The miraculous "bread of heaven" ( Psalm 78:24 ) that God provided for the Israelites while he led them through the Red Sea on dry ground and into the Wilderness of Sin (Exod. 16). The "small round substance" (v. 14) may have been produced by insects that punctured the fruit of the tamarisk tree, through it was consistently regarded in the Bible as a miraculous gift from God rather than as a product of nature. It was certainly miraculous in terms of its timing and quanity. .
Manna looked like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey (v. 31). When the Israelites saw it, they asked each other, "What is it?" (Heb. man hu [aWh'm]). This led to the name "manna, " "what?" It came each morning, except on the Sabbath day. It could be collected each day for that day alone, and only as much as could be eaten in one day. If a person tried to collect more than needed or to store the manna for future needs, it would grow wormy and foul (v. 20). In this way it was impossible for the Israelites to evade total dependence on God or to use the manna greedily for personal gain. Miraculously, the manna could be preserved on the sixth day and eaten on the Sabbath, and it was not to be found on the Sabbath morning (vv. 22-29).
Eventually, the rebellious Israelites grew tired of the manna and regretted the day they were delivered from their bondage (Num 11:6). They came to detest the manna and longed instead for the rich foods of Egypt (v. 5). But God continued to give the Israelites a steady supply of manna during their forty years of desert wanderings. When Joshua and the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land at Gilgal, they celebrated the Passover and ate the produce of the land. On that day, the manna ceased, again illustrating its miraculous provision (Joshua 5:12).
The purpose of the manna was to test Israel's faith, to humble them, and to teach them that one "does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut 8:3,16). A hungry Jesus used this quote to refuse Satan's suggestion that he turn stones into bread (Matt 4:4). Like the Israelites in the desert, Jesus was totally dependent on the provisions of his heavenly Father while in the wilderness of temptation (Matt 4:11).
The people in Jesus' day misunderstood the significance of the manna. They longed for a physical miracle, like the manna, which would prove to them that Jesus' words were true (John 6:31). But Jesus wanted his disciples to seek for the bread of heaven that gives life to the world, instead of physical bread to satisfy their appetites. When they asked, "From now on give us this bread, " he answered, "I am the bread of life" (vv. 32-35). To the church in Pergamos, Jesus encouraged faithfulness by promising that true believers would receive "hidden manna" to eat (Rev 2:17). Just as Moses' manna brought with it physical blessing, so this heavenly reward will bring eternal life.
William T. Arnold
Bibliography. F. S. Bodenheimer, BA10 (1947):1-6; J. C. Slayton, ABD, 4:511; E. M. Yamauchi, WTJ28 (1966):145-56.
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Heb. man-hu, "What is that?" the name given by the Israelites to the food miraculously supplied to them during their wanderings in the wilderness ( Exodus 16:15-35 ). The name is commonly taken as derived from man , an expression of surprise, "What is it?" but more probably it is derived from manan , meaning "to allot," and hence denoting an "allotment" or a "gift." This "gift" from God is described as "a small round thing," like the "hoar-frost on the ground," and "like coriander seed," "of the colour of bdellium," and in taste "like wafers made with honey." It was capable of being baked and boiled, ground in mills, or beaten in a mortar ( Exodus 16:23 ; Numbers 11:7 ). If any was kept over till the following morning, it became corrupt with worms; but as on the Sabbath none fell, on the preceding day a double portion was given, and that could be kept over to supply the wants of the Sabbath without becoming corrupt. Directions concerning the gathering of it are fully given ( Exodus 16:16-18 Exodus 16:33 ; Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:16 ). It fell for the first time after the eighth encampment in the desert of Sin, and was daily furnished, except on the Sabbath, for all the years of the wanderings, till they encamped at Gilgal, after crossing the Jordan, when it suddenly ceased, and where they "did eat of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more" ( Joshua 5:12 ). They now no longer needed the "bread of the wilderness."
This manna was evidently altogether a miraculous gift, wholly different from any natural product with which we are acquainted, and which bears this name. The manna of European commerce comes chiefly from Calabria and Sicily. It drops from the twigs of a species of ash during the months of June and July. At night it is fluid and resembles dew, but in the morning it begins to harden. The manna of the Sinaitic peninsula is an exudation from the "manna-tamarisk" tree (Tamarix mannifera), the el-tarfah of the Arabs. This tree is found at the present day in certain well-watered valleys in the peninsula of Sinai. The manna with which the people of Israel were fed for forty years differs in many particulars from all these natural products.
