Did the manna come from a plant?

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By BibleAsk Team


Manna was the food that the Israelites ate for 40 years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:3; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalms 78:23–25; 105:40; John 6:31). It was a miracle and not a natural phenomena. It was the food provided by God to sustain the Israelites during their journey through the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. To explore this topic comprehensively, we’ll delve into the biblical narrative, examine relevant passages, consider historical and scientific perspectives, and explore theological implications.

Biblical Narrative

Exodus 16:14-15 (NKJV)

“And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.'”

The biblical account describes manna as a substance that appeared each morning on the ground, coinciding with the dew. It was described as being small, round, and fine, resembling frost or coriander seed. The Hebrew term “mān” used for manna literally means “What is it?” reflecting the Israelites’ initial confusion about this unfamiliar provision.

Exodus 16:31 (NKJV)

“And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.”

This verse provides additional details about the appearance and taste of manna, likening it to coriander seed and describing its flavor as sweet, like wafers made with honey.

Interpretations and Speculation

1. Supernatural Origin

Biblical scholars and theologians interpret the manna as a miraculous provision from God, emphasizing its supernatural nature. From this perspective, it was not a naturally occurring substance but was created by God to sustain the Israelites during their wilderness journey. This interpretation aligns with the biblical narrative, which portrays this food as a divine gift given in response to the Israelites’ need for sustenance.

2. Botanical Theories

Various theories and speculations have been proposed over the centuries regarding mana. Some scholars suggest that it may have been a resinous secretion produced by certain plants in the region, such as the tamarisk tree (Tamarix spp.) or the manna ash tree (Fraxinus ornus). Others propose that it could have been a type of edible fungus or lichen that grew in the wilderness.

In 1927, F. S. Bodenheimer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discovered that different plant lice, cicadas, and scale insects feed on the tamarisk trees of the Sinai wilderness and expel their excess carbohydrates in the form of honeydew droplets. This latter material evaporated into elements that look like hoar frost. This is supposed to be the “manna” that Josephus (Antiquities iii. 1. 6) stated that still existed in Sinai at his time.

Debunking the Botanical Theories

Accepting the account of Exodus 16 excludes the possibility that the “manna” of the tamarisk could have been the miraculous food that the Israelites ate for 40 years. For God’s manna was given throughout the year, but stopped as soon as they reached the Promised Land (Joshua 5:12).

It is essential to know that the tamarisk is found in nature in Sinai only during June and July. And the amount of this plant is very limited in quantity and could not in any way have fed the multitudes who were over 2 million, whereas God rained His heavenly food on a whole nation for about 40 years.

In addition, the heavenly mana could not be kept to the following day, except on Sabbath (Exodus 16:19, 20), and could be baked (verse 23). In contrast, tamarisk “manna” can be kept for several days, but cannot be used for baking purposes.

These points of contrast clearly reveal that acceptance of the modern skeptics account, which explains the manna as a natural product of Sinai, means not being logical and scientific. These modern explanations are given with the goal of rejecting the miraculous nature of the heavenly manna, but are in reality without credit.

Theological Reflection

1. Divine Provision

The story of manna in the wilderness underscores themes of divine provision, faithfulness, and dependence on God. The Israelites’ experience of receiving manna served as a tangible reminder of God’s care and sustenance in the midst of their journey through the wilderness. From a theological perspective, manna symbolizes God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises and His ongoing provision for His people.

2. Spiritual Nourishment

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is depicted as the true bread from heaven, fulfilling the symbolism of manna as a spiritual nourishment (John 6:31-35). Through His teachings and sacrificial death, Jesus provides spiritual sustenance and eternal life to those who believe in Him. This spiritual dimension of manna highlights its significance beyond its physical properties and botanical origins.

Conclusion

The story of the manna in the wilderness is a narrative that has profound spiritual significance as it shows God’s power. It serves as a powerful reminder of the His provision, faithfulness, and care for His people throughout history.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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