Mahn: MANNA- What is it?!

MAHN: manna= What is it?! Masculine Noun, (Strong’s 4478).

Root: מן

Sounds like: mawn

Manna is one of those Bible story words that is very familiar to anyone who attended Sunday School. As the story goes, when the Hebrew people fled Egypt and went into the wilderness they were on the verge of starvation, but God provided quail in the evening and manna in the morning. We toss around the word manna like it’s a common thing, but have you ever really stopped to think about it?

Food from Heaven

We’ve never eaten manna. It cannot be found on restaurant menus or in our grocery aisles. There is nothing in the modern world that is identified as manna in the English language. This English word was adopted from the Greek pronunciation (manna) of the Hebrew word man. But what does it really mean in Hebrew?

Manna appeared only after the Hebrew people, who had recently escaped from Egypt, complained of hunger:

Exodus 16:11-15

And YHWH spoke to Moses saying, “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am YHWH your God.’”

So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” [mahn hu] For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which YHWH has given you to eat”…

In Hebrew manna literally means “What is it?!”

Exodus 16:31

And the house of Israel named the bread manna [What is (it)?: mahn], and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. 

According to the book of Exodus, manna tasted like honey wafers, was the colour of coriander seeds, and appeared like a flaky substance, as fine as frost, after the morning dew evaporated on the ground. It was baffling enough that the people wondered aloud, “what is it?” and went so far as to name the substance after their confusion and delight.

The book of Numbers added to the description of manna saying it was like bdellium, which was a type of tree resin:

Numbers 11:7

Now the manna [w-ha-mahn] was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium

But the Hebrew word ha-b’dolakh, (commonly translated as bdellium), only shows up twice; once in this description of manna and the another time in the creation narrative, where the land of Havilah was described as a place full of pure gold, onyx and the b’dolakh [ha-b’dolakh]. Translators have guessed that it means bdellium, but we don’t really know. All we know is that manna looked like the b’dolakh, whatever that was. 

It’s also important to note that manna wasn’t eaten straight from the ground. It was processed into bread:

Numbers 11:8-9

The people would roam about and gather it [manna] and grind it between two millstones, or pound it in the mortar, and boil it in the pot and make loaves with it; and its taste was like the taste of cake baked with oil. When the dew came down on the camp at night, the manna [ha-mahn] would come down with it.

Finally people could eat abundantly, but God provided just the amount they needed. The impulse to hoard the food, in fear of famine, must have been great, but YHWH instructed Moses to tell them to only take what they needed day by day. By the next morning any manna gathered the day before became worm-infested and rotten:

Exodus 16:19-20a

Moses said to them, “No one is to leave any of it (manna) until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses, and some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank.

God provided an exception for Shabbat. On the sixth day they could gather twice as much manna, process it by baking or boiling, and have leftovers to eat for the Sabbath:

Exodus 16:23b-24

[Moses:] Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance, a holy Sabbath to YHWH. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not stink nor was there a maggot in it. 

YHWH provided food for every day, and twice the amount on the sixth so they could rest for the seventh. They had no choice but to rely on YHWH’s generosity and He provided them with exactly what they needed. Nothing was wasted. That’s a good lesson for us today, as food waste and food shortage is a competing problem on the planet.

Remember the Manna

It would have been a joyous occasion to receive this culinary gift from heaven, but the love of manna soon wore off after eating the same thing, day after day. It didn’t take long for their gratitude to turn to grumbling. They began to lovingly look back at the variety of food available to them in  Egypt, regardless of their status as slaves:  

Numbers 11:4-6

Now the rabble who were among them had greedy cravings; and the sons of Israel also wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat for free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except the manna [ha-mahn]!”

How ungrateful! Was food variety really more important than their own freedom? It seems baffling to us, but God was not surprised by their short-sightedness. He asked the people to remember their wilderness testing so that they would recognized, in their humility, that they needed YHWH; they could not survive on their own without Him:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 11-17

And you shall remember all the way which YHWH your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, in order to humble you, putting you to the test, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you go hungry, and fed you with the manna [et ha-mahn] which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, in order to make you understand that man shall not live on bread alone, but man shall live on everything that comes out of the mouth of YHWH

Be careful that you do not forget YHWH your God by failing to keep His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, and you build good houses and live in them, and when your herds and your flocks increase, and your silver and gold increase, and everything that you have increases, then your heart will become proud and you will forget YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; He who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions, and its thirsty ground where there was no water; He who brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness it was He who fed you manna [mahn] which your fathers did not know, in order to humble you and in order to put you to the test, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’”

Remembering YHWH, and the manna He provided, was of utmost importance. How easy is it to forget our past troubles, when troubles seem so far away and life seems so good? In those times, it’s awfully easy to forget the goodness God has provided. As a reminder of YHWH’s goodness, a jar of manna was to be places before YHWH in the place of the Testimony:

Exodus 16:32-35

Then Moses said, “This is what YHWH has commanded: ‘A full omer of it is to be kept safe throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 

And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put a full omer of manna [mahn] in it, and place it before YHWH to be kept safe throughout your generations.” 

