Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Quails and Manna in the Desert of Sin. - Exo 16:1. From Elim the congregation of Israel proceeded into the desert of Sin. According to Num 33:10, they encamped at the Red Sea between Elim and the desert of Sin; but this is passed over here, as nothing of importance happened there. Judging from the nature of the ground, the place of encampment at the Red Sea is to be found at the mouth of the Wady Taiyibeh. For the direct road from the W. Gharandel to Sinai, and the only practicable one for caravans, goes over the tableland between this wady and the Wady Useit to the upper end of the W. Taiyibeh, a beautiful valley, covered with tamarisks and shrubs, where good water may be found by digging, and which winds about between steep rocks, and opens to the sea at Ras Zelimeh. To the north of this the hills and rocks come close to the sea, but to the south they recede, and leave a sandy plain with numerous shrubs, which is bounded on the east by wild and rugged rocky formations, and stretches for three miles along the shore, furnishing quite space enough therefore for the Israelitish camp. It is about eight hours' journey from Wady Gharandel, so that by a forced march the Israelites might have accomplished it in one day. From this point they went "to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai." The place of encampment here is doubtful. There are two roads that lead from W. Taiyibeh to Sinai: the lower, which enters the desert plain by the sea at the Murkha or Morcha well, not far from the mouth of the Wady eth Thafary, and from which you can either go as far as Tr by the sea-coast, and then proceed in a north-easterly direction to Sinai, or take a more direct road through Wady Shelll and Badireh into Wady Mukatteb and Feirn, and so on to the mountains of Horeb; and the upper road, first pointed out by Burckhardt and Robinson, which lies in a S.E. direction from W. Taiyibeh through W. Shubeikeh, across en elevated plain, then through Wady Humr to the broad sandy plain of el Debbe or Debbet en Nasb, thence through Wady Nasb to the plain of Debbet er Ramleh, which stretches far away to the east, and so on across the Wadys Chamile and Seich in almost a straight line to Horeb. One of these two roads the Israelites must have taken. The majority of modern writers have decided in favour of the lower road, and place the desert of Sin in the broad desert plain, which commences at the foot of the mountain that bounds the Wady Taiyibeh towards the south, and stretches along the sea-coast to Ras Muhammed, the southernmost point of the peninsula, the southern part of which is now called el Ka. The encampment of the Israelites in the desert of Sin is then supposed to have been in the northern part of this desert plain, where the well Murkha still furnishes a resting-place plentifully supplied with drinkable water. Ewald has thus represented the Israelites as following the desert of el Ka to the neighbourhood of Tr, and then going in a north-easterly direction to Sinai. But apart from the fact that the distance is too great for the three places of encampment mentioned in Num 33:12-14, and a whole nation could not possibly reach Rephidim in three stages by this route, it does not tally with the statement in Num 33:12, that the Israelites left the desert of Sin and went to Dofkah; so that Dofkah and the places that follow were not in the desert of Sin at all.
