14: The Promises to Israel - Israel in Egypt

The Present Truth : August 6, 1896

It will be remembered that when God made the covenant with Abraham, He told him that he himself should die without having received the inheritance, and that his descendants should be oppressed and afflicted in a strange land, and that afterwards, in the fourth generation, they should come into the promised land.

“And He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him, and delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. . . . Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt, and died, he, and our fathers, and were carried over into Sychem, and laid in the sepulcher that Abraham had bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor, the father of Sychem. But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose who knew not JosEphesians The same dealt subtly with our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.” Acts 7.8-19

The king “who knew not Joseph,” was one of another dynasty, a people from the East which conquered Egypt. “For thus saith the Lord, Ye were sold for naught, and ye shall be redeemed without money. For thus saith the Lord God, My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now, therefore, what do I here saith the Lord, seeing that My people is taken away for naught? They that rule over them do howl; saith the Lord; and My name continually all the day is blasphemed.  Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore they shall know in that day that am He that doth speak; behold, it is I.” Isaiah 52.3-6.  R.V.

What Egypt Signifies

From the text last quoted we learn that the oppression of Israel in Egypt was opposition and blasphemy against God; that contempt for their God and their religion had a great deal to do with its rigor. We learn also that their deliverance from Egypt was identical with the deliverance, which comes to all who are “sold under sin.” “Ye have sold yourselves for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money.” “Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ.” 1 Peter 1.18,19 R.V. A brief study therefore of what Egypt stands for in the Bible, and of the real condition of the Israelites while there, will enable us to understand what was involved in their deliverance.

Egyptian Idolatry

Of all the idolatry of ancient times, that of Egypt was undoubtedly the grossest and most complete. The number of the gods of Egypt was almost beyond computation. “Every town in Egypt had its sacred animal, or fetish, and every town its local divinities.”—Encyc. Brit. But “the sun was the kernel of the State Religion. In various forms he stood at the head of each hierarchy.”—Sun Images and the Sun of Righteousness, in O. T. Student, Jan. 1886. “Ra, the sun, is usually represented as a hawk-headed man, occasionally as a man, in both cases generally bearing on his head the solar disc.”

The union of Church and State was perfect in Egypt, the two being really identical. This is set forth in “Religions of the Ancient World” (Rawlinson) page 20: —

Ra was the Egyptian sun god, and was especially worshipped at Heliopolis. Obelisks, according to some, represented his rays, and were always, or usually, erected in his honor. . . . The kings for the most part considered Ra their special patron and protector; may, they went so far as to identify themselves with him; to use his titles as their own, and to adopt his name as the ordinary prefix to their own names and titles. This is believed by many to have been the origin of the word Pharaoh, which was, it is thought, the Hebrew rendering of Ph’ Ra—the sun.

Besides the sun and moon, named Osiris and Isis, “the Egyptians worshipped a great number of beasts, as the ox, the dog, the wolf, the hawk, the crocodile, the ibis, the cat, etc.” “Of all these animals, the bull Apis, called Epapris by the Greeks, was the most famous. Magnificent temples were erected to him while he lived, and still greater after his death. Egypt then went into general mourning. His obsequies were solemnized with such pomp as is hardly credible.  In the reign of Ptolemy Lagus, the bull Apis dying of old age, the funeral pomp, besides the ordinary expenses, amounted to upwards of fifty thousand French crowns. After the last honors had been paid to the deceased, the next care was to provide him a successor, and all Egypt was sought through for that purpose. He was known by certain signs which distinguished him from all other animals of that species: upon his forehead was to be a white spot, in form of a crescent; on his back, the figure of an eagle; upon his tongue, that of a beetle. As soon as he was found, mourning gave way to joy; and nothing was heard in all parts of Egypt but festivals and rejoicings. The new god was brought to Memphis to take possession of his dignity, and there installed with a great number of ceremonies.”  Rollin’s Ancient History, Book 1, part 2, chap. 2, sec. 1.

These ceremonies, it is hardly necessary to say, were of an obscene character; for sun-worship when carried out to its full was nothing else but the practice of vice as a religious duty.

So strong a hold had superstition upon the Egyptians that they worshipped even leeks and onions. In this we are reminded that superstition and abominable idolatry are not necessarily connected with a low order of intellect, for the ancient Egyptians cultivated the arts and sciences to a high degree. The practice of idolatry did, however, cause them to fall from their former high position.

