Study Guide

Book of Numbers Food and Drink

Food and Drink

When you're wandering around in a desert for forty years, food and water are gonna be hard to come by. Even though the Sinai Peninsula of the time did have vegetation, animals, and water, finding suitable meals and liquid refreshment could sometimes be a problem. Looks like we're gonna need some food-related miracles.

Getting Water From A Rock

When the people start freaking out about not having any water to drink in the desert (seriously, guys? Is slowly dehydrating to death in the hot sun that bad?), God tells Moses to get to work:

"Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock." (20:8)

Miracles on tap! This isn't the first time God has pulled off this particular miracle. In Exodus, God tells Moses to do the same trick (Exodus 17:6). So, if the people had seen this before why aren't they clamoring for rock water at every stop? Hmm…

Manna From Heaven

But water isn't the only miraculous food that God gives to the people in the wilderness. There's also manna. Ever heard the term "manna from Heaven"? Well, this is where it comes from. God first passes on the miraculous manna in Exodus, but by Numbers, the people are complaining about it:

"Our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it. (11:4-9)

Sounds pretty darn delicious to us. But we can understand why the people were starting to get sick of it. You might love bacon, but would you want to eat bacon for every meal for the rest of your life? (Hint: the answer is "Yes!") But really, manna is no bacon.

It's Raining Quails! Hallelujah!

So, the people want meat, right? Well, God is happy to give it to them. In the form of quails. Lots and lots of quails:

Then a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground. So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. (11:31-32)

Um, that's a lot of quails. Plus, Numbers is starting to take a turn towards Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs territory. What's next? Cheeseburgers from Heaven?

On The Interpretation Menu

So, what does all this divine meal intervention mean? Well, like most miracles, these heavenly helpings are symbols of God's power (he can make it rain dinner, people!) and generosity (he's real sorry you're dying of dehydration).

It's significant also that, even though God has given the Israelites food and drink in the wilderness, they still keep complaining about how jerky he's been:

"If only we had meat to eat!" (11:4)

"Why have you brought us[…] to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." (20:5)

"Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food." (21:5)

But in reality, God does have sympathy for them. He wants his people to keep going and keep getting better. And food is a major part of that. So, eat up everyone!

In Popular Culture

Miraculous gifts of food and drink don't just come up in the Bible. They're everywhere:

  • While wandering around in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is The Road, the Man and his son haven't eaten for days when they randomly find a bunker filled with delicious canned foods.
  • In The Hunger Games, tiny parachutes drop from the sky bearing gifts of food and supplies for the tributes… as long as they play their cards right.
  • At the end of Where the Wild Things Are, Max returns back home to find a tray of food sitting on his bed waiting for him. Awww.