Exodus 16: Lessons Regarding God’s Provision for You in the Wilderness

Introduction. Exodus chapter 16 is about God’s provision in the wilderness. Here, the Jews had their third through fifth rebellions against Him less than 50 days into their journey. During their journey from Egypt to receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, they rebelled a total of seven times. It might be tempting to mock these Jews. But we are no better. All believers at times grumble about their condition in life. From this chapter, God provides seven important lessons for every believer when facing trials in the wilderness.

First, from the example of the Jews’ third rebellion in the wilderness, God teaches that you should always be thankful no matter what trials you may face. There is nothing that you are entitled to receive. Whatever you receive should be praised as an undeserved gift. Second, when you feel your needs (not wants) are lacking, seek after God’s Kingdom and His righteousness. When you do these things, Jesus promises to provide the bread of life that brings spiritual contentment. Third, because God uses His leaders to guide His Church, God does not want you to murmur and complain about His leaders. He does allow for constructive criticism to leaders when they go astray. But the criticism should be offered directly to the leader and be designed to build up and not tear down the person. Fourth, God reveals that grumbling is a sin against Him. Grumbling stems from a lack of faith. Fifth, from the Jews’ fourth rebellion of trying to hoard manna, God reveals that the hoarding of His blessings is a sin. When believers hoard God’s gifts, they rob from the Kingdom resources that belong to God. Sixth, from the Jews’ fifth rebellion by searching for manna during the Sabbath, they showed a failure to trust God to provide for their needs. Working for money seven days a week also shows a failure to trust God to provide if you take a day off for Him. Finally, God told the Jews to keep some of God’s manna inside the Arc of the Covenant that the Jews would soon build. He wanted the Jews to remember His provision so that they would not grumble again. He also wants you to remember all the times that He has provided for you so that you stand strong in your faith the next time you face a trial. You can also use your testimony to bolster the faith of others.

1. Always be Thankful Because God’s Provision is Unearned. Ex. 16:1-3.

  • The Jews’ third rebellion after only two months and 15 days in the wilderness. Less than 50 days into their journey in the wilderness, “all” the Jews grumbled against God: “1 Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”’ (Ex. 16:1-3). The Jews’ first rebellion happened as Pharaoh pursued them. When they stood at the water’s edge, they cried out to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Ex. 14:12). The Jews’ second rebellion happened at Marah when they complained about their water: “When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Ex. 15:23-24). Every detail of the Jews’ journey was “written for our instruction . . .” (1 Cor. 10:11). It might be tempting to mock the Jews as being undeserving of God’s salvation. But are your acts of self-righteousness any more worthy of God’s salvation? (Is. 64:6).

The congregation complained against Moses and Aaron and longed for their old life1

  • Sin spreads when left unchecked. The Bible makes clear that the Jews’ third rebellion was not limited to a few trouble makers. Instead, “the whole congregation complained.” (Ex. 16:2). Sin is like a communicable disease. It spreads when it is left unchecked. If you gossip or complain, you are helping to spread the sin of grumbling to others.

  • Always be grateful no matter what trials you may face in the wilderness. Like the Jews, God tests His believers to show them what is in their hearts (Ex. 15:25; Dt. 8:2; Jer. 17:10; 20:12; Ps. 11:5). The key to succeeding in God’s tests is to find joy no matter what trial you face: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). Will you praise God in both good times and bad? If you complain, what kind of witness are you?

2. God Provides the True Bread of Life in the Wilderness. Ex. 16:4-5.

  • Where God guides, He provides. Although the Jews did not deserve God’s provision, He promised to provide for them by raining down bread from heaven: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Ex. 16:4-5). If you seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, He also promises to provide for your needs: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6). “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). If you feel God’s provision is lacking in your life, are you seeking after His Kingdom and His righteousness?

  • Jesus is the true bread of life. Jesus revealed that He was the bread of life that rained down on the Jews in the wilderness: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’” (John 6:35). “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:48-51). Are you seeking satisfaction from the temporary things of this world or the permanent things of God?

