Bible Question:

If the Israelites had their flocks with them while in the desert, why did God need to give them manna and then later quail?

Bible Answer:

Did God need to provide manna for the Israelites when Exodus 12:30-32 clearly states that the Israelites had herds and flocks before they started their exodus out of Egypt? The passage quotes the pharaoh of Egypt as ordering them to take their herds and flocks and to leave Egypt with them.

Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the LORD, as you have said. “Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.” Exodus 12:30–32 (NASB)

But we must ask the question how many animals did the Israelites have and were there enough to satisfy their hunger? Since the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, it is highly doubtful that they had large herds and flocks. We do not know how many animals they had per family or if they had enough to feed families who might not have had any.

Sometime after the Israelites left Egypt, they complained about not having enough to eat. Exodus 16:1-3 states that the Israelites complain about not having bread and meat to eat. Consequently, Moses asked God for help. God responded by promising them bread (Exodus 16:12) in the morning and meat in the evening (Exodus 16:8). Exodus 16:13-14 says that in the evening God provided quail, and in the morning God supplied a “flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground” which they called manna (v. 31).

The manna was not meat according to Exodus 16:12. The manna is described in Exodus 16:31 as being like “coriander seed” which tasted like wafers containing honey. This means that the manna was not a substitute for animal meat – herds and flocks.

Yet, we still have the question why did the Israelites need meat if they had flocks? It appears from Numbers 11:4 that they did not have enough to satisfy their greed appetites.

The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” Numbers 11:4-6 (NASB)

Numbers 11:4 says that they were greedy. The Hebrew phrase translated as “greedy desires” can also mean “craving lust.” The JPS Torah Commentary translates the phrase as “gluttonous craving.”[1] In Numbers 11:31 the place where this event occurred is called Kibroth-hattaavah. The literal Hebrew means “Graves of Craving.” They were greedy. It is highly likely that they ate more food – bread and meat – than could be produced by their herds and flocks while in Egypt their taskmasters would have had sufficient to meet any shortages.


Therefore, it appears that the Israelites needed quail and manna because they were consuming their food supplies faster than they should have due to greed.

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