What was Manna?
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
Exodus 16:31 says that manna looked like white coriander seeds (cilantro). These are perfectly round and about a quarter-inch in size. It describes it as tasting like whole-wheat crackers and honey, provides us a good idea of its flavor. Numbers 11:7 says it looked like frost on the ground.
It may be called manna because those were the first words the IsraElites said (in Hebrew) when the saw it… ‘Man hu?’ or, ‘What is it?’
Was manna just some natural phenomenon? Probably not. There is no other account of anything like it in history, and the IsraElites lived off of it for 40 years. Also notice that no matter how much a person gathered, there was always enough. Finally, it spoiled every single night after sundown, but never on the night before the Sabbath. Surely, then, it was a miracle from Jehovah/Yahweh.
Can we describe it as ‘bread from heaven?’ Although Nehemiah 9:15 calls it that, John 6:32 reports that Jesus said:
‘I tell you the truth; The bread that Moses gave them didn’t [really] come from heaven.’
So although the manna was clearly a miracle, coming by the power of God, its composition was earthly. Understand that the word for ‘heaven’ can mean both the spirit realm where God resides, and the sky of the earth. Some people must have misunderstood and thought that manna actually came from the spirit world.
Then Jesus likened the manna from God to his own flesh, and said (in verses 32, 33):
‘However, my Father will give you bread that truly does come from heaven.
For God’s bread is the one that came from heaven in order to give life to the world.’
In other words, unlike the manna, Jesus really did come from heaven. This explains the likening of his body to bread, and the symbolic eating of his flesh. Just like how the IsraElites ate manna from ‘heaven’ to stay alive, Christians would have to ‘eat’ (or share) in the body of Christ to gain life – something that truly came from the heavenly spirit world.
Jesus says in verses 48-50:
I am the bread of life! Even though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they [still] died… but those who eat this bread that came from heaven will not die!