SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 44 Exodus 16-18

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Exodus 16-18. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 49 & 50 (this includes links to all previous Genesis threads)
Exodus 1
Exodus 2
Exodus 3
Exodus 4
Exodus 5&6
Exodus 7-10
Exodus 11-12
Exodus 13
Exodus 14 + 15

[Exodus 16 New International Version (NIV)

Manna and Quail](

16 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”

24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? 29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

33 So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.”

34 As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.

36 (An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.)

[Exodus 17 New International Version (NIV)

Water From the Rock](

17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The Amalekites Defeated

8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
[Exodus 18 New International Version (NIV)

Jethro Visits Moses](

18 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.

2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”

7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.

9 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

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It’s now “the fifteenth day of the second month” since leaving Egypt, six weeks later. In the last chapter, the people grumbled about lack of water. Now, they grumble about lack of meat. They’ve left the oasis from the last chapter, and popular discontent flares up. Note in verse 3, lots of things hidden there. First, they’ve already got a nostalgic memory of Egypt, how plentiful was the food, etc. Second, that memory is obviously fanciful. And finally, they seem to see Moses and Aaron as the ones responsible for the “magic.”

Since the people left Egypt with their flocks and herds, they aren’t in danger of starvation or lack of meat. But their livestock is critical to their well-being, and there is probably not been much pasture for grazing.

“Bread from heaven” is contrasted from the usual “bread from the earth.”

In verse 6, and again verse 12, note the verb “to know.” Pharaoh did not know God, and now Israel does not seem to know God, and so must be taught. They need “to know that it was the LORD who brought [them] out of Egypt” and not Moses and Aaron. It’s a teaser (coming attraction): they need a revelation.

There are be five rebellions/grumbling in the book of Exodus:
At the Sea (14:11)
Over water (15:24)
Over Meat (16:3)
Over Manna (16:20)
And over water (17:2)

They follow a similar pattern. They grumble to Moses, he doesn’t know what to do and can’t deal with it, so falls on his face and cries out to God, who offers a remedy. Moses is NOT a great leader, he doesn’t inspire confidence.

Quail are migratory birds found (to this day) in northern Sinai and Egypt. They migrate in vast flocks between central Europe and Africa, in autumn and spring. They’re fairly small, they fly low, and are easily captured. So the text reflects a reality of that desert.

The manna is described as “thin flakes” and in Numbers 11:7 we’ll learn it was like coriander seed, tasting juicy (like it had been baked in oil) when prepared, and looking like bdellium (we no longer know what bdellium is.) There have been innumerable speculative efforts to find some naturally-occurring substance in the Sinai region that matches these details, ranging from interesting but a huge stretch, to thoroughly implausible.

The question, “What is it?” in verse 15, the Hebrew is “man hu, and folk etymology says this is the origin of the term “manna” (Hebrew man) There’s been a lot written on this, but nothing is conclusive or definitive, just interesting.

Verses 16 – 19: Moses is deliberately trying to overcome the slave mentality. As slaves, you hoard food when you can get it. Here, you don’t hoard.

The first real encounter with Sabbath occurs in verse 21 – 26. The day of rest was mentioned during creation, of course, but we’ve not had any other reference until now. The bottom line for Sabbath is that it’s a day to remain where you are, and not to try to advance civilization, but to let nature take its course. The manna will cease in Joshua 5:11, when they’re able to eat from the land and are no longer nomadic.

The desert plays a critical role in this story, and the stories to follow. The purpose is for the newly-freed slaves to start a new society, to carve out civilization. The desert acts as a backdrop for this.

Verses 32-34 clearly happens later. The narrative is not chronological.


Another grumbling, about lack of water in the desert. The grumbling has escalated. First, the Hebrew verb is much stronger, implying anger. Last time they grumbled about water (Ex 15:24), they just asked “What is there to drink?” Now, they blaming Moses and worry that they’ll die in the desert. The escalation of grumbling/rebellion makes Moses afraid of the mob. He takes the rod (that had been used to strike the Nile to deprive the Egyptians of water) and hits a rock, and the rock produces water.

Horeb (verse 6) is where Moses met the burning bush, back in Ex 3:1, where it was called the “mountain of God.” It seems to be another name for Mt Sinai. God had told Moses “I will be with you” back then, so this is a re-reassurance.

Note the NIV footnotes, the place names mean “testing” and “quarreling.” Although the verse says that the people tested God, I prefer the other way around: God tested Israel. After the splitting of the sea (14:31), the people are in awe of God. But the question is whether they will still have faith when confronted with hardships and adversity. (See Deut 8:2 and 8:16, which makes it clear that God tested Israel.)

The battle with Amalek is interesting. In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, Moses retells the story and adds details not present here: that the Amalekites made a surprise rear attack on the weary and worn out Israelites. The victory is a combination of military actions and divine inspiration. This is the first reference to Joshua, who will take over leadership after Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy.

The significance of holding up Moses’ hands has been interpreted in several different ways. Perrhaps it focuses some supernatural power. Perhaps it just made Moses visible (in a dramatic pose) to inspire the people to fight. Perhaps the people had to look up (heavenward) to see Moses on the hilltop and that kept them focused on their purpose.

