ISRAEL IN EGYPT AND THE WILDERNESS
Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000
When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.. (Hosea 11:1).
The Exodus Event is perhaps the most significant single event in the Old Testament. It represented, not only the birth of the nation of Israel, but the very redemption of God's covenant people.
There are three things which are necessary for the formation of any nation that is to call itself a nation.
In the first section of the book of Exodus, we see God's acquisition of His people from the land of Egypt.
In the rest of the book of Exodus, we see God giving the constitution of the new nation.
When we come to the book of Joshua, we find the taking of the land.
ISRAEL IN EGYPT
The birth of Israel is especially unusual in that it took place within the womb of a hostile nation.
1. The Entrance of Israel into Egypt (1876 B.C.).
In the latter chapters of Genesis, we have the record Of Israel's entrance into the land of Egypt. According to the Massoretic Text, this would have taken place during the 12th Dynasty of Egypt.
The 12th Dynasty was an extremely prosperous period of Egypt's history. The pharaohs of this dynasty concentrated on building both a strong military and a strong economy.
Thus, when Joseph became the Prime Minister of Egypt, he would have been one of the most powerful men in the ancient world.
The village of Beni Hasan lies 150 miles south of Cairo on the east bank of the Nile. Within one of the cliff tombs of that area is a tomb dating to this period. Within is a large wall painting in which two Egyptian officials are meeting with a procession of Asiatics. The hieroglyphics state that 37 Asiatics are coming to trade in eye-makeup. Their chief is named "Abishai." The men are bearded and accompanied by donkeys and other animals. All of the adults wear garments with elaborate designs.
2. The Israelites Enslaved (1846 B.C.).
Only 30 years after Israel's entrance into Egypt, a new pharaoh came to the throne who was not favorable to the Israelites who were now living in Goshen.
Jacob had already died by this time, but Joseph was still living. This is why the Israelites had been free to bury Jacob in Canaan but had to place Joseph's corpse in a coffin in Egypt.
We must also be reminded that at this early date, the tribe of Israelites was very small. There had only been 75 people in the entire tribe when they entered Egypt. Therefore, it was no big thing for them to be enslaved.
3. The Hyksos Dynasties (1674-1567 B.C.).
Following the end of the 12th Dynasty, Egypt was ruled by several weak, petty kings who managed to divide and weaken Egypt.
The result was that Egypt was left vulnerable to outside attack. This attack came in the form of the invasion of a Semitic people known as the Hyksos. Using superior weapons and military tactics, the Hyksos overwhelmed the Egyptians and set up their own dynasty, ruling over Egypt for the next 100 years.
The 15th and 16th Dynasties of Egypt were Hyksos. They began their official reign in Egypt with the fall of Memphis in 1674 B.C.
4. The 18th Dynasty (1567 B.C.).
Finally, after many years of war, the Egyptians succeeded in driving the Hyksos from the land of Egypt.
The kings of the 18th Dynasty now proceeded to embark on an era of conquest and during the next 100 years they proceeded to make Egypt the strongest nation in the world. It was at this peak of military strength that God chose to deliver Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
5. A Growing Anti-Semitism.
The Hyksos had been Semitic. Although they had been driven out of Egypt. the Israelites were still in the laud and, to the Egyptian way of thinking, there was little difference between Israelites and Hyksos.
To make matters worse, the Israelites lived in Goshen and thus held the "back door" to Egypt. It was important that they not be allowed to become too strong, lest they become another source of conflict.
The answer to this problem was the same answer that was used by Hitler in the 1940 s. A decree was made that all Hebrew male children be put to death. It was in this situation that Moses was born.
THE EARLY CAREER OF MOSES
Although born as the third child to a poor Hebrew family, a social outcast and condemned from birth, God preserved Moses through a magnificent process of events to become the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
1. Birth and Infancy.
Moses was born in troubled times. The pharaoh of Egypt had issued a decree that all newborn Hebrew males were to be killed. Moses was hidden at first by his parents and then placed in a box of reeds and set to drift of the Nile River. There he was found by one of the daughters of the Pharaoh who had come down to bathe. It is even possible that this daughter was Hatshepsut. She had no children of her own, so she would have taken this Hebrew infant and raised him as her own, giving him the name Moses, which means "one drawn out." As a pagan Nile worshiper, she perhaps attributed this infant to a gift from the Nile River.
There is only one verse in all of the Bible which even mentions the education of Moses in Egypt. "And Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds." (Acts 7:22).
Moses was given the finest education available in what was at that time the most advanced nation on earth. This would have included math, astronomy, engineering, literature and military science.
