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Reference: Manna


The miraculous food given by God to the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert. It was a small grain, white like hoarfrost, round, and of the size of coriander-seed, Ex 16; Nu 11. It fell every morning, with the dew, about the camp of the Israelites, and in so great quantities during the whole forty years of their journey in the wilderness, that it was sufficient to serve the entire multitude instead of bread, Ex 16:35; De 29:5-6; Jos 5:12. It is nowhere said that the Israelites had no other food, that numerous flocks and herds accompanied the camp of Israel is clear from many passages. Certainly the daily sacrifices were offered, and no doubt to her offerings affording animal food on which the priests and Levites subsisted, according to their offices.

When manna was first sent the Israelites "knew not what it was," and "said one to another, MAN-HU, which means, What is it? Most interpreters think that form the frequent repetition of this inquiry the name MAN or manna arose. Burckhardt says, that in the valleys around Sinai a species of manna is still found, dropping from the sprigs of several trees, but principally from the tamarisk, in the month of June. It is collected by the Arabs, who make cakes of it, and call it honey of betrouk. See Ex 16:31. Since his time it has been ascertained by Dr. Ehrenburg that the exudation of this manna is occasioned by an insect, which he has particularly described. Besides this substance and the manna of commerce, which is used as a laxative medicine, and is produced by the ash-trees of southern Europe, several other vegetable products in Arabia, Persia, etc., of similar origin and qualities, are known by the same name. It is in vain, however, to seek to identify with any of these the manna of the Israelites, which was evidently a special provision for them, beginning and terminating with their need of it. It was found, not on trees and shrubs, but on "the face of the wilderness" wherever they went; and was different in its qualities from any now known by that name, being dry enough to grind and bake like grain, but breeding worms on the second day. It was miraculous in the amount that fell, for the supply of millions; in not falling on the Sabbath; in falling in double quantities the previous day; and in remaining fresh during the Sabbath. By these last three peculiarities God miraculously attested the sanctity of the Sabbath, as dating from the creation and not from Mount Sinai. Moreover, a specimen of manna as laid up in a golden vase in the ark of the covenant in memory of a substance which would otherwise have perished, Heb 9:4.

In Ps 78:24-25, manna is called "angels' food" and "corn of heaven," in token of its excellence, and that it came directly from the hand of God. The people gathered on an average about three quarts for each man. They who gathered more than they needed, shared it freely with others; it could not be hoarded up: and thus, as Paul teaches us, 2Co 8:13-15, it furnishes for all men a lesson against hoarding the earthly and perishable gifts of God, and in favor of freely imparting to our brethren in need.

This great boon of God to the Israelites also offers many striking analogies, illustrative of "the true Bead" which came down form heaven to rebellious and perishing man, Joh 6:31-58; Re 2:17. Like the manna, Christ descends from above around the camp of his church in daily abundant supplies, to meet the wants of every man.

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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 (Ex 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 (Ex 16:23; Nu 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 (Ex 16:16-18,33; De 8:3,16). 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" (Jos 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 (Illustration: Flower of Manna 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, Illustration: Branch of Manna-Tamarisk Tree), 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.

Our Lord refers to the manna when he calls himself the "true bread from heaven" (Joh 6:31-35; 21:25). He is also the "hidden manna" (Re 2:17; comp. Joh 6:49,51).

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There is a connection between the natural manna and the supernatural. The natural is the sweet juice of the tarfa, a kind of tamarisk. It exudes in May for about six weeks from the trunk and branches in hot weather, and forms small round white grains. It retains its consistency in cool weather, but melts with heat. It is gathered from the twigs or from the fallen leaves. The Arabs, after boiling and straining, use it as honey with bread. The color is a greyish-yellow, the taste sweet and aromatic. Ehrenberg says it is produced by an insect's puncture. It abounds in rainy seasons, some years it ceases. About 600 or 700 pounds is the present produce of a year. The region wady Gharandel (Elim) and Sinai, the wady Sheich, and some other parts of the peninsula, are the places where it is found. The name is still its Arabic designation, and is read on the Egyptian monuments (mennu, mennu hut, "white manna".) Gesenius derives it from manah, "to apportion." The supernatural character of the manna of Exodus at the same time appears.

(1) It was found not under the tamarisk, but on the surface of the wilderness, after the morning dew had disappeared.

(2) The quantity gathered in a single day exceeded the present produce of a year.

(3) It ceased on the sabbath.

(4) Its properties were distinct; it could be ground and baked as meal, it was not a mere condiment but nutritious as bread.

(5) It was found not merely where it still is, but Israel's whole way to Canaan (and not merely for a month or two each year, but all the year round). The miracle has all the conditions and characteristics of divine interpositions.

(1) A necessity, for Israel could not otherwise have been sustained in the wilderness.

(2) A divine purpose, namely to preserve God's peculiar people on which His whole providential government and man's salvation depended.

