<< Exodus 1:8: Israel Suffering >>
Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.--Exodus 1. 8.
THE divine history of Israel's freedom from Egyptian oppression, of their journeyings through the wilderness for forty years, and their settlement in Canaan, is the inspired record of regeneration. Hence, the pages of the Word of God have an interest far above that of any human composition. They form the Book of books. In their delineations, every soul may see its state pictured, its struggles described. Their spirit speaks not of earthly interests, of temporal defeat or triumph, of the rise and decay of nations; but of the soul and its eternal concerns, of the movements of our own spiritual life, of those changes of state within, whose issues are to the good, unending peace; and to the evil, the wreck of every God-given faculty, perpetual blindness to truth, perpetual hatred to good, perpetual wrong, and therefore, perpetual misery. Ye must be born again is the grand lesson of the Divine Volume. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.Ps. xix. 7. I will open my mouth in a PARABLE, I will utter dark sayings of old,--Ps. lxxviii. 2, said the Psalmist, when he was inspired to declare the wonders of the God of heaven shewn to the fathers of Israel at the Nile and in the desert; and to say, Marvelous things did He in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through, and He made the waters to stand as a heap. In the day-time also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire. He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.12-16. Viewed thus, as bearing in its bosom spiritual, universal and eternal lessons, the wondrous Book of God unfolds the evidences of its own divinity, of its inspiration from wisdom more than human. Who but God could reveal the souls inner workings to itself, its sufferings in the bondage of sin, and its yearnings for freedom; could describe step by step the obstacles, the temptations, the trials, the triumphs, through which it attains inner freedom and blessedness, confirmed by an experience which has been found true to the consciousness of the pilgrims for heaven in every age? Never book spake like this Book. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever.--Isa. xl. 8.
We must not be understood to mean that the Israelitish history is only spiritual or allegorical: its letter is divinely true as a basis for its spirit, and in this respect it is most interesting and most wonderful. There are portions of the Bible,--the first eleven chapters of Genesis--which are wholly and only allegorical, because they relate to ages far before the time of earthly history, when spiritual things were all in all with men; and it would be as little wise, to regard the tree of life, and the fountain of Paradise going out into four rivers, the talking serpent, and the flood, of the beginning of the Divine Volume, as earthly objects, as it would be to so interpret the tree of life (Rev. xxii. 2), and the river of the water of life (ver. 1), the serpent (Rev. xii. 3), and the flood (Rev. xii), of the last book of the Bible,--the Apocalypse,--and regard them as earthly objects. But after the decline of the early spiritual-minded ages it is otherwise. The histories are naturally true, but are so arranged by infinite wisdom, as to be the exact counterparts of spiritual and eternal truths, which are realized in the Lord's Church and in the soul of man. Like the veil on the face of Moses, they are real but translucent. The literal histories are clouds, but to the opened eyes of the thoughtful, bright clouds through which beams the perpetual glory of heaven.
The events we are now considering are eminently interesting in their outward aspect. We have the most remarkable of ancient nations in its proudest state; and Israel, soon to issue upon their wondrous career of keepers of the oracles of God. We have Egypt, whose cultivation was complete and hoary with age, even at the time of the Exodus, nearly fifteen centuries before the coming of our Lord, and which contains massive monuments, probably of two thousand years before that period: Egypt, whose people were declared by Herodotus to be the most learned of mankind, and whose priests read to him their list of three hundred and fifty kings, embraced in thirty dynasties. Egypt, that land of the mighty pyramids, the largest being the oldest, and compared with which, all modern buildings are but modest in dimension.
The land of immense temples, which are even yet unapproached in size; for St Peters, great as it is, cannot vie with the marvelous temple of Karnac, with its hall of more than a hundred gigantic columns. The land of great obelisks, statues, and sphinxes. The land of Thebes with its hundred gates; of Luxor, of Memphis, of Meroe, of Philae, and of other wondrous sites. The land of the tombs, where life has so astonishingly been depicted and preserved in death.
