My memories about what I learned at church about Israel and Egypt in Biblical times goes something like this:
Egypt is bad, and Israel is good.
We talk a lot more about Israel than Egypt. God has to keep reminding Israel to follow Him. He forgives them, but they need a lot of reminding.
The Israelites even wander in the wilderness for 40 years, where God only provided manna and quail for them to eat. Ellen F. Davis says the following about the Exodus in her book “Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: an Agrarian Reading of the Bible”:
“…this story makes it clear that manna is both a gift and a test, like the land of Canaan itself. It is given on certain conditions and thus is meant to reveal whether Israel will walk by God’s teaching or not.”
Davis echoes in that passage what God said to Moses in Exodus 16:4 about testing the Israelites in this way. Davis discusses that God wanted Israel to live in direct contrast to how Egypt lived; a huge part of that goes back to how and what the Israelites ate.
“These were highly stratified, strongly militarized societies in which the whole land belonged (at least in name) to the monarch. In practical terms, that meant the wealth of the land flowed upward, away from the small farmers, serfs, and slaves who composed the overwhelming majority of the population, to the large landowners, the nobility, the great temples, and the crown.”
Egypt had such an abundance of resources they stored up food in huge silos. Egypt had one harvest per year, but they had such a surplus they traded on the international market, which just put more money in Pharaoh’s pocket.
We see Israel in ourselves; we feel like the oppressed. We never want to think of ourselves as big, bad Egypt, throwing our weight around on the international market and becoming so wealthy, we think we don’t need any help from God. That we’re doing just fine on our own. But in America, we need to face the truth.
Egypt is exactly who we are.
So the Egypt/Israel/manna story serves as a great reminder that God doesn’t want us to live the way Egypt lived at that time. He felt making that point so important that Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. In that time they learned, or were reminded that God sustains us. God provides.
When we don’t trust that, we hoard God’s gifts. Or worse, we waste them. Or, we create an industrial farming system that is unsustainable and damaging to our health in the name of satisfying our wants. What we perceive that we need.
God gave us what we need, especially when it comes to food. We need to keep it simple, and trust that what God provides is enough.