(3) Harmony between the natural and the supernatural; God fed them, not with the food of other regions, but with that of the district.

The local coloring is marked. Moses the writer could neither have been deceived as to the fact, nor could have deceived contemporaries and eye-witnesses. (Speaker's Commentary) The Scripture allusions to it are in Ex 16:14-36; Nu 11:7-9; De 8:3-16; Jos 5:12; Ps 78:24-25 ("angels' food"; not as if angels ate food, but food from the habitation of angels, heaven, a directly miraculous gift), Mt 4:4; Joh 6:31-50; 1Co 10:3. The manna was a "small round thing as the hoar-frost on the ground," falling with the dew on the camp at night. They gathered it early every morning before the sun melted it.

If laid by for any following day except the sabbath it bred worms and stank. It was like coriander seed and bdellium, white, and its taste as the taste of fresh oil, like wafers made with honey (Nu 11:7-9). Israel subsisted on it for 40 years; it suddenly ceased when they got the first new grain of Canaan. Vulgate, Septuagint, and Josephus (Ant. 3:1, sec. 6) derive manna from Israel's question to one another, maan huw' " 'what is this?' for they knew not what it was." God "gave it to His beloved (in) sleep" (Ps 127:2), so the sense and context require. Israel each morning, in awaking, found it already provided without toil. Such is the gospel, the gift of grace, not the fruit of works; free to all, and needed by high and low as indispensable for true life.

To commemorate Israel's living on omers or tenth deals of manna one omer was put into a golden pot and preserved for many generations beside the ark. Each was to gather according to his eating, an omer apiece for each in his tent, a command testing their obedience, in which some failed, gathering more but gaining nought by it, for however much he gathered, on measuring it in his tent he found he had only as much as he needed for his family; type of Christian charity, which is to make the superfluity of some supply the needs of others. "that there may be equality" (2Co 8:14-15); "our luxuries should yield to our neighbor's comforts, and our comforts to his necessities" (John Howard). The manna typifies Christ.

(1) It falls from above (Joh 6:32, etc.) as the dew (Ps 110:3; Mic 5:7) round the camp, i.e. the visible church, and nowhere else; the gift of God for which we toil not (Joh 6:28-29); when we were without merit or strength (Ro 5:6,8).

(2) It was gathered early; so we, before the world's heat of excitement melt away the good of God's gift to us (Ps 63:1; Ho 5:15; 6:4; Mt 13:6).

(3) A double portion must be gathered for the sabbath.

(4) It was ground in the mill, as Christ was "bruised" for us to become our "bread of life."

(5) Sweet as honey to the taste (Ps 34:8; 119:103; 1Pe 2:3).

(6) It must be gathered "day by day," fresh each day; so today's grace will not suffice for tomorrow (1Ki 8:59 margin; Mt 6:11; Lu 11:3). Hoarded up it putrefied; so gospel doctrine laid up for speculation, not received in love and digested as spiritual food, becomes a savor of death not life (1Co 8:1).

(7) To the carnal it was "dry" food though really like "fresh oil" (Nu 11:6,8; 21:5): so the gospel to the worldly who long for fleshly pleasures of Egypt, but to the spiritual it is full of the rich savor of the Holy Spirit (2Co 2:14-16).

(8) Its preservation in the golden pot in the holiest typifies Jesus, now in the heavenly holiest place, where He gives of the hidden manna to him that overcometh (Re 2:17); He is the manna hidden from the world but revealed to the believer, who has now a foretaste of His preciousness; like the incorruptible manna in the sanctuary, the spiritual food offered to all who reject the world's dainties for Christ is everlasting, an incorruptible body, and life in Christ at the resurrection.

(9) The manna continued with Israel throughout their wilderness journey; so Christ with His people here (Mt 28:19).

(10) It ceases when they gain the promised rest, for faith then gives place to sight and the wilderness manna to the fruit of the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God (Re 2:7; 22:2,14).

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The food of the Israelites during the wanderings (Ex 16:1; Jos 5:12), but not the only food available. Documents of various dates speak of (a) cattle (Ex 17:3; 19:13; 34:3; Nu 7:3,6 f.), especially in connexion with sacrifice (Ex 24:5; 32:8; Le 8:2,25,31; 9:4; 10:14; Nu 7:15 ff.); (b) flour (Nu 7:13,19,25 etc., Le 10:12; 24:5); (c) food in general (De 2:3; Jos 1:11).

1. The origin of the word is uncertain. In Ex 16:13 the exclamation might be rendered, 'It is m

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The food miraculously supplied from heaven to the Israelites during the forty years of their wanderings. Its name signifies 'what is it?' for they knew not what it was. It fell every morning except on the Sabbath, and had to be gathered early, or it melted. If kept till the second day it bred worms, except the double quantity gathered on the day before the Sabbath, which was good on the second day. The quantity to be gathered was on an average an omer (about 4 pints) for every man. Some gathered more and some less, and when they measured it with an omer "he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating."