For these and other reasons, De Laborde, v. Raumer, and others suppose the Israelites to have gone from the fountain of Murkha to Sinai by the road which enters the mountains not far from this fountain through Wady Shelll, and so continues through Wady Mukatteb to Wady Fern (Robinson, i. p. 105). But this view is hardly reconcilable with the encampment of the Israelites "in the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai." For instance, the direct road from W. Gharandel (Elim) to Sinai does not touch the desert plain of el Ka at all, but turns away from it towards the north-east, so that it is difficult to understand how this desert could be said to lie between Elim and Sinai. For this reason, even Kurtz does not regard the clause "which is between Elim and Sinai" as pointing out the situation of the desert itself, but (contrary to the natural sense of the words) as a more exact definition of that part or point of the desert of Sin at which the road from Elim to Sinai crosses it. But nothing is gained by this explanation. There is no road from the place of encampment by the Red Sea in the Wady Taiyibeh by which a whole nation could pass along the coast to the upper end of this desert, so as to allow the Israelites to cross the desert on the way from Taiyibeh to the W. Shelll. As the mountains to the south of the W. Taiyibeh come so close to the sea again, that it is only at low water that a narrow passage is left (Burckhardt, p. 985), the Israelites would have been obliged to turn eastwards from the encampment by the Red Sea, to which they had no doubt gone for the sake of the water, and to go all round the mountain to get to the Murkha spring. This spring (according to Burckhardt, p. 983), "a small lake in the sandstone rock, close at the foot of the mountain") is "the principal station on this road," next to Ayun Musa and Gharandel; but the water is "of the worst description, partly from the moss, the bog, and the dirt with which the well is filled, but chiefly no doubt from the salt of the soil by which it is surrounded," and men can hardly drink it; whereas in the Wady Thafary, a mile (? five English miles) to the north-east of Murkha, there is a spring that "yields the only sweet water between Tor and Suez" (p. 982). Now, even if we were to assume that the Israelites pitched their camp, not by this, the only sweet water in the neighbourhood, but by the bad water of Murkha, the Murkah spring is not situated in the desert of el Ka, but only on the eastern border of it; so that if they proceeded thence into the Wady Shelll, and so on to the Wady Feirn, they would not have crossed the desert at all. In addition to this, although the lower road through the valley of Mukatteb is described by Burckhardt as "much easier and more frequented," and by Robinson as "easier" than the upper road across Nasseb (Nasb), there are two places in which it runs through very narrow defiles, by which a large body of people like the Israelites could not possibly have forced their way through to Sinai. From the Murkha spring, the way into the valley of Mukatteb is through "a wild mountain road," which is shut out from the eyes of the wanderer by precipitous rocks. "We got off our dromedaries," says Dieterici, ii. p. 27, "and left them to their own instinct and sure tread to climb the dangerous pass. We looked back once more at the desolate road which we had threaded between the rocks, and saw our dromedaries, the only signs of life, following a serpentine path, and so climbing the pass in this rocky theatre Nakb el Butera." Strauss speaks of this road in the following terms: "We went eastwards through a large plain, overgrown with shrubs of all kinds, and reached a narrow pass, only broad enough for one camel to go through, so that our caravan emerged in a very pictorial serpentine fashion. The wild rocks frowned terribly on every side." Moreover, it is only through a "terribly wild pass" that you can descend from the valley Mukatteb into the glorious valley of Feiran (Strauss, p. 128).
(Note: This pass is also mentioned by Graul (Reise ii. p. 226) as "a wild romantic mountain pass," and he writes respecting it, "For five minutes the road down was so narrow and steep, that the camels stept in fear, and we ourselves preferred to follow on foot. If the Israelites came up here on their way from the sea at Ras Zelime, the immense procession must certainly have taken a long time to get through the narrow gateway." To this we may add, that if Moses had led the people to Sinai through one of these narrow passes, they could not possibly have reached Sinai in a month from the desert of Sin, to say nothing of eight days, which was all that was left for them, if, as is generally supposed, and as Kurtz maintains, their stay at the place of encampment in the desert of Sin, where they arrived on the 15th day of the second month (Exo 16:1), lasted full seven days, and their arrival at Sinai took place on the first day of the third month. For if a pass is so narrow that only one camel can pass, not more than three men could walk abreast. Now if the people of Israel, consisting of two millions of men, had gone through such a pass, it would have taken at least twenty days for them all to pass through, as an army of 100,000 men, arranged three abreast, would reach 27 English miles; so that, supposing the pass to be not more than five minutes walk long, 100,000 Israelites would hardly go through in a day, to say nothing at all about their flocks and herds.)