In any case, I love that Moses is shown as “subject to human frailties” [Sarna], he can’t hold up his arms for hours, he doesn’t have supernatural strength or magical powers.

Verse 15: “The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” The phrase “from generation to generation” appears in a unique poetic form here, implying a series of wars between Israel and Amalek in the future. In the wilderness (Numbers 14:44ff), Amalek will attack again. Later (I Samuel 15), Saul will be ordered to wipe out the Amelekites entirely (although he won’t do it.) David will fight Amalek, but it won’t be until King Hezekiah (c. 715 – 687 BCE) that the last surviving Amalekites were killed (I Chronicles 4:43.)

Why such hostility towards Amalek? Because they didn’t behave well. They attacked the newly-freed slaves from the rear, focused on those lagging behind, when they thought the Israelites were helpless and exhausted.

One interpretation: the Amalekites are trying deliberately to prevent God’s will, to stop God from revealing himself to the Israelites at Sinai. Consequently, they are seen as perpetual enemies, not just of the Israelites, but of God. Jewish legend says that other, later, enemies such as Haman (book of Esther) were descended from Amalek, and during the period of Roman persecution, the rabbis used “Amalek” as a code word for “Rome” so as not to be accused of treason.


This chapter clearly is not chronological, since it must have taken place after the revelation at Sinai. There are many reasons to think so, including consistency with Moses’ version in Deuteronomy, the existence of an altar, and they must have already received God’s “decrees and instructions” (verse 20.)

The biblical text often doesn’t follow our notions of “how to tell a story,” and tells things out of chronological order. One speculation: the story is interjected here to contrast the poor behavior of the Amalekites with the friendly behavior of the Midianites.

At the end of Chapter 4, Moses’ wife and sons had accompanied him to Egypt. Here, in verse 2, we learn that she had been “sent away,” back to Midian at some point. That story is not told here, so assumed to be lost, possibly part of the original “bridegroom of blood” story. One midrash says that Aaron convinced Moses it would be dangerous for his family to be in Egypt. (The Cecil DeMille movie THE TEN COMMANDMENTS has a fascinating take on this.)

Anyhow, Jethro now brings Zipporah and the two boys to the encampment at the foot of Mt Sinai. Moses tells them everything that has happened. Later, Jews will be commanded to tell the story of the Exodus to their children, this is the main purpose of the Passover seders. I find it touching that the first person to do this (even before it was commanded) is Moses himself. They are the only children who weren’t there to witness it, so they must be told.

In verse 11, Jethro “knows” (i.e., experientially understands) that the Lord is “greater than all other gods.” This effectively brings to an end the repetitions of the verb “to know.” We started with Pharaoh not knowing God; and we end with the Egyptians and Jethro knowing God.

Jethro becomes the world’s first consultant, advising Moses on how to set up civil administration and (in verses 21ff) an appellate court system, with rights of appeal. Verse 16 implies that Moses has laws prior to the encounter with God at Sinai.

This story is remarkable for three points:
(1) The Israelite judicial system is credited to a Midianite priest. Since later the Midianites and Israelites fought each other, it’s unlikely that such an origin story would have been invented.
(2) The whole system is human – designed by humans, implemented by humans. There’s no divine instruction or intervention.
(3) The system ignores “the elders” and the tribal structure. In the tribal/patriarchal society, the elders acted as courts. That’s dropped in this new, centralized system.

Overview: The wilderness represents death, chaos, impurity, lack of order. The camp tries to create society, order, holiness. Freed from slavery in an unjust society, the Israelites will struggle to establish a just society. The purpose of the Egyptian experience is to teach them NOT to mistreat others, because you yourself were mistreated in Egypt and know what it feels like.

One part I was hoping you’d touch upon was this:

16:34 As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.

I know we’ve got the Ten Commandments on tablets coming up later, so what are these about?

(I’m traveling, so don’t have my notes or sources handy. I can try to look up the manna in the Ark early next week, unless someone else – cmkeller? – steps in. For some reason, playing with the 18 month old is more fun than reading the SDMB.)

Tell me about it - my 20-month-old occupies my time similarly.

The matter of the jar of manna being stored with the tablets of the law is something that happened later, after said tablets were given to the Israelites and the ark and Tabernacle built to hold them. You might just as well note that the verse mentions that the Israelites ate manna for 40 years, even though their sojourn in the desert was not supposed to last that long until they were thusly punished for the incident of the spies. Basically, that paragraph is sort of a general “whatever happened to…” postscript. Even those of us who believe the entire Torah was written by Moses don’t think it was written as it happened, he committed it to writing at the end of his life (ref. Deuteronomy 31:9, 22, 24)

BTW, what you said above:

There’s also another factor to consider: Amalek’s attack represented a degree of audacity that is unmatched by any other foe of Israel. Immediately after the world had seen the miraculous liberation from Egypt and crossing of the sea, they had the gall to try and overcome Israel (and, by extension, G-d). In addition, they did not do this to defend their own territory, as did Sihon and Og in the book of Numbers. It was completely unprovoked.

This is the preferred interpretation in the Mishnah (Tractate Rosh Hashana 3:8)

There was still a need for divine approval, as per “may G-d be with you” in 18:19.

Thanks** cmkeller **!

Link to Exodus 19+20