All families have stories to tell, regardless of their culture or their circumstances. When parents share family stories, their children benefit in many ways. They demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. And they more often have higher self-esteem, more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.
In Psalm 78 the Israelites are reminded of lessons from their history so they could to tell the next generation about what God had done. The main historical event recalled is the exodus from Egypt (Ps. 78:13-13; 42-53).
Egypt reminds me of two great characters in the Old Testament. Joseph and Moses both rescued God’s people. Joseph rescued them from a famine and Moses rescued them from slavery. Joseph led them into Egypt and Moses led them out of Egypt.
The events in Egypt described in the Bible range from the safety of a refuge to the tyranny of slavery.
A refuge from danger
Famine was one of the dangers in the ancient world. Both Abraham and Jacob’s family (the Israelites) travelled to Egypt to avoid a famine (Gen. 12:10 – 13:1; 46:1-7). Although Abraham’s visit was short, the other visit was for about 400 years. The longer visit was enabled by Joseph who rose to a position equivalent to that of Governor or Prime Minister.
There are some similarities between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. They were both rejected and betrayed. But their suffering saved many (Gen. 50:20; Jn. 3:16). And they were about 30 years of age when Joseph was put in charge of Egypt and when Jesus began His ministry (Gen. 41:46; Lk. 3:23).
Others fled to Egypt to escape danger. Jeroboam fled to Egypt because Solomon wanted to kill him (1 Ki 11:40 – 12:2; 2 Chron. 10:2). After the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, some Jews fled to Egypt (2 Ki. 25:25-26; Jer. 41:16-18) and later a group of Jews forced Jeremiah to go with them to Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7). And Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt because Herod was killing all male Jewish infants. Joseph was divinely directed to take Mary and Joseph to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Mt. 2:13-20).
On these occasions Egypt was a safe refuge that people could run to for protection.
Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. But he rose to be second to the king and his family thrived in Egypt. Later they were subject to slavery when a new Pharaoh cruelly used them for slave labor. They were only delivered from this under the leadership of Moses after the miraculous ten plagues. The Bible says, “the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt” (Jude 1:5NIV).
There are some similarities between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. They both narrowly escaped being killed by a king who was murdering baby boys. They both performed miracles. They both led God’s people out of captivity, being from slavery to Egypt in the case of Moses and from slavery to sin in the case of Jesus. They both mediated a covenant between God and humanity. And the Bible says that Jesus is a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37).
The exodus was a great victory of the God of the Israelites over the gods of Egypt, which was to be remembered in the annual Passover Festival. After the exodus, Egypt came to represent all that is opposed to God. After the decline of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon become the main distant enemies of the Israelites.
On this occasion Egypt was an oppressive place of punishment that people wanted to run away from. But during the journey from Egypt to Canaan the Israelites were tempted to return to Egypt.
An idolatrous nation
The Egyptians worshipped many gods (polytheism). And their Pharaohs were considered to be divine. Whereas the Israelites worshipped the true God and they were forbidden to marry idolatrous and immoral foreigners because they would cause them to be unfaithful to God (Dt. 7:1-4; 1 Ki. 11:1-13; Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12, 14).
When Moses was on Mount Sinai during the exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf idol (Ex. 32). So they disobeyed God and worshipped Egyptian gods instead.
Later when Israel was settled in the promised land, King Solomon married an Egyptian princess and many other foreign women who turned him to idolatry. Because of this disobedience, God caused the nation to be divided into two kingdoms (1 Ki. 11:9-13).
And when Jeroboam returned from Egypt to establish the northern kingdom of Israel, he set up calf images in Dan and Bethel (1 Ki. 12:26-33). These may have been Egyptian gods (or those of the Canaanites). Jeroboam’s sin was idolatry (1 Ki. 14:9). And subsequent kings of Israel followed his wicked example. Finally, God allowed the kingdom of Israel to be invaded by the Assyrians because of their idolatry (2 Ki. 17:7-23).
Likewise, many of the kings of Judah also worshiped idols. And finally, God allowed the kingdom of Judah to be invaded by the Babylonians because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-6). When some of these Jews fled to Egypt they were warned of disaster because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-30).
So Egypt was one of the nations that influenced the Israelites to worship idols instead of the true God. This idolatry led to the downfall of the Jewish nation when they were driven from their lands just as they had driven the Canaanites from their lands 770-900 years earlier.
Lessons for us
What can we learn from the role of Egypt in the history of the Israelites? They lived under the old covenant of Moses, whereas Christians live under the new covenant of Jesus.
First, God cares for His people. As He cared physically for the Israelites, so He cares spiritually for those who trust in Him through Jesus today. Their salvation is assured.
