If the Israelites had flocks and herds and much cattle when they came out of Egypt, why did the Lord have to provide manna for them? And why did they ask for meat?
The record states that the children of Israel did have “flocks and herds and very much cattle” when they left Egypt.
In fact, the children of Reuben and Gad requested an inheritance that would include the broad and rich grazing lands east of the Jordan because they had “a very great multitude of cattle” (Num. 32:1). Their request was granted.
Moses had also stated a couple of times prior to this that one of their reasons for leaving Egypt was to be able to sacrifice to the Lord their God (Ex. 10:24-26).
As for the use of the animals in sacrificing to the Lord, it seems that this use was limited during the days of the wilderness wanderings. We are told only of the keeping of one Passover celebration, in the second year after they left Egypt. Most of the sacrifices commanded by the law given to Moses were not to be in effect until they should come into the land which the Lord their God had promised them (Lev. 23:10; 25:2). Even the Passover was instituted to be kept after they should arrive in the Land of Promise (Ex. 12:25).
Why might the Israelites not have used their animals for food? We are not told, but there may have been several reasons:
1) They were wandering in a wilderness where grazing land was very scarce. Sustaining a quantity of animals sufficient to support a large number of people may not have been possible.
2) They may have been saving their animals to use when they arrived in the Promised Land.
3) If they started slaughtering the animals for food they may not have had enough supply to support the great number of people. Numbers 11:18-22 indicates this. We read that after the people had murmured against the Lord and cried out for flesh, Moses said to the Lord, “The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month …. Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?”
When the Israelites complained about the steady diet of manna, the Lord sent quail on two different occasions, the first being in the wilderness of Zin only a few days after they had crossed the Red Sea; the second time was when they were encamped at Kibroth-hattaavah.
On another occasion they were instructed to purchase meat, when they should “pass through the land of Esau.” The Lord’s command was, “Ye shall buy meat of them for money” (Deut. 2:6).
It is also possible that the Lord wanted the Israelites to be directly dependent upon Him. This was part of their training, “to humble” and “to prove” them, to encourage them to live by His laws (Deut. 8:2).