Gleanings In Exodus
by A. W. Pink
2. Israel In Bondage
The opening verse of Exodus carries us back to what is recorded in the closing chapters of Genesis, where we read of Jacob and his family settling in the land of the Pharaohs. On their entry they were accorded a hearty welcome, for Goshen, which was "the best of the land" of Egypt, (Gen. 47:6), was allotted to their use. But not for long were they suffered to dwell there in peace and comfort. It would seem that about thirty years after their entrance into Egypt a spirit of enmity began to be manifested toward them, engendered at first, perhaps, from the fact that they were shepherds (see Genesis 46:34); and which terminated in their being subjected to hard bondage in the days of the new king which "knew not Joseph." That their peace was disturbed thirty years after their settlement in Goshen seems clear from a comparison of Acts 7:6 and Exodus 12:40: in the former we are told they were "evilly entreated four hundred years", in the latter we are informed that "the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt" was "four hundred and thirty years."
Several questions naturally suggest themselves at this point. What was God’s reason for allowing Israel to spend so long a time in Egypt? Why did He suffer them to be so cruelly treated? The purpose of God was that the descendants of Abraham should occupy the land of Canaan, which He had given to their father. But why should an interval of more than four hundred years elapse before this purpose was realized? To this I think a twofold answer may be returned. First, to prepare Israel for their inheritance. The rough schooling they had in Egypt served to develop their muscles and toughen their sinews. Also, their bitter lot in Egypt and their trials in the wilderness were calculated to make the land that flowed with milk and honey the more appreciated when it became theirs. Moreover, the land of Canaan was too large for a single family or tribe, and the lengthy sojourn in Egypt gave time for them to develop into a nation that must have numbered fully two millions.
The second answer is suggested by Genesis 15:16: "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." God had told Abraham that his seed should sojourn in a strange land for four hundred years, but in the fourth generation they should return to Canaan, and then the iniquity of the Amorites would be filled up. The time for God to deal in judgment with the Amorites was not fully ripe in the days of Abraham: their iniquities had not reached the bound God had appointed. Thus God ordered it that by the time the iniquities of the Amorites were "filled up" (cf. Matthew 23:32 and 1 Thessalonians 2:16) Israel was ready, as a nation, to be His instrument to destroy them. "Whatever the actings of men in wickedness and high-handed rebellion, they are made subservient to the establishment of the Divine counsels of grace and love . . . Even the wrath of man is yoked to the chariot wheel of God’s decrees" (Ed. Dennett).
But why did God allow the descendants of Abraham to suffer such indignities and trials at the hands of the Egyptians? Ah, does not the book of Genesis again supply the answer! Was the wicked treatment of Joseph by his brethren to pass unpunished? No, that could not be. They, like all others, must reap what they had sown; reap the bitter harvest not only themselves but in their offspring too, for the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. So it proved here, for it was the "fourth generation" (Gen. 13:15) which came out of Egypt. Four generations, then, reaped the harvest, and reaped precisely "whatsoever" had been sown; for just as Joseph was sold into slavery, and carried down into Egypt, so in Egyptian slavery his brethren and their children suffered!! And what a foreshadowing was this of the bitter experiences of Israel during these nineteen centuries past, for their wicked treatment of that blessed One whom Joseph so strikingly typified! They, too, have reaped what they sowed. Israel delivered up Christ into the hands of the Gentiles, and so into their hands they also have been delivered. Christ was shamefully treated by the Romans, and the same people were employed by God to punish the Jews. Christ was "cut off" out of the land of the living, and from A. D. 70 Israel, too, has been "cut off" from the land of their fathers. Thus we see again how inexorable is the outworking of this law of sowing and reaping.
In our last chapter we intimated that the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage foreshadowed the redemption of sinners by Christ. The land occupied by the enslaved Hebrews fitly portrays the place where the unregenerate are. Egypt symbolizes the world, the world as a system, away from God and opposed to Him. Concerning this we cannot do better than quote from the excellent comments of the late Mr. F. W. Grant:
The land of Egypt is a remarkable land in this way, that it is a little strip of country along the great river which makes it what it is, and which is in perpetual conflict with the desert as to it. This desert runs on both sides, and a little strip through which the river flows alone is Egypt. The desert on each side hems it in, blowing in its sands in all directions, and the river is as constantly overflowing its banks and leaving its mud upon the sand, and renewing the soil. The Scripture name is indeed not Egypt but Mizraim; and Mizraim means "double straitness." This doubtless refers to the two strips, one on each side of the river.
