Monday, May 14, 2012

A New Pharaoh Fears the Future Exodus 1:8-11

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we.  Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and in the event of war, they also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us, and depart from the land.”  So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor.  And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.

Once in a while in our reading, we are presented with an unpromising sentence.  The Bible seems to have them as well and for me Exodus 1:8 is one such sentence.  “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”  I am reminded of some children’s stories I used to read to my daughters and son when they were younger, or some that we still read to our grandchildren – “Now a new something or other …”.  That’s ominous enough after the great introduction to Exodus telling us how “the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.”  But now add to this the second phrase, “who did not know Joseph” and you can see the troublesome cloud forming and almost upon the Israelites.

Robert Jamieson in his commentary suggests that about sixty years after Joseph died the old dynasty was overthrown and the then two parts of Egypt were united as one.  The new ‘king’ likely reigned in Thebes far from where the Hebrews were, and knew nothing of Joseph and the Israelites.  Thus they regarded them as foreigners who were to be “disliked and scorned”.  This resulted in the the fear that arose in Pharaoh concerning their future role.

As I study this verse and think of the world I live in I wonder if God’s children today are in much the same circumstance as the children of God found themselves in back in the days of Exodus 1?  I think it can well be written about our times, “Now a new order of things arose over all the earth, one which did not know Jesus.”  You don’t have to venture too far physically beyond your own residence to detect it, to see more than church programs on television, or to read much beyond your Bible to be bombarded with it.  If you thought the times were changing quickly when you were a little younger, you know were wrong given the rate of change (and not for the good) that we see today.  And as the old adage goes, “we’ve only just begun”.  I believe our children and grandchildren are in for a major shock in the years ahead.  We haven’t seen anything yet.  Only God can preserve them.

Now here is an interesting take on this new pharaoh, one that is perhaps unlike what our own current global leaders seem to be like.  Based on what he said to his cohorts, this guy actually feared the growth of the Israelites in his land.  In fact, he feared they could gang up against him and the Egyptians and in the event of war, join their enemies (most likely the Hittites from the north) and with them fight the Egyptians.  Worse still they feared they would depart from Egypt taking all the services and products they provided with them.  I don’t detect that same fear of God’s people among global leaders today.  In fact, if anything they see as annoyances to be dealt with slowly but surely.  And they’re doing a good job.

But just like today, the pharaoh of the time wanted to deal “wisely” with the Children of God.  Today, leaders in the Western world want to walk on both sides of the fence when it comes to Christians, but it is mainly because they fear the cost they would have to pay with respect to lost votes if they quickly and obviously totally alienated us.  But as I write this, I am thinking that this too will not be a deterrent for too long.  Either global leaders will take over in a way in which our vote (or anybody else’s for that matter) will not be of consequence or because we are all becoming too compliant with their wishes, too confused by the Enemy, or too apathetic to the importance of standing up for the Truth.  (One just has to post a strong position on the issue of same-sex marriage on Facebook these days and see the outcry that comes from those that call themselves Christians.)

The Bible says the Pharaoh in Exodus 1 appointed taskmasters who gave the Israelites hard labor, forcing them to built entire storage cities for the Pharaoh.

What surprises me about this statement is it’s stark and sudden contrast to “the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them” that we had read about just four verses previous to this one.  What we know very little about is how long it took from verse 4 to verse 11 and what were the methods that Pharaoh used to so debase the Israelites that they went from free men in Egypt to slaves.  Things like this, as we’re learning in our lives today, do not happen over night.  The Enemy has a way of sneaking them in little by little, so that we don’t even feel the increased heat until it’s too late.

David Guzik in his commentary on Exodus reports that the children of Israel (in their period of slavery which lasted from 134 years to 284 years depending on which historical analyst ones follows) built many of the great cities and monuments in Egypt, including as our text says, Ptihom and Raamses.  He believes they did not build the pyraminds that were completed much earlier.  But how did we get that far that fast?

The answer that Robert Jamieson gives is alarmingly similar to what is going on today in America – economic pressure and then total dependency on the government for all services.  He suggests that first they forced the Hebrews to pay enormous rents that they could not afford.  That got them into to trouble with the government that in turn degraded them to serfs and employed them as laborers to carry out their projects.  They added taskmasters with whips to punish those that were not “up to par” as workers.  Jamieson reports that captives built all public or royal buildings in Egypt at the time and inscriptions proudly stated that no “free citizen” had been used.  What ensues on a path such as this is slavery.

You will remember Raamses.  It was first mentioned in Genesis 47:11 as the place in Egypt where Joseph settled his father and his brothers many years earlier.  Pithom, according to the Bible dictionary was probably the Patumos that the Greek historian Herodotus referred to.  As late as 1883, archeologists discovered the ruins of supposed grain-chambers and that it was built from bricks that were made without straw.  The secular name of the city according to some is Succoth that we will hear more about later in Exodus, but its sacred name was Pithom.  The store cities were also deemed to be dwelling cities of the various royals.

Not only were the Hebrews given hard tasks, but also those in charge were instructed, “to afflict them”.  We can only imagine all that this entailed.  Their spirits were likely broken, their health was harmed, their longevity was shortened, and there was an impact on their numbers.  Matthew Henry also suggests they were likely discouraged from marrying and having children as their offspring would be born to “slavery”.  The whole aim was to eliminate the race (the Jews have been used to that ever since) and wipe off the name of Israel from the land of Egypt (that’s happening today as well, just follow the issues of Israel’s fear of the Iranian regime).  When a people have this kind of oppression exercised on them, is there any wonder some fall away from their own beliefs and start getting involved in idolatrous worship?  And are we not seeing just that among some of our Christian brothers and sisters today?  Many of our numbers cannot take the pressure of the squeezes we are feeling as the Church, Christ’s Body on earth, and it is easier to succumb to the practices of the oppressors.  But the story of the Israelites in Egypt does not end there.

What remains is for us to decide how our own personal/individual story will end as we face tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

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