As might be expected, there are numerous illustrations and confirmations of the Sacred History, in the records of Egyptian life of the period of the Exodus. These confirmations are summed up by eminent men thus. The conquest of the shepherd kings by Pharaoh Amosis, the head of the eighteenth dynasty, synchronizes perfectly according to Egyptian chronology, with the rise of that king who knew not Joseph. As this Pharaoh had a son named Rameses, it is more than probable that one of the treasure cities, which he compelled the Israelites to build (Exodus i. 11), was called after his sons name. A tomb of this time, at Thebes, has a pictorial representation of the Jews engaged in making bricks, with Egyptian taskmasters standing over them. No tomb has been discovered of Pharaoh1 Thothmes IV., whose reign was certainly a brief one, and who, it has been supposed, was the Pharaoh drowned in the Red Sea. This sovereign was not succeeded by his eldest son, which agrees with the Scripture narrative respecting the destruction of the first-born in the land of Egypt.
Pharaoh was not a proper individual name, but a title of dignity, like Czar, Emperor or Sultan. Its meaning is son of the sun.
We have brought Egypt thus vividly before us, that we may see clearly the reason for its spiritual signification. Itself the land of science and of symbol, it became a grand symbol for all time. It was the collection in ancient days of all that was great in worldly science, worldly grandeur, worldly learning, worldly fashion, and worldly religion. It was THE WORLD of those times, as contradistinguished from inner spiritual thoughts and feelings, and it became for ever the symbol in the Word of God, of the world,--the outer region of mind with its intellectual attainments and sensuous life. The very position and circumstances of the country strikingly exemplify its spiritual use. The land was formed from the Nile, and by the Nile its wealth and fertility are constantly sustained. It is covered with vegetable abundance, but chiefly of grain. Few of the nobler trees are there, but lower products in plenty. It is not watered by rain direct from heaven; its supply is indirect, gathered from lakes which lie far away in sunny lands beneath the equator, and from mountains which lift their heads high up to catch the dews and vapors of the upper sky. So is it with the worldly man; all his gifts, his science, his learning, his wealth, his talents, his graces, his power and magnificence, come down to him from heaven, but not directly. They come it may be from remote ages, and through wiser and better men, but every gift comes down from the Father of Lights. The worldling, like the Egyptian, enjoys his Nile, and does not perceive its source.
Egypt is presented to us in Scripture in three aspects. First, as rendering friendly service to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and especially as being saved and ruled over by Joseph. Secondly, as opposed to Israel and unfriendly; and our text and the whole history of the Exodus exhibits this second and grievous manifestation. And thirdly, as restored and in perfect harmony with Israel. This latter condition is described by the prophet Isaiah, In that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.--xix. 19. Out text alludes to the two former conditions. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.
Egypt, in friendship with the patriarchs and ruled over by Joseph, is the beautiful representation of the world as it is in religious childhood and youth. The world is beautiful to a child, all things smile upon it. It rejoices with an innocent joy, in the sunshine, the glory, and the loveliness of earth. Its new young spirit hails each fresh acquirement, and with a bee-like industry strives to gather honey from every mental power.
The world is all fresh to the child, and it walks almost unharmed, unthinking of danger. Principles of religion from the Lord visit the young soul and wondrous things are done within, unknown to the world around, but fortifying the youthful mind, and preparing it for the regeneration of after days. Egypt, under Joseph, represents the soul of the young disciple under the holy principle of piety. When religion in early life has had its trials, and been faithful and pure, divine wisdom is revealed to it as it was to Joseph, and the soul is forewarned and forearmed against coming times of temptation in daily life, and its wants in spiritual famine are all supplied. All the chief virtues of religion, like the twelve sons of Jacob descend into the region of his daily thought, sentiments, and works, and are there sustained. Such a young soul is in the world but not of the world. Every earthly purpose is subservient to the spirit of religion, as Egypt was to Joseph, and all goes well.