His teachers had all of the learning of the engineers who designed the pyramids and the sphinx. Notice that the fame of Moses was both "in words and deeds."
Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived in the days of the New Testament, tells a story of an invasion of Ethiopian tribes to the south which threatened to overwhelm the land of Egypt. According to Josephus, it was Moses who led the armies of Egypt southward to meet the Ethiopian hordes, driving them back to their own lands.
3. The Decision of Moses.
"But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel." (Acts 7:23).
The children of Israel had settled in the area of Goshen, located on the eastern side of the Delta region of Egypt. They lived here in their own villages because the Egyptians did not hold to integration. To the contrary, they were perhaps the most bigoted segregationists in all of history.
Though he had been raised as an Egyptian, there came a day when Moses decided to visit the people of Israel.
I think that it was at this time that Moses began to learn of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He heard the promises that had been given to these people. And having heard this message, Moses made a decision.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
Moses made a decision to reject his Egyptian heritage. This man was "the son of Pharaoh's daughter" and possibly the crown prince of Egypt. And yet, he gave it all up. And for what? To be identified with a group of slaves without homes or possessions — a people who had nothing but a promise.
4. The Murder.
It was some time after this that another event took place in the life of Moses that was to become a turning point in his life.
Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
Moses had already made one decision. He had already decided to throw in his lot with the Israelites. Now he comes upon an injustice. An Egyptian is beating a Hebrew. Moses makes another decision. He decides to stop the injustice - permanently.
"And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand." (Acts 7:25).
Somehow Moses had come to recognize that God was going to use him in delivering the Israelites. He had heard the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the people of Israel would be delivered from Egypt. He recognized that God had chosen him and protected him. And so, he figures that this is as good a time as any to begin the work of deliverance.
Do you see what he was doing? He was trying to do God's work in his own way. He was very sincere. But he was sincerely wrong. Being sincere is never a substitute for righteousness.
It is true that God is going to use Moses to deliver the people of Israel. But it will not be by Moses's strength or power or wisdom that this will be accomplished.
5. Flight to Midian.
Moses had thrown in his lot with the hated Israelites and no longer had the throne of Egypt to protect him. If our chronology is correct, then this murder took place near the end of the reign of Hatshepset as Thutmoses 3rd was soon coming to the throne. Already as vice-regent under his stepmother, he posed a threat to the life of Moses.
The Biblical account specifically states that "when Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses" (Exodus 2:15).
"That the pharaoh himself took note of what would otherwise have been a relatively minor incident suggests that this particular pharaoh had more than casual interest in ridding himself of Moses." (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, Page 62, 1987).
It is possible that Thutmoses 3rd saw Moses as a possible rival to the throne and therefore sought to use this opportunity to he rid of him? It would not be until after the death of Thutmoses 3rd that Moses would feel free to return to Egypt (Exodus 2:23).
Moses was forced to flee Egypt. He sought refuge in Midian, the wilderness lands to the east of the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Anastasi Papyri are made up of official reports from the Egyptian border authorities and demonstrate the tight control which the held over the Egyptian border.
In life, prosperity, health! In the favor of Amon-Re, King of the gods, and of the ka of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt... I was sent forth... at the time of evening, following after these two slaves... When I reached the fortress, they told me that the scouts had come from the desert, saying that they had passed the walled place north of the Migdol of Seti Merne-Ptah. (BAR Jan/Feb 1999).
Though these date after the 18th Dynasty, they reflect the control over the boarders of Egypt in Biblical times.
Thutmoses 3rd had died by the time that Moses returned to Egypt and his son, Amenhotep 2nd was now the pharaoh of Egypt. He had just returned from a successful military campaign in northern Palestine and he sat now as the king of the mightiest nation on the face of the earth.
When he refused to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, the Lord sent ten successive plagues against the land.
1. Blood (Exodus 7:14-25).
2. Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15).
3. Lice (Exodus 8:16-19).
4. Insects (Exodus 8:20-32).
5. Cattle (Exodus 9:1-7).
6. Boils (Exodus 9:8-12).
7. Hail (Exodus 9:13-34).
8. Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20).
9. Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29).
10. Death of the firstborn (Exodus 11-12).
Notice that there is an increase in severity throughout the plagues. They begin with discomfort and move on to suffering, followed by destruction and death.
The first nine plagues can be arranged into three groups of three plagues each.
Inflicted by the hand of Aaron using the rod
Inflicted by the hand of the Lord
Destructive beyond anything ever before experienced in Egypt
Inflicted by the hand of Moses
The first three plagues were upon all of the inhabitants of Egypt. By contrast, the last six plagues fall only upon the Egyptians and do not directly affect the Israelites.
