Where’s the Proof?

Egyptology is a remarkably new area of study for archaeology. That’s not to say that people haven’t been digging up and examining places and things within Egypt. What I mean is that any understanding of the language of hieroglyphics is relatively recent (1800). The languages of Mesopotamia and India were already well understood by the time that the Rosetta Stone was discovered.

One of the problems with placing the Exodus account in a historical context is that there seems to be no record of Hebrews or “sons of Israel” in Egypt among the surviving records. So, we have to look at clues within Exodus to attempt to guess at the time frame. There are a lot of different theories, counter-theories, and suggestions of timing. And there are are many who simply consider the Exodus to have never happened at all.

One of the clues is found in Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (NASB) Again, there are a lot of theories about who this might have been. There is a period of Egyptian history when they were ruled by foreigners known as “Hyksos“, about whom we know very little. The best guess is that the Joseph and the Exodus took place either during, or shortly after this period. But, there remains the problem of the lack of record.

The lack of record of the Hebrews in Egypt or any such departure of a huge population from Egypt is the normal argument against the historicity of the biblical account (Google it, you won’t find one argument against Exodus being a historical event that isn’t based on the lack of reference to Israel). But there are reasons why this lack of evidence isn’t that surprising.

For instance, the Egyptians are well-known historical revisionists. Every book on Egyptology makes mention of one dynasty erasing or modifying elements or references to previous ones. The hieroglyphic writings were most often painted, and while durable, were also often painted over, or removed.

Add to this problem that Egypt, as a geographical reference, has been occupied by one or more people groups, successively and continuously, for almost 6,000 years. There has to be a lot of records either removed, reused, destroyed, or simply remaining to be found. In other words, the lack of evidence has many possible, and very plausible, explanations.

Essentially, no one can either prove or disprove the historicity of the Exodus using available archaeological records from Egypt. The Hebrew Scriptures remain the best record we have for the event of a million or so ethnic Hebrews leaving the land of Egypt to sojourn in the desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Egyptian Retention Method

One of the unanswerable questions of humanity asks how one human society or culture can excuse the subjugation and oppression of another human society or culture. When does oppression and subjugation make sense? Just for the record, never. It happens, even the people of Yahweh did it, but it never makes sense.

Have you ever wondered why the people of Israel in Egypt didn’t just leave after Joseph died? Why didn’t they simply take his body to Canaan to bury it, and not return? But even so, why didn’t they leave before being enslaved? No one saw that coming? No one figured their time had come to an end in Goshen?

But, why, then, did Egypt consider it necessary to oppress the people of Israel in the first place? We’re given the explanation by Pharaoh in Exodus 1:9-11, where he claims that the sons of Israel have become so numerous that they are dangerous to the native Egyptians. But there are three reasons given, one of which surprised me.

He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.

Exodus 1:9-11 NASB

The reasons given in verse 11 for why oppression of the Hebrews made sense (dealing wisely) are: they will 1) continue to multiply, 2) join the enemies of Egypt in time of war, and 3) depart the land. I can understand the first two. Verse 7 sets up the consistent increasing of the people of Israel as a thematic element of the chapter.

The second reason, that Israel would join Egypt’s enemies, only makes sense when we remember that there was an enormous divide between the two cultures. The Hebrews were nomadic herdsmen, and Egyptian society was based on domestic farming, and less on animal husbandry. The Egyptians couldn’t even eat with or associate with nomadic peoples (see Genesis 43:32).

The third reason is where I become confused. If the people of Israel are dangerous, why not expel them? There has to be some contribution to the culture and life of Egypt by the people of Israel that is important to the Egyptians. The people they cannot live with, they cannot live without. In many translations, the last phrase in verse 10 is translated “escape” rather than “depart” the land. And yet, the Hebrews aren’t slaves just yet.

There are all sorts of lessons which can be derived from this simple, strange reason for enslaving the Hebrews. Perhaps the Hebrews remained too long, content to pasture among those who were never their people. Maybe they were oblivious to the growing resentment toward them by the native Egyptians. Did the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob call them out sooner, and they missed the call?

The truth of Scripture is that we’re never told what error the sons of Israel may have made which brought on their enslavement. It seems no failure on their part is relevant to the point God inspires here. We can hypothesize, theorize, and opine until we’re old, grey, and drooling in paper cups in a memory-care facility. But there’s no purpose. If God didn’t think it necessary to provide a criticism, then that’s not where His lesson for us will be found.

Okay, so where is the lesson God inspired here? Well, what do we know from these verses? We know that this Pharaoh doesn’t know Joseph, so the Hebrew vizier is no longer a national hero. We know that the people of Israel have literally “swarmed” over the land (see verse 7). And we know that the Egyptians considered the Hebrews more numerous than they.