Second, God is powerful. As miracles accompanied the Israelites deliverance from Egypt (ten plagues; crossing the Red Sea), so miracles accompanied Christ’s act of salvation (Christ’s resurrection) and will accompany Christians deliverance from the presence of sin (their resurrection).
Third, God’s people needed to obey Him in order to benefit from His care and power. Obedience leads to blessing. To be delivered from Egypt the Israelites needed to obey God’s instructions given by Moses. Likewise, to be delivered from sin, we need to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Have you done this?
Fourth, disobedience and idolatry (following something or someone else than the true God) leads to God’s judgment. God wants His people to be faithful. Are idols keeping you from living for Jesus?
What can we tell the next generation about what God has done for us? That’s the best kind of family stories to tell.
Egypt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other place outside Canaan/Israel (in 673 verses of the ESV). Egypt and Israel shared a border in antiquity as they do today. And Goshen in Egypt is about 400km (250 miles) from Jerusalem. Egypt (Mitsrayim in Hebrew, Strongs #4714) is named after the grandson of Noah (son of Ham) who settled there after the global flood (Gen. 10:6).
Israel is located between the Nile river (to the southwest) and the Euphrates river (to the north east). Nations thrived in these fertile river valleys and they were great powers in the ancient world. And it’s not surprising that the inhabitants of Israel were influenced by superpowers such as the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
Written, December 2017
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea
Stories about the rescue of refugees from war-torn countries and people from earthquakes and severe accidents appear often in the news media. Last September, the rescue of thousands of people from the terrorists’ destruction of New York’s Twin Towers made news around the world. In this article we will look at four great rescues, three from the past and one yet to come: the boat that saved Noah’s family; the exodus from Egypt; the cross of Christ; and Christ’s second coming. These major rescues are key historical events that bring salvation to humanity. The typical sequence of events for these rescues is: a promise given, the people’s faith, God’s action enabling the rescue, and the thanksgiving afterward.
When God told Noah that, because of the wickedness of humanity, He was sending a global flood that would destroy everything that breathed, He promised that Noah’s family would be kept safe in a boat (Gen. 6:18). Before this major disaster occurred God had a rescue plan in mind.
God took the initiative, but also relied on Noah making a significant contribution to the rescue. He gave specific instructions on how to make the boat, including its dimensions and materials used. God designed the boat and Noah supervised its construction. Noah was also told what provisions to store for the first recorded voyage, when to enter the boat, and when to leave it (Gen. 6:14-16,21; 7:1; 8:16).
Because Noah did everything God told him to do, the boat carried its occupants safely through the disaster to re-populate the earth (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). It was a place of refuge for the eight people who were rescued because they believed the warning and trusted God’s promise (1 Pet. 3:20).
After they left the boat, Noah thanked God by offering sacrifices. God responded by blessing Noah’s family and by using a rainbow to signify His promise that there would be no more global floods (Gen. 8:20; 9:8-17).
“Exodus” is a Greek word meaning “departure.” Israel’s escape from four centuries of slavery in Egypt is another example of a great rescue by God. Many years before, Joseph had faith to speak about God’s promise to take the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25; Heb. 11:22). Later, God announced that He would free them from slavery in Egypt, redeem them with mighty power and great acts of judgment and bring them into the Promised Land (Ex. 6:6-8).
Moses “led them out of Egypt” after God used ten plagues to force Pharaoh to let them go (Acts 7:36 NIV). Very detailed instructions were given for the final plague, when each Jewish household had to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the door frame of the house. That night they were to eat a special meal that included lamb’s meat and unleavened bread in preparation for a long journey. They were to stay inside their houses until morning. The Israelites did as they were told, and at midnight the Lord killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians and the firstborn of their livestock. But the Jews were protected by the blood on their doorways.
Pharaoh finally relented after the tragedy of the Passover, and the Jews were told to leave Egypt as quickly as possible (Ex. 12:31-33). When the Egyptians came in pursuit, the Israelites were afraid; but Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger” (Ex. 14:13-14 nlt). Then God miraculously helped them cross the Red Sea while drowning the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:17-14:31).
God also performed other miracles to help two million Israelites get to Canaan: He guided them through the desert by pillars of cloud and fire, provided food and water in the desert, and victory over their enemies (Ex. 12:37; 13:21; 15:22-17:7; Num. 11:31; 20:2-11; 21:1-3, 21-35).
During their journey the people complained about their hardships (Num. 11:1-6). God told them to send spies to explore Canaan, but they reported that the inhabitants were too powerful, and the people complained again and said they wanted to return to Egypt! As a result of their rebellion, God caused them to wander for another 38 years in the desert. When they tried to enter the Promised Land in their own strength, they were defeated.