A SUMMARY OF THE EXODUS
The Exodus is likened in the Scripture as the birth of a child. The prophet Hosea gives this analogy.
When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Hosea 11:1).
The birth of the nation of Israel was unlike the birth of any other nation in history. It was a SUPERNATURAL birth.
1. The Supernatural Growth of the Child in the Womb of Egypt.
Only 70 Israelites went down into Egypt in 1876 B.C. (75 including Joseph and his family). 430 years later, 2 million Israelites come out. There is no other place in the ancient world that this spectacular growth could have taken place because only Egypt had the natural resources to feed such a large group.
2. The Supernatural Preservation of the Child in the Womb of Egypt.
We have already mentioned the political power of the 16th Dynasty of Egypt. The armies of this dynasty had marched through Canaan all the way to the Euphrates River. Egypt was the most powerful country in the world.
Furthermore, Egypt is a very reluctant mother. She does not like this growth which is springing up inside her and she seeks to destroy it.
A decree is issued that all of the male Hebrew children are to be killed. This solution to the "Jewish problem" is unsuccessful and Egypt fails in her attempted abortion.
3. The Supernatural Birth of the Child from the Womb of Egypt.
Now that the fetus is fully formed, it becomes time for the birth of the new nation of Israel. However, Egypt continues to be a reluctant mother. She does not want to give birth to this child which has grown within her.
Therefore the Lord brings upon her the travail of the ten plagues so that she must give birth in spite of herself.
4. The Supernatural Protection of the Child once it has been born.
Once Israel comes out of Egypt, she is utterly defenseless. She has no chariots or military establishment to protect herself from outside attack.
Furthermore, Egypt is still trying to destroy her. When Israel finds herself trapped by Egypt at the Red Sea, she faces the greatest army of the ancient world. Egypt has the biggest chariot corps, the most modern weaponry and the sharpest crack troops of any military establishment in existence.
Thus, when Israel comes out victorious through the Red Sea while Egypt is destroyed, only God can receive the glory (Deuteronomy 4:32-34).
THE CROSSING OF THE RED SEA
1. The Place of the Crossing.
a. The Lakes East of the Delta.
Much ado has been made about the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures have the Israelites crossing the Yam Suph (literally, "Sea of Reeds"). It is argued that this must refer to one of the marshy lakes that lay between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. This view is often made to say that these lakes were very shallow and that the Israelites were able to wade across while the heavy chariots of the Egyptians became stuck in the soft much of the marsh.
b. The Gulf of Elath.
Another view identifies the Yam Suph as the Gulf of Elath, located to the northeast of the Nile Delta. There is a narrow strip of land that curves out into the Mediterranean. The problem with this view is that the Bible expressly says that Israel did not take the route known as "the way of the Philistines" (Exodus 13:17).
c. The Red Sea.
The Bible continues to speak of the Yam Suph in a way that is an obvious reference to the Red Sea. In 1 Kings 9:26, Solomon is said to have built a fleet of ships on the shore of the Yam Suph. It is unlikely that these ships were located in some desert marshes or any other small body of water.
d. The Gulf of Aqaba.
This view has the Israelites going through the Sinai Desert and then crossing the relatively narrow area on the south end of the Gulf of Aqaba. This portion of the gulf has something of an underwater land bridge and is only about 150 feet deep as opposed to the 1000 foot depth on either side.
The problem with this view is that the Scriptures place Mount Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula and not in Central Arabia as this view would demand.
2. The Means of Parting the Waters.
When the Bible describes the actual parting of the waters of the Red Sea, there are several interesting factors which are mentioned.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.
And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them, on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22).
Notice that the parting of the water was directly caused by the "strong east wind." The prevailing winds in that area are normally from the west. An east wind comes of f the desert and brings very dust. In this case, it must have been a very localized wind to drive back the waters at the precise place that Israel could cross.
Although the waters were parted on the "right hand and on their left," we must not infer that the path through the sea was a narrow hall as has been portrayed in modern movies. The indication is that the entire tribe of Israel numbering many hundreds of thousands passed through in the space of a single night. If this is so, then the parting of the sea might well have been up to a mile wide so that all could make the crossing.
3. The Destruction of Pharaoh's army.
The chariot corps of Egypt took off through the Red Sea in pursuit of Israel. Here, they ran into trouble.
And He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty... (Exodus 14:25a).
A traffic jam took place on the sea bottom. Before they could retreat, the sea returned to its normal state, covering chariot and soldier alike so that all were lost.
