Egypt was the land of the Nile, the pyramids, and the pharaohs. Next to Palestine, more biblical history happened in Egypt than in any other region. Egypt had a whole different eco system than Palestine did. This land was not dependent on seasonal rainfall for her survival. She had the river Nile and all the tributaries that flowed into it which provided plenty of water even in times of drought. It was in Egypt that Jacob entered in 1876 B. C. with a family of seventy, because of a famine in his land. Moses left four centuries later with a nation of two million.
Moses records that the people of Israel lived in Egypt a total of 430 years. (Ex, 12:40). Although this was a very long time, the Bible does not mention many of their activities in Egypt except at the beginning and end of their sojourn there.
Famine in Israel had also led Abraham to find temporary refuge in Egypt. Jacob followed his grandfather’s footsteps and did the same thing years later. Yet the Lord encouraged Jacob concerning the ultimate outcome of this migration to Egypt. Genesis 46: 3-4 “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will there make of you a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again…”
When Jacob arrived in Egypt with his family and flocks, there was a tearful but joyous reunion with his beloved son Joseph, whom God had elevated to “prime minister” of Egypt after being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. God had worked all the circumstances out for Joseph to help his family in time of need and save their lives.
Due to Joseph’s position, he was able to secure permission for his family to reside in the land of Goshen in the northeast region of the Nile delta. This area was regarded as the “best of the land” because the delta region received more rainfall than any other part of Egypt. There the rich soil produced an abundance of grass and was an ideal location for the Israelites to raise their livestock. The Egyptians tended to avoid this area because it was the first to be attacked by invading armies swooping down from the north. God was with his people, though, and protected them from harm. They prospered, acquired property, and became quite numerous.
Joseph died around 1805 B. C. during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhet III. For the next two hundred years, the Israelites lived in relative peace and prosperity in Egypt. They received favorable treatment under the Hyksos, or foreign rulers who controlled Egypt from 1730 to 1580 B. C. At this time there arose an Egyptian ruler, Ahmose I (1580 – 1548 B. C.) who liberated his people from foreign rule and founded the eighteenth dynasty. He is probably identified as the pharaoh who “did not know Joseph” in Ex. 1: 8.
The new pharaoh quickly appointed taskmasters over the Israelites and enslaved them to build storage cities, including Pithom and Raamses. The Israelites had been treated favorably because they were foreigners and lived in a land that was ruled by foreigners. When Ahmose I freed Egypt from all foreign rule, naturally the Israelites were a threat to him because they were foreigners. It was obvious that he had no knowledge of Joseph and everything he had done for the land even though he was a foreigner living in it. The Israelites were also a threat because God had blessed them and they had grown to an immense number of people. The pharaoh knew that if they wanted to they could overpower him because of the vast number of people living in the land. He must have felt that the only thing he could do was keep them beaten down by making them slaves. Then he thought maybe they wouldn’t rise up against him. I’m sure this was all in God’s plan to make them sick of Egypt and want to leave.
Living under Ahmose I was very difficult for the Israelites. He imposed extremely hard labor upon them to undermine their strength, and he took away the male children and had them put to death. As they cried out to God to deliver them from the terrible shape they were in, God raised up a deliverer – Moses. God arranged for Moses to be spared from death, and he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, probably Hatshepsut, and raised in the royal court of Egypt. He received the very finest of education and training available in his day. He probably lived at Thebes, the capital of Egypt at this time. There he tasted splendor, luxury, and riches growing up in the Egyptian royal court.
Moses must have felt for many years that he had a call of God on his life to be the deliverer of the Israelite people. He made the choice to pass from the pleasures of Egypt and identify himself with his fellow kinsmen. He tried to be their deliverer in the only way he knew how to be. He took it into his own fleshly hands. When he killed an Egyptian and was found out, he had to flee for his safety to the land of Midian.
Moses spent the next 40 years as a shepherd for Jethro there. Midian was east of the Sinai Peninsula. During this time he acquired a wife Zipporah, one of Jethro’s daughters, and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. After meeting God at Mount Sinai, where he saw the burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt with a divine call to lead his people out of bondage.
Ten plagues of judgment fell upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians before Moses and the people of Israel were given permission to depart from the land. These plagues were designed to demonstrate to Egypt and all the earth the greatness and sovereignty of God. With great power and mighty judgments, God brought his people out of Egypt. After over four hundred years as displaced persons, they were on their way back to the Promised Land.
The name Egypt is probably derived from a designation for Memphis, which means the house of the spirit of Ptah (Ha-ku-Ptah) said in Egyptian. The ancients had several terms for their homeland. They referred to Egypt as ‘the black land’ as opposed to the desert as ‘the red land’. These two places had two distinct geographical settings and histories. They became two lands – Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The Hebrew name for Egypt actual means dual form and refers to both of the distinct regions.
In the next text we will study the regions, climate, economy and culture of Egypt, the land which played such a big part for God’s chosen people. It is an extremely fascinating land that God chose to house his people in until He was ready to give them their own land that had been promised to them hundreds of years before.