I hate going to the eye doctor. It’s not because of the “which is better, a or b?” kind of questions. As much as I don’t like things touching my eye, even the little tapping pressure machine isn’t that bad. The thing I hate about the eye doctor are things like these vision test. What number do you see? There’s a number there? Incase you’re like me, the number is 0985. Here’s the next one. What about this one? This one is 5764. I hate these pop quizzes. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m partially color blind to shades of red and green which actually makes tracking a deer in the woods after I shot it a bit of a challenge.
Some people are able to see things which others can’t unless they are pointed out to them. I’ve had people tell me about the person praying next to our stained glass cross. Some have pointed out the face of Jesus looking down on the bench behind me. It took me a little bit but there is a lamb and a cross on the driveway side of the manger we put up outside.
Beyond hidden objects, we live in a world of VR and AR. We live with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Virtual Reality consists of a completely digital experience which is viewed inside a closed visual environment. To experience this Virtual Reality, you have to put on this headset which totally blocks out everything. This headset is usually connected with a smartphone or some other type of powerful computer. Virtual Reality has been used in training from our military to manufacturing and retail. Companies use it to show off their products and provide experiences for their consumers. It has also allowed teams within a company to collaborate in the same visual environment regardless of location.
The world of Augmented Reality is a bit different. Augmented Reality is the overlaying of computer-generated objects upon the real environment. These are used more regularly with apps, like on Snapchat or Instagram. This is a fun thing to play with the kids.
The thing is … these Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality things can be fun … but they also really distort the true reality of things. They present us with a false reality.
Not in a Virtual or Augmented Reality kind of way, but the Israelites of Exodus 16 are living in the midst of a false reality.
Let me set this up for you. Pharaoh had just let the Israelites go after the death of all the firstborns throughout Egypt. God leads the Israelites back and forth in the wilderness until they are on the shores of the Red Sea. Upset with his decision to let the Israelites go, Pharaoh assembles his army and takes off after them. Seeing the Egyptian army on one side them and the Red Sea on the other, the Israelites believed they were doomed for destruction and start yelling at Moses. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (14:11-12). Moses looks at them, and in my own words says, “Seriously? There is no reason to be afraid. Listen, all you need to do is be still and watch the amazing power of God. This will be the last time you will ever see these Egyptians, now stop yacking, be still and watch!”
The false reality that the Israelites were going to die by the hands of the Egyptians on the bank of the Red Sea was totally erased when Moses raised up his staff and the Lord of all creation caused a mighty east wind to blow which separated the waters of the Red Sea. This was no optical allusion or some bizarre vision test. God split the sea and the Israelites walked through to the other side on dry ground.
A few days’ journey out into the wilderness after escaping Pharaoh’s pursing army, after their grand celebration, the Israelite people are grumbling against Moses in regards to having nothing to drink. They again have this false reality syndrome. They arrive at Marah where there is water, but the water is bitter. The Lord shows Moses a piece of wood for him to throw into the water which makes the water sweet. The Lord then says to the people, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD who heals” (Ex. 15:26). The people are then led to Elim where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees.
Things are looking good for the Israelites now right?? No, not really. By the time we get to our reading, we are a month out from when the Israelites had originally left Egypt and their reality is already skewed. They have been living out in the wilderness for a month and they are just now grumbling about being hungry. Obviously they need their eyes checked because a normal person would not be able to survive that long without any sort of food.
But look at what they say … “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into the desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex. 16:3).
Let’s take a short hop back in time and see what it was really like for the Israelites in Egypt. “So they, the Egyptians, put slave masters over them, the Israelites, to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly” (Ex. 1:11-14). They sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted? Really? What kind of world do they think they were living in? What kind of false reality do they remember?
We have a tendency to see the past as being better than what it was. The good old days really weren’t all that good. We forget about all the hardships: (The depression, no air conditioning, out houses, no running water). Back in the days before electricity, a tightfisted old farmer was taking his hired man to task for carrying a lighted lantern when he went to call on his best girl. “Why,” he exclaimed, “when I went a-courtin’ I never carried one of them things. I always went in the dark.” “Yes,” the hired man said, “and look what you got!”
Warren Wiersbe said, “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rear view mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you. Leave your mistakes with God and look to the future by faith.” And I might add too that we should not live in the false reality of the past.
All the time while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, all that time they were grumbling about food, about not having anything to drink … the Lord was right there taking care of them. Moses in Deuteronomy 8 has the Israelites sit down on the plains of Moab before they go in and take possession of the Promised Land. Moses tells them, “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years” (Deut. 8:2-4).
Through those forty years, through their entire history, through the entire history of the world, God has continued to provide and take care of His people. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The meaning Martin Luther gives to this petition? “God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” We know that “daily bread” includes just about everything: breakfast, lunch, supper, Nikes, allowance, loving parents, loving siblings, good friends, good teachers, and the list goes on.
As I said last week, we live in an ever changing world. The Great Depression changed how people live. The World Wars, Vietnam and Korean Wars, Y2K and the entering of a new millennia, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the twin towers in New York City, Covid. They have all changed how people live. To try to go back to the good ole days before any of those life altering occasions happened would be to live in a false reality where we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted (Ex. 16:3). We can’t do it and we should quit, no, we need to quit trying to do it. In the midst of those events … God has continued to give daily bread, even to the wicked.
As the Israelites sat on the plains of Moab looking into and anxiously anticipating the day they could enter into the Promised Land … we gather looking at the cross of Jesus, we gather looking at the empty tomb of Jesus with great anticipation of the day in which we get to enter into the Promised Land of the new creation.
We take each day at a time, doing whatever is needed in order to move forward. We do what each day requires, whether we like what is going on or the people who say we should do something, we live knowing that the reality of the Lord’s presence in our life is not going to disappear.
God says in Exodus 29 while the Israelites are in the wilderness, “I will dwell among the Israelites and be there God” (29:45). The promise of God’s presence is found all over the pages of the Old Testament. The true reality of our lives is that God is not going to abandon his people, he is not going to abandon you. He is our Immanuel, the God who is with us. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our ever present Lord, now and forever. Amen.