So, then, knowing that, what can we learn? Where’s the lesson for us today? Isn’t it two-fold? Sometimes we are oppressed, and sometimes we are oppressors; or at least we’re tempted to be oppressors. What drove the Egyptians was fear. They feared this people who they perceived to be bigger and stronger than they. But they also recognized that they couldn’t let these scary people leave either.

And the sons of Israel were simply living their lives, contributing to the society of Egypt in some ways. And, as a result, they proliferated in the fertile land of Goshen. For this, they were oppressed, and forced to work building the cities of Pithom and Ramses. It wasn’t fair, and it didn’t make a lot of sense. These nomadic herdsmen were singled out for the hard labor simply because they were different and numerous.

We go back and forth between these two. There are times we are faced with scary people, and we are tempted to mistreat them. There are other times when we’re the scary ones, and we are mistreated. So, here it comes: we’re all necessary, we all contribute, and fear is unnecessary.

Those homeless people who are camping all over your town, yeah, they’re not to be feared. They’re actually able to contribute to the community. Those rich people who seem to have more money than they need, yeah, they’re not scary either. They also have something to contribute to the community. Do you fear the “Trailer Trash”, blue-collar workers, and those just scraping by? Are you offended by those “while-collar” workers living within picket-fences?

The powerful and the lowly, both, we all have something to contribute, and we’ll find we are all necessary. Liberals and conservatives, men and women, old and young, white, black, Asian, and Hispanic; we all have our part to play, our contribution to make. And it doesn’t require oppression to retain those contributions and protect our society.

The Thirteen Tribes of Israel

On, and on is the mention of the twelve tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob, and yet we find the land divided into 13 territories. Most people, who’s study of Scripture includes the Hebrew Scriptures, know this. Most, even those who study those Scriptures, haven’t really thought about it, though.

Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt.

Exodus 1:1-5 (NASB)

There are twelve sons, and Joseph is given two spots in the land. That’s what happened to give us 13 instead of 12 tribes. And it shouldn’t have surprised us, the elder son was supposed to get an extra portion, so with 12 children, there should have been 13 portions anyway. But there’s a lesson in this.

Back in the final words of Jacob in Genesis 48 and 49, Jacob specifically tells Joseph that his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, would be considered Jacob’s. His father adopts these two and places them ahead of his first two sons, Reuben and Simeon (Genesis 48:5). So, Jacob has given Joseph the extra portion reserved for the first-born. And this carries on a series of reversals among Abraham’s descendants.

Jacob was blessed over Esau, and Isaac over Ishmael. And all this was from the God who led Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans to a new land. These reversals would continue. The lessor would become master of the greater, the first last, and the last first. Reversals become thematic throughout Scripture.

Even in the blessing of Jacob on the sons of Joseph, the reversals continue. Joseph arranges his sons before his father so the correct son is under the correct hand, yet Jacob reverses his hands as he blesses Joseph (Gen. 48:14). It’s another reversal, and Jacob does it intentionally. Jacob blesses Joseph with his hands reversed on the the heads of Joseph’s sons, and then blesses the two boys.

Reversals are supposed to happen. They’re not flaws, they’re features. We don’t like reversals, at least not in our own lives. We like it when the successful evil guy finally looses big time. We like it when our enemies stumble and crash and burn. But we’re not so likely to enjoy our own problems, foibles, setbacks, and failures. Even when we do what is right, obey, pray, read Scripture, and participate in the Kingdom of God, we still suffer. That’s how our Master designed it.

So, don’t be discouraged when the going gets tough. We don’t need more duct tape, we need more Jesus. And He may not make the going easier, but He will never abandon us as we go through it. If Paul sought to make up what was lacking in the sufferings of Jesus (Col. 1:24), why should we expect to suffer less? It’s not necessarily punishment, but often it’s character-building. Just what we wanted, right?

Keep in mind also, that reversals are also blessings. Joseph was blessed twice as much as his brothers through his sons. It wasn’t that the other sons of Jacob didn’t receive territory in the land of promise. It was that Joseph received two of them. Jacob loved all his sons, and he blessed all his sons, but he blessed Joseph twice as much. As much as this may have been difficult for his brothers, it was also expected. Jacob had favored Joseph before, and their jealousy of him is what God used to get Joseph into Egypt.

But this wasn’t the end of the story, it was another chapter. Joseph in Egypt is how God provided for His chosen people during the famine. He used Joseph to rescue Israel, but also Egypt. So, the brothers of Joseph understood that it wasn’t their father who preferred Joseph, but it was God Almighty who chose him to provide for them. To the degree they were able to understand that, and Joseph explains it to them twice, at least, they would understand the double-portion falling to Joseph.

Perhaps the reversal in your life is a double portion you weren’t supposed to get. Perhaps it’s a loss of the portion you expected. Whatever it is, rejoice in the continued work of our Master in your life. Paul says in Philippians 4 that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation because he can do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening him. So can we. We can learn that same lesson, because we can also do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening us.