The land is a very remarkable one, looking at it as the scene of perpetual conflict between life and death. The mercy of God, feeding that land by the rain of a far country, no rain coming down there. It is another remarkable feature that rain seldom falls in Egypt. The rain falls far off. The people know nothing about it. It comes rolling down in the shape of a mighty river, and that perpetual stream ministers unfailing plenty to the land. They are, so to speak, independent of heaven. Of course, I do not mean really; but as to their thoughts, they are not on the clouds. They do not look up, but down. It is the very thing God points out in contrasting the land of Canaan with the land of Egypt, that Canaan, Israel’s portion, drinks in the water and rain of heaven. Canaan is a land of dependence. Egypt is a land of independence.
And that is the serious character of our natural condition, alas! what is natural to us now—that we are independent of God! God indeed supplies the streams of plenteous blessing, and none else than He; but they come so regularly, so constantly, we speak wisely (?) of natural laws, and shut God out. Just as they have been sending men for long, long years to explore the sources of that river in Egypt, so men have been constantly seeking to explore the sources of natural supply, and they have hardly succeeded yet.
Egypt worshipped her river. The river came to her so constantly that she was practically independent of heaven; yet heaven was the source of her supply, She did not see the blue hills which shed down upon them what themselves received. And they worshipped but the river. It is our state of nature away from God. God was far off to us. We did not realize the blessed hand from which all things came, and we took the blessings in willful ignorance of the hand upon which both they and we in reality depended.
But this Egypt was remarkable in other ways. It was remarkable, as you know, as the abode of science and civilization. To that very wonderful country people go now to study her monuments and admirable architecture. Egypt built as if she had eternity before her to enjoy it in. Her buildings were made to outlast by ages the people of the day who builded them: they could not make the people last, yet they tried their best at that. They embalmed their dead; and sent their dead down to the generations yet to come, side by side with what their hands bad made, as if solemnly saying: "Here are the mighty works of those over whom a mightier has triumphed." What a comment upon all her grandeur! Her main literary memorial is a "book of the dead." In her monuments death is stereotyped. The desert, after all, has vanquished the river. The land of science and art is a land of death, and not of life.
And that is the history of the world itself. Death is what is stamped upon it everywhere. It is the stamp of "vanity" upon a fallen creation. It is more; it is the stamp of Divine reprobation. For "in His favor is life." Could He repent and unmake, unless we had given Him cause for repentance? Surely He could not. What a solemn thing that we should have given Him a reason! When God is able to rest in His love, as He will bye and bye, that will necessitate the eternity of the condition in which He can rest. All that, in view of which He can rest, will be stamped as eternal.
The religion of Egypt was very remarkable. They had a religion in which were embalmed the relics of another religion, the dead tradition of a life that had been. There is no doubt about that. It is very remarkable in fact, according to what they say, that the very expression which God employs to Moses when He tells Moses His name, "I am that I am," you find attributed to God in the monuments of Egypt. And yet, with all that, what did Egypt everywhere worship? Emphatically and universally, the creature and not the Creator. Egypt which testified of the true God took up everything which was His total opposite, and deified a hundred beastial objects, the images, in fact, of their own lusts, and debased themselves by the service of these. Their worship was a deification,—as all heathen worship is—of their own lusts and passions. And that is everywhere what controls men naturally as his god. You remember in the garden of Eden, Satan says to the woman, "Ye shall be as gods." It was the bait he presented to her: and man has found that true in an awful way. As the apostle says of some, even professing Christians, their "god is their belly." That is, there is a craving in man’s heart for something that will satisfy; and not being able to find satisfaction in God, and not being able to trust God’s love and care, lust and care devour him. He worships himself, in a way continually more and more brutalizing and degrading."
And how did the descendants of Abraham first get into Egypt? Let the chapter before us make answer, and note its typical significance: "Every man and his household came with Jacob" (v. 1). They came into the land of bondage with their father Jacob: he was the one who brought them there. Mark, too, the name here given to him—"Jacob", which speaks of the natural man, the "supplanter"; not "Israel" which was his new name, given in sovereign grace. How clearly this speaks to us. We, too, entered the place of spiritual bondage with our father, Adam. This was not the place he first occupied: in Eden he was free to eat of all the trees of the garden, with but a single restriction; but alas! he sinned, and this caused him to be driven from the garden, and it was outside Eden that all his children were born. They came into the place of bondage with him!
"And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them" (v. 7). This was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob, made as the patriarch was journeying from Canaan to Egypt—"And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation." And this was but a repetition of what God had declared to Abraham long years before (see Genesis 12:2). How comforting is this to the children of God today. Unto us are given "exceeding great and precious promises", and these are the promises of Him who can not lie. Rest, then, with implicit confidence on the sure Word—forever settled in heaven—of the Lord our God.
"Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph" (v. 8). To understand this we need to turn the light of other scriptures upon it. This "new" king belonged not merely to a new dynasty, but was of a different nationality: he was by birth an Assyrian, not an Egyptian. In Acts 7:18 we read, "Till another king arose, which knew not Joseph." As one has pointed out there are in the Greek two different words for "another": allos, which means ‘another of the same kind"; heteros, which signifies "another of a different kind." It is the latter word which is used in Acts 7:18. By turning back to Isaiah 52:4 we learn what this other kind (in this case, another nationality) actually was. There we read, "For thus saith the Lord God, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause." Our purpose in calling attention to this is to remind the reader of the great importance of comparing scripture with scripture, and to show how scripture is self-interpreting.
