“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
This is the Old Testament reading for Proper 20, Year A of the Episcopal Lectionary, the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church on Sunday, September 24, 2017. It tells of the Israelites complaining to Moses about not having food, which leads to God providing food for them. This is least important as a story of God producing the miracle of manna and quail as sustenance, as its greatest meaning is directed to the individual who is reading (or hearing) these words. They, like everything in Scripture, should be read as a message intended for you to grasp.
Again, the miracles of the Exodus story makes atheists crawl out of their holes and point to the quail of Exodus 16 being a contradiction of what is written in Numbers 11. In turn, rejections of Scripture either makes Jews and Christians stop being active in their faith, or they just shrug their shoulders and say, “I dunno. I can’t explain anything. I just go to church (or the synagogue) and believe what they tell me to believe.” Reading the Holy Bible as a scholastic-history-story book, without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, leads many people to misunderstandings, like seeing contradictions or being blind to everything.
If one has read the whole Exodus story, one might think this story is eerily similar to the Israelites complaints about not having anything to drink. They did that in chapter 15, when they arrived at Marah (in the Desert of Shur), where they found bitter water. After complaining, Moses led them to “Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” (Exodus 15:27) There would also be complaints of thirst later, when Moses went to God and God told him to strike the ground with his staff, and lo and behold water flowed forth. (Numbers 20) This reading is about food, rather than drink, but both are to be understood as necessities of life and not grumblings of selfishness. Still, the specifics of what foods and what drinks were provided, as the result of miracles, are really less unimportant than the symbolism.
Missing from this reading is verse 1, which states the timing of this complaint: “On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.” The Passover meal was eaten after 6:00 PM, beginning the fifteenth day of the first month (15 Nissan, or the evening of 14 Nissan). This makes the complaint of this reading be 30 days after eating the roasted lamb, which is 15 Iyar (the second month). This information is important because 14 Iyar is a Jewish day of recognition named Pesach Sheni, meaning Second Passover. Therefore, the focus of this reading should begin with this realization. The symbolism of this reading is for a ceremonial remembering, even if their bellies felt empty.
When I wrote about Exodus 12, the instructions for the Passover (Proper 18), the food of the lamb and the blood of the lamb were the symbols of the Passover Seder (last supper), which are the same symbols of the Eucharistic wafers and wine. The roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs was not God feeding hungry people. It was God feeding hungry souls with spiritual food. That same element of spiritual food has to be seen in the manna (“what is it?”) from heaven.
The reason this can be said confidently is the Israelites had livestock with them. In Numbers 20:4 the Israelites went to Moses, asking: “Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?” In Exodus 9:4, before the plague that would strike the Pharaoh’s animals, Moses said, “But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’” Finally, the yearling lambs or goats that were to be inspected and slaughtered for the initial Passover meals came from Israelite livestock. These animals went with the Israelites when they left Egypt.
When you realize the complaint of hunger cannot be from lack of food for survival, then one has to read the complaints of the Israelites on a spiritual level. When they complained, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” This is a longing for the ways of the world and not the LORD.
Rather than die a death of ego (symbolically die as common laborers and be reborn as servants of God), to serve the LORD as His priests, they wished to have died like all mortals who are born of death. They saw the cauldrons of boiled meats and vegetables with lust, as the remembered offerings of the world were more pleasurable than those of the LORD presently (stuck in the wilderness, off the well-beaten path to Canaan). They remembered bread risen with yeast, which made them feel full inside, due to the gas releases of microbes. Leavened bread is symbolic of more than one’s basic needs being met.
This means Exodus 16:2-25 is the Israelites telling Moses, “We’re just not feeling why God chose us. Release us back to Egypt, or feed us with some tasty inspiration and promise that will make us feel alive, filled with spiritual knowledge.”
The unknown substance that covered the ground in the morning (manna) was then spiritual bread, which gave the Israelites reason to continue following Moses and Aaron, as devoted disciples of the LORD. This is why the men would gather for themselves and their families, as the men were the rabbis of each, who taught the ways of the LORD to their own, passing on knowledge that came to them from that spiritual food.