  • Read the Word daily to consume the bread of life. Jesus is the Word who became human (Jo. 1:1, 14). To consume the bread of life, you must read the Word. Moreover, you must do so on a daily basis. Manna could not be stored on any day except the day before the Sabbath (Ex. 16:19-20). Are you eating the bread of life each day?

God promised to provide the bread of life from heaven2

3. Grumbling about God’s Spirit-Led Leaders is Also a Sin Against God. Ex. 16:6-7.

  • The Jews’ rebellion against Moses and Aaron. After Moses and Aaron passed along God’s good news, they reminded the people that God was in control, and they had no reason to complain against His leaders: “So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, “At evening you will know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, for He hears your grumblings against the Lord; and what are we, that you grumble against us?” (Ex. 16:6-7). While in the desert, God guided the Jews by a visible pillar of light during both the day and the night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). He also sent an angel before them (Ex. 23:23). Thus, when the Jews complained about their leaders’ direction, their complaints were really against God.

Moses and Aaron reassured God’s people that God would provide3

  • Obey God’s appointed leaders. God commands that believers submit to His appointed leaders. First, believers submit to Him through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and His church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20, Heb. 13:17). Second, believers should submit to civil authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1-2). Third, believers should submit to God’s family order (Eph. 5:22-25; 6:10). Only when your authorities refuse to follow God’s Word can you ignore them (Acts. 4:19). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. Satan first led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then lead Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen 3:16). All of Satan’s rebellions in the wilderness sought to depose Moses as the leader of the Jews. Jesus once quoted a prophesy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mark 14:23). Upon His arrest, the disciples scattered. If Satan had succeeded in deposing Moses, the nation of Israel would have fought with itself and lost its direction in the wilderness. Satan also tries to have people bring down their church, civic leaders, and family leaders through rebellion. Society has reaped chaos from its rebellions. When you have contempt toward God’s leaders, it is equivalent to having contempt toward God. (Ex. 16:8; 1 Sam. 8:7). Thus, God warns you not to speak ill of His appointed leaders: “Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:15). Are you undermining the authority of one of God’s appointed leaders through murmur or gossip?

  • Valid criticisms should be brought directly to the leader’s attention. God later gave an example of how He expects valid criticisms to be brought to the attention of a leader. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, complained to him that it was not right for him to assume responsibility for mediating every dispute amongst the people. He advised Moses to teach God’s law to men who feared God to mediate disputes (Ex. 18:17-27). This criticism was proper because it sought to uplift Moses as a leader. By contrast, the Jews’ complaints about their provision were not proper because they sought to tear Moses and Aaron down as leaders. According to Jesus, when you have a valid criticism against a leader or anyone else, you must first express it in private to the leader (Matt. 18:15-20). Are you seeking to help build up your leaders? Or, are you murmuring behind your leader’s back?

4. Grumbling about God’s Provision Stems from One of Seven Sins. Ex. 16:8-12.

(1) Grumbling can stem from a lack of faith. After admonishing the people not to complain about God’s leaders, Moses warned the people that their murmuring was a sin against God: “Moses said, ‘This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.”’ (Ex. 16:8). Up until this point, God had freed the Jews from bondage with several plagues against the Egyptians (Ex. 7:6-11:10). He brought them safely across the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) and crushed the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:7-15:21). He transformed the waters of Marah (Ex. 15:22-27). He also guided them by a visible pillar of light both by day and by night (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). The Jews had no reason to grumble against God. Their grumbling was in part caused by a lack of faith. No matter how many times God provided for them, they failed to trust Him with each new challenge. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Are you trusting God when times are tough?

(2) Grumbling may come from expecting God to provide for your wants, not your needs. God provided for all the Jews’ physical needs when He gave them manna. Some people claim that the manna was really a gum-like substance that came from a shrub called Tamarix gallica. Others claim that it came from insects. But a natural explanation cannot describe all of its attributes. It had all the nutrients that people needed. The manna was also said to taste like wafers made of honey (Ex. 16:31). The people were able to boil or bake the manna that they received (Nu. 11:8). They also never needed to worry about whether they would receive it. With the exception of the Sabbath, it came ever night like the dew (Nu. 11:9; Ex. 16:22, 27). Thus, they were not under the original curse, which required them to toil in the earth, while they received it. Yet, not long after they left Mount Sinai, their “appetite” for the manna was gone (Nu. 11:6). They were no longer satisfied having their needs met. Do you crave the taste of the things of God? Or, is your appetite for Him and what He offers gone?

