Great question!
This is definitely something that God has placed before us to teach us an important lesson. One that both his people in the wilderness were supposed to learn, and one that he has passed on to us to learn as well!

  1. First we’ll look at what God says his intent was for providing the Manna.
  2. Second, we’ll review some verses that demonstrate that Israel had plenty of herds and flocks in the Wilderness during this time.
  3. Third, we’ll ask the question: “What does this mean for me?”

1.  God’s stated purpose for providing the Manna:

There are two related statements, both in Deuteronomy 8 which, when combined, give us insight into how God works through trials and hardships to teach us. The following two verses are both specific to the Intent of God in providing the Manna to Israel:

Deut 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deut 8:16 He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.

There are many lessons and parables that connect to this event in scriptures which make it a really exciting topic.  I will keep this outline specific to the question of God’s intent and purpose as recorded in the scriptures in Deuteronomy.

Since God’s intent is recorded twice, and the two statements are a bit different, it is useful to combine the two statements to reveal the full intent of the scripture. In this case what we get looks like this…

“He humbled you, He caused you to hunger, He provided Manna which neither you nor your fathers had experienced before, to test you and teach you that you cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord so that in the end it might go well with you.

So now we know God’s stated intent is for the Manna.  To teach us that we must rely on God’s powerful word to provide for us, and that if we do rely fully on God, in the end it will go well with us!  That is totally AWESOME to know, isn’t it?!

2.  Were there flocks with them in the Wilderness?

One of the “side” questions that this made me think about was how did God cause the people of Israel to hunger?  This was a little less obvious to me, as I started down a path that first assumed, perhaps, a lack of food.  This isn’t much of a stretch as we have the Israelites “thirsting” in the wilderness several times where water was provided afterwards.  However, as I researched the food issue, I found significant evidence of cattle, herds, flocks, and the like in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  What I found leads me to believe that the Israelites had massive herds of cattle throughout their travels in the wilderness.

In Nu 11:21 Moses seems to make a case that Israel’s request for meat would be too great for God,  though the Lord asserts that He will provide Israel with meat every day for a whole month and that this is not too great a thing for the Lord to accomplish.

However, in the following verses, there is evidence of herds in existence, traveling with Israel through the wilderness: Num 7:87-88; Num 31:11; Ex 12:38; Ex 17:3; Ex 24:5; Ex 29; Ex 34:3; Lev 8:14-15; Num 3:41; Num 7; Num 20:4; Num 20:11; Num 20:19; Num 31, 32 shows the capture of large herds as well as an existing quantity of large herds; Dt 3:19 (Moses says … “I know you have much livestock”).

So, plenty of evidence showing herds of cattle and flocks of sheep with Israel during their travels.  It is possible they were instructed specifically not to eat their livestock, but I cannot locate evidence of this command anywhere.  So, I can find good evidence of the Israelites having access to a ready supply of meat.  So what is going on?   Well, I believe that the answer is in the same chapter of Numbers where we began this question.  Numbers 11:4-6

Num 11:4 ¶ The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  Num 11:5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. Num 11:6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The scripture says that the “rabble” that were with them began to crave “other food” and seemingly incite Israel to become discontent with the provision God has given from His hand.  I find this to be common with mankind.  It does not matter how well we are being provided for, we continue to want what we don’t have.  This becomes especially noticeable when those around us begin to plant into our heads what we need, what we should have, what we should want.  With a little persuasion and a little negative encouragement, we soon begin to “buy-in” to these entitled feelings and find ourselves to be quite ungrateful for what we have been provided.  Notice one other thing, that while the beginning of the conversation is seemingly only meat, the expanding statement seems to indicate Free fish (We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost) and the fruits and vegetables from the ground.  So it seems that there may have been a significant question around the value or cost of the “meat” that they wished they could obtain.  Keep in mind that herds were their wealth and eating their herds would eat them out of their wealth, so having a source of “free” meat and other foodstuffs would be valuable to help them retain their wealth!  The manna was free, but they desired a greater diversity of free food.  I suspect with what we’re told, that they did have access to meat, and did eat meat when sacrifice was made, but that this also cost them and reduced their “value” as it impacted their herds.  What this boils down to is the Jews “Looking back” at what they had left <see Lot’s Wife> and complaining, which is effectively a rejection of God’s provision for the provision of a World that had held them in Slavery.  Not pretty.  They had access to food, but they longed now for “free” food.   But who does God credit with providing the “test”, and causing the people to be humbled?  God takes the credit for both the test and causing His people to be humble!  In the same way, we must remember when we are being drawn towards the desires of the flesh, that the temptation is always from within, but the test is usually from without — Let us pass God’s tests today!

Interestingly enough, God did provide them free food, but it ultimately came at a price 😉

So, the lesson to us is to recognize the test that God places in front of us through the World.  Are we content with God’s provision, or do we desire what the World provides?

3.  Finally, what does this mean to me?

We’ll consider a couple of scriptures

Jer 15:16 When your words came I ate them, they were my joy and my delight, for I bear your name o Lord God, Almighty.

In John 6, Jesus goes through an entire conversation with the Pharisees and with His disciples discussing His position as the “Bread of Life”.  At the end of the discussion, he makes this comment…

John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

So, to keep in context what Jesus was saying and what has already been recorded, what can we conclude?  We conclude that Jesus is using a parable form of the original “Bread of Life” or Manna from Heaven to illustrate that the Word of God is what we MUST rely on, and that Jesus Himself was a demonstration of that Word of God amongst men.  Jesus and God hold this in common – that Man must rely on every Word that comes from God (and through Jesus) and that this powerful word Must result in a change in our way of Living.  From Matt 7:24,25 – If any man hears the Words of Jesus <All of which are from God> and does not put them into practice <ie change our lives to follow His instruction> then we are like men who built our houses on the sand which will blow away when they are tested with the wind and the storm.  Only the one who applies God’s word to his own life for change, is counted as one whose house is built on a strong foundation which will stand when the test of wind and storm occur.


God tests us to teach us that His Word provides all we need.  We must remain strong in our God, in His Word and relying on Him to provide for us. God is the Great Teacher and we must learn and put into practice the teachings of His Word, which are also seen fulfilled in Jesus.  We know that He does all of this for our benefit, that it may go well with us in the End!

May God Bless us all as we pursue His Ways!


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