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Exodus 16:2-15

Exodus 16:2-15

Background to the Book of Exodus:
Historical Situation: (History within the text)
The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.
Literary Comments
The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.
PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:
To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 16:2-15
After the songs of praise and thanksgiving, and the first complaint about the bitter water in Exod 15 the Israelites have traveled and are now camped at Elim. From here they move on to the wilderness of Sin where the complaint about food takes place, and following the complaint we read how God answers them in Exod 16:13ff. So they had quail in the evening and bread in the morning. However, those people who were greedy and collected more bread than what they needed found that it rotted and the maggots bred in it. On the sixth day they were allowed to gather twice the amount to keep them going over the Sabbath without having to do any work. Exod 16 finishes with a description of the bread called manna and the command to keep a sample of it in a jar as testimony to the way God cared for them in the wilderness.

Insights/Message of Exodus 16:2-15
:  Exod 16:1 is the bridge verse from Exodus 15:27 and gets the people to the wilderness of Sin where the whole of Exodus 16 is placed. Vv.2-12 = the bread and meat story; vv.13-30 = instructions for gathering the bread; vv.31-36 = instructions for keeping some manna as a testimony to God's feeding of them in the wilderness in which they will travel for forty years. There is repetition, for example, two speeches about collecting the bread and two conclusions, which indicates there is more than one tradition present. Therefore, one concludes that this event was important in the memories of a number of the tribes for it to be preserved in the writings. The complaint is uttered by the whole congregation of Israel who remember the good things of Egypt and fail to remember the bad things. Indeed, the complaint very quickly turns from complaint to accusation (v.3). In the previous complaint about the bitter water the people complain against Moses alone and in Exod 16 Aaron is included in the complaint. God hears their complaint direct without either Aaron or Moses speaking to the Lord first. First, Moses and Aaron speak together to the people (v.6-7) and then Moses by himself, but refers to "us" in v.8. Moses now speaks to Aaron and tells him to speak to the people which he does (v.9b) and the people could see the glory of the Lord in a cloud. This is one of the manifestations of God's presence especially in the priestly writings. Moses receives further instructions direct from God (v.12) which are basically a repetition of v.8. The number of times we are told the people murmured against Moses, Aaron and the Lord leaves us in no doubt about the depth of their feelings in their present situation. Furthermore, it is made clear that these murmurings are as much against the Lord as they are against Moses and Aaron. The Lectionary reading stops part way through the description of the manna and the instructions to only gather what they can eat. The story tells how Moses became angry at their greed, but it didn't to them any good because the left over manna went rotten. The priestly tradition is apparent here with its precise instructions about rest on the seventh day as told in Gen 2:2-3.

Message:The great affirmation of the people in Exod 14:31 is not carried through, in that they believed, having seen how God rescued them from Egypt, but not enough to trust God when things get hard (Exod 15:22-25, 16:1-36). Certainly, it would be scary in the wilderness if food was scarce, but it didn't take long for the murmurings to start with a very one-sided memory of Egypt. Moses confronts them with the fact that their murmurings are not against he and Aaron - they are nothing, but against the Lord. This is their greatest sin, their lack of trust in God and the ease which they can murmur against Yahweh. Again, this provision of food from God will remind them who rescued them from Egypt (v.6). Brueggemann observes that at the point the people turn towards the glory of the Lord in the wilderness, they turn their faces away from Egypt (Brueggemann:813). They needed to refocus on what was the important thing in their lives as we do at times when our focus in is other directions. The wilderness which began to feel to the Israelites as a place of death has become a place in which God nurtures and cares for them. It is interesting to reflect how the constant themes of God as redeemer and creator are present in these passages. They are not separated as has been the case at times in Christian theology in which the emphasis on the salvific acts of God through Jesus Christ have taken the major focus and god as creator has been ignored. The importance of the Sabbath rest became crucial in the time of the Babylonian Exile (587-538 BCE) because it fostered their identity as the people of Yahweh. As Christians we are aware that this need to know who we are in the midst of a pluralistic society is just as crucial for us today. However, as people are finding there have to be a variety of ways to meet and know where we have come from and where we are going, not simply rely on Sunday worship. While Exod 16:31-36 is not part of the lectionary reading, it is worth noting that the keeping of the manna for future testimony to the presence of God, has parallels in our communion in which the bread and wine are testimony to the presence of God in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Fretheim stresses the naturalness of the manna and quail and how God is present in the ordinary (Fretheim:182). I agree that we can easily forget about God who is present in the ordinary as well as in the miraculous. However, in the case of the wilderness neither the quail nor the manna were present before the people complained to Moses and Aaron, and their appearance and instructions re the amount to be taken come into the area of the miraculous. If the consequences of their greed were a consequence in my life it might help to curtail my times of excess in all sorts of areas.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 16:2-15
Worship:There is plenty of dialogue this passage which makes it a good one to read with various voices. It is almost essential to fill in the story to the end of the chapter as it would be quite odd to leave it at the point the Lectionary reading ends. The Dramatised Bible sets out the reading.


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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