Once upon a time I was from Nashville, TN or Music City, USA. A fine place to live, if you ask me, with plenty of good food, pretty scenery and happy tunes of all varieties. While it has grown up and become sophisticated through the years, Nashville is still built on music from all over the South (AKA country music). Country music is about trucks and tractors, old dogs and new women, beer and butter beans, and of course “Amazing Grace” and “Whiskey River.” This kind of music tells a story and apparently the details of growing up country don’t change regardless of the decade or the demographic. Those details are consistent no matter the time or place.
There is one other important theme in country music, and that is reflection. Most often an artist will reflect on days gone by and a time that has past. That reflection will cause a bit of nostalgia to creep into the heart and mind of the hearer and perhaps induce additional reflection. It is entirely possible that an artist from Oklahoma can sing about teenage love gone wrong and stir memories from twenty years ago in the heart/mind of a banker in Louisiana or a farmer in Indiana. Well written lyrics and rhythm can create a powerful concoction of emotions from something we messed up or someone we miss. No other genre takes us back to and keeps us in yesterday like country music does.
That is… with the exception of scripture.
“The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
The children of Israel were in the desert under extreme circumstances, but they were free from Pharaoh and from Egypt’s slavery. They were on a journey with their God who had brought them out and was leading them as a freed people towards a promised land and a promising future. The Israelites, although freed, had not reached their destination and were not quite settled on what that destination may be like for them. Yet, in their freedom they could only think of what “used to be.” While they were not in bondage any longer, they felt bothered by the lack of provision made for them on this journey across the desert. As they ate the daily manna Israel remembered the good food in Egypt and how great life was back there. It was easy to crave the taste of Pharaohs generosity “back then” when life was so difficult, so plain, so not what they expected. This wouldn’t have happened in Egypt because Pharaoh would have provided.
Except he didn’t.
You can’t reasonably expect me to believe that Pharaoh who cut the ration of straw for brick production while demanding double the bricks gave his slaves food worthy of serving at a master’s table. At best the Hebrew children were given the scraps from Pharaoh’s table and I find even that hard to believe. Israel worked as hard to scrounge food as they did to make bricks Maybe even harder since you can eat bricks. They let their miserable memory and the “influence of the rabble” impact their ability to recall the realities of what life as a slave in Egypt had been like. It was miserable. It was harsh. It included hunger, humiliation, and hopelessness. And now it included lamenting a memory that wasn’t even true. They were reflecting on something they thought was great but paled in comparison to what God was leading them to and what He was already providing. I happen to believe that the manna and quail given each day may have been better than a Paula Deen casserole or a Bobby Flay BBQ.
Don’t let your past be the standard by which you measure the present quality of life. Don’t live in yesterday when today is here and tomorrow is waiting. Don’t be fooled to think that life was better when it was simpler or easier, because you would not and could not settle for such a simple life now that you are all grown up. Don’t let your cheatin’ heart lead you into loving a memory that never occurred.
Instead, let today be a day where you trust God to give the very food you need to survive in life and to lead you to a place of promise that is flowing with milk and honey. Manna and quail, milk and honey, items that Pharaoh never had and could have never provided were tastes that Israel had never enjoyed, but were born to experience. Likewise, peace and joy, happiness and wholeness, love and affirmation, all things God is offering today. Will you take them freely from His hand? Will you live in/towards the land waiting for you to enter into as a dear child? Will you forsake the memories and addiction to the past in exchange for the glory of a God who points us towards the future? Will you choose life in God’s kingdom – full and free – rather than a slave’s role in Pharaoh’s empire?
- Hardships will sometimes cause us to hallucinate on the past. Don’t be a fool living in the fantasy of something that really wasn’t.
- “Rabble” may be a person, a past experience and/or an attitude in our life that tempts us to not trust God and not find contentment in His provision.
- Today you will be confronted by the rabble in your life and you will likely be rabble for someone else. Just say no to either posture. God has created us for a glorious future and a gracious today.
For September 27, 2015 / Proper 21