For these reasons we must adopt Knobel's conclusions, and seek the desert of Sin in the upper road which leads from Gharandel to Sinai, viz., in the broad sandy table-land el Debbe or Debbet er Ramle, which stretches from the Tih mountains over almost the whole of the peninsula from N.W. to S.E. (vid., Robinson, i. 112), and in its south-eastern part touches the northern walls of the Horeb or Sinai range, which helps to explain the connection between the names Sin and Sinai, though the meaning "thorn-covered" is not established, but is merely founded upon the idea that סין has the same meaning as סנה. This desert table-land, which is essentially distinguished from the limestone formations of the Tih mountains, and the granite mass of Horeb, by its soil of sand and sandstone, stretches as far as Jebel Humr to the north-west, and the Wady Khamile and Barak to the south-west (vid., Robinson, i. p. 101, 102). Now, if this sandy table-land is to be regarded as the desert of Sin, we must look for the place of Israel's encampment somewhere in this desert, most probably in the north-western portion, in a straight line between Elim (Gharandel) and Sinai, possibly in Wady Nasb, where there is a well surrounded by palm-trees about six miles to the north-west of Sarbut el Khadim, with a plentiful supply of excellent water, which Robinson says was better than he had found anywhere since leaving the Nile (i. 110). The distance from W. Taiyibeh to this spot is not greater than that from Gharandel to Taiyibeh, and might therefore be accomplished in a hard day's march.
Here, in this arid sandy waste, the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron on account of the want of food. What they brought with them from Egypt had been consumed in the 30 days that had elapsed since they came out (Exo 16:1). In their vexation the people expressed the wish that they had died in Egypt by the flesh-pot, in the midst of plenty, "by the hand of Jehovah," i.e., by the last plague which Jehovah sent upon Egypt, rather than here in the desert of slow starvation. The form ויּלּינוּ is a Hiphil according to the consonants, and should be pointed ילּינוּ, from הלּין for הלין (see Ges. 72, Anm. 9, and Ewald, 114c.). As the want really existed, Jehovah promised them help (Exo 16:4). He would rain bread from heaven, which the Israelites should gather every day for their daily need, to try the people, whether they would walk in His law or not. In what the trial was to consist, is briefly indicated in Exo 16:5 : "And it will come to pass on the sixth day (of the week), that they will prepare what they have brought, and it will be double what they gather daily." The meaning is, that what they gathered and brought into their tents on the sixth day of the week, and made ready for eating, would be twice as much as what they gathered on every other day; not that Jehovah would miraculously double what was brought home on the sixth day, as Knobel interprets the words in order to make out a discrepancy between Exo 16:5 and Exo 16:22. הכין, to prepare, is to be understood as applying partly to the measuring of what had been gathered (Exo 16:18), and partly to the pounding and grinding of the grains of manna into meal (Num 11:8). In what respect this was a test for the people, is pointed out in Exo 16:16. Here, in Exo 16:4 and Exo 16:5, the promise of God is only briefly noticed, and its leading points referred to; it is described in detail afterwards, in the communications which Moses and Aaron make to the people. In Exo 16:6, Exo 16:7, they first tell the people, "At even, then shall ye know that Jehovah hath brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning, then shall ye see the glory of the Lord." Bearing in mind the parallelism of the clauses, we obtain this meaning, that in the evening and in the morning the Israelites would perceive the glory of the Lord, who had brought them out of Egypt. "Seeing" is synonymous with "knowing." Seeing the glory of Jehovah did not consist in the sight of the glory of the Lord which appeared in the cloud, as mentioned in Exo 16:10, but in their perception or experience of that glory in the miraculous gift of flesh and bread (Exo 16:8, cf. Num 14:22). "By His hearing" (בּשׁמעו), i.e., because He has heard, "your murmuring against Jehovah ("Against Him" in Exo 16:8, as in Gen 19:24); for what are we, that ye murmur against us?" The murmuring of the people against Moses and Aaron as their leaders really affected Jehovah as the actual guide, and not Moses and Aaron, who had only executed His will. Jehovah would therefore manifest His glory to the people, to prove to them that He had heard their murmuring. The announcement of this manifestation of God is more fully explained to the people by Moses in Exo 16:8, and the explanation is linked on to the leading clause in Exo 16:7 by the words, "when He giveth," etc. Ye shall see the glory of Jehovah, when Jehovah shall give you, etc.