The ruling aim of the soul, be it the desire for learning, for fame, or for wealth, is regarded as the servant of a higher aim, love to the Lord and His kingdom. This king knows Joseph, and gives him full power to rule in the land.
The young soul, then, is like Egypt under this goodly rule. Pharaoh says unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: then shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled.--Gen. xli. 39, 40.
O seek the Lord betimes, and choose,
the path of heavenly truth;
The earth affords no lovelier sight,
Than piety in youth.
This lovely sight continues sometimes longer and sometimes shorter; but sooner or later, and more or less, probably with all persons, the latent evils of our fallen nature shew themselves, and a king rises up that knows not Joseph, or in other words, a principle of evil unfolds itself in the soul, that is rebellious against God, and has no regard for piety or religion. A lawless spirit reigns, self-will takes the place of gentleness and obedience; the holy sentiments of childhood and youth are uncultivated, uncared for, and forgotten. The soul, then, is like Egypt under a wicked king. The condition of things is that graphically described in the chapter before us. There are the lawless Egyptians and their ruthless king: there are also the Israelites, downtrodden and suffering.
The soul is more highly organized than the body. It is a world in miniature, a little universe. Innumerable ideas, sentiments, thoughts, and feelings appear and disappear with the constantly moving activities of the mind. There are mental kingdoms, provinces, departments; in fact, all things in heaven and earth are used in the Divine Word to depict the principles and states of the soul. Instead of having no form, it comprehends all forms, and in its entirety is human--it is a spiritual body. And all this is felt to be true to our perceptions. Hence, in our ordinary speech, all things in nature are employed to describe changes of state in the soul.
The two kingdoms, heaven and hell, are both present in the heart and mind. There is some leading evil, like a horrid despot, reigning in the lower degree of the soul--the natural man, with subservient passions, principles, sentiments and ideas. Self, in one form or another, is the central object in the heart that is deceitful above all things (Jer. xvii. 9).
Below, are pride, self-conceit, vanity, ostentation, with a variety of evil counselors perverting the imagination to think that wrong is right, that good is evil, and truth is false. Below these, are the lusts which pander to the peculiar outward sins to which the soul is prone, whether the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John, ii. 15). Besides these, there are the acquisitive powers of the soul, employed to provide the means for carrying out its projects of indulgence or aggrandizement, there are also the principles which cover all over with fair seemings of decency, modesty, and order, except in cases of degradation so deep as to be reckless of all good report, and lost to all appearance of virtue. Usually there is a decorous outside, a form of reason and religion, an appearance of morality, which makes a certain air of beauty around, though within there are dead mens bones and all uncleanness (Matt. xxiii. 27). Often indeed! with this prevalence of sin and selfishness within, there is much talk of devotedness to eternal things, and of reverence for the Scriptures, and for God; the form of piety, and the doctrines of faith are loudly maintained, but form alone, and faith alone. Every portion of Scripture which can be made to mean that we are sure of salvation, is diligently pressed into the service of inward sin, and the evil soul will believe anything, however crude, contradictory, or absurd: will believe that it was chosen from eternity out of thousands of others, equally deserving or undeserving, by the God of infinite love, to be saved whether it would or not: that its sins were taken away on our Lord's cross nearly two thousand years before it was born, and had any sin: it will believe its sins are forgiven because a man says they are forgiven, though it feels their desires and delights as strong as ever; in short, it will believe anything, only let it be spared from slaying self within and its darling propensities, or from yielding more obedience to the commandments of the God of love than such as the world demands.
This is the condition of the soul which Pharaoh and his kingdom represent in the first chapter of Exodus. A king has arisen who knows not Joseph. Piety in youth has given way to selfishness, pretense, and sin. Our Lord describes this state in that remarkable passage in the Gospel, When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted.--Luke xi. 21, 22.
We have described the evil condition of the soul, but there is the other side. Divine mercy provides an Israel in Egypt. There is the groundwork of good implanted by the Lord in the very embryo of our being, and which enabled Him to say of children, Of such is the kingdom of God.
