The Manna and the Quail:
From Elim, the Israelites set out into the desert of Sin. Just as the Egyptians had suffered ten plagues sent from Yahweh, so now too, the Israelites will be tested by God with ten trials, the first of which was the bitter water at Marah. The next test the Israelites suffer is hunger. They grumble to Moses that they are starving and have nothing to eat. The Lord then said to Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.” (Ex. 16:4) In the morning God promises to give them bread to eat and in the evening flesh to eat. God says, “In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, so that you may know that I, the Lord, am your God.” (Ex. 16:12) Here is a frequent pairing in Scripture of bread and meat. Moses later instructs Aaron to put some of the manna in the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments tablets. Jesus, who is the Eucharist, is carried in the new Ark of the Covenant, Mary.
Manna Foreshadows the Eucharist:
In John 6, Jesus references the manna in the desert as a sign of Himself in the Eucharist as the true bread from heaven. This typology and foreshadowing of the Eucharist are obvious, and perhaps, the most striking of all the events of Exodus. The description of the manna even resembles that of a Communion host – white wafers. Just as the Israelites live off the manna from heaven for their 40 years in the wilderness until they reach the promised land of Israel, so too, the Church lives off the body and blood of Christ in our earthly pilgrimage until we reached the promised land of heaven. “The Israelites ate this manna for forty years, until they came to settled land; they ate manna until they reached the borders of Canaan.” (Ex. 16:35) God nursed the Israelite nation like a mother to a small child giving them food and water for forty years in the desert. For forty years, He sought to break them of their slave mentality, and nurture them into a more mature faith and dependence upon Him.
Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse and the Eucharist:
“Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” (John 6:32) “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:48-58)
“In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp, and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. ” (Ex. 16:13-15) Manna is a conjunction of the words what is this? Again, the miracle of the manna and the quail link the bread and the flesh together as one miraculous event, in which Yahweh feeds and sustains His people.
Manna Regulations and the Sabbath:
Moses instructs the Israelites that they should gather “an omer for each person.” Moses further tells them, “Let no one keep any of it over until tomorrow morning.” (Ex. 16:19) This was part of God’s test of them. Yahweh was providing for their “daily bread,” just as Jesus included this line in the Our Father prayer “Give us this day our daily bread.” We are to trust that God will provide for our needs each day. “Morning after morning they gathered it, till each had enough to eat; but when the sun grew hot, the manna melted away.” (Ex. 16:21) On the sixth day, Yahweh provides extra manna for the following day, the Sabbath, when they are instructed to not collect any food. This demonstration shows that it is indeed a miraculous event. The manna rains down from heaven for six days a week, but on the day before the Sabbath, extra manna comes down and does not “become rotten or wormy.” On the Sabbath, the manna miraculously does not come down. This is the beginning of God’s commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day by resting. “On the seventh day everyone is to stay home and no one is to go out.” (Ex. 16:29) The manna from heaven is linked to the Sabbath and the seventh day of creation when God rested. In the Eucharist that we receive on the new Sabbath, we become new creations in Christ.
The Water from the Rock at Horeb, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
Here again, the Israelites are tested, and murmur and grumble against Yahweh and Moses. “Give us water to drink.” (Ex. 17:2) The Lord answers Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Ex. 17:5-6) The water flowed out of the rock at Horeb. This prefigures Jesus offering us the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit. Again, in the gospel of John it reads: “On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If you are thirsty, come to me and drink! Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.” Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, who would be given to everyone that had faith in him. The Spirit had not yet been given to anyone, since Jesus had not yet been given his full glory.” (John 7:37-39) Jesus is the new Moses, providing not just water to quench our thirst, but the life-giving waters of eternal life.
Battle with Amalek and Moses’ Raised Hands:
Amalek came and waged war against Israel. (Ex. 17:8) This is the fourth trial and crisis to befall the Israelites. The Amalekites were another race of giants that existed here. Moses then commands Joshua to pick his best warriors to go engage the Amalekites in battle, and as long as Moses keeps his hands raised up, “Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” (Ex. 17:11) As they rested Moses’ tired arms upon Aaron and Hur, his hands remained steady till sunset. “And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Ex. 17:13) The Lord instructs Moses to write down this victory over Amalek “as something to be remembered.” “I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.” (Ex. 17:14)
The Israelites arrive at Mt. Sinai:
The most likely location of Mt. Sinai is probably Jabal al-Lawz (28° 39′ 15″ N, 35° 18′ 21″ E) in Northwest Saudi Arabia. There are many fascinating similarities to Jabal al-Lawz and the scenes described in Exodus, not the least of which is the top of the mountain is blackened as if it has been exposed to extreme fire and heat. Many other details found in the next few chapters of Exodus match archeological and geographic features of the Jabal al-Lawz mountain and vicinity. There is a large split rock formation that seems to have had water flowing out of it as the wear on the rocks indicates. There are pillars around the mountain, presumably demarking a distance the Israelites should stay away from the mountain when Yahweh is there. There is an altar of stones at the base of the mountain with painted reliefs of a calf or cow worship. The local nomads refer to it as the mountain of Moses. The list of similarities and matching descriptions goes on and on.
Israel, God’s Special Possession, a Holy Nation:
Yahweh tells Moses, “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex. 19:5-6) This is one of the most important lines in the Jewish Pentateuch. God tells Moses and the Israelites, if, if they keep His covenant, then they will be God’s special people, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. God is preparing them for a new Covenant. A fulfillment of the old Abrahamic Covenant but now a deepening of it. God is drawing the Israelites out from the nations and separating them as a special, holy people to Himself alone. Yahweh is drawing them into a new special relationship. St. Peter draws on this same Exodus imagery and wording and applies it to Christian’s new creation in Christ. He says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
The Great Theophany:
Yahweh tells Moses “I am coming to you in a dense cloud.” Tell the people to go sanctify themselves, “wash their garments and be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people.” (Ex. 19: 10-11) Yahweh will descend on the mountain on the “third day.” The mention the third day echoes the three days of Jesus in the tomb, and on the third day Christ rises from the dead. The people are to prepare and make themselves holy for three days in preparation, even to wash their very clothes. Yahweh tells them to “set limits for the people all around the mountain” and “take care not to go up the mountain, or even to touch its base. If anyone touches the mountain he must be put to death.” (Ex. 19:12) They are to be stones or killed with arrows. Only when the ram’s horn resounds, can they go to the mountain. Moses warns the people, “Be ready for the third day.” (Ex. 19:15)
The Terrifying Presence of Yahweh on Mt. Sinai:
“On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God; and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze and many of them perish.” (Ex. 19:16-21) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The Israelites were rightly terrified and afraid at the powerful presence of the Lord. God came in a great display of power highlighting this seminal moment in the history of God’s people and the history of the world.