The very name Egypt is a synonym for wickedness and opposition to the religion of Jesus Christ, and is coupled with Sodom. Of the Lord’s “two witnesses,” it is said that “their dead bodies shall lie in the street of that great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Revelation 11.8. That the Israelites in Egypt took part in its wickedness and idolatry, and that they were prevented by force from serving the Lord, is evident from several texts of Scripture.

In the first place, when Moses was sent to deliver Israel, his message to Pharaoh was, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, even My firstborn; and I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve Me.” Exodus 4.22, 23. The object of the deliverance from Egypt was that Israel might serve the Lord, evidence that they were not serving Him there.

So again we read, “He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant. And He brought forth His people with joy, and His chosen with gladness; and gave them the lands of the heathen; and they inherited the labor of the people; that they might observe His statutes, and keep His laws.” Psalm 105.42-45

But strongest of all the evidence that Israel had joined in the idolatry of Egypt is found in the reproach for their not forsaking it. “Thus saith the Lord God: In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up Mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made Myself known unto them in the land of Egypt . . . then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against Me, and would not hearken unto Me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt.” Ezekiel 20.5-8

Still in Egyptian Bondage

Neither has it been done unto this day. The darkness that overspread Egypt at the time of the plagues was no denser than the darkness that Egypt has cast over the whole earth. That physical darkness was but a vivid representation of the moral darkness into which the people had fallen, and of that which has since come from that wicked country. The story of the apostasy in the Christian church is but the record of the errors, which were brought from Egypt.

Near the close of the second century of the Christian era, a new system of philosophy sprung up in Egypt. “This philosophy was adopted by such of the learned at Alexandria as wished to be accounted Christians, and yet to retain the name, the garb, and the rank of philosophers. In particular, all those who in this century presided in the schools of the Christians at Alexandria—Athenagoras, Pantaenus, and Clemens Alexandrinus—are said to have approved of it. These men were persuaded that true philosophy, the great and most salutary gift of God, lay in scattered fragments among all the sects of philosophers; and, therefore, that it was the duty of every wise man, and especially of a Christian teacher, to collect these fragments from all quarters, and to use them for the defense of religion and the confutation of impiety.”

“This mode of philosophizing received some modification, when Ammonius Saccas, at the close of the century, opened a school at Alexandria, and laid the foundation of the sect called the New Platonic. This man was born and educated a Christian, and perhaps made pretensions to Christianity all his life. Being possessed of great fecundity of genius as well as eloquence, he undertook to bring all systems of philosophy and religion into harmony, or attempted to teach a philosophy by which all philosophers, and the men of all religions, the Christian not excepted, might unite together and have fellowship. And here, especially, lies the difference between this new sect and the eclectic philosophy, which had before flourished in Egypt. For the eclectics held that there was a mixture of good and bad, true and false, in all the systems; and therefore they selected out of all, what appeared to them consonant with reason, and rejected the rest. But Ammonius held that all sects professed one and the same system of truth, with only some difference in the mode of stating it, and some minute difference in their conceptions; so that by means of suitable explanations they might with little difficulty be brought into one body. He, moreover, held this new and singular principle, that the popular religions, and likewise the Christian, must be understood and explained according to the common philosophy.”—Mosheim’s Eccl. Hist., Cent. 2, part, ch. 1, Secs. 6, 7.

“Clement of Alexandria has been mentioned as one of the Christian teachers who was devoted to this philosophy. Mosheim tells us that “Clement is to be ranked among the first and principal Christian defenders and teachers of philosophic science, indeed that he may even be placed at the head of those who devoted themselves to the cultivation of philosophy with an ardor that knew no bounds, and were so blind and misguided as to engage in the hopeless attempt of producing an accommodation between the principles of philosophic science and those of the Christian religion.”—Mosheim’s Commentaries, Cent. 2, Section 25, Note 2.

Let it be remembered that the only philosophy was pagan philosophy, and it will be very easy to imagine the inevitable results of such devotion to it on the part of those who were the teachers in the Christian church. Mosheim tells us that “by the Christian disciples of Ammonius, and more particularly by Origen, who in the succeeding century (the third) attained to a degree of eminence scarcely credible, the doctrines which they had derived from their master were sedulously instilled into the minds of the youth with whose education they were entrusted, and by the efforts of these again, who were subsequently for the most part called to the ministry, the love of philosophy became pretty generally diffused throughout a considerable portion of the church.” Origen was at the head of the “Catechetical School” or theological seminary of Alexandria, which was the seat of learning. He stood at the head of the interpreters of the Bible in that century, and was closely copied by the youth who flocked to that seminary. “Half the sermons of the day,” says Farrar, “were borrowed, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, from the thoughts and methods of Origen”—“Lives of the Fathers,” chap. 16, sec. 8.

