Saturday, November 10, 2007

Four hundred and thirty years the descendants of Abraham lived in Egypt. Way too often we read such statistics without grasping the weight of them. I’ve taught our people that in order for the Scriptures to really take hold you must always understand and appreciate the plain context in which it is written. The Scriptures are 100% divine in origin and 100% human in origin…much as we’d say of our Lord. It is a book with real words that have real meaning and can really be understood when read, just as in any other book, when it is read within its genre, historical and cultural context.

So…let’s think about how long four hundred and thirty years actually is. I’m not exactly sure which Bible was the “real Bible” back then but the King James Version would not be translated for another thirty or thirty five years. The Gregorian Calendar (the calendar we use right now) had not yet been issued. Jamestown Virginia would not be established by England for over thirty more years and the Puritan Pilgrims would not sail on the Mayflower or reach Cape Cod for another forty years! Now stop and think about how much water has flowed under the bridge of history since the Mayflower voyage. Are you kidding me?

Four hundred and thirty years is one heck of a long time and that is how long the children of Abraham were in Egypt. How they ended up there is a fantastic tale of God’s providence with all the mixture of faithfulness, betrayal, loyalty, deceit, pain and joy that anyone would ever care to have in a out of this world tale. It started with a young kid named Joseph who was loved by his father and hated by his brothers. They seriously contemplated killing him but decided instead to “make a killing” by selling him into slavery. One thing led to another as they say and this young slave ended up with a fabulous Broadway Musical in his honor! Not only that…but he ended up the most powerful man under Pharaoh in the world. After his family was made aware that Joseph was not long ago dead and that he ended up doing pretty well for himself, by the grace of God, they all fled the famine which was providentially sent by God, and all one hundred and forty of them hunkered down under Joseph’s now impressive shadow…in Egypt. For hundred and thirty years is one heck of a long time indeed…because during that span of time those one hundred and forty people exploded into no less than two and a half million people!

The famine did as all famines do…it eventually passed. Soon enough Joseph’s father Jacob died and then he and his brothers died. And their sons died. And their grandsons died. But the family continued to rapidly multiply and continued living in Egypt. I wonder why they didn’t pack up and leave after a few generations and migrate back to the land promised to Abraham. We know that eventually a Pharaoh hit the scene that did not know Joseph and didn’t really care why these peculiar people where there. All he saw was a briskly growing bunch of non-Egyptians in his backyard and he did what any Pharaoh with common sense would do several thousand of years ago…he enslaved them. What I don’t know is how many generations had passed before this new Pharaoh took over. Historians and archeologists apparently still debate the timing of this and the Scriptures are silent.

While we don’t know for sure the exact time line we know what ended up happening. Instead of taking the risk of these aliens betraying the Egyptians in the event of an outside attack, Pharaoh preemptively appointed taskmasters over them to “afflict” them with “hard labor”. Let’s stop right there and make sure, again, that we grasp the context. This took place between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago. Talk about a long time. Slavery was an extremely common practice back then. There was no free market capitalism or recognized unalienable rights of every man. Slaves filled the cities throughout the world until Christianity became prominent and continued, sadly, even after that. There are certain realities that one should automatically assume about a slave. The first safe assumption was that slaves physically worked hard, period. They worked hard physically their entire life, usually married, had sons and daughters who also were slaves and then died. This was the normal way of things for countless generations of people. It was life. They built things or farmed, they wives and children cooked and cleaned…but they all did grunt work and usually had little or no individual or corporate rights. By our labor standards it should be safe to assume that slaves worked very hard and were not appreciated or treated well, certainly by our civilized modern standards. That is not to say that every single day they had the living hell beat out of them or their wives and daughters were raped each and every night. Those things did very tragically happen of course, but at the same time understand it did not happen “constantly” under normal and routine circumstances. Exasperating massive amounts of people to that degree can only go on for so long…unarmed, unorganized and beaten down slaves or not. Such constant treatment would naturally result in rioting…and who really needs the headaches created by perpetually enraged and rioting slaves? Again…yes it did happen…but it should not be assumed that it happened “constantly”. Slaves where treated not much better than oxen or horses…but anyone with common sense knows that you don’t physically torture beasts of burden…it’s counter productive (not to mention demented). Most people “take care of” their property and try to maximize its longevity and effectiveness…heck…some people even find themselves feeling emotionally attached to animals…such is how most slaves have been treated when viewed from the total scope of world history. Dignified, certainly not…but not physically tortured every day either.

