Chapter 16 continues the account of the Israelites’ travels from Egypt to Mount Sinai (15:22 – 18:27). In the first part of the journey, the Israelites’ faith was tested by the LORD concerning their need for water (15:22 – 27). In the first part of this chapter, they are tested concerning their need for food, and the LORD provides manna and quail. Then the people are introduced to the Sabbath and what was necessary to observe it. Lastly, the LORD told Moses to keep an omer of the manna as a memorial of the LORD’s gracious provision in the wilderness for all generations.
Chapter 16 can be outlined as follows:
Verses 1 – 21 describe the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness from Elim to Sinai and the conflict over a lack of food. As at Marah in the previous chapter, the people confronted Moses and Aaron concerning their basic need for food. In response, the LORD provided manna and gave explicit instructions on how to gather it, store it, and eat it. It was another incident that the LORD used to test His people about His ability to provide for all of their needs and increase their faith in Him.
The second section of chapter 16 (vv. 22 – 30) is the provision of rest based upon the observance of the Sabbath. Though the law concerning the Sabbath was not given until chapter 19, some sense of it has existed since the creation. Here, the LORD prepared the people for the importance of the Sabbath rest by providing a double portion (i.e. two omers) of manna on the sixth day.
The last section of chapter 16 (verses 31 – 36) describes how the LORD commanded Moses to keep a measure of the manna as an everlasting memorial to His constant provision for His people while they were in the wilderness. An omer of manna was to be placed in a jar and placed it in the LORD’s presence. The LORD faithfully provided the people with manna for forty years, until the time that they entered the Promised Land.