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Contents of The Ark of the Covenant: part 4, Manna What is it? Exodus 16:31-35 by Dr. Terry Harman

Updated: Dec 5, 2023


And the house of Israel called the name there of Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. And Moses said: ‘This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded: Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt.’ And Moses said unto Aaron: ‘Take a jar, and put an omerful of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations.’ As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat the manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan (Exodus 16:31-35 JPS 1917).

Background Story

We have reached the story of manna in the desert. Manna. What we know about manna is limited. The little we know is found in the Bible. It rained down from heaven. God caused it to happen Its shelf life was short. Many have speculated what manna looked like, taste like, its composition, and why it became rotten and bred worms within one day - that is except for the sabbath in which lasted two days. James Tissot depicts the Israelites scurrying the ground in his painting "the gathering of the Manna."

Within thirty days of tasting freedom from Egypt, the Israelites have forgotten all that has transpired. The Israelites have been delivered from centuries of bondage. God instructs Moses to instruct the people to set up camp at the Sea of Reeds. As they settle in, Pharaoh’s hardened heart becomes embittered over the loss of his son and changes his mind about releasing his free workforce. His decision? Hunt down every Israelite and make them pay.

The people of God are gripped with fear as they hear the rumbling of Pharaoh's chariots. Once again God delivers the people by splitting the Reed Sea allowing the Israelites to cross over on dry ground. When the Egyptians reach the point of no return, God closes the waters, and the Egyptians drown. Miriam leads all the ladies in song and dance to celebrate one more act of deliverance from the Egyptians.

Deliverance Leads to Complaining

Soon after, the Israelites begin to complain about their fate in the desert. The complaint, they lack food.

And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness; and the children of Israel said unto them: ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ (Exodus 16:2-3 JPS 1917)

Manna Previously Unknown

God provides quail and manna to nourish them. Manna was something new on the menu that had not been seen or tasted.

And He afflicted thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:3 JPS 1917)

Described as Coriander Seed

And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey (Exodus 16:31 JPS 1917). Below one omer of coriander seed is illustrated.

Manna – No Leftovers

It is probable the Manna, which was placed inside the Holy of Holies as a memorial, was replaced on a regular basis. The scriptures are silent. The original manna first placed in the container would not have lasted 40 years. The scripture indicates the people were commanded to collect only enough manna for the day and not to leave anything overnight. We know that some of the people tested this command and “left of it until the morning, and it bred worms and rotted” (Exodus 16:20 JPS 1917).

Manna a Test of Faith

who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that He might afflict thee, and that He might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end. (Deuteronomy 8:16 JPS 1917)

Manna the Meaning

And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: ‘What is it?’—for they knew not what it was. And Moses said unto them: ‘It is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded: Gather ye of it every man according to his eating; an omer a head, according to the number of your persons, shall ye take it, every man for them that are in his tent.’ (Exodus 16:15-16 JPS 1917)

If you will allow me, in this blog I want to stick with the literal meaning of the two Hebrew words translated as one word in English to express the Hebrew meaning.

The English translation "Manna" comes from two Hebrew words. The first word מָ֣ן mān can be translated as “What is.” The second word ה֔וּא can be translated as “it.” Therefore, Manna is "What is it." This interpretation is supported by Deuteronomy 8:3 that this substance was previously unknown to the Israelites.

What is Your Manna-Test?

What is it that will cause or convince you to trust God? What will be your Manna test? For the Israelites in the desert Manna or “What is it” was their test. Would those who experienced this newfound freedom trust the God who had protected them from the plagues in Egypt, delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh, and split the Reed Sea allowing them to cross on dry ground, now sustain them in the desert? Manna was their test of faith. Manna, something they had not experienced before would be the measure of their trust. Manna was the to their complaints and the answer to their prayers. Manna, that which appeared to fall from heaven. Manna, something they did not produce but would receive from God would be the test of their daily faith.

Would the Israelites be able to see past their complaints and discern the daily miracle around them? Would the Israelites be able to trust God to provide for their daily bread? Would the Israelites set aside one day to rest and honor the Lord of the Sabbath?

What is it you are complaining about to God?

What must he provide you to convince you to trust him with your daily needs or your future needs? Will you be able to honor him with a time – a sabbath – a period of rest? For the past several months I have been pondering the future. Should I retire? Should I dissolve my business interests? How much money will my family need to live comfortably in retirement? How will retirement from my current work affect my time for family, study, worship, and ministry to others?

Here is what I learned so far. No matter how you crunch the numbers, no matter how many variables you factor into the future, only God knows what your future holds. That does not mean we should throw up our hands in despair. We should plan as best we can and be wise in our decisions. However, in the end, we must trust the Lord as we have in the past and the present, to watch over us and guide us down the road.

God sends us Manna-like experiences all the time.

The question is: Can we see the Manna? Are we ready to be nourished by what God sends? I can only speak from my personal experience. In periods of questioning and yes even complaining, the Lord wants to break through and answer our prayers. My heart knows when it happens, but my head wants to be rational and analyze everything. When my heart senses God’s presence, his movement, his hand in the struggle I am in, too often I say to myself, “Can I trust him? Will the Lord really guide me? What is it I must do?”

Sometimes we do not know exactly what it is the future holds. We must remember the past and recall time after time how the Lord provided for us, not always in our time frame, not always what we wanted, but he delivered what we needed. Often it was shalom – his peace during the greatest storms.

Manna, “What is it?" Sometimes all we need to discern the manna in our life is a day of rest. A period of time to observe a day of Sabbath. To rest so we can reconnect with him and clearly see and hear “What it is.” Proverbs 3:5-6 is a worthy reminder.

Trust in the LORD with all thy heart,

And lean not upon thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge Him,

And He will direct thy paths.

If you would like to view the entire lesson on the 5 contents of the Ark of the Covenant go to the following link on YouTube.

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