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What Is It?

Exodus 16; Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 292-297


The Message:

We worship God when we enjoy keeping the Sabbath.

Memory Verse

“If you call the Sabbath a delight . . . you will find your joy in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13, 14).

Do you know what a desert is like? It is hot during the day and cold at night with all sand and little or nothing growing. Where could you find food in a desert? The Israelites traveled in the desert—and they were almost out of food! What do you think they did?


God took such good care of the Israelites. He sent a cloud to shade them from the hot desert sun in the day. He sent a pillar of fire to light their camp at night. He had freed them from Egypt and destroyed their enemies in the Red Sea.

But the Israelites were beginning to worry. It had been six weeks since God had led them out of Egypt. And the food they had brought with them was almost gone. “Back in Egypt we had all the food we could eat,” they grumbled. “But here in this desert we are going to starve to death.” They complained bitterly to Moses.

Of course, God had no intention of letting them starve to death. “I will rain down bread from heaven,” God told Moses. “It will be there in the morning. The people are to go out every day and gather an omer* each. But they must not keep any of it until the next day. And I’m going to test them to see if they follow My instructions.”

Sure enough, the next morning the ground was covered with thin white flakes. The people were surprised. “What is it?” they asked again and again. It looked like frozen dew all over the ground. Moses told them, “This is the bread God promised you. Gather it and eat it today. But don’t try to keep any for tomorrow. It won’t be good.”

So the people called it “manna.”† And they gathered it up and tasted it. It tasted sweet like honey. And there was enough for everyone. But as soon as the sun grew hot, the manna that remained on the ground melted away.

All the people had just what they needed regardless of how much they gathered.

“Don’t keep any of it until the next morning,” God had said. But some of them paid no attention.

The next morning their leftover manna was full of worms and smelled bad.

On the sixth day the instruction was different. “Today you’re to gather twice as much,” Moses said. “Tomorrow is God’s Sabbath, a day of rest. There won’t be any manna on the ground in the morning. So get enough today and bake it or boil it, but save some of it for tomorrow.”

The double portion they were told to gather to keep for Sabbath would not get wormy! But wouldn’t you know? Some people didn’t gather twice as much that Friday. Instead, they got up on Sabbath morning expecting to find manna. They had to learn their lesson the hard, hungry way! Of course, there was no manna on the ground that Sabbath morning! And there was none on any Sabbath that came after. “How long will they refuse to follow My instructions?” God sighed to Moses.

The story of the manna teaches us two things. First, just like the Israelites, we honor God when we obey Him. Following His directions is an act of worship.

It also teaches us that God knows best. His plans for us are for our own good. Following His instructions is the only way to be really happy.

It took the Israelites a while to learn that they needed to follow God’s instructions about the manna. They finally got it right. And it’s a good thing, because that’s what God fed them for the 40 years they spent in the wilderness!

They also learned how important the Sabbath is to God. He wanted them, and us, to make it a special day, different from other days. When they kept Sabbath special, when they didn’t work by gathering manna, they were showing God their love and obedience. And they were really worshipping Him.

*An omer is about two quarts, or two liters. †Manna means “What is it?”