ISRAEL OPPRESSED IN EGYPT.
--EXOD. 1:1-14.--NOV. 10.--
"God heard their groaning, and God
remembered his covenant."--Exod. 2:24.
SLAVERY is too strong a word to use with reference to Israel's condition in Egypt. We have seen that Jacob and his family, servants, herds and flocks, were received graciously for Joseph's sake, and located upon the grassy plains known as the land of Goshen. Pharaoh evidently in this matter was controlled by a spirit of benevolence, and by an appreciation of Joseph, and by a realization that his brethren, though not his equals, were men of ability, and likely to make good neighbors. He probably also recognized that as the Egyptians were not a pastoral people the Israelites would not be serious competitors in business, but on the contrary would probably help along the general interests of the kingdom. Moreover, he perceived that the land of Goshen, being toward the East, would serve as a measure of protection against invaders. But whatever his conjectures, he evidently could not have imagined so rapid a development, so great an increase of numbers in that people. That their increase was phenomenal is fully attested by vs. 7of the lesson. "The children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly and multiplied and waxed exceedingly mighty; and the land (of Goshen) was filled with them." Here are five different expressions used to indicate their phenomenal growth. And when we remember that these all sprang from Isaac, and that he was the only son of his mother, and born when his father was over a hundred years old; and when we remember, further, that Jacob also, was born only after repeated prayers, and that Rachel his wife similarly was long unfruitful, it seems the more evident [R2900 : page 343] that the Lord's providence had much to do with the change which came over Jacob's family after it was transplanted to Egypt.
The seventy souls mentioned in verse 5were all males except two, Dinah, Jacob's daughter, and Sarah, his granddaughter. (Gen. 46.) It is reasonable, therefore, to infer that the females of the company, not included in the count, were about as many more. Neither is it unreasonable to infer that since Abraham's household represented many servants and helpers, Isaac's also, and Jacob's, these may have accompanied Israel to Egypt and have been merged into the nation under the law of circumcision. It is well that we have these facts in mind when considering that from the time of Jacob's death to the time of the Exodus was a period of only 215 years; and yet in the meantime the Israelites were so fruitful, increased so abundantly, multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty, to such an extent that at that time the male representatives of the nation numbered 600,000; which, counting four to a family, would imply a total enumeration of 2,400,000.
Infidelity has been inclined to scoff at this record, and to declare that such an increase was impossible; but we are to bear in mind the distinct statement of verse 7, to the effect that the increase was phenomenal, beyond all precedent or ordinary calculation. One of the Hebrew words used in describing the increase gives the thought of swarming (as bees and fishes), and this in accord with the divine forestatement. (Gen. 46:3.) M. Millett, French Consul in Egypt, declares: "The air of this country is much purer and better than in any other. This salubrity of the air imparts itself to all organic beings, plants and animals. The females, not only of the human species, but also of the animals, are more fruitful than any other in the world." Doubtless also morality, freedom from wars, pestilences and special diseases, had much to do with the rapid increase of that people. As affecting the reasonableness of the record, Prof. Curtis quotes a volume of family memoirs, which shows that 5,564 persons are known to have descended from Lieut. John Hollister, who emigrated to America in 1642. It is said that in the early settlements of North America the actual rate of increase for several successive periods was for the population to double itself every fifteen years. Calculating at this rate, and counting husbands or wives for the seventy persons in the text (in all, 140), the increase would amount to 2,293,760 in 200 years.
The statement of verse 8doubtless applies to some period after the death of Joseph. Since Joseph ruled Egypt for eighty years, it is quite probable that there was more than one Pharaoh on the throne, and it is the general supposition amongst scholars that the new king of verse 8signifies a new dynasty--a change in the royal family through insurrection or otherwise. Possibly the very fact of the general peace and prosperity of Egypt, during Joseph's term of office, led to a general abandonment of the affairs of state on the part of the royal family, and thus paved the way to such a rebellion and change of dynasty --an ambitious family grasping the reins of power after the death of Joseph, and at a time, probably, when matters, were not running so smoothly in the kingdom's affairs, by reason of the loss of the divinely guided governor.