But before Jehovah manifested Himself to the people in His glory, by relieving their distress, He gave them to behold His glory in the cloud, and by speaking out of the cloud, confirmed both the reproaches and promises of His servants. In the murmuring of the people, their unbelief in the actual presence of God had been clearly manifested. "It was a deep unbelief," says Luther, "that they had thus fallen back, letting go the word and promise of God, and forgetting His former miracles and aid." Even the pillar of cloud, this constant sign of the gracious guidance of God, had lost its meaning in the eyes of the people; so that it was needful to inspire the murmuring multitude with a salutary fear of the majesty of Jehovah, not only that their rebellion against the God who had watched them with a father's care might be brought to mind, but also that the fact might be deeply impressed upon their hearts, that the food about to be sent was a gift of His grace. "Coming near before Jehovah" (Exo 16:9), was coming out of the tents to the place where the cloud was standing. On thus coming out, "they turned towards the desert" (Exo 16:10), i.e., their faces were directed towards the desert of Sin; "and, behold, the glory of Jehovah appeared in the cloud," i.e., in a flash of light bursting forth from the cloud, and revealing the majesty of God. This extraordinary sign of the glory of God appeared in the desert, partly to show the estrangement of the murmuring nation from its God, but still more to show to the people, that God could glorify Himself by bestowing gifts upon His people even in the barren wilderness. For Jehovah spoke to Moses out of this sign, and confirmed to the people what Moses had promised them (Exo 16:11, Exo 16:12).
The same evening (according to Exo 16:12, "between the two evenings," vid., Exo 12:6) quails came up and covered the camp. עלה: to advance, applied to great armies. השּׂלו, with the article indicating the generic word, and used in a collective sense, are quails, ὀρτυγομήτρα (lxx); i.e., the quail-king, according to Hesychius ὄρτυξ ὑπερμεγέθης, and Phot. ὄρτυξ μέγας, hence a large species of quails, ὄρτυγες (Josephus), coturnices (Vulg.). Some suppose it to be the Kat or the Arabs, a kind of partridge which is found in great abundance in Arabia, Palestine, and Syria. These fly in such dense masses that the Arab boys often kill two or three at a time, by merely striking at them with a stick as they fly (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 681). But in spring the quails also come northwards in immense masses from the interior of Africa, and return in autumn, when they sometimes arrive so exhausted, that they can be caught with the hand (cf. Diod. Sic. i. 60; v. Schubert, Reise ii. p. 361). Such a flight of quails was now brought by God, who caused them to fall in the camp of the Israelites, so that it was completely covered by them. Then in the morning there came an "effusion of dew round about the camp; and when the effusion of dew ascended (i.e., when the mist that produced the dew had cleared away), behold there (it lay) upon the surface of the desert, fine, congealed, fine as the hoar-frost upon the ground." The meaning of the ἁπ. λεγ. מחספּס is uncertain. The meaning, scaled off, scaly, decorticatum, which is founded upon the Chaldee rendering מקלּף, is neither suitable to the word nor to the thing. The rendering volutatum, rotundum, is better; and better still perhaps that of Meier, "run together, curdled." When the Israelites noticed this, which they had never seen before, they said to one another, הוּא מן, τί ἐστι τοῦτο (lxx), "what is this?" for they knew not what it was. מן for מה belongs to the popular phraseology, and has been retained in the Chaldee and Ethiopic, so that it is undoubtedly to be regarded as early Semitic. From the question, man hu, the divine bread received the name of man (Exo 16:31), or manna. Kimchi, however, explains it as meaning donum et portio. Luther follows him, and says, "Mann in Hebrew means ready money, a present or a gift;" whilst Gesenius and others trace the word to מנה, to divide, to apportion, and render הוּא מן "what is apportioned, a gift or present." But the Arabic word to which appeal is made, is not early Arabic; and this explanation does not suit the connection. How could the people say "it is apportioned," when they did not know what it was, and Moses had to tell them, it is the bread which Jehovah has given you for food? If they had seen at once that it was food sent them by God, there would have been no necessity for Moses to tell them so.
