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Notebook: Egypt (3) - Biblical dealings with Israel

Dating

It is very difficult to date the various kingdoms and dynasties of Egypt with accuracy. The timescales which the Egyptians used were based on the reigns of the Pharaohs. They would refer to the eighth year of this Pharaoh or the tenth year of another Pharaoh. There was, however, no "beginning date" to which all other events were related, and this makes it impossible to tie in these dates with confidence to a stated chronology. Manetho (an Egyptian historian) prepared a chronology which places the rise of the Egyptian state at about 3000 BC, but this is at variance with Bible chronology which indicates that the Flood took place about 2400-2500 BC.

The dates quoted in the earlier papers to define the periods in the history of Egypt are those used by Manetho. It is outwith the scope of these articles to consider these issues in detail, but the dates are included to let the reader understand the relative position of each period or kingdom. No accuracy is claimed for the dates; indeed the data on which they are based is fragmentary and unreliable. They are included only to give some indication of the relationship of one era to another, although even that is open to doubt.

Israel in Egypt

The journey of Abraham down to Egypt and that of Jacob, when the latter was told that Joseph was still alive and had sent for him, marked the beginning of long term dealings between the two peoples.

The first mention of the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt (Gen 15.13) indicates that the period of their sojourn in that land would be four hundred years. The exact number of years is given as four hundred and thirty (Ex 12.40). This is confirmed by Stephen in his defence before the High Priest (Acts 7.6) when, quoting the Scripture mentioned above, he stated that the period of bondage would be four hundred years. Some doubt has been raised due to the comment of Paul that "the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul" (Gal 3.17). If the exodus took place four hundred and thirty years after the giving of the covenant to Abraham (Gen 15) the Israelites must have been in Egypt for the shorter period of about 215 years as there were 215 years from the call of Abraham until Jacob went down to Egypt:

From the call of Abraham until the birth of Isaac: 25 yrs (Gen 12.4 & 21.5)

From the birth of Isaac until the birth of Jacob: 60 yrs (Gen 25.26)

From the birth of Jacob until his arrival in Egypt: 130 yrs (Gen 47.9)

215 yrs

It is unlikely, however, that a shorter period of 215 years would be sufficient to cover all that took place during Israel’s bondage and the increase in numbers from twelve brethren to 600,000 men. With reference to Galatians 3.17 it has been noted that "Paul is not concerned here with the exact duration of the interval between the intimation to Abraham of God’s purpose to bless the world through him, and the giving of the Law at Sinai immediately after the exodus...The number of years cannot have been less than four hundred and thirty in either case. That the period was a considerable one is all the argument requires".1 This, however, is suggesting that on this occasion Paul uses a degree of inexactitude which is out of character.

A more satisfactory way of looking at Galatians 3 is that Paul is referring to the time between Jacob entering Egypt (see Gen 46.1-3) and the exodus. "On the day following the last repetition of the promise orally (Gen 46.1-6), at Beer-sheba, Israel passed into Egypt" and it is from that day "that the interval of four hundred thirty years (sic) between it and the law is to be counted".2 For 215 years the patriarchal family was in the place where the covenant was given, enjoying the Land which, one day, would be theirs. The law, which came 430 years after the Land was left behind by Jacob and his family, cannot annul that covenant. The weight of evidence, therefore, indicates that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years.

The Exodus

The route of the exodus up to crossing the Red Sea

The stages recorded in the book of Exodus are -

Stage 1: Exodus 12.37 From Rameses to Succoth.

Six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, leave Egypt by this route.

Stage 2: Exodus 13.20 From Succoth to Etham.

The Lord goes before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Stage 3: Exodus 14.2 Turn and encamp before Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea over against Baal-zephon.

They turn to encamp beside the sea. Pharaoh sees this as an opportunity to re-capture them as they will be trapped between his armies and the sea. The people are fearful and complain. The angel of God moves between the Israelites and the Egyptians to provide defence for His people. The Red Sea is then crossed.

The number who travelled

According to Exodus 12.37 the number of adult males who left Egypt was about 600,000. This is confirmed in 38.26 when the more exact figure of 603,550 males over the age of twenty is given. The total number of males of all ages is not given and therefore only an estimate is possible. This has been put at between 1,000,000 and 1,100,000.3 It can be assumed, therefore, that in excess of 2,000,000 men, women and children crossed the Red Sea.

It has been argued that this must be an over estimate because such a great number would strike fear into any enemy. No attack would be made on a nation of such size. This reasoning, however, ignores the size and power of the enemies of Israel. It does not take into account that the people led by Moses were freed slaves regarded as homeless wanderers who had no history of military prowess. They were untried in battle, and their life in Egypt suggested that they were not given to struggle and resistance.

Egypt’s post-exodus dealings with Israel

In the reign of Solomon

From the exodus until the reign of Solomon it appears that the relationship between Israel and Egypt was cool. When Solomon came to the throne things changed. First, Solomon "allied himself by marriage to Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter" (1 Kings 3.1, JND). Although the Scriptures did not ban such a marriage, and there is no evidence in Scripture that she introduced idolatry into Israel, it was a dangerous precedent to set. Second, trade between the two nations increased and amongst the trade Solomon bought horses (1 Kings 10.28). The price of a chariot and the war horse that went with it was 750 shekels, a considerable sum.

Two of the conditions laid out in Deuteronomy in respect of the appointment of a king are relevant here. First, the king was not to "multiply horses to himself" (Deut 17.16). The possession of many horses was a sign of great wealth and was a feature prominent in Egypt. The children of Israel would have memories of this and doubtless of the night when many of these horses died in attempting to follow Israel through the Red Sea (Ex 14.26). It may have been as a result of this injunction that the judges of Israel rode on asses (see Judg 5.10). Second, he was not to "cause the people to return to Egypt" (Deut 17.16). One of the purposes of going there was to be taught horsemanship, but this would expose them to the danger of adopting the Egyptian way of life. In total Solomon gathered 40,000 horses (1 Kings 4.26).

In the reign of Rehoboam

Jeroboam, who became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel, fled to Egypt during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11.40). Recognising the weakness of Israel after the division of the nation into two kingdoms, "Shishak, king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem" (1 Kings 14.25). He took away the gold shields and other treasures of the Lord’s House, revealing again the avaricious character of Egypt.

In the reign of Josiah

Josiah, the last godly king of Judah, became involved in a dispute between Egypt and Assyria (2 Kings 23.29; 2 Chr 35.20-24). He went out to do battle with Pharaoh-necho, was injured and subsequently died. The king of Egypt had still authority to place Eliakim on the throne of Judah (2 Chr 36.4) but Babylon rose as the dominant power and this marked the demise of Egypt as a major power. "And the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates all that belonged to the king of Egypt" (2 Kings 24.7).

Out of Egypt have I called My son (Hosea 11.1; Mt 2.15)

Hosea speaks of the love that God had for Israel, a love so strong that He called His son (Israel) out of Egypt, bringing deliverance from Pharaoh’s bondage. But the Lord Jesus, as a child, was taken to Egypt to escape the murderous actions of Herod. The land where the Children of Israel were held in bondage is the land where the Lord Jesus was protected from the murderous tyrant who sought to put Him to death.

1 W E Vine. The Epistle to the Galatians.

2 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown.

3 Keil & Delitzsch. Commentary on the Fourth Book of Moses.

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