"And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we" (v. 9). The light afforded by the scriptures we have just looked at should remove what has long been a difficulty in this verse. That the children of Israel (who probably numbered about two millions all told, at this time) should be more numerous than the Egyptians seems unthinkable. But this is not what V. g states at all. Mark attentively its wording. "And he (the "new" king) said to his people", not "the people." His people would be the Assyrians who had conquered Egypt, and particularly those in that land policing the country. Note the repetition of "his people" in verse 22.
"And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies (that is, lest the Hebrews should unite forces with the Egyptians against the Assyrian invaders), and fight against us and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them task-masters to afflict them with their burdens" (vv. 9-11). This was the proud reasoning of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. It was the finite pitting itself against the Infinite. In thus oppressing and afflicting the children of Israel we have an illustration of the world’s hatred for the people of God (John 15:18, 19). How true it is that "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Prov. 12:10) I How much, then, dear reader, do we owe to the restraining power of God, which holds in check the evil passions of men, and thus allows us to live a quiet and peaceable life! Let the withholding hand of God be withdrawn for a short season, and even now, His people would be sorely "afflicted" too.
"But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (v. 12). This proves how thoroughly vain it is to fight against the purpose of Him who hath sworn, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isa. 64:10). Pharaoh might purpose to "deal wisely", but "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Cor. 3:19). God hath declared, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Cor. 1:19). So it proved here—"the more they afflicted them the more they grew." This also illustrates a principle which has been exemplified again and again in the history of Christendom. Times of severest trial have always been seasons of blessing to the people of God. The more fiercely have burned the fires of persecution the stronger has faith waxed. So, too, it should be, and often has been, in individual lives. Opposition should cast us back more and more upon God. Persecution results in separating us from the world. Suffering ought to refine. The experience of the Psalmist was, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word" (Ps. 119:67). May it prove true of writer and reader that "the more we are afflicted" the more shall we "grow" in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
"And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, when you do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live" (vv. 15, 16). It is not difficult to peer behind the scenes and behold one who was seeking to use Pharaoh as an instrument with which to accomplish his fiendish design. Surely we can discover here an outbreaking of the Serpent’s enmity against the Seed of the woman. Suppose this effort had succeeded, what then? Why, the channel through which the promised Redeemer was to come had been destroyed. If all the male children of the Hebrews were destroyed there had been no David, and if no David, no David’s Son. Just as Revelation 12:4 gives us to behold Satan working behind and through the wicked edict of Herod, so we may discern him here working behind and through Pharaoh.
But once more Egypt’s king was foiled, and again was Satan’s attacks repulsed: "but the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive" (v. 17). Better might a worm withstand the tread of an elephant than the puny creature resist the Almighty. "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord" (Prov. 21:30). What comfort and confidence should this impart to the believer! If God be for us, it matters not who are against us.
"Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God that He made them houses" (vv. 20, 21). Here we have one more illustration of the law of sowing and reaping. These Hebrew midwives, who through fear of God had overcome the fear of Pharaoh, dealt kindly with the male children of the Israelites, and they were rewarded accordingly—"God dealt well" with them. God is not unrighteous to forget any work and labor of love which is showed toward His name or ministered to His people (Heb. 6:10). His promise is "For them that honor Me, I will honor" (1 Sam. 2:30). They "saved the men children alive", and God "made them houses", which, in the light of 2 Samuel 7:11, 1 Kings 2:24, etc., must mean that He, in turn, gave them husbands and blessed them with children.
"And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is horn ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (v. 22). We do not have to look far beneath the surface in order to discover here the malignity of one more vile than Pharaoh. Just as the twelfth of Revelation shows us that it was the Dragon himself who moved Herod to attempt the death of the Christ Child, so here he was employing the king of Egypt to destroy the channel through which He was to come. At the beginning, God declared He would put "enmity" between the woman and her Seed (Gen. 3:15), and in the light of subsequent scriptures it is abundantly clear that "the woman" is Israel—the one who was to bear the Messiah. Here in the passage before us we have a forceful illustration of the Serpent’s "enmity." Had his effort succeeded, had all the male children of the Hebrews been slain, the channel through which the Savior was to come had been destroyed.
"And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (v. 22). How this reminds us of the words of Ecclesiastes 8:11: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." God bears with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. Every opportunity is given them to repent; the day of mercy is graciously prolonged for them; and if in the end they die in their sins, then is their blood, unmistakably, on their own heads. How God frustrated this last move of Pharaoh we shall see in our next chapter.