Author: Ron Graham

History of Israel

Bondage in Egypt
—And five timeless principles

Time ~ 2. Bondage in Egypt
Books ~ Genesis
Figures ~ Joseph
Begins with ~ Jacob’s family settling in Egypt
Ends with ~ Exodus from Egypt across Red Sea

Our second period in the times of Israel —Bondage in Egypt— spans four centuries.

1 Background to the Period

Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Israel, was sold to slave traders by his brothers. Yet with God's help, Joseph rose to power in Egypt. His brothers were driven there by a famine which Joseph had foretold.

Egypt was surviving the famine because of Joseph's wisdom in storing food during the preceding good years.

Joseph, having revealed his identity to his family, forgave his brothers, welcomed them to Egypt, and settled the family in the Egyptian territory of Goshen.

When Jacob's family settled in Egypt, they fared well under Joseph's administration. Joseph's power was immense in Egypt, so the Israelites prospered in that land under his protection, and made it their home.

However, they would be reminded that their people's eventual home was not to be Egypt but rather Canaan, the land God had sworn to give their descendants to possess it.

Between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, there is a long gap.

The introduction to Exodus informs us that "the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them."

After the death of Joseph, however, the descendants of Jacob were made slaves of the Egyptians as had been foretold (Genesis 15:13-16).

This happened because "a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). This Pharaoh (possibly Rameses II) not only made slaves of the Israelites, but took drastic steps to stem their increase.

He decreed that all their male children be slaughtered at birth. It is in that context that Moses began his life, and his adventures occupy another lesson.

Timeless Principles

From the bondage in Egypt we learn some unchanging principles...

1 God does not play games.

There is a school of thought which holds that the God of the Old Testament was somewhat cruel and fickle —a God who played games with people's lives. David put the true case: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalms 34:19) . Although the times of Israel included times of affliction, such as their slavery in Egypt, nevertheless God had a purpose and a plan for his people. So he said to Jacob, "Do not fear to go down to Egypt" (Genesis 46:3-4) . Whatever betide them, God was with them to help. He was not moving people from place to place and watching them go through their ups and downs in order to amuse himself. He was bringing his plan to pass.

2 God is aware of his people's sufferings.

The people were in bondage for nearly four hundred years, and they may have thought God had forgotten them, but not so. He had always been aware of their troubles. He said to Moses, "I have surely seen the opression of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows" (Exodus 3:7-10) .

3 God's promises stand no matter what.

When God makes a promise, the most important thing is "that the promise might be sure to all the seed" (Romans 4:13-16) . It is not important to God that he fulfil the promise tomorrow or within three business days. He always fulfilled his promises "when the fulness of time came" (Galatians 4:4) . This has been God's track record, and he won't change. Whatever might seem to delay him, however long he might seem to take, God fulfills his promises "at the right time" (Romans 5:6) .

4 Trouble is not necessarily deserved.

Sometimes people bring troubles on themselves, but not all trouble is like that. The downs in Joseph's life were not due to any fault of his. The slavery in Egypt was not something the children of Israel brought upon themselves, or that they deserved. One could not even say that God brought these troubles upon them. God does not cause distress and tribulation. Rather, he "causes all things to work together for our good" (Romans 8:28) . Somehow, God turns the painful things of this world into the joyous salvation of our souls, and in the end will wipe every tear from our eyes. "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22) .

5 Trouble mostly comes between good days.

Sometimes when bad times come, we forget that there have been good times, and there will be good times again. Even in their bondage, the children of Israel could listen to the stories passed down to them, of how God had been with them and made promises which, one day, would be fulfilled. So they could have hope. Our attitude toward trouble should be that which is set out in Philippians 4:4-8. We can rejoice and have peace, if we realise that trouble only comes between good days. We can remember the good days gone, and hope for the good days to come.