Not long after the Jewish people had escaped Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they ran out of the food they had brought with them. They began to grumble, recalling the tasty meals they had enjoyed when they were slaves.
God told Moses he would rain down bread from heaven for the people. That evening quail came and covered the camp. The people killed the birds and ate their meat. The next morning, when the dew evaporated, a white substance covered the ground. The Bible describes manna as a fine, flaky substance, white like coriander seed, and tasting like wafers made with honey.
Moses instructed the people to gather an omer, or about two quarts’ worth, for each person each day. When some of the people tried to save extra, it became wormy and spoiled.
Manna appeared for six days in a row. On Fridays, the Hebrews were to gather a double portion, because it did not appear on the next day, the Sabbath. And yet, the portion they saved for the Sabbath did not spoil.
After the people gathered the manna, they made it into flour by grinding it with hand mills or crushing it with mortars. Then they boiled the manna in pots and made it into flat cakes. These cakes tasted like pastries baked with olive oil. (Numbers 11:8)
Skeptics have tried to explain manna as a natural substance, such as a resin left behind by insects or a product of the tamarisk tree. However, the tamarisk substance appears only in June and July and does not spoil overnight.
God told Moses to save a jar of manna so future generations could see how the Lord provided for his people in the desert. Aaron filled a jar with an omer of manna and put it in the Ark of the Covenant, in front of the tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Exodus says the Jews ate manna every day for 40 years. Miraculously, when Joshua and the people came to the border of Canaan and ate the food of the Promised Land, the heavenly manna stopped the next day and was never seen again.
Bread in the Bible
In one form or another, bread is a recurring symbol of life in the Bible because it was the staple food of ancient times. Ground manna could be baked into bread; it was also called the bread of heaven.
More than 1,000 years later, Jesus Christ repeated the miracle of manna in the Feeding of the 5,000. The crowd following him was in the “wilderness” and he multiplied a few loaves of bread until everyone had eaten their fill.
Some scholars believe that Jesus’ phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer, is a reference to manna, meaning that we are to trust God to supply our physical needs one day at a time, as the Jews did in the desert.
Christ frequently referred to himself as bread: “the true Bread from heaven” (John 6:32), “the Bread of God” (John 6:33), “the Bread of life” (John 6:35, 48), and John 6:51:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (NIV)
Today, most Christian churches celebrate a communion service or Lord’s Supper, in which the participants eat some form of bread, as Jesus commanded his followers to do at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26).
The final mention of manna occurs in Revelation 2:17, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna…” One interpretation of this verse is that Christ supplies spiritual nourishment (hidden manna) as we wander through the wilderness of this world.
References to Manna in the Bible