FROM RICHES TO RAGS
Before we’re introduced to Moses, we need to check out the back story from Joseph to Moses, which is told in Exodus 1.
For a long time, the children of Jacob/Israel and their families were honored guests in the land of Egypt. They lived in the region of Goshen, a fruitful land where they were safe and able to prosper in possessions and in size.
But as the years went by, what Joseph had done for the nation of Egypt was forgotten, and a new king looked at these Israelites and was afraid of them. So he decided that for the preservation of his own people, these honored guests must be forced to become lowly slaves.
And God’s chosen people were slaves in another country for 400 years…
These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, 4 Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. 5 In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there.
6 In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. 7 But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.
8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”
11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too.
To Think About…
As you can see from this story, things went from bad to worse. As slaves they had no rights, the forced labor was grueling… they were an oppressed people. And then, an order is given that all sons born to them must be murdered!
But why is all of this happening? How can this be part of God’s plan?
Prior to Joseph being sold into slavery, sent to Egypt, and the 7-year famine that brings his whole family to Egypt, the Israelites were living in the land that God had promised to Abraham and it seems like they were doing just fine.
So why does God uproot them, send them to Egypt, keep them there for 400 years… and let them become slaves and go through all that suffering?
That’s the million dollar question.
I believe the answer to that question is that it was a necessary part of the process in the birth of this nation that God was creating from Abraham’s descendants.
During the 400 years that Israel was in Egypt, the Israelites grew from a family of 70 to a nation of over a million people! There a couple reasons why this happened.
In Canaan, where they had been living, armies from the north and the south regularly went through that area. Growing into such a large nation in such a quick time would have been much more difficult if they had remained in Canaan with all of the constant wars going on around them. But in Egypt they were safe. They might have been slaves, but even in slavery they were protected by the mighty nation of Egypt.
In Egypt, they were also isolated. Because they were nomadic shepherds, the Egyptians did not want anything to do with them. Check out Genesis 43:32 and 46:34 if you don’t believe me.
Being isolated, they would not have been able to intermarry with people of other nations. Intermarriage was something that had already begun to happen while they had been in Canaan. God wanted his people to be holy and pure. Marrying people who worshiped other gods would have made it harder on the Israelites to stay true to God.
But still, why was it necessary for them to become slaves? This has no easy answer. Essentially it’s the same as the old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
God had a purpose for making His people suffer as they did. Just as the safety and isolation they found in Egypt were distinctive factors in the birth of this nation, maybe being slaves was another important factor required to shape them into the nation God wanted them to be.
Joy is much greater when it is birthed out of great