Lectionary Year A
September 22, 2002
Exodus 16:2-15

IV: Broader Context


In I Corinthians 10:3, Paul refers to the wilderness wanderers’ eating a “spiritual food”. The Gospel of John (6:31) mentions particularly, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Evidently, the early Christians told and retold the story our text reports.


In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (16:20f), we read, “. . . you gave your people food for angels, and without their toil you supplied them from heaven with bread ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste. For your sustenance manifested your sweetness toward your children; and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to suit everyone’s liking.” Then, the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day . . .”, explains the instruction in our text’s verse 5. Numbers 11:7f further describes the manna as being, “like coriander seed and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots or made cakes of it, and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil.” In ancient Judaism, meals were doubly important, one, for sustenance and, two, for fellowship celebrations of significant experiences people had relative to God’s watchcare.

When the Hellenists get on the scene of the Biblical times, we expect them to hear this story and find it intriguing. They will appreciate its portraying God as dynamic rather than merely static. They will value God’s failing to pass judgement on the complainers among the Israelites. They will admire God’s generous providence. They might question the lack of logic in God’s reported behavior, but probably question it only slightly if at all. They will cherish the story’s differentiation between spiritual ideas and concrete matter, i.e., the meat and the bread/manna. The citing of the Sabbath, in verse 5, might find their approval of a written reference to one of the written laws of ancient Judaism. They might even applaud the wilderness wanderers for asking, “What is it?” Hellenists liked question, especially of mysteries revealing God’s dynamic power.

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