The explanation given by the Rabbis is that though several in a family went out to gather the manna, when it was brought home and measured it was found to be just an omer for each of them. The more probable explanation is that though on an average an omer was the portion for each, some needed more and others less, and therefore every one gathered 'according to his eating,' according to what he knew he would require, and thus every one had enough and there was nothing wasted. The former part of the passage is quoted in 2Co 8:15, to show that in making a collection for the poor saints there should be the carrying out of this divine principle of 'equality,' the abundance of some contributing to the need of others.

The manna ceased as soon as the Israelites had crossed the Jordan, and eaten of the old corn of the promised land. The manna is described as being like coriander seed, of the colour of bdellium. It was ground in mills, or pounded in a mortar, and baked in pans, or made into cakes. It tasted like wafers made with honey, Ex 16:31; but afterwards, when the people had lost their relish for it, like fresh oil. Nu 11:6-9. The people, alas, murmured because they had nothing to eat but the manna.

The manna is typical of Christ Himself, the vessel of God's good pleasure, and of heavenly grace here on earth

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(what is this?) (Heb. man). The most important passages of the Old Testament on this topic are the following:

Ex 16:14-36; Nu 11:7-9; De 11:5,16; Jos 5:12; Ps 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. It's 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.

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MANNA, ??, Ex 16:15,33,35; Nu 11:6-7,9; Jos 5:12; Ne 9:20; Ps 78:24; ?????, Joh 6:31,49,58; Heb 9:4; Re 2:17; the food which God gave the children of Israel during their continuance in the deserts of Arabia, from the eighth encampment in the wilderness of Sin. Moses describes it as white like hoar frost, round, and of the bigness of coriander seed. It fell every morning upon the dew; and when the dew was exhaled by the heat of the sun, the manna appeared alone, lying upon the rocks or the sand. It fell every day except on the Sabbath, and this only around the camp of the Israelites. Every sixth day there fell a double quantity; and though it putrefied and bred maggots when it was kept any other day, yet on the Sabbath there was no such alteration. The same substance which was melted by the heat of the sun when it was left abroad, was of so hard a consistence when brought into the tent, that it was beaten in mortars, and would even endure the fire, being made into cakes and baked in pans. It fell in so great quantities during the whole forty years of their journey, that it was sufficient to feed the whole multitude of above a million of souls. Every man, that is, every male or head of a family, was to gather each day the quantity of an omer, about three quarts English measure; and it is observed that "he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack," because his gathering was in proportion to the number of persons for whom he had to provide. Or every man gathered as much as he could; and then, when brought home and measured by an omer, if he had a surplus, it went to supply the wants of some other family that had not been able to collect a sufficiency, the family being large, and the time in which the manna might be gathered, before the heat of the day, not being sufficient to collect enough for so numerous a household, several of whom might be so confined as not to be able to collect for themselves. Thus there was an equality; and in this light the words of St. Paul lead us to view the passage, 2Co 8:15. To commemorate their living upon manna, the Israelites were directed to put one omer of it into a golden vase; and it was preserved for many generations by the side of the ark.

Our translators and others make a plain contradiction in the relation of this account of the manna, by rendering it thus: "And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna; for they knew not what it was;" whereas the Septuagint, and several authors, both ancient and modern, have translated the text according to the original: "The Israelites seeing this, said one to another, What is it? ?? ???; they could not give it a name. Moses immediately answers the question, and says, "This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat." From Ex 16:31, we learn that this substance was afterward called ??, probably in commemoration of the question they had asked on its first appearance. What this substance was, we know not. It was nothing that was common in the wilderness. It is evident that the Israelites never saw it before; for Moses says, "He fed thee with manna which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know," De 8:3,16; and it is very likely that nothing of the kind had ever been seen before; and by a pot of it being laid up in the ark, it is as likely that nothing of the kind ever appeared after the miraculous supply in the wilderness had ceased. The author of the book of Wisdom, 16:20, 21, says, that the manna so accommodated itself to every one's taste that it proved palatable and pleasing to all. It has been remarked that at this day, what is called manna is found in several places; in Arabia, on Mount Libanus, Calabria, and elsewhere. The most famous is that of Arabia, which is a kind of condensed honey, which exudes from the leaves of trees, from whence it is collected when it has become concreted. Salmasius thinks this of the same kind which fed the children of Israel; and that the miracle lay, not in creating any new substance, but in making it fall duly at a set time every day throughout the whole year, and that in such plenty as to suffice so great a multitude. But in order for this, the Israelites must be supposed every day to have been in the neighbourhood of the trees on which this substance is formed; which was not the case, neither do these trees grow in those deserts. Beside, this kind of manna is purgative, and the stomach could not endure it in such quantity as is implied by its being eaten for food. The whole history of the giving the manna is evidently miraculous; and the manna was truly "bread from heaven," as sent by special interposition of God.

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