(3) Grumbling can also stem from a failure to recognize God’s mercy and grace. After the Jews rebelled for the third time, God could have punished the Jews. Instead, He showed grace by providing for them: “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for He has heard your grumblings.’ 10 It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 ‘I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” (Ex. 16:9-12). God is quick to bless and slow to punish: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). When you grumble for more than what you already have, you are in effect complaining that what Christ did at the cross was not enough. Is there anything else that you truly need?

God provided quail after the His people complained about their provision4

(4) Grumbling can also stem from a false sense of entitlement. The Bible makes clear that every good and perfect gift comes from God: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). A “gift” is something that is not earned. Many times people expect God to provide certain things. But God is not Santa Claus. If you expect God to fulfill your wish list, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Are you treating every good and perfect thing in your life as an unearned gift from God?

(5) Grumbling can further stem from distorted perceptions. Less than 50 days after leaving Egypt, the Jews had come to deceive themselves that they had left the good life in Egypt for something inferior in the wilderness. Satan deceived them into believing that they “sat by the pots of meat” and that they “eat bread to the full.” (Ex. 16:3). But their memories of their old life in bondage were distorted. Pharaoh tried to kill every first-born Jewish boy (Ex. 1:22). Their work was hard (Ex. 1:14). Their lives were also bitter (Ex. 1:14). Jesus warns that those who yearn for their old lives are not fit for the kingdom: “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 9:62). If you long for your old life of bondage, you will never be satisfied. Is there any sin that you are refusing to let go of?

(6) Grumbling can also stem from a failure to submit to God. Sometimes, the reasons for a trial may not seem clear. Yet, even when you don’t understand the reason for a trial (like the death of a loved one), you have no right to question God. After Job questioned God, God responded: ‘“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you ]have understanding’” (Job 38:4). Believers are the clay, and God is the Potter: “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?” (Is. 45:9). God’s thoughts and ways are also above mankind’s thoughts and ways: ‘“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 55:8). If you think you can predict or explain God’s every move, you are bound to be disappointed. Even worse, you also will not be effective in helping someone cope with a tragedy. Will you trust God and find joy even when a tragedy cannot be explained?

(7) Grumbling can also stem from dissatisfaction with what Jesus offers. The Jews later rejected God’s manna (Nu. 11:6). This foreshadowed their rejection of Jesus, the manna from heaven (John 6:35-51). They expected the Messiah to free them from the Romans. The religious leaders were also jealous and felt threatened by Jesus. Thus, both the masses and the elites were not satisfied with what Jesus offered. Sometimes, your grumbling stems from a desire for things of the flesh that God has prohibited. Are you satisfied with what Christ has provided you? Or, are you still longing for the things of the flesh?

5. Hoarding God’s Provision is Also a Sin Against God. Ex. 16:13-21.

  • The Jews’ fourth rebellion in the wilderness. In an act of grace, God caused manna to rain down from heaven. Yet, despite God’s manna miracles, some Jews refused to listen to God’s instruction not to hoard their manna: “13 So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. 15 When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’” 17 The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. 18 When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat. 19 Moses said to them, “Let no man leave any of it until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them. 21 They gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.” (Ex. 16:13-21). The Jews’ act of hoarding their manna stemmed from a failure to trust God. They did not trust Him to continually provide it.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770) “The Gathering of Manna” (painting 1740-42)5

Master of the Gathering of the Manna (1460–1470) “The Gathering of the Manna” (painting 1467)6

  • Hoarding God’s talents is robbery from God’s kingdom. God warns that hoarding is an evil act in His eyes: “There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.” (Ecc. 5:13). When you hoard and fail to tithe, you rob from God’s kingdom: ‘“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”’ (Mal. 3:8). In the parable of the talents, God rebuked the person who hoarded the one talent that was given to him: “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’” (Matt. 25:26-28). Instead of hoarding money here, Jesus advises to hoard up your treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20). If God has given you money, the ability to sing, to write, to teach, to pray, to heal, to encourage, to prophesy, or preach and you are not using those gifts, you are hoarding them. Those gifts could be used to bring people to God. Is there any gift that you are hoarding?

