In God’s Holy Word, the name Egypt is introduced for us through the line of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. In Genesis 10:6, it is mentioned alongside Cush, Put, and Canaan, as an offspring of Ham, who we may be reminded was the one of Noah’s sons who “uncovered his nakedness” (Genesis 9:22). While the subsequent curse for these actions was placed on Canaan, nevertheless it does not present Egypt in a positive light based on heritage.
From here, we next hear of Egypt as it relates to Abraham (Genesis 12:10-20), who retreated to Egypt after being called by God to leave his home and go to the land that the Lord would show him, having received the promise to inherit the land. It was in this same land where a famine occurred and rather than remain there, clinging to the promise of God, Abraham and his wife fled to Egypt for self-preservation highlighted by a lie to Pharaoh concealing the identity of Sarai in another act of self-preservation. The significance of Egypt is not lost in the life of Abraham, rather it continues specifically through an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar to whom Abraham would once again turn for self-preservation in attempting to fulfill God’s promise of offspring. Taking matters in his own hands, as it were, Ishmael was born from the Egyptian Hagar, and the rest as they say is history.
In Genesis 26:2 the patriarchal emphasis is now on the life of Isaac, Abraham’s son of promise, as he is specifically given a command not to go to Egypt in order to escape another famine in the land. This episode of course calls to mind the earlier decision of Abraham to retreat to Egypt in the midst of famine. There, Abraham should have remained faithfully obedient while here it is law (in the form of positive command) restricting Isaac from turning to Egypt. This seemingly insignificant event is actually a prominent theme throughout the Old Testament in which God’s people are often presented with a choice to remain faithful to God, despite difficulties, or turn to Egypt for (false) comfort and relief. As we know, Egypt comes into the forefront of Scripture in the life of Joseph, as he eventually arrives here by being sold into slavery by his brothers. It is here, in Egypt, that God would multiply His people, but even more significantly deliver His people from the Egyptian bondage and slavery.
Fulfilling God’s earlier promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13), Israel was enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years but were delivered by the hand of God through His servant Moses. God’s redemption of His people from slavery in Egypt is a constant reminder of His sovereign hand of salvation. However, as the people wandered throughout the wilderness because of their rebellion, we consistently find them murmuring with a desire to return to Egypt. The first of these occurs in Exodus 17:3, just shortly after their exodus,
But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Exodus 17:3If we pause to consider this, as we have done before, we can feel the impact and ignorance of their statement in choosing slavery in Egypt and falsely idealizing the conditions there instead of choosing freedom that comes from God. How often we are apt to do this as Christians, idealizing the past or falling for the allurements of slavery (to sin) preferring it over freedom in Christ.
As we know, the wilderness generation doubled down on their Egyptian murmuring by creating a golden calf and declaring that it was the god who delivered them from captivity. Furthermore, Israel continued longing for the good old days of slavery (Numbers 11:1-18ff).
In the third and final significant occurrence of Egypt, specifically in the life of Israel, we fast forward to the Exile Generation and the time of the prophet Isaiah. Here, we find the Southern Kingdom of Judah seeking an alliance with Egypt as protection against the incoming invading forces of Assyria.
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,As to the formation of this alliance, which is presented as a dichotomous choice between trusting in Egypt and trusting in God, God specifically calls Egypt’s help “worthless and empty” (Isaiah 30:7). As the oracle continues, God pronounces a woe against those who would turn to Egypt:
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
2 who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! Isaiah 30:1-2
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for helpThree prominent themes, the Patriarchs, the Wilderness Generation, and the Exile Generation all feature the desire and danger of seeking refuge in Egypt. In these instances, Egypt is presented as an unreliable and sinful alternative to faith in God. Fascinatingly, the ease of sliding down to Egypt often occurs during times of difficulty, as we’ve seen with famine, wandering, or invasion. In this sense, Egypt is a broad road, but it always leads away from God and to destruction. By way of contrast, faith in God especially through difficulty is a narrow and difficult road yet it is filled with blessing. It alone is the only true path.
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the Lord! The Egyptians are man, and not God,
and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
and they will all perish together. Isaiah 31:1, 3
In our day, 2021, we find ourselves in a difficult position seemingly hemmed in on all sides, some moreso than others depending on their geographic location. The temptation for each of God’s children is to turn to Egypt for comfort rather than remain faithful trusting God through the difficult circumstances. Egypt always appears distorted in the rearview mirror. Though we know it was a time of slavery and misery, behind us it looks like the better option. But this is a mirage. A return to slavery is never the right option. For each of us, our personal Egypt’s may be different. It could be a particular sin – one which offers a false peace or comfort; it could be an easy way out or escape from difficulty of some kind; or it could be seeking after a unholy alliance for self-preservation. But now, especially now, we ought to press forward even more. A rather famous quote once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” As we survey the landscape today, that quotation seems ever ring true. However through the trying of our souls in the midst of these difficult circumstances let us not turn to the broken reed of Egypt (2 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 36:6) as a crutch that would pierce our side (Ezekiel 29:6-9). Instead, let us remain faithful to our Lord, knowing that He is a far better, reliable, and faithful God.
Soli Deo Gloria