Manna and Quail: God’s Perfect Provision

Quail Dinner

Just because you’re lost in the desert doesn’t mean that you have to die.

Deserts — both literal and figurative — can be pretty desperate places. And in the midst of a difficult situation, it’s easy to lose hope. But no matter how desperate the situation, hope remains: God is our provider, and His perfect provision is enough to sustain us through the most trying of times.

Last time, we looked at the story of the Israelites wandering the desert, and saw how their hunger made them long for the days of slavery. Today, we’re going to continue studying the story of manna and quail, and see how God’s hand of provision is with us even in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

This story comes from Exodus 16. After generations of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites have cried out to God, who in turn did many miraculous things to rescue them from their Egyptian oppressors. Now in the desert, far from the comforts of civilization, they cry out again, this time for food to eat. God hears them, and His response teaches us a lot about the perfection of His provision.

Let’s examine a passage from verses 11-17. It’s a bit long, but worth the read:

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.

This story tells us about the beginning of God’s provision for the Israelites while they were in the desert. He used manna and quail to provide for their physical needs for 40 years, until they took possession of the promise land.

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This story is not just a footnote in the history of Israel; rather, it’s an instructive example for us today as well. We can learn a lot about God’s provision for us by studying the way He provided for the people of Israel. To explore that, we’re going to examine the five classic W’s of God’s provision: Who, What, Where, When and Why.

1) Who provided, and for whom?

This answer is easy enough: We know that God provided, and it was the Israelites that He provided for. The take-away is also simple, yet profoundly comforting. In the end, no matter what we’re facing, God is always our provider. He owns everything, and He gives us everything that we need. No matter where we are or what we face, we can count on Him to take care of us, because He is a good, loving father.

2) What did God provide?

God provided two things for the people: quail (a game bird that they would have been familiar with) and manna (a supernatural bread that they had never seen before). This teaches us that God can meet our needs in a number of ways. Sometimes the things He uses are like the quail — ordinary and familiar. (They can become so familiar, in fact, that we forget that they come from God.) Other times, He uses manna — provision that is entirely unexpected, supernatural and out-of-the-blue. When God creates a solution to your problem that you never could have imagined for yourself, that’s a manna moment.

This is also a good point to talk about the quantity of what God provides. It is never too little and never too much. Verse 18 says “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.” God knows our needs perfectly — even better than we do — and provides exactly the right amount to meet them.

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3) Where did God provide?

God didn’t provide food for the Israelites in a farm or a grocery store — He provided for them in the desert. The desert is a fierce, foreboding place that is not suitable for human survival. But in providing food for His people there, God shows His power: There is no circumstance too desperate for God to come through. No matter what you face in life, or how long your string of bad luck, you are never out of His reach.

4) When did God provide?

God didn’t airlift one giant supply of dried food to accompany the Israelites along their journey in the desert: Instead, He provided what they needed on a daily and nightly basis. Sometimes we tend to ask God for one big miracle to help us through a difficult time. Often, though, He provides not through a monumental manifestation, but by giving us just what we need to get through the day. This teaches us to depend on Him for everything, every day. His mercies are new every morning, and so is His provision. Jesus refers to this in the Lord’s prayer, when He teaches us to ask each day for our “daily bread.”

5) Why did God provide?

This one may be my very favorite. God provided for the people in order to keep them alive, to be sure. But there was also a greater purpose to His provision — He wanted the people to recognize Him as God. Look at verse 12: “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.” By providing for us, God meets our needs, and also reveals Himself to us. It is because of His provision that we know that He exists, and that He loves us.

If you’re struggling with finances — walking through your own desert — take heart. God is faithful and powerful to provide. Trust Him, obey Him, and He will not let you down.


Photo by Ken Bosma. Used under Creative Commons License.


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