All of that context should automatically be understood when one reads of a slave, especially when one reads of an ancient slave.

So when this Prophet of God explains to us that the taskmasters “afflicted” the Hebrews with “hard labor” our attention should be stirred up. This is not “hard labor” as compared to me sitting behind my desk pecking away at my keyboard. No…this Prophet is comparing the labor of the Hebrew slaves with other slaves of that day and with that standard in mind he describes what is going on as “affliction” and “hard labor”. By reading the first chapter of the book of Exodus it is unmistakable that this new Pharaoh had decided to do what he could to slow the growth rate of the children of Israel and put them to work at the same time. It is clear that he was not simply interested in free labor, no; he was at least equally concerned with thinning these people out as well. This means two things. Working them to a quicker death and in the process utterly wearying them to the point where there would be almost no practical energy for procreation…that might be crude but hey doubt blame me…I’m not making this stuff up. If your body has been beaten by countless hours of rigorous, hot and cruel work…not to mention any beatings you might have earned throughout the week…surely sexual desire for recreation or procreation would be almost totally removed. Or so Pharaoh thought. These ancient Hebrews could not be stopped! Not only did they continue procreating, their procreation increased! This reality spun into a wicked cycle of more and more abuse by the Egyptians against the children of Israel. They truly suffered under the weight of their chains. They would groan while under such terrible bondage and they would call out to God to set them free. The abuse went from bad to worse…to gross. Pharaoh, being totally frustrated that his well reasoned attempts at thinning the Hebrews out had consistently failed, decreed that all the little Hebrew boys must be either killed at birth or drowned in Nile river. Can you even imagine such horror? These people where not slaves by choice…they were slaves by birth. They had not done anything to provoke such treatment. They were slaves by birth and could not do anything to change their position in life. What is hard to fathom is that under the unpredictable providence of God…He allowed them remain in their chains until…

“A man and a woman from the tribe of Levi got married. She became pregnant and had a son by him. She saw that her baby was a fine child. So she hid him for three months. After that, she couldn’t hide him any longer. So she got a basket that was made out of the stems of tall grass. She coated it with tar. Then she placed the child in it. She put the basket in the tall grass that grew along the bank of the Nile River. The child’s sister wasn’t very far away. She wanted to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile River to take a bath. Her attendants were walking along the bank of the river. She saw the basket in the tall grass. So she sent her female slave to get it. When she opened it, she saw the baby. He was crying. She felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter. She asked, “Do you want me to go and get one of the Hebrew women? She could nurse the baby for you.” “Yes. Go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby. Nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter. And he became her son. She named him Moses. She said, “I pulled him out of the water.”” Exodus 2:1-10 NIrV


Anonymous said...

If God was good then why would he keep people slaves? How could a good God do that?

irreverend fox said...

hey anonymous,

that is a really good question. the thing we must always understand is that people have a free will. God has granted us the freedom to make real choices...He allows us the freedom to follow the desires of our heart. the children of Israel were not enslaved because God forced pharaoh to enslave them. pharaoh made a very real decision...a sin and cause so much pain.

while we will never exactly understand how the Providence and Sovereignty of God relates with the free will of men...we should never misunderstand that God desires people to freely worship Him. that is why we talk about God "setting us free". if worship, love and devotion is ever real it must be because the choice of the one giving it is free. and if the choice to give those things is free than the choice to not give them must also be free.

bad things happen because people are bad. good things happen only because...and this is key...good things happen only because God is good.

one day God's people will be totally "set free" from the power of sin in our bodies and we will, at that point, only choose good because our hearts will be utterly free of sin. that is where world history is marching...for that final day of salvation (salvation is not complete in anyone on earth today) and I hope you are on that march with Him.

irreverend fox said...

Jesus, btw, taught this very concept. here is one example...

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.� Matthew 12:33-37 niv