As YHWH commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept. And the sons of Israel ate the manna [et ha-mahn] for forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate the manna [et ha-mahn] until they came to the border of the land of Canaan

According to the author of the New Testament (B’rit Chadashah) book of Hebrews, this jar of manna was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant:

Hebrews 9:3-4

Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Most Holy Place, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna [Greek: manna], Aaron’s staff which budded, and the tablets of the covenant.

Manna was sent to feed the hungry, but it was also a sign. We can survive on God-delivered food, but can we flourish? There’s more to life than food alone; there is a spiritual hunger that we must satisfy and only God can fulfill that as well. 

Image by jplenio (

No More Manna

Forty years after leaving Egypt a new generation of Hebrew people crossed into the land that God had promised them:

Joshua 5:10-12

While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. Then on the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and roasted grain. And the manna [ha-mahn] ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna [man], but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.

Once they reached the so-called “land of milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17, Numbers 13:27, Deuteronomy 31:20) there was no more need for manna. “What is it?” became “no longer needed” and it disappeared.

But the remembrance of God’s gift of manna, even if they didn’t know how to define it, was long-lasting. 

Centuries later, after many wars with many nations (including the Canaanites, Jebusites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians), the Hebrew people found themselves removed from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon. This was partially due to the fact that they had forgotten all the good God had given them in the past, including manna, the culinary gift from heaven. When they finally were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the Levite priests stood in front of the returned people and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to YHWH. In the prayer they remembered when YHWH freed them from Egypt and supported them in the wilderness:

Nehemiah 9:19-21, 23

[The Levite priests to YHWH:] You, in Your great compassion, did not abandon them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, to guide them on their way, nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go.

Instead, You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, You did not withhold Your manna [u-mahn’ka] from their mouth, and You gave them water for their thirst.

Indeed, for forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not lacking; their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell up…

…You made their sons as numerous as the stars of heaven, and You brought them into the land which You had told their fathers to enter and possess.

Physical Nourishment, Spiritual Nourishment

The Psalmist Asaph recalled the miracle of manna, and he described manna as food from heaven and the bread of angels. He noted how the people questioned God’s ability to provide (Could God prepare a table in the wilderness?). This lack of belief in YHWH’s ability to provide was a big problem. But even though they did not believe or trust, YHWH provided for them anyway:

Psalm 78:19-29

[Asaph:] Then they spoke against God; they said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out, and streams were overflowing; can He also provide bread? Will He prepare meat for His people?

Therefore YHWH heard and was full of wrath; and a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also mounted against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust in His salvation.

Yet He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; He rained down manna [mahn] upon them to eat, and gave them food from heaven. Man ate the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance.

He made the east wind blow in the sky and by His power He directed the south wind. When He rained meat upon them like the dust, even winged fowl like the sand of the seas, He let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings.

So they ate and were well filled, and He satisfied their longing.

Yeshua (Jesus) knew Psalm 78 and it’s emphasis on manna and belief.  After feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish the people ached to see more signs and wonders and so they went looking for Yeshua. When they found Him, Yeshua spoke clearly to them: 

John 6:26-38

Jesus answered them (the seekers) and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate some of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” 

Therefore they said to Him, “What are we to do, so that we may accomplish the works of God?” 

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” 

So they said to Him, “What then are You doing as a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work are You performing? Our fathers ate the manna [Greek: to manna] in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread out of Heaven to eat.’” 

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.” 

Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; the one who comes to Me will not be hungry, and the one who believes in Me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have indeed seen Me, and yet you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

Yeshua was the new living manna that had come down from heaven to feed the people. God had sent manna from heaven while the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness when they were physically hungry, but He sent Yeshua to feed those who were spiritually hungry… to those who had wandered in the spiritual wilderness for years.

John 6:47-51, 58

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna [Greek: to manna] in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down out of heaven, so that anyone may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats from this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I will give for the life of the world also is My flesh…This is the bread that came down out of heaven, not as the fathers ate and died; the one who eats this bread will live forever.””

Eating manna did not give eternal life to the consumer. Everyone who ate manna in the Sinai peninsula eventually died. And we’re no different. We will all die. Many people promote certain foods, telling us we’ll live longer if we eat them, but there is no food on this planet that will stop us from dying. Our bodies will quit on us one day, so we need food for our Spirit. We need spiritual sustenance to live beyond our life here in our own wilderness wanderings.

Yeshua came down from heaven, like manna, to provide the sustenance for good living, now and beyond. There’s more to this life than a cheeseburger on a sunny day. We may be living in a wilderness, but our feet are on the pathway that leads to YHWH. He’s waiting in His Garden Kingdom to welcome us home. In the meantime, Yeshua provides all the spiritual food we need to keep us going. It’s our job to clear the table and share the leftovers!

Next week: Kiss

2 thoughts on “Mahn: MANNA- What is it?!”

  1. What about the Lord’s body given to us with the promise of the forgiveness of our sins? Does that count for anything? Some Christian’s still wonder about the power of Manna when they come to receive God’s true presence in the bread/ body for the forgiveness of their sin and say “ What it’ll si it? Really? It’s only bread lol How can bread do such a power? It’s not just bread. It’s the promise of God attached to it ?

    “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is MY BODY.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS… I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.””
    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26‬:‭26‬-‭29‬ ‭NIV‬‬


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