God provided for His people in the wilderness7

6. Working for God’s Provision Seven Days a Week Robs Your Body of Rest. Ex. 16:22-30.

  • The Jews’ fifth rebellion in the wilderness. After committing the sin of hoarding, many Jews committed a sin of failing to trust God by searching for manna on the Sabbath day: “22 Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 then he said to them, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none. 27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? 29 See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:22-30). The sin of searching for manna on the Sabbath was a sin of failing to trust God. The Jews did not believe that the manna that God provided on the sixth day would be enough to cover the Sabbath.

  • Seven reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. Although not required, there are several reasons to observe a voluntary Sabbath. First, observing the Sabbath (along with the other Commandments) is a sign of your love for Christ. Jesus advised: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; Matt. 19:17; 1 Jo. 2:3; 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). Second, keeping a “holy” Sabbath gives God the opportunity to refresh your body. You were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). On the Sabbath, God refreshed Himself: “[F]or in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” (Ex. 31:17). The Sabbath also allows God’s people to “refresh themselves.” (Ex. 23:12). Third, keeping a holy Sabbath allows time to worship and study God’s Word. Fourth, if your church is properly structured, keeping a holy Sabbath can bring fellowship and accountability (Heb. 10:24-25). Sixth, Jesus healed others during the Sabbath (Matt. 12:9-21; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1; Jo. 5:1-18). His point was that a holy Sabbath should include volunteering and helping others. Jesus never meant to turn the day into a day for hedonism. Finally, keeping a holy Sabbath allows you to receive a blessing from God. For those who spend the Sabbath seeking after God, He promises great delight (Is. 58:13-14). He also promises to “bless” you (Is. 56:2, 5-7). Although you are under no legal obligation to observe a Sabbath, why turn down God’s offer to bless you?

7. Remember God’s Provision or You Are Bound to Grumble Again. Ex. 16:31-36.

  • Meditate upon God’s provision in your life. After suffering from five rebellions after leaving Egypt, God instructed the Jews to keep some of His manna inside the future Arc of the Covenant as a reminder of His promise to provide for His people: “31 The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. 32 Then Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omerful of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept. 35 The sons of Israel ate the manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 (Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah.)” (Ex. 16:31-36). David wrote that he mediated on “all Your work and muse on Your deeds.” (Ps. 77:10-12). Are you meditating upon what God has done for you in your life? If not, you may have trouble when you face a trial.

  • The Jews later complained about their manna because they forgot God’s deliverance. The Jews continued to rebel because they failed to remember all that God had provided for them. They forgot about their bitter bondage in Egypt. They forgot about God’s seven plagues on the Egyptians. They forgot about God’s parting of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). They forgot about the waters that God converted at Marah. They also forgot about the miracles of the manna and the quail described in this chapter. They rebelled a total of seven times on their way to receive the Ten Commandments. Soon after leaving Mount Sinai, they came to despise the manna that God sent them (Nu. 11:6). They also again longed for the food that they had in Egypt (Nu. 11:4). The people also again hoarded all the quail that God provided (Nu. 11:34). If you continually seek fulfillment through the things of the flesh instead of the things of God, He will eventually hand you over to your desires or addictions (Ro. 1:27-31). “And He [God] gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” (Ps. 106:105). “[T]hese things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction.” (1 Cor. 10:10-11). Remembering what God has delivered you from is one of the best ways to stay thankful and keep yourself free from the addictions of the flesh.

  • God promises a “hidden manna” for those who abstain from the immorality of the flesh. When you accept Christ, the Bible says that you are a “new creation.” The desires of your old self and your old desires of the flesh should fade away (Ro. 6:6). Yet, because of mankind’s sinful nature, believers will at times fail in staying free from the desires of the flesh. Returning to the flesh will not cause you to lose your salvation. Yet, those who exercise self-control to deny themselves the things of the flesh are promised the “hidden manna” from heaven (Rev. 2:17). Will you try to stay pure and store up your hidden manna in heaven?