The Israelites called it manna; it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.” And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” Just as the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan (Exodus 16:31-35).
Years ago Christian singer, the late Keith Green wrote a song about the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt because they deemed that slavery in Egypt was not as bad as life in the wilderness of Sinai.
So you wanna go back to EgyptWhere it’s warm and secureAre sorry you bought the one way ticketWhen you thought you were sureYou wanted to live in the land of promiseBut now it’s getting so hardAre you sorry you're out here in the desertInstead of your own back yardEating leaks and onions by the NileOoh what breath for dining out in styleOoh, my life’s on the skidsBuilding the pyramidsWell there’s nothing to do but travelAnd we sure travel a lot‘Cause it’s hard to keep your feet from movingWhen the sand gets so hotAnd in the morning it’s manna hotcakesWe snack on manna all dayAnd we sure had a winner last night for dinnerFlaming manna soufflé
How true it is that we human beings always seem so discontented with the present moment. The past always looks better than it truly was. God had freed his people from the back-breaking slavery of Pharaoh, and now they are in the wilderness complaining because the menu of daily fare is too boring.
Ah, the good old days. There’s lots of bad stuff going on in the world today. A natural worrywart would have a feast wigging out over what is happening in the world and right here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. How many times I hear people speaking of the good old days, of simpler times when life wasn't so complicated, when it was safe to let children run free in public and when everyone supposedly went to church every Sunday.
I dissent from such a view. There is no such thing as the good ole’ days. It is a myth constructed by people with amnesia who have forgotten or have chosen not to remember the problems and perils of earlier days. Allow me to offer some evidence:
- An estimated 20% of American children live in poverty today. More lived in poverty in 1900 and an estimated 20% lived in orphanages because their parents couldn’t afford them.
- In the nineteenth century the age of sexual consent in several states was nine or ten.
- In the 1920s, no law required a divorced father to pay child support.
- Near the end of 1943, Life Magazine ran an article on juvenile delinquency which highlighted among other things, teenagers smoking marijuana and teenage girls waiting to be picked up by soldiers. The article states, “Too many Victory Girls believe it is part of patriotism to deny nothing to servicemen.”
- At the beginning of the Civil War, there were proportionately as many abortions being performed annually as there are today.
- The murder rate in the 1930s was as high as in the 1980s.
- In the earlier part of the twentieth century, divorce rates were not nearly as high as they are today, but comparatively the rates of desertion and domestic violence were much higher than in the twenty-first century.
- Today approximately two-thirds of Americans do not go to church. In the nineteenth century the percentage was... two-thirds.
- Preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards was criticized by fellow Christians for being too stuffy when it came to sexual morality.
- In the period of the American Revolution, it was not uncommon for an engaged couple to have sex prior to marriage.
- The child sex slave trade was just as prevalent one hundred years ago as it is today.
- It is estimated that in the middle of the nineteenth century, there was one prostitute for every 64 men in New York City.
- With all the talk about the problems of health care in the U.S., would anyone prefer the medical practices of 1910? (By the way, the greatest factor for the longer life spans in the developed world today is not the result of today’s medicine, but modern methods of sanitation.)
- We talk about pollution today, but one hundred years ago people thought nothing of dumping all kinds of things into streams and lakes and blowing toxic smoke into the air.
- We understandably are concerned about all the additives put in food today, but one hundred and fifty years ago, food poisoning from “all-natural” foods was much more common than it is today.
I could go on and on, but instead I will simply list some sources below where much more information and examples can be obtained.
None of this is to suggest that everybody was wicked and rotten a hundred years ago. There were plenty of good and decent people then as there are now. But we must dispel ourselves of the notion that there was some golden era in history when all was pure and pristine, wonderful and lovely. Along with that we must also reject the belief that everything is much worse today than it was “back then.” This does not mean we should fail to take our problems and challenges seriously, but a little less of “the sky is falling” hysteria would be a good thing... and unfortunately, we have too many “Chicken Littles” cackling around us who want to go back to Egypt.
Just as God had something in better in mind for the Israelites, which was why they were in the wilderness in the first place, so God is leading us toward his desired end for human history. We should not forget the past; for without our past, our tradition, the church of Jesus Christ would have no identity. But let us not make too much of the past turning it into a myth. God is leading us into the future. It’s time to disband the self-appointed the Back to Egypt Committees from our churches—and yes, every church has such a committee—they just don’t have official status.
Just something to chew on while we are eating our daily dose of present manna.
Dean Merrill, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997
Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Basic Book, 1992.
Life Magazine 15, No. 25 (20 December 1943).
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