(what is this? ) (Heb. man ). The most important passages of the Old Testament on this topic are the following: ( Exodus 16:14-36 ; Numbers 11:7-9 ; deuteronomy 11:5 deuteronomy 11:16 ; Joshua 5:12 ; Psalms 78:24 ; 25 ) From these passages we learn that the manna came every morning except the Sabbath, in the form of a small round seed resembling the hear frost that it must be gathered early, before the sun became so hot as to melt it; that it must be gathered every day except the Sabbath; that the attempt to lay aside for a succeeding day, except on the clay immediately preceding the Sabbath, failed by the substance becoming wormy and offensive; that it was prepared for food by grinding and baking; that its taste was like fresh oil, and like wafers made with honey, equally agreeable to all palates; that the whole nation, of at least 2,000,000, subsisted upon it for forty years; that it suddenly ceased when they first got the new corn of the land of Canaan; and that it was always regarded as a miraculous gift directly from God, and not as a product of nature. The natural products of the Arabian deserts and other Oriental regions which bear the name of manna have not the qualities or uses ascribed to the manna of Scripture. The latter substance was undoubtedly wholly miraculous, and not in any respect a product of nature, though its name may have come from its resemblance to the natural manna The substance now called manna in the Arabian desert through which the Israelites passed is collected in the month of June from the tarfa or tamarisk shrub (Tamarix gallica ). According to Burckhardt it drops from the thorns on the sticks and leaves with which the ground is covered, and must be gathered early in the day or it will be melted by the sun. The Arabs cleanse and boil it, strain it through a cloth and put it in leathern bottles; and in this way it can be kept uninjured for several years. They use it like honey or butter with their unleavened bread, but never make it into cakes or eat it by itself. The whole harvest, which amounts to only five or six hundred pounds, is consumed by the Bedouins, "who," says Schaff consider it the greatest dainty their country affords." The manna of European commerce conies mostly from Calabria and Sicily. Its gathered during the months of June and July from some species of ash (Ornus europaea and O. rotundifolia ), from which it drops in consequence of a puncture by an insect resembling the locust, but distinguished from it by having a sting under its body. The substance is fluid at night and resembles the dew but in the morning it begins to harden.
man'-a (man; manna):
The Hebrew man is probably derived, as Ebers suggests, from the Egyptian mennu, "food." In Exodus 16:15, we have a suggested source of the name, "They said one to another, What is it?" i.e. manhu, which also means, "It is manna" (see margin).
1. Old Testament References:
This substance is described as occurring in flakes or small round grains, literally, "hoax frost"; it fell with the dew (Numbers 11:9) and appeared when the dew left the ground (Exodus 16:14); "It was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey" (Exodus 16:31). In Numbers 11:8, its taste is described "as the taste of fresh oil," margin "cakes baked with oil." "And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came .... unto the borders of the land of Canaan" (Exodus 16:35). It ceased the day after they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain, in the plains of Jericho (Joshua 5:10-12). Although an important article of diet, it was by no means the sole one as seems implied in Numbers 21:15; there are plenty of references (e.g. Exodus 17:3; 24:5; 34:3; Leviticus 8:2,26,31; 9:4; 10:12; 24:5; Numbers 7:13,19, etc.) which show that they had other food besides. The food was gathered every morning, "every man according to his eating:
and when the sun waxed hot, it melted" (Exodus 16:21); a portion of the previous day's gathering bred worms and stank if kept (Exodus 16:20); on the 6th day a double amount was gathered, the Sabbath portion being miraculously preserved (Exodus 16:22-27). A pot--a golden one (Hebrews 9:4)--with an omer of manna was "laid up before Yahweh" in the tabernacle (Exodus 16:33). Manna is referred to in Nehemiah 9:20. It is described poetically as "food from heaven" and "bread of the mighty" (Psalms 78:24); as "bread of heaven" (Psalms 105:40); and as "angels' bread" (2 Esdras 1:19; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:20).
2. New Testament References:
In John 6:31-63, our Lord frequently refers to "the manna" or "bread from heaven" as typical of Himself. Paul (1 Corinthians 10:3) refers to it as "spiritual food," and in Revelation 2:17 we read, "To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna."
Manna, as might be expected, figures largely in rabbinical literature. It was, it is said, adapted to the taste of each individual who could by wishing taste in the manna anything he desired (compare The Wisdom of Solomon 16:21). Manna is reserved as the future food of the righteous (compare Revelation 2:17), for which purpose it is ground in a mill situated in the third heaven (Chag 12b; Tan. Beshallach 22).
3. Natural Explanations:
No substance is known which in any degree satisfies all the requirements of the Scriptural references, but several travelers in the wilderness have reported phenomena which suggest some of the features of the miraculous manna.
(1) In the Peninsula of Sinai, on the route of the children of Israel, a species of tamarisk, named in consequence by Ebers Tammaris mannifera, is found to exude a sweet, honey-like substance where its bark is pierced by an insect, Gossyparia mannifera. It collects upon the twigs and falls to the ground. The Arabs who gather it to sell to pilgrims call it mann-es-sama, "heavenly manna"; it is white at first but turns yellow; in the early morning it is of the consistency of wax but when the sun is hot it disappears. This substance occurs only after mid-summer and for a month or two at most.
(2) A second proposal is to identify manna with a lichen--Lecanora esculenta and allied species--which grows in the Arabian and other deserts upon the limestone. The older masses become detached and are rolled about by the wind. When swept together by sudden rain storms in the rainy season they may collect in large heaps. This lichen has been used by the Arabs in time of need for making bread. It is a quite reasonable form of nourishment in the desert, especially when eaten with the sugary manna from the trees.
E. W. G. Masterman
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