THE MOSAIC COVENANT
With the escape of the Israelites into the Sinai Wilderness, the first step in the formation of the nation was completed. Next, the Lord moves to give the Israelites a constitution which will bind them together and unify them as a nation. Upon arrival at Mount Sinai, the Lord entered into a constitutional covenant with Israel. There were five parts to this covenant.
1. The Preamble.
Just as the Constitution of the United States of America has a Preamble which states the purpose of that Constitution, so in Exodus 19:5-6 we have the Preamble to the Israelite Constitution designed by God.
"Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
In these verses, we see God's purpose and plan for the nation of Israel. It was a threefold plan.
a. A Possession.
First, Israel is to be a possession belonging to the Lord. She will be valued above the other nations of the earth, even though they all belong to the Lord.
b. A Kingdom of Priests.
Secondly, Israel is to be a kingdom of priests. A priest is one who acts as an intermediary between man and God. The way of access to the Lord will now be through the sons of Israel. There will be no access to God apart from the priesthood of God s special nation.
c. A Holy Nation.
Finally Israel will be a nation completely set apart from the other nations of the world as a holy nation to the Lord.
It is toward these three goals that all of the commands in the Mosaic Law are directed. These three goals are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in His church. All of these qualities are ascribed both the Jesus and to His body, the united assembly of covenant believers.
2. The Decalogue.
When we speak of the Decalogue, we are referring to the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20:1-17. They express the eternal, moral and righteous will of God.
(1) No other gods.
Israel was to be set apart from the other nations of the world in that she was to be monotheistic worshiping only the one true God.
(2) No idols.
The language of this passage does not necessarily forbid statues or paintings as long as they are not objects of worship.
(3) God's name.
It is declared sinful to use the name of Yahweh irresponsibly or in profane speech.
(4) The Sabbath.
The keeping of the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13-17).
The sign of the Noahic Covenant was the rainbow.
The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was circumcision.
The signs of the New Covenant are the Lord s Supper and baptism.
By working six days and resting on the seventh, Israel gave outward symbolic indication that she had entered into a covenant relationship with the Creator who had originally worked six days and rested on the seventh.
(5) Respect for parents.
This command contains with it a promise — a prolonged life as the reward for obedience.
(6) No murder.
This is in the pi'el stem in the Hebrew, giving what would normally refer to killing the intensive significance of murder. This is a command that protects the individual's right to life.
(7) No adultery: This command protects the individual's marriage and family.
(8) No stealing: This command protects the individual's personal property.
(9) No false witness.
This command. protects the individual's reputation. It is also a call for truth.
(10) No coveting.
All of the previous commands deal with outward actions. This one deal with an inward attitude.
The first four commandments deal with Israel's relationship with Yahweh and give reasons for each command.
These first four commands are completely unique to this constitution. No other society in the ancient world recognized laws similar to these since it was unthinkable to have only one God.
The last six commandments deal with principles of morality in man s relationship to other men. These are laws common to any society which recognizes basic establishment principles. This is why no explanation of them is necessary.
3. The Judgments.
The Judgments (Mishpatim) were the laws which governed the social laws of Israel (Exodus 21-24). They were case laws which further developed the Decalogue. Each one begins with an "if" clause ("If you do this, then you will do that...).
4. The Religious Regulations.
The Religious Laws (Exodus 25 - Numbers 12) are designed to enable Yahweh to establish His rule over His people as their King. These laws establish the Theocratic State, with its various outward symbols.
a. The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.
The Tabernacle was an elaborate tent which served as a portable temple for the Lord. It had an outer court where sacrifices could be offered, and the tent itself which was further divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. At the center of this innermost sanctum was the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark was a wooden box overlaid with gold and having a solid gold cover known as the Mercy Seat. This Mercy Seat symbolized the throne of the King. The shekinah glory of Yahweh would reside upon the mercy seat. The Ark was kept in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle.
Therefore, the Tabernacle was the capital of the King. It was the center of government as well as the center of religion.
b. The Priests.
They served as the mediators who would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, taking their prayers before Yahweh.
c. The Sacrifices.
These were designed to keep the people in a state of purity, enabling a holy God to remain in the midst of a contaminated people.
It was always to be through the shedding of the blood of an innocent substitute that the Sinless King was able to reside in the midst of His sinful people.
All of these Religious Laws served an even more fundamental purpose of pointing to the Messiah who was to come. They picture the person of Jesus who became flesh and "tabernacled" among us. They picture our great High Priest who entered heaven itself with His own blood. And they picture the One who is the Sinless Lamb of God who was offered to bear the sins of the world.
THE MOSAIC COVENANT & THE SUZERAIN TREATIES
In recent years, archaeologists have discovered various types of treaties from the ancient world. One form which was often used by the Hittite kings and their vassals is known as the Suzerain Treaty.