The kings of the new dynasty did not recognize Joseph, nor any indebtedness on the part of Egypt to him, and the Israelites, his people. On the contrary, the new ruler, less ready than his predecessors to look for the leadings of divine providence, cast a suspicious eye upon the Hebrew people, noted how rapidly they were increasing in numbers and prosperity, and reasoned that they had no ties to either Egypt or its throne, and that therefore their further growth would be inimical to the empire's welfare; because, in the case of wars, they might espouse the cause of the enemy, or might attack the government and seek to make themselves the rulers of Egypt. This would be worldly wisdom as represented in the treatment of the Sclavonian peoples today; and no doubt it was so regarded then. The new king put into execution plans intended, not to destroy the Israelites, nor to drive them off, but merely to hold them in check--to prevent their further marvelous increase. He sought to discourage the ambitions of the people by overwork under discouraging conditions, hoping that this rigorous treatment would impair their virility or possibly cause them to feel that they would not wish to bring forth children to so burdensome a life as their own. But the record is that the repressive measures were unsuccessful, and that the people of Israel increased more and more. The new king did not take divine providence into account.
Scholars are quite united in the belief that Rameses II was either the first or second ruler of this new dynasty, antagonistic to Israel. His mummy was found in 1881; we saw it exhibited in the museum located near the Great Pyramid, in 1892. Of the identity there can be no reasonable doubt. The [R2901 : page 343] head of the mummy shows phrenologically just such a character as the history implies. The hooked Roman nose shows great determination, while the low forehead indicates a deficiency of the quality called benevolence. How surprised Rameses will be before long, when in due time, with the remainder of earth's millions, he shall come forth from the prisonhouse of death! He may still see his old mummy, and undoubtedly will see Israel, as represented in the ancient worthies, occupying the chief place in earthly power for the blessing of Egypt and all the families of the earth, under the ministration of spiritual Israel --Christ and the Church in glory. What a lesson he and others will read in the developments of the divine plan, as they will then perceive them--things which we perceive already because the eyes of our understanding are opened to the things revealed in the divine Word, and which will be corroborated more and more as we approach the Millennial day.
We are not to understand that the Israelites as a whole were compelled to leave their industries and engage in brickmaking and the construction of treasure cities, palaces, highways, etc. On the contrary, we are to suppose that drafts were made from time to time upon the people, much after the manner of the conscriptions for the army in Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Russia. This same method of dealing with the people was in vogue in Egypt until quite recently, when the British Government took control [R2901 : page 344] there. It is known as the Corvee system of enforced labor. We recall that Solomon introduced such a system in Israel, compelling each individual to serve so many months upon public works. The same system is in vogue to some extent in various civilized countries, where the farmer is permitted to pay such a proportion of his taxes in money, and another proportion in labor--or, instead of the labor, he may pay it all in money. The system, rightly operated, of course, would be no more of an injustice to the people than an ordinary tax, but evidently the object of Rameses, the oppressing Pharaoh, was to injure the people under the guise of public works and necessary taxation.
A lesson which we spiritual Israelites may learn from Israel's experience in Egyptian bondage is that our God is abundantly able to make all of life's experiences work to our advantage; and that his word is sure of fulfillment in its due time, regardless of what man may propose. Had Rameses adopted a different policy in dealing with Israel they might have forgotten the promise of God, which indicated the exact time in which their deliverance from Egypt would come--they might have become so interested in Egypt and its affairs, and in their land of Goshen, etc., etc., and so intermingled with the people of Egypt, that they would have forgotten the promise of their deliverance, and that the land of Canaan should then be theirs. In this we see another illustration of the fact that sometimes we receive greater blessings through adversity than through prosperity. As the adversities of fleshly Israel drew them together, and separated them from the Egyptians, so the trials and adversities of the spiritual Israel tend to draw them nearer to each other, and nearer to the Lord, and to separate them from the world,--leading their hearts more and more to an appreciation of the goodly heavenly Canaan which God has promised us. As the Israelites were more fruitful under the persecutions and oppositions, so we frequently find it to be with the spiritual Israel, that not only the zeal increases, but numbers also increase, as well as "fruits of the spirit," under persecutions and difficulties.