The hour is approaching when the trumpet of deliverance shall sound and this slavery shall end; but, in the meantime, the principles and powers of good are made to serve. They build treasure cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Raamses, the latter city being called, there is reason to believe, after the kings eldest son, which the name suggests,1 and the former, Pithom, signifying an abundance for the mouth; both being expressive of those gatherings of divine knowledge which are common with the evil, when they fear, and doubt, and dread, yet will not alter. They gather spiritual knowledge, to support their eldest son, the conceit of a worthless faith: they gather abundance for profession, the mouth is fully supplied: but for self-sacrifices, for real love to God and their neighbor, they are miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
The labor which they compel the Israelites to perform in clay (called wrongly, mortarin the text) and brick, represents the bending and prostitution of things good and true in the soul, to be subservient to what is evil and false. The filthiness of evil is expressed by clay, when used in reference to the wicked, and the artificial character of falsehood is expressed by brick as contrasted with stone. Of the Babel-builders it is written, brick had they for stone, and slime had they for mortar.--Gen. xi. 3. In the Psalms, a foul and filthy state of the heart is signified by clay. I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.--Ps. xl. 1, 2. Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.--Ps. lxix. 1, 2.
Rocks, from their solid nature, and their use for foundations, and for walls, are the symbols of foundation-truths; hence, the Lord is called the rock of Israel, and the Head-Stone of the corner. Bricks therefore, as artificial substitutes for rock and stone, represent the substitutes for truths, which are fallacies.
The scene of the Israelites laboring in the field with clay and brick strikingly symbolizes the condition of the soul, while knowing and yearning for what is good, being compelled to submit to what is evil and make excuses for it. The mind in such cases feels itself defiled, loathes its occupation, but is compelled to slave on, and to find bad arguments which in its heart of hearts it condemns and abhors.
Pharaoh becomes more and more alarmed, and more and more cruel and desperate. Hence, at last the decree, that the midwives should destroy the male children.
In spiritual things, the union of love and faith in the inmost soul is likened to a marriage, and the affections and thoughts thence born in the mind to daughters and sons. The affections for truth are daughters; hence, the muses with the ancients are represented as nine maidens, and in the Scriptures we read of the daughter of Sion, the daughter of Jerusalem, the kings daughter, all glorious within; but the more sturdy sons represent thoughts of truth, firm and strong.
The gentle affections can be made subservient to evil states they can make sin graceful and lend it support. Indeed the strength and life of every evil system in the world arise chiefly from the hoodwinked good people who are associated with it. Pharaoh is quite content with them, Let the daughters live, he says. They recommend a system which is fraught with evil and a curse to the world, they prop it up, they continue it, they make it respectable. But the sons of Israel, the true thoughts which spring up in the mind are more penetrating and discriminating, they try evil systems and condemn them. Hence, evil dreads the sons, and commands that they should be destroyed. It has been ever so, the thinkers terrify the despots. The kings effort to destroy the male children by means of the midwives is an instructive representation of an important fact. All true natural science is a midwife to spiritual realities, it illustrates them, confirms them, ushers them as it were into the world. It is friendly to spiritual truth, it points through nature up to natures God. All truth is in harmony, and each part conspires to strengthen the other. Yet sin always wishes to set science against religion, the midwife to kill the child. But if the midwife be true, she ever fears God and preserves the child. God confirms the midwives, and makes them houses.
When astronomy was new, It was supposed by the opposers of divine things, to serve their purposes; and so with geology. But now, both are seen to point to eternal love, millions of ages past, storing the appliances of metals, minerals, soils, gases, in all their multiform and wondrous varieties while the inner and higher sense of Scripture unfolds to us truths of regeneration, which more than keep the children alive. So the midwives ever reply, the Hebrew women are lively, the children are born and live. And they will live. The Lord Jesus by His law will break the bondage of Pharaoh. Heavens freedom must be given.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)