After explaining the object of the manna, Moses made known to them at once the directions of God about gathering it. In the first place, every one was to gather according to the necessities of his family, a bowl a head, which held, according to Exo 16:36, the tenth part of an ephah. Accordingly they gathered, "he that made much, and he that made little," i.e., he that gathered much, and he that gathered little, and measured it with the omer; and he who gathered much had no surplus, and he who gathered little had no lack: "every one according to the measure of his eating had they gathered." These words are generally understood by the Rabbins as meaning, that whether they had gathered much or little, when they measured it in their tents, they had collected just as many omers as they needed for the number in their families, and therefore that no one had either superfluity or deficiency. Calvin, on the other hand, and other Christian commentators, suppose the meaning to be, that all that was gathered was placed in a heap, and then measured out in the quantity that each required. In the former case, the miraculous superintendence of God was manifested in this, that no one was able to gather either more or less than what he needed for the number in his family; in the second case, in the fact that the entire quantity gathered, amounted exactly to what the whole nation required. In both cases, the superintending care of God would be equally wonderful, but the words of the text decidedly favour the old Jewish view.
In the second place, Moses commanded them, that no one was to leave any of what had been gathered till the next morning. Some of them disobeyed, but what was left went into worms (תּולעים ירם literally rose into worms) and stank. Israel was to take no care for the morrow (Mat 6:34), but to enjoy the daily bread received from God in obedience to the giver. The gathering was to take place in the morning (Exo 16:21); for when the sun shone brightly, it melted away.
Moreover, God bestowed His gift in such a manner, that the Sabbath was sanctified by it, and the way was thereby opened for its sanctification by the law. On the sixth day of the week the quantity yielded was twice as much, viz., two omers for one (one person). When the princes of the congregation informed Moses of this, he said to them, "Let tomorrow be rest (שׁבּתון), a holy Sabbath to the Lord." They were to bake and boil as much as was needed for the day, and keep what was over for the morrow, for on the Sabbath they would find none in the field. They did this, and what was kept for the Sabbath neither stank nor bred worms. It is perfectly clear from this event, that the Israelites were not acquainted with any sabbatical observance at that time, but that, whilst the way was practically opened, it was through the decalogue that it was raised into a legal institution (see Exo 10:8.). שׁבּתון is an abstract noun denoting "rest," and שׁבּי a concrete, literally the observer, from which it came to be used as a technical term for the seventh day of the week, which was to be observed as a day of rest to the Lord.
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather manna, notwithstanding Moses' command, but they found nothing. Whereupon God reproved their resistance to His commands, and ordered them to remain quietly at home on the seventh day. Through the commandments which the Israelites were to keep in relation to the manna, this gift assumed the character of a temptation, or test of their obedience and faith (cf. Exo 16:4).
The manna was "like coriander-seed, white; and the taste of it like cake with honey." גּד: Chald. גּידא; lxx κόριον; Vulg. coriandrum; according to Dioscorid. 3, 64, it was called γοίδ by the Carthaginians. צפּיחת is rendered ἔγκρις by the lxx; according to Athenaeus and the Greek Scholiasts, a sweet kind of confectionary made with oil. In Num 11:7-8, the manna is said to have had the appearance of bdellium, a fragrant and transparent resin, resembling wax (Gen 2:12). It was ground in handmills or pounded in mortars, and either boiled in pots or baked on the ashes, and tasted like השּׁמן לשׁד, "dainty of oil," i.e., sweet cakes boiled with oil.
