost record of the exodus, the Testimony almost certainly refers to the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, which do not yet exist. So adding some inferential details, Aaron gathered up a days’ ration of manna in a stone vessel holding about two quarts and kept it until the Hebrews reached Mount Sinai, at which time the Ark of the Covenant would be built. He then placed it in the Ark, to be kept for all time.
The “flash forward” is bolstered by the following verses, which seem in the nature of a footnote. Exodus 16:35-36 looks forty years into the future. Moses might still have been alive and inserted this text himself, or it might have been done later to finish up the story of the manna.
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