The Exodus from Egypt was God’s idea and happened under His power. Concerned about the suffering of His people in Egypt, God acted to rescue them and bring them to Canaan (Ex. 2:24-25; 3:7-10). He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me” (Hos. 13:4). God raised up Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and told him what to do and say (Ex. 3:14-22; 7:20). Moses obeyed God’s instructions and was the mediator and intercessor between God and the people. He was a vital part of God’s plan. The people had to obey and trust God in order to escape from Egypt.
After they crossed the Red Sea, the people sang a song of thanksgiving (Ex. 15:1-21). It began, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Ex. 15:1-2).
The Exodus from Egypt was the greatest example of deliverance for Israel and undergirded their knowledge of God as the Savior, even though it was later forgotten (Ps. 106:21).
After the fall of humanity into sin, God promised that the Messiah would triumph over Satan (Gen. 3:15). There are many promises in the Old Testament about the Messiah. Christ’s mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). So Jesus saves people from great danger and brings them to a position of safety.
The Bible records that Jesus was executed on a cross. His death and resurrection are the central events of the Christian faith. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). This was God’s greatest rescue in history: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s provision for us. When the flood came, the boat God provided for Noah’s family was the only means of being rescued; those outside perished. Similarly, personal acceptance of Christ’s work is the only way of being rescued from God’s coming judgment (1 Th. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18-21). His death and resurrection are also like Moses who rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
In this case the rescue was planned by God and carried out by Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). The Bible also says that God has saved us, not because of anything we have done but because of His grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Only Jesus has the power to save people from the lake of fire. His name is the only one that can save anyone (Acts 4:12). God loved us so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
In this case the rescue also depends on an act of faith: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10: 9-10). The thanksgiving song that believers will sing throughout eternity is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).
The Second Coming
Christ’s second coming has two main parts, the Rapture and the Appearing. The Rapture is the next major scene in God’s rescue plan, marking the end of the Church age and the beginning of the Tribulation period. Like the Church, the Rapture was a mystery unknown in Old Testament times, but revealed in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:51).
By the Rapture Christ rescues believers from the coming period of judgment called the Tribulation, and by the cross He rescues them from the eternal punishment of their sins (1 Th. 1:10).
When Jesus spoke about heaven He promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). The Rapture will be a miraculous event when Christ will raise the dead and transform the living. Christian faith ensures participation in this event. Afterward there will be much thanksgiving at the marriage feast of the Lamb. This will be a great celebration for all believers: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
The other phase of the second coming is the appearing of the Lord; it ends the tribulation. After Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives two angels asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 11).
The Appearing, when the Lord comes to the earth in great power and judgment, will be an awesome event (2 Th. 1:6-10). In this life, faith ensures participation in this event, as one of those with the Lord when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Those rescued out of the Tribulation, who pass alive into the Millennium, sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, the latter celebrating the final rescue from Satan (Rev. 15:2-3).
A Great Lifesaver
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea. He used a boat to save Noah’s family from the flood, and Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He sent Jesus on a rescue mission to die on the cross to save us from the lake of fire. He has promised to come again to take believers to heaven and return to the earth later to rescue those who trust in Him during the Tribulation. These examples make one thing clear: God has great power to save His people.
Peter reminds us that unbelievers will be punished, but God’s people will be rescued. If God rescued Noah’s family, then we are promised that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4-9).
As God rescued Noah’s family and the children of Israel, He will also rescue those who trust in Him. God has done His part to rescue us from our due punishment, and to restore us back to Him. What about you?
Are you in the boat or out in the flood? Will you be safe or sorry? There are only two alternatives. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but the choice is ours. Those who trust in Christ’s victory on the cross have been rescued from the power of Satan, their sins are forgiven and they are safely on their way to heaven (Col. 1:13-14). Those outside are destined to the lake of fire. Trust Him and He will rescue you for eternity.
As a Christian, are you following the pillars of cloud and fire towards the Promised Land or wandering around in the desert because of your sins (1 Cor. 10:1-13)? Are you on the right road or lost on a side road? We need God’s saving power day by day.
He wants to help us every day and He has given us the pattern which is the same as for the major rescues: God’s promises, plus our faith, followed by our thanksgiving: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Our faith should be continually increasing as faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (2 Cor. 10:15; Gal. 5:22). We are exhorted to “live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7).
He has given us many promises in the Bible and if we trust Him in these, like those saved in the great rescues of the Bible, we will see His power in our lives. We can trust in Christ’s victory to rescue us from the power of sin and Satan (1 Jn. 1:9).