This "bread of heaven" (Psa 78:24; Psa 105:40) Jehovah gave to His people for the first time at a season of the year and also in a place in which natural manna is still found. It is ordinarily met with in the peninsula of Sinai in the months of June and July, and sometimes even in May. It is most abundant in the neighbourhood of Sinai, in Wady Feirn and es Sheikh, also in Wady Gharandel and Taiyibeh, and some of the valleys to the south-east of Sinai (Ritter, 14, p. 676; Seetzen's Reise iii. pp. 76, 129). In warm nights it exudes from the branches of the tarfah-tree, a kind of tamarisk, and falls down in the form of small globules upon the withered leaves and branches that lie under the trees; it is then gathered before sunrise, but melts in the heat of the sun. In very rainy seasons it continues in great abundance for six weeks long; but in many seasons it entirely fails. It has the appearance of gum, and has a sweet, honey-like taste; and when taken in large quantities, it is said to act as a mild aperient (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 954; Wellsted in Ritter, p. 674). There are striking points of resemblance, therefore, between the manna of the Bible and the tamarisk manna. Not only was the locality in which the Israelites first received the manna the same as that in which it is obtained now; but the time was also the same, inasmuch as the 15th day of the second month (Exo 16:1) falls in the middle of our May, if not somewhat later. The resemblance in colour, form, and appearance is also unmistakeable; for, though the tamarisk manna is described as a dirty yellow, it is also said to be white when it falls upon stones. Moreover, it falls upon the earth in grains, is gathered in the morning, melts in the heat of the sun, and has the flavour of honey. But if these points of agreement suggest a connection between the natural manna and that of the Scriptures, the differences, which are universally admitted, point with no less distinctness of the miraculous character of the bread of heaven. This is seen at once in the fact that the Israelites received the manna for 40 years, in all parts of the desert, at every season of the year, and in sufficient quantity to satisfy the wants of so numerous a people. According to Exo 16:35, they ate manna "until they came to a land inhabited, unto the borders of the land of Canaan;" and according to Jos 5:11-12, the manna ceased, when they kept the Passover after crossing the Jordan, and ate of the produce of the land of Canaan on the day after the Passover. Neither of these statements is to be so strained as to be made to signify that the Israelites ate no other bread than manna for the whole 40 years, even after crossing the Jordan: they merely affirm that the Israelites received no more manna after they had once entered the inhabited land of Canaan; that the period of manna or desert food entirely ceased, and that of bread baked from corn, or the ordinary food of the inhabited country, commenced when they kept the Passover in the steppes of Jericho, and ate unleavened bread and parched cakes of the produce of the land as soon as the new harvest had been consecrated by the presentation of the sheaf of first-fruits to God.
But even in the desert the Israelites had other provisions at command. In the first place, they had brought large flocks and herds with them out of Egypt (Exo 12:38; Exo 17:3); and these they continued in possession of, not only at Sinai (Exo 34:3), but also on the border of Edom and the country to the east of the Jordan (Num 20:19; Num 32:1). Now, if the maintenance of these flocks necessitated, on the one hand, their seeking for grassy spots in the desert; on the other hand, the possession of cattle secured them by no means an insignificant supply of milk and flesh for food, and also of wool, hair, and skins for clothing. Moreover, there were different tribes in the desert at that very time, such as the Ishmaelites and Amalekites, who obtained a living for themselves from the very same sources which must necessarily have been within reach of the Israelites. Even now there are spots in the desert of Arabia where the Bedouins sow and reap; and no doubt there was formerly a much larger number of such spots than there are now, since the charcoal trade carried on by the Arabs has interfered with the growth of trees, and considerably diminished both the fertility of the valleys and the number and extent of the green oases (cf. Rppell, Nubien, pp. 190, 201, 256). For the Israelites were not always wandering about; but after the sentence was pronounced, that they were to remain for 40 years in the desert, they may have remained not only for months, but in some cases even for years, in certain places of encampment, where, if the soil allowed, they could sow, plant, and reap. There were many of their wants, too, that they could supply by means of purchases made either from the trading caravans that travelled through the desert, or from tribes that were settled there; and we find in one place an allusion made to their buying food and water from the Edomites (Deu 2:6-7). It is also very obvious from Lev 8:2; Lev 26:31-32; Lev 9:4; Lev 10:12; Lev 24:5., and Num 7:13., that they were provided with wheaten meal during their stay at Sinai.
