The Israelites had departed from Egypt and floundered in the desert for 40 years. Unable to find enough meat, they had to exist on God’s provision, “manna from heaven.” [Exodus 16] The Israelites sent scouts throughout the land to survey potential aggressors before entering Canaan, and found a race of large men, located southwest of Jerusalem. [Deuteronomy 2: 11, 20] It is said that these giants made the Israelites feel as small as “grasshoppers.” [Numbers 13:33] The giants were a vanishing breed by the time the Israelites came out of Egypt. They were likely a meat-eating tribe of people. The largely plant-food diet of the Israelites may have resulted in shorter stature but also may have lengthened their life span and given them other advantages over their adversaries.
Though the Israelites complained of the harsh experiences in the desert as they wandered for 40 years before entering the Promised Land, their sparse diet was preparing them for what lay ahead. Similarly, during World War II the British were forced to ration meat, dairy and alcohol, which resulted in improved health and decreased mortality. [The London Times, 7/7/99]
Obviously the Israelites had acquired tastes for the foods they had in Egypt and longed for them, but they were now in the desert and had to live off a different land. They “grumbled” against their leaders, who made them aware that their unhappiness was against God. First, families of quail arrived to provide the hungry Israelites with meat. Then something uncommon happened. A layer of dew was observed around the Sinai desert camp in the early morning, and as it evaporated, it left a “fine flake-like thing” on the ground. They asked: “What is it?” Moses said, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” They gathered it every morning, and had to eat it readily since it became “wormy” quickly. The manna was baked, boiled, ground in mills, or beaten in a mortar. [Exodus 16:23 and Numbers 11:7] The whole nation of 2 million had to exist on it for 40 years. It was described as like honey and oil.
Historians have suggested that manna may have been similar to droppings from certain shrubs or trees, which have been collected by Beduoins, but Smith’s Bible dictionary says “manna was always regarded as a miraculous gift directly from God, and not as a product of nature.” Whatever the manna from heaven was, it had to have been an unusual provision that only existed for a time. R.H. Harrison, in Healing Herbs of the Bible , suggests manna may have been a provision from God as a species of algae or lichens. In modern times the nutritional qualities of algae are well known. Well-known algae species, such as spirulina and chlorella, provide important B vitamins, minerals, vitamin A from beta carotene, essential fats and other nutrients. [Healthy & Natural Journal June 1997] However, these are dark-green species of algae. The manna in the Bible is described like coriander (greyish in color). F.S. Bodenheimer, in the Biblical Archaeologist (1947) suggests that manna may have emanated from a species of insects that secrete a honeydew-like substance rich in carbohydrates. Beduoins today gather a secretion of a small insect off the twigs of the tamarisk plant. The Beduoins gather it early in the morning, just as the Israelites did, before the ants have a chance to get to it. In good times, a man can gather up to four pounds each morning. [Food in Antiquity, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1969] There is good reason to believe the manna from heaven was a product of nature, though not a common one. The more that Christians continue to disregard natural explanations for these Biblical explanations, the more difficult it is for many to believe in the Scriptures.