The Hebrews rested at Elim and then set out again on their journey. They traveled into the Wilderness of Sin. There may be a connection of the Wilderness of Sin with Mount Sinai, but its true location is unknown. The Israelites had departed Egypt on the 15th day of the month of Abib; they would have arrived there exactly a month later. This kind of chronological detail would appear to be based upon eyewitness account. Following their deliverance from the Egyptians and the experience at Marah, it would have seemed that Israel should have learned to put their trust and faith in their God. But this was not the case.
The Wilderness of Sin
The Wilderness of Sin is a geographic area mentioned by the Bible as lying between Elim and Mount Sinai. Sin does not refer to sinfulness, but is an un-translated word that would translate as the moon; biblical scholars suspect that the name Sin here refers to the Semitic moon-deity Sin, who was worshipped widely around the entire periphery of pre-Islamic Arabia, the Levant, and Mesopotamia.
The location the Bible refers to is unknown, as its determination relies heavily on the location of Mount Sinai. The traditional identification of Mount Sinai as Jabal Musa, one of the peaks at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula, would imply that the wilderness of Sin was probably the narrow plain of el-Markha, which stretches along the eastern shore of the Red Sea for several miles toward the promontory of Ras Mohammed; however, most scholars have since rejected these traditional identifications. The more popular identification among modern scholars, of Sinai as al-Madhbah at Petra, would imply that the wilderness of Sin was roughly equitable with the central Arabah.
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Food in the wilderness was scarce. With the lack of food the people quickly forgot about their servitude at the hands of the Egyptians. All they remembered was the meat pots in which the meat was cooked. As slaves, they probably would not have had all that much meat to eat. But the memory of their meager amounts seemed sweet and they also remembered eating “bread to the full.” With hunger in their stomachs they grumbled bitterly against Moses and Aaron. We again see the frailty of human nature. They all were eager for their freedom from the Egyptians when it had cost them nothing. Now that they were having to sacrifice and had demands put upon them, it appeared to be too expensive.
It should not seem too hard for us to believe that the same people who had sung the song of victory (Exodus 15:1-18) could not believe that God had brought then into the wilderness “to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” It would be hard to believe if we did not recognize the same tendencies in ourselves.
God again deals with His children with merciful patience. God promised them bread from heaven. The main emphasis here was upon manna, although there was reference to the supplying of quail. Jesus Christ who was the Lord of the Exodus explained that He was the true “bread from heaven.” (John 6:32-35) God’s statement “that I may test them,” was a major purpose behind God’s providential care. God was certainly meeting their need which is an obvious purpose. God was also testing the Israelites to see if, with their weak faith, they could trust God for their daily needs. Moses and Aaron made it clear that their complaining against them was really directed “against the Lord.”
Moses also made it known to the people that the provision coming to them from God was a direct result of the fact that the Lord had heard their murmurings. God hears us even when we do not know it. In God’s answer the people again became aware of the “glory of the LORD.” The Israelites had forgotten that God was with them and His glory shown in the cloud to point to them His redemptive presence.
Quail are migratory birds that fly north and south over major areas of the Sinai arriving completely exhausted. Under such conditions they would be easy prey for those who hunt them. Manna had been understood to be a sweet secretion from desert trees. It drops upon the ground and turns white. Both of these phenomena occur in the late spring and early summer, the actual time recorded here. These events may be supernatural in every sense of the word. Or they may be natural events that happened when God said they would.
However you understand the event, for Moses and for Israel it was obviously understood as coming from God. It would seem that such miraculous provision would have led to open obedient response on the part of Israel. But the people continued to disobey. In their greed they tried to keep too much and it spoiled. When they failed to make provision for the Sabbath, they found none at all. God was fulfilling the promise of verse 8. We read of these birds again later. The people complained about the manna (Numbers 11:4) and God sent Quails with disastrous results. (Numbers 11:31 Psalms 78:27) Here the Lord may have been testing them to see if they would continue to demand their Egyptian diet. They accepted the manna. In a later story, they complained again and were punished.
In verse 31 we read “The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.” The word “like” indicates that it was not coriander seed. Coriander is an herb used for seasoning. (Genesis 2:12 Numbers 11:7)
The reference to the Sabbath here is the first reference in the Old Testament of what was to become one of Israel’s major religions observances. The idea of the Sabbath was found in Genesis 2:2-3, although there is no specific reference to it. Whether or not the Sabbath had been observed before this time it would be observed from this time on. At Sinai it became one of the major foundation stones of Israel’s faith. (Exodus 20:8)
Israel was to be in commemoration of God’s gracious providence by filling a jar with the manna to be kept in the middle of their sanctuary. The purpose was that they should never forget God’s providential care. This act of remembrance should have served to strengthen their weak faith. We also see a mundane detail that shows the human nature of the author: “Now an omer is a tenth of an ephah.” In our terms, an omer is about two quarts, dry measure.
John 6:32-35, Numbers 11:4, Numbers 11:31, Psalms 78:27, Genesis 2:12, Numbers 11:7, Genesis 2:2-3