(Note: Vide Hengstenberg's Geschichte Bileam's, p. 284ff. For the English translation, see "Hengstenberg on the Genuineness of Daniel, etc.," p. 566. Clark. 1847.)
But notwithstanding all these resources, the desert was "great and terrible" (Deu 9:19; Deu 8:15); so that, even though it is no doubt the fact that the want of food is very trifling in that region (cf. Burckhardt, Syria, p. 901), there must often have been districts to traverse, and seasons to endure, in which the natural resources were either insufficient for so numerous a people, or failed altogether. It was necessary, therefore, that God should interpose miraculously, and give His people bread and water and flesh by supernatural means. So that it still remains true, that God fed Israel with manna for 40 years, until their entrance into an inhabited country rendered it possible to dispense with these miraculous supplies. We must by no means suppose that the supply of manna was restricted to the neighbourhood of Sinai; for it is expressly mentioned after the Israelites had left Sinai (Num 11:7.), and even when they had gone round the land of Edom (Num 21:5). But whether it continued outside the true desert, - whether, that is to say, the Israelites were still fed with manna after they had reached the inhabited country, viz., in Gilead and Bashan, the Amoritish kingdoms of Sihon and Og, which extended to Edrei in the neighbourhood of Damascus, and where there was no lack of fields, and vineyards, and wells of water (Num 21:22), that came into the possession of the Israelites on their conquest of the land, - or during their encampment in the fields of Moab opposite to Jericho, where they were invited by the Moabites and Edomites to join in their sacrificial meals (Num 25:2), and where they took possession, after the defeat of the Midianites, of their cattle and all that they had, including 675,000 sheep and 72,000 beeves (Num 31:31.), - cannot be decided in the negative, as Hengstenberg supposes; still less can it be answered with confidence in the affirmative, as it has been by C. v. Raumer and Kurtz. For if, as even Kurtz admits, the manna was intended either to supply the want of bread altogether, or where there was bread to be obtained, though not in sufficient quantities, to make up the deficiency, it might be supposed that no such deficiency would occur in these inhabited and fertile districts, where, according to Jos 1:11, there were sufficient supplies, at hand to furnish ample provision for the passage across the Jordan. It is possible too, that as there were more trees in the desert at that time than there are now, and, in fact, more vegetation generally, there may have been supplies of natural manna in different localities, in which it is not met with at present, and that this manna harvest, instead of yielding only 5 or 7 cwt., as is the case now, produced considerably more.
(Note: The natural manna was not exclusively confined to the tamarisk, which seems to be the only tree in the peninsula of Sinai that yields it now; but, according to both ancient and modern testimony, it has been found in Persia, Chorasan, and other parts of Asia, dropping from other trees. Cf. Rosenmller ubi supra, and Ritter, 14, pp. 686ff.)
Nevertheless, the quantity which the Israelites gathered every day, - Viz. an omer a head, or at least 2 lbs., - still remains a divine miracle; though this statement in Exo 16:16. is not to be understood as affirming, that for 40 years they collected that quantity every day, but only, that whenever and wherever other supplies failed, that quantity could be and was collected day by day.
