Their slavery in Egypt involved unpaid labor, whips and beatings, and targeting by government officials that labeled them as menace and threat to society. Their young baby boys were systematically executed so they'd become a people without men. They cried out and begged God to deliver them, and God answered.
Their delivery from Egyptian slavery involved the direct intervention of God himself. There were natural disasters, plagues, and miracles. There were guiding towers of clouds by day that became fiery pillars by night, leading them wherever they ought to go. And as they went into the wilderness, they neither planted nor harvested, but God dropped bread from the heavens called manna so that they had only to gather and eat what they needed, day by day.
Knowing what we know about the Israelites' experiences, I find Numbers 11:4-18 to be one of the most jaw-dropping passages in Scripture. They complain as they weep:
"Oh, that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost 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...it was better for us in Egypt."Wouldn't you love to grab them by the shoulders and shake some sense into them? Such whining! Such ingratitude! Your freedom came to you as nothing short of a divine miraculous intervention, and the only thing you do in response is cry and complain about the food? Are you really longing for the very place from which you begged God to deliver you?
But before we judge them too harshly, I wonder if we are sometimes guilty of the same kinds of actions. Can you put yourself in the mental and emotional place where you were when you became a Christian? Perhaps you were in tears as you confessed your deep need for Jesus to save you. Can you still feel the water on your skin as you were lowered into it and then raised back out of it? Do you remember the sound of rejoicing that accompanied your rebirth? You might have thought to yourself, "This is the best moment of my life. From here on, for me to live is Christ. God is all that matters. I'm giving him my life, no matter what."
In the time since then, have you ever varied from that course? Has your passion ever diminished? Have your priorities gotten clouded with other agenda items that help you with self-promotion rather than Kingdom-promotion? Have you complained about the inconvenience of serving God and gathering with the saved?
The book of Hebrews has a conspicuous central theme: Jesus is better. The writer seems to be addressing Jewish Christians who in the face of persecution were tempted to fall back on Judaism the way that the Israelites had fallen back on Egypt nostalgia. Commenting on this exact comparison, the writer urges Christians not to fall into the same sort of disobedience as them, and continues:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)If we are to use our memories for anything, let us remember our confession. Let us remember how badly we needed deliverance, and how strongly we had committed ourselves to walking a better path. Jesus is better than what we had without him. Don't ever forget it.