Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The the wilderness of Sin - The desert tract, called Debbet er Ramleh, extend nearly across the peninsula from the Wady Nasb in a south-easterly direction, between the limestone district of Et Tih and the granite of Sinai. The journey from the station at Elim, or even from that on the Red Sea, could be performed in a day: at that time the route was kept in good condition by the Egyptians.
Murmured - The want of food was first felt after six weeks from the time of the departure from Egypt, see Exo 16:1 : we have no notice previously of any deficiency of bread.
By the hand of the Lord - This evidently refers to the plagues, especially the last, in Egypt: the death which befell the Egyptians appeared to the people preferable to the sufferings of famine.
Flesh pots, and ... bread - These expressions prove that the servile labors to which they had been subjected did not involve privations: they were fed abundantly, either by the officials of Pharaoh, or more probably by the produce of their own fertile district.
That I may prove them - The trial consisted in the restriction to the supply of their daily wants.
It shall be twice as much - They should collect and prepare a double quantity.
The glory of the Lord - the visible appearance described in Exo 16:10.
Appeared in the cloud - Or, "was seen in a cloud." The definite article would imply that the cloud was the same which is often mentioned in connection with the tabernacle. The people saw the cloud here spoken of beyond the camp.
Quails - This bird migrates in immense numbers in spring from the south: it is nowhere more common than in the neighborhood of the Red Sea. In this passage we read of a single flight so dense that it covered the encampment. The miracle consisted in the precise time of the arrival and its coincidence with the announcement.
It is manna - "Man" or "man-hut," i. e. white manna, was the name under which the substance was known to the Egyptians, and therefore to the Israelites. The manna of the Peninsula of Sinai is the sweet juice of the Tarfa, a species of tamarisk. It exudes from the trunk and branches in hot weather, and forms small round white grains. In cold weather it preserves its consistency, in hot weather it melts rapidly. It is either gathered from the twigs of tamarisk, or from the fallen leaves underneath the tree. The color is a greyish yellow. It begins to exude in May, and lasts about six weeks. According to Ehrenberg, it is produced by the puncture of an insect. It is abundant in rainy seasons, many years it ceases altogether. The whole quantity now produced in a single year does not exceed 600 or 700 pounds. It is found in the district between the Wady Gharandel, i. e. Elim, and Sinai, in the Wady Sheikh, and in some other parts of the Peninsula. When therefore the Israelites saw the "small round thing," they said at once "this is manna," but with an exclamation of surprise at finding it, not under the tamarisk tree, but on the open plain, in such immense quantities, under circumstances so unlike what they could have expected: in fact they did not know what it really was, only what it resembled.
An omer - i. e. the tenth part of an Ephah, see Exo 16:36. The exact quantity cannot be determined, since the measures varied at different times. Josephus makes the omer equal to six half-pints. The ephah was an Egyptian measure, supposed to be about a bushel or one-third of a hin. The word omer, in this sense, occurs in no other passage. It was probably not used at a later period, belonging, like many other words, to the time of Moses. It is found in Old Egyptian. See Lev 19:36.
Some more, some less - It is evidently implied that the people were in part at least disobedient and failed in this first trial.
Had nothing over - Whatever quantity each person had gathered, when he measured it in his tent, he found that he had just as many omers as he needed for the consumption of his family.
It bred worms - This result was supernatural: no such tendency to rapid decomposition is recorded of common manna.
It melted - This refers to the manna which was not gathered.
Twice as much bread - See Exo 16:5.
From this passage and from Exo 16:5 it is inferred that the seventh day was previously known to the people as a day separate from all others, and if so, it must have been observed as an ancient and primeval institution.
Tomorrow ... - Or, Tomorrow is a rest, a Sabbath holy to Yahweh: i. e. tomorrow must be a day of rest, observed strictly as a Sabbath, or festal rest, holy to Jehovah.
Bake ... - These directions show that the manna thus given differed essentially from the natural product. Here and in Num 11:8 it is treated in a way which shows that it had the property of grain, could be ground in a mortar, baked and boiled. Ordinary manna is used as honey, it cannot be ground, and it melts when exposed to a moderate heat, forming a substance like barley sugar, called "manna tabulata." In Persia it is boiled with water and brought to the consistency of honey. The Arabs also boil the leaves to which it adheres, and the manna thus dissolved floats on the water as a glutinous or oily substance. It is obvious that these accounts are inapplicable to the manna from heaven, which had the characteristics and nutritive properties of bread.
Eat that today - The practical observance of the Sabbath was thus formally instituted before the giving of the law. The people were to abstain from the ordinary work of every day life: they were not to collect food, nor, as it would seem, even to prepare it as on other days.
There went out some of the people - This was an act of willful disobedience. It is remarkable, being the first violation of the express command, that it was not visited by a signal chastisement: the rest and peace of the "holy Sabbath" were not disturbed by a manifestation of wrath.
How long - The reference to Exo 16:4 is obvious. The prohibition involved a trial of faith, in which as usual the people were found wanting. Every miracle formed some part, so to speak, of an educational process.
Abide ye every man in his place - The expression in Hebrew is unique and seems almost to enjoin a position of complete repose: "in his place" is literally under himself, as the Oriental sits with his legs drawn up under him. The prohibition must however be understood with reference to its immediate object; they were not to go forth from their place in order to gather manna, which was on other days without the camp. The spirit of the law is sacred rest. The Lord gave them this Sabbath, as a blessing and privilege. It was "made for man." Mar 2:27.
manna - It was not indeed the common manna, as they then seem to have believed, but the properties which are noted in this passage are common to it and the natural product: in size, form and color it resembled the seed of the white coriander, a small round grain of a whitish or yellowish grey.
A pot - The word here used occurs in no other passage. It corresponds in form and use to the Egyptian for a casket or vase in which oblations were presented.
The Testimony - See the marginal references.
Did eat manna forty years - This does not necessarily imply that the Israelites were fed exclusively on manna, or that the supply was continuous during forty years: but that whenever it might be needed, owing to the total or partial failure of other food, it was given until they entered the promised land. They had numerous flocks and herds, which were not slaughtered (see Num 11:22), but which gave them milk, cheese and of course a limited supply of flesh: nor is there any reason to suppose that during a considerable part of that time they may not have cultivated some spots of fertile ground in the wilderness. We may assume, as in most cases of miracle, that the supernatural supply was commensurate with their actual necessity. The manna was not withheld in fact until the Israelites had passed the Jordan.