Moreover, the divine manna differed both in origin and composition from the natural produce of the tamarisk. Though the tamarisk manna resembles the former in appearance, colour, and taste, yet according to the chemical analysis to which it has been submitted by Mitscherlich, it contains no farina, but simply saccharine matter, so that the grains have only the consistency of wax; whereas those of the manna supplied to the Israelites were so hard that they could be ground in mills and pounded in mortars, and contained so much meal that it was made into cakes and baked, when it tasted like honey-cake, or sweet confectionary prepared with oil, and formed a good substitute for ordinary bread. There is no less difference in the origin of the two. The manna of the Israelites fell upon the camp with the morning dew (Exo 16:13, Exo 16:14; Num 11:9), therefore evidently out of the air, so that Jehovah might be said to have rained it from heaven (Exo 16:4); whereas the tamarisk manna drops upon the ground from the fine thin twigs of this shrub, and, in Ehrenberg's opinion, in consequence of the puncture of a small, yellow insect, called coccus maniparus. But it may possibly be produced apart from this insect, as Lepsius and Tischendorf found branches with a considerable quantity of manna upon them, and saw it drop from trees in thick adhesive lumps, without being able to discover any coccus near (see (Ritter, 14, pp. 675-6). Now, even though the manna of the Bible may be connected with the produce of the tamarisk, the supply was not so inseparably connected with these shrubs, as that it could only fall to the earth with the dew, as it was exuded from their branches. After all, therefore, we can neither deny that there was some connection between the two, nor explain the gift of the heavenly manna, as arising from an unrestricted multiplication and increase of this gift of nature. We rather regard the bread of heaven as the production and gift of the grace of God, which fills all nature with its powers and productions, and so applies them to its purposes of salvation, as to create out of that which is natural something altogether new, which surpasses the ordinary productions of nature, both in quality and quantity, as far as the kingdom of nature is surpassed by the kingdom of grace and glory.
As a constant memorial of this bread of God for succeeding generations, Jehovah commanded Moses to keep a bowl full (העמר מלא, the filling of a bowl) of the manna. Accordingly Aaron placed a jar of manna (as it is stated in Exo 16:34, Exo 16:35, by way of anticipation, for the purpose of summing up everything of importance relating to the manna) "before Jehovah," or speaking still more exactly, "before the testimony," i.e., the tables of the law (see Exo 25:16), or according to Jewish tradition, in the ark of the covenant (Heb 9:4). צנצנת, from צנן to guard round, to preserve, signifies a jar or bottle, not a basket. According to the Jerusalem Targum, it was an earthenware jar; in the lxx it is called στάμνος χρυσοῦς, a golden jar, but there is nothing of this kind in the original text.
In conclusion, the quantity of the manna collected for the daily supply of each individual, which was preserved in the sanctuary, is given according to the ordinary measurement, viz., the ephah. The common opinion, that עמר was the name for a measure of capacity, which was evidently shared by the Seventy, who have rendered the word γομόρ, has no foundation so far as the Scriptures are concerned. Not only is it a fact, that the word omer is never used as a measure except in this chapter, but the tenth of an ephah is constantly indicated, even in the Pentateuch, by "the tenth part of an ephah" (Lev 5:11; Lev 6:13; Num 5:15; Num 28:5), or "a tenth deal" (Exo 29:40; Lev 14:10, etc.; in all 30 times). The omer was a small vessel, cup, or bowl, which formed part of the furniture of every house, and being always of the same size, could be used as a measure in case of need.
(Note: Omer proprie nomen poculi fuit, quale secum gestare solent Orientales, per deserta iter facientes, ad hauriendam si quam rivus vel fons offerret aquam.... Hoc in poculo, alia vasa non habentes, et mannam collegerunt Israelitae (Michaelis, Supplem. ad Lex. hebr., p. 1929). Cf. Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Pentateuch, vol. ii. p. 172.)
The ephah is given by Bertheau as consisting of 198577 Parisian cubic inches, and holding 739,800 Parisian grains of water; Thenius, however, gives only 101439 Parisian, or 112467 Rhenish inches. (See my Archologie, ii. 141-2.)