Origen’s skill as an “interpreter” of the Bible was due to his skill as a philosopher, which consisted in making evident things that had no existence. The Bible was used by him and his companions, as were the writings of the philosophers, as a thing upon which to display their mental skill. To read a simple statement, and to believe it as it reads, and to set plain truth before the minds of students, leading the minds of the people to the Word of God, was considered too childish, and altogether beneath the dignity of a great teacher. Anybody could do that, they thought. Their work was to seem to draw from the Sacred Word something, which the common people would never find there, for the reason that it was not there, but was the invention of their own minds.

In order to keep their prestige as deep scholars and great teachers, they taught the people that the Bible does not mean what it says, and that whoever follows the plain letter of Scripture will certainly be led astray; and that it could be explained only by those who had exercised their faculties by the study of philosophy. Thus they effectually took the Bible from the hands of the common people. With the Bible practically out of their hands, there was no way by which the people could distinguish between Christianity and paganism. The result was not only that those who already professed Christianity were in a large measure corrupted, but that the heathen came into the church without changing their principles or practices. “It came to pass that the greater part of these Platonists, upon comparing the Christian religion with the system of Ammonius, were led to imagine that nothing could be more easy than a transition from the one to the other, and, to the great detriment of the Christian cause, were induced to embrace Christianity without feeling it necessary to abandon scarcely any of their former principles.”

Thus it came to pass that “nearly all those corruptions by which, in the second and subsequent centuries, Christianity was disfigured, and its pristine simplicity and innocence almost wholly effaced, had their origin in Egypt, and were thence communicated to the other churches.” “Observing that in Egypt, as well as in other countries, the heathen worshipers, in addition to their public religious ceremonies, to which everyone was admitted without distinction, had certain secret and most sacred rites, to which they gave the name of mysteries, and at the celebration of which none except persons of the most approved faith and discretion were permitted to be present; the Alexandrian Christians first, and after them others, were beguiled into a notion that they could not do better than make the Christian discipline accommodate itself to this model. The multitude professing Christianity were therefore divided by them into the profane, or those who were not as yet admitted to the mysteries, and the initiated, or faithful and perfect . . . . From this constitution of things it came to pass, not only that many terms and phrases made use of in the heathen mysteries were transferred and applied to different parts of the Christian worship, particularly to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that, in not a few instances, the sacred rites of the church were contaminated by the introduction of various pagan forms and ceremonies.”

The Call to Come Out of Egypt

It is not necessary to enumerate the various false doctrines and practices that were thus introduced into the church. Suffice it to say that there was not a thing that was not corrupted, and there was scarcely a heathen dogma or ceremony that was not either adopted or to a greater or less extent copied. The light of God’s Word being thus obscured, the “Dark Ages” necessarily resulted, continuing until at the time of the Reformation the Bible was once more put into the hands of the people, for them to read for themselves.

The Reformation, however, did not complete the work. A true reformation never ends; but when it has corrected the abuse, which first called it forth, it must go on with the good work. But those who came after the Reformers were not filled with the same spirit, and were content to believe no more than the Reformers had believed. Consequently the same story was repeated. The word of men came to be received as the word of God, and therefore errors still remained in the church. To day the current is setting strongly downward, as the result of the widespread acceptance of the doctrine of Evolution, and of the influence of the so-called “Higher Criticism.” Several years ago the historian Merivale, Dean of Ely, said, “Paganism was assimilated, not extirpated, and Christendom has suffered from it more or less ever since.”—“Epochs of Church History,” p. 169.

It may easily be seen, from this brief outline, that the darkness that at any time covers the earth, and the gross darkness that envelops the people, is the darkness of Egypt. It was not merely from physical bondage that God set Himself to deliver His people, but from the spiritual darkness that was far worse. And since this darkness still remains to a great extent, that work of deliverance is still going on. Ancient Israel “in their hearts turned back again into Egypt.”  Throughout their whole history they were warned against Egypt, evidence that they were never fully free for any length of time from its blighting influence. Christ came to earth to deliver men from every species of bondage, and to that end He placed Himself to the fullest extent in man’s position. There was therefore a deep significance in His going down into Egypt, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” Since Christ was called out of Egypt, all who are Christ’s, that is, all the seed of Abraham, must likewise be called out of Egypt. This is the work of the Gospel.