Not one of my commentaries addresses this matter and my pastor doesn't know.

Exodus 12:37, 38 NASB

37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.

Exodus 16:3 NASB

The sons of Israel said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread until we were full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this entire assembly with hunger!”

  • @ Steve Busc Byge. I am not sure anyone can answer this from scripture, but common sense might. So here is my 2 cents. They new from handed down prophecy that after 4 generations they would move back home to canaan. Nomadic people would know NOT to eat their own livestock because when they reached their destination they would have nothing for seed stock.
    – RHPclass79
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 9:24
  • 1
    maybe the time gap in this chapter is very long, after their livestock was consumed.
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 9:47
  • 2
    They may have had meat, but they did not have bread and they did not have onion, leeks and rutabaga to put in their stew. Meat alone does not make a tasty pot. (Num 11:5, 21:5) Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 3:35
  • As I see it, this is simply a faux pas of the author(s).
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 21:31

2 Answers 2


It is rather fundamental that if there is nothing (by way of plant food) to feed the humans, there is nothing to feed the livestock.

Ancient peoples rarely ate meat - livestock was used for milk, wool and occasional leather goods. Eating the livestock would not last long, without pasture which is completely absent in the desert.

The Israelites were not silly enough to simply eat the livestock in this way. Hence the complaint about hunger - both for the humans and livestock.


Historical Note: Zimbabwean native farmers discovered this simple truth when the "land reforms of Mugabe were implemented - white farms were confiscated en-masse and given to black untrained in agriculture and animal husbandry. Withing six months, after the livestock was eaten, famine set in. Zimbabwe went from being Africa's largest food exporter to Africa's largest food importer.

  • 2
    Up-voted +1. We are omnivores requiring a variety of foodstuffs and roughage ; not carnivores. And our flocks are vegetarians.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 12:55
  • I'd add the possibility that they may have consumed the livestock because both they and their cattle were beginning to starve. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 17:35

Why the complaint of hunger? Well, it really wasn't a complaint about hunger they were expressing but more about the conditions that they were living under. Note the verses just before:

Exodus 16:1, 2 NWT

1 After they departed from Eʹlim, the entire assembly of the Israelites eventually came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.

2 Then the entire assembly of the Israelites began to murmur against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

This was the second month after coming out of Egypt and they were thinking about all the things they were leaving behind (kind of like Lot's wife). So the people started complaining about the "easy" life they had in Egypt but not thinking about the oppression and slavery they were under. About a year later (Numbers 11), the Israelites were again "complaining" about not having meat to eat.

Some may ask, "But wouldn't they be able to eat their livestock during their 40-year wanderings?" They could have but shortly after this, Jehovah God had given Moses the Law under which the nation of Israel was to guided. Within this Law were the guidelines for animal sacrifices. These sacrifices were offered daily at the Tabernacle and by the individual Israelites when they sinned.

As commented by @RHPclass79, the Israelites would also need a seed stock. The Israelites did have plenty of livestock before the entry into the Promised Land, especially the tribes of Reuben and Gad:

Numbers 32:1 NWT

Now the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad had very large quantities of livestock, and they saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were a good region for livestock.

Jehovah continued to provide food, in the way of manna (Exodus 16:13-27) and made sure their clothing and footwear would not wear out (Deuteronomy 29:5).

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