This is indicated when God told Moses, “Each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” The manna of knowledge was like the title of this Word Press blog, where Our Daily Bread offers just enough to feed a Christian until another hunger pang for inspirational knowledge is felt. This article also offers a test, of whether or not the reader (or listener) is following these insights that I offer as manna from heaven.
As for the quail, one needs to look at what they symbolize, rather than see them as a truck load of Cornish Game Hens being dropped off in the wilderness (or U.S. military MRI’s after a disaster). A quail is a wild bird. Birds have wings, so they can easily transition from ground-pecking to airborn.
Supposedly (from the account in Numbers 11:31), the quail were blown off course from the “sea” (Red or Mediterranean?) in large numbers. So, their flight plan had been changed by God, so that they all landed in the same place as the Israelites. The Israelites also had a path they were following, but they had taken flight from Egypt (after crossing the sea). It was the breath of God (as an east wind) that blew apart the waters, so the Israelites crossed on dry land. The quail are thus symbolic of the Israelites.
The quails died as food for the Israelites. The Israelites died as those doubting their faith in this guy with a magic staff (Moses) and whether or not YHWH really meant to choose them … for God knows what. Quails and Israelites together in the wilderness, with both surprised to be there.
In the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, six of the first seven days are represented by birds: partridge; turtle doves; French hens; calling birds; geese; and swans. (The fifth day is represented by a wedding ring, by the way) In the hidden meaning of the song, it is the numbers that are symbolic of the Holy Bible and its messages. The birds are symbols of humans who leave the mundane world and fly as Christians. So, in that way of looking at birds, it is worthwhile seeing the Israelites as symbolic of quails.
Before anyone raises their hand to question how any Israelites could eat his fill of other Israelites, recall how Jesus said this: “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) There are atheist sewing & Bible study groups that delight in seeing this as the “cannibalism” of Christianity (even the Jews who heard Jesus say that were greatly offended).
Of course, the meaning of Jesus’ words are not literal but spiritual. To eat the body of Jesus Christ, you must consume the body of text that prophesied his coming, as he came – the Son of God, the Messiah. At that time, that body was the Torah, the Psalms, and the writings of the Prophets. Today, that body has a “New Testament” (two turtle doves = Old & New Testaments).
Since Jesus was not yet in the world and God had just begun to train His Israelite disciples, just as Jesus would train his many centuries later, the Israelites still had a history that needed to be shared. In the evening, a quail roasted over a spit dinner would pass by quickly; but the coming together of the groups so they could recall their histories, as to why God had chosen them – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob (aka Israel) – that was spiritual food that filled them with the knowledge of their exclusivity.
The quail then represented how God told Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,” (Genesis 22:17)
From this perspective, one hears read aloud on Sunday, “When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” [Hebrew “manna“ means that] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”’
The same words are spoken to each and every Christian today and forever. It is why I write here and why priests, pastors, and ministers preach each Sunday. It is why there is Bible studies offered in places where atheists fear to tread. Manna is the Holy Bible; but when first seen, Christians ask, “What is it? What does it mean? Who can understand it all?”
The answer is, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” Only eat what you need for a day; but then in the evening gather with other Christians and feed on the knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit. Instead of quail, eat the body of Christ and share that experience with others of like mind.
If you don’t, then your complaint is against the LORD, so you say, “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Eat the manna! Have it with cheese, compliments of the cow near your tent, and unleavened crackers.
The LORD has provided you with spiritual food. You are supposed to gather it six days, with the seventh day’s portions gathered on the sixth day. How many only go hunting for a little manna on Sunday mornings, but never seek a quail gathering in the evening? Remember: The LORD said, “I will test [you], whether [you] will follow my instruction or not.”
You know He said that to you, because you heard it read aloud or you read it here. Who are you going to share this with now?