Quail. In Palestine, the quail is a migrating bird that arrives in droves along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. With their strong flying muscles, these birds can fly rapidly for a short time. When migrating, however, they stretch their wings and allow the wind to bear them along. Sometimes they reach land so exhausted after their long flight that they can be caught by hand.
Most of the time quail remain on the ground, scratching for food and helping farmers by eating insects. Their brown-speckled bodies are inconspicuous, but they often give away their presence by a shrill whistle.
The Hebrew people probably ate dried, salted quail while they were enslaved by the Egyptians. When they longed for meat in the Sinai desert, God promised He would provide enough meat for a month. Then He directed thousands of quail to their camp, where the birds dropped in exhaustion (Num. 11:31-34; Ex. 16:13; Ps. 105:40).
The Quail. The quail is about the size of a pigeon. It is called a bird of passage, because it does not always live in the same place, but spends the winter in one country, and in the spring flies away to another. In their journies, they fly together in very large flocks, as you have perhaps seen wild geese or pigeons do. A great many spend the summer north of the Black Sea, and when autumn comes they fly away to spend the winter in some warmer place, farther south. They usually start early some fine evening in August, when there is a north wind to help them on, and fly perhaps a hundred and fifty miles before morning. The people on the opposite shore of the Black Sea know about what time to look for them, and catch a great many of them for food.
God sometimes sent quails to the children of Israel when they were in the wilderness. Once they complained because they had no meat to eat, pretty soon after God had saved them from the hand of Pharaoh; and then he brought a great many quails into their camp, so that they had as many as they wanted for food. At another time, when they were on their journey, these ungrateful people complained again, and wished they were back in Egypt, where they could have “fish, and melons, and cucumbers,” as they said. Then God saw fit to send them quails again, though he was very much displeased with their wickedness; so much so that he sent a dreadful sickness among them, of which many died. The Bible says, “And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day’s journey on this side, and a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails; he that gathered least, gathered ten homers; and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.”
The number of these quails was very wonderful. They covered the ground all around the camp, and as far every way as a person could go in a “day’s journey,” by which they meant twenty miles or more. And they not only covered all that ground, but were piled upon each other, to the height of more than a yard. The people gathered great quantities of them; probably they intended to dry a part, which is still a custom in those hot and sandy countries. “He that gathered least,” we read, “gathered ten homers.” A homer was about eight bushels, or as much as an ass could carry at a load; and ten homers, of course, was about eighty bushels. You see how eager the people were to get them, for they could not even sleep at night through fear that they should not have as many as they wanted; so they stood up to gather them “all that day, and all that night, and all the next day.”
These things are several times spoken of in other parts of the Bible, especially in the 78th Psalm. It is there said, “He rained flesh upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. And he let it fall in the midst of the camp, round about their habitations. So they did eat, and were well filled, for he gave them their own desire; but while the meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them.”
Perhaps it was not wrong for the children of Israel to ask for meat to eat, but God was displeased with them for their complaining spirit notwithstanding all his goodness; and although he gave them what they asked, it proved to be only a curse to them. This may teach us to be grateful for the thousand blessings that God has given us, and when we ask any thing from him, to be willing that he should deny us if he sees best.
[Cook, Scripture Alphabet of Animals]