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Monday, February 20, 2006

Manna: a few thoughts

Exodus 16 is the biblical passage that introduces manna, the food that sustained the million or so Israelites in the desert for nearly forty years.

What was this? We don't know. The Wikipedia article on the subject lists a few of the candidates that have been suggested, including locusts, sap from plants, and psychedelic mushrooms (!). Maybe it was one of these. I doubt it.

Whatever it was, God invested it with several miraculous qualities. It spoiled overnight, except on the Sabbath (and the sample in the Ark of the Covenant didn't spoil), and the Bible mentions that it grew worms. I don't know of any normal way to have worms grow in food overnight. There was enough, but not too much, for those who gathered it. There was enough to feed the Israelites for almost 40 years -- this was not seasonal, nor depended on special conditions, which suggests to me that it wasn't a natural food product, animal or plant. It was there every day. It must have moved with them -- they didn't stay in the same place.

Leviticus 9:17, and associated passages, tell us that the Israelites had enough grain that they could use it as part of their offerings, which indicates that they may have been able to eat some grain while in the desert. They also had their animals with them, because they made offerings from them, too, and the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and part of Manasseh wanted to stay East of the Jordan, in part so that they could take care of their flocks. This tells us that they must have found pasture, and water, all those years, which seems miraculous in itself. So manna wasn't the only thing the Children of Israel ate in the desert, but it was a reliable source of food under scarce conditions.

This is one of an occasional series, based on my daily reading from the ESV Bible. The most recent post is here. Thanks for reading.

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