The Hittite Suzerain Treaties always followed a prescribed format. Upon closer examination, this format is to be found in striking parallel to the format of the Mosaic Covenant as outlined in the book of Deuteronomy.
1. The Preamble.
The Suzerain (the king). identifies himself as the author of the proposed covenant in such a way as to inspire fear and awe in his vassal.
The regulations which the great prince of Hatti, Hattusiles, the powerful, the son of Mursilis, the great prince of Hatti, the powerful, the son of Suppiluliumas, the great prince of Hatti, the powerful.
In the Mosaic Covenant, Yahweh identifies Himself and shows His relationship to Israel s genealogy, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He also shows His greatness in conquering Israel s enemies (Exodus 20:1; Deuteronomy 1:1-5).
2. The Historical Prologue.
The Suzerain describes in detail the previous relationship between himself and his vassal. A great emphasis is placed upon the deeds of kindness of the Suzerain toward his vassal so that the vassal finds himself obligated to be loyal to his Suzerain.
In the Mosaic Covenant, the Lord recalls how He has brought Israel out of Egypt and how, in spite of her constant rebellion, has fought for Israel and protected her, caring for her in the wilderness. He goes on to show how He still intends to give her the land of Canaan for a possession (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 1:6; 3:29).
3. The Stipulations.
These are obligations which are imposed upon and accepted.
They usually include the following by the vassal demands.
a. The Suzerain prohibits foreign relationships outside his own empire.
b. The Suzerain prohibits oppression by one of his vassals over another.
c. The vassal must aid the Suzerain in any military endeavor in which he partakes.
d. The vassal is not to take in any refugees from other countries.
e. The vassal must appear before the Suzerain once a year.
f. Controversies between vassals must be settled by the Suzerain.
Each of these stipulations finds its counterpart in the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 20-31; Deuteronomy 4-26).
4. Deposit and Public Reading of the Covenant.
A provision is made for the deposit of a copy of the covenant in the vassal s sanctuary or temple. Since the treaty was so involved with the witness of deities, it was regarded as a religious object and therefore was kept in the temple.
There was also a provision made for the public reading of the covenant terms to the people (Exodus 25:16; 34:1, 26-29; Deuteronomy 10:1-5; 31:9-13).
Just as legal contracts were witnessed by a. number of people in the community, so the gods were thought to act as witnesses to the international covenants.
Naturally, the gods of paganism are not found in the Mosaic Covenant, so there are alternate witnesses to take their places.
a. Memorial stones (Exodus 24:4; Joshua 24:27).
b. The song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:16-30; 32:1—47).
c. The Book of Law (Deuteronomy 31:26).
6. Curses and Blessings.
The treaty was not merely a legal document to be enforced by the Suzerain. It was a religious document. It was the gods who had served as witnesses who were to punish the vassal if he broke the treaty.
Curses were invoked upon the vassal which were to become activated if he broke the treaty. Blessings were invoked upon him if he was faithful to the terms of the covenant.
In the Mosaic Covenant, the order of the curses and blessings are reversed. Blessings are first described and then the cursings (Leviticus 26:3-33; Deuteronomy 28:1-68).
FAILURE AT KADESH-BARNEA
After leaving Mount Sinai, the Israelites traveled to the northeast. moving up toward the land of Canaan. Acting according to God's instructions, Moses sent out 12 spies into the land ahead to spy out the land. When they had all returned, 10 of them proclaimed it impossible to take the walled cities of the Canaanites. Only Joshua and Caleb wished to continue into the land. The people of Israel accepted the majority report.
This was a case where the majority was wrong. There is a lesson here. It is that it is possible to be in the minority and to still be right.
Because of the unbelief of the people, the Lord said that they would remain in the Wilderness for 40 years. When the Israelites heard this, they decided to go ahead and take on the Canaanites, against he advice of Moses who warned them that they would now be defeated.
The following battle turned into a massacre and the Israelites were thoroughly defeated.
THE WILDERNESS WANDERINGS
Most of the next 38 years were spent by the Israelites near the area of Kadesh-barnea. During this time, the Exodus generation died and a new generation succeeded them.
When the Israelites finally left Kadesh-barnea. they traveled south in a wide circle around the hostile Edomites, finally coming to the plains of Moab on the east bank of the Jordan River. It was here that God completed His covenant with Israel in the form of the book of Deuteronomy, using the same format of the Suzerain Treaties of that day.
With Moses soon to die, a new leader was chosen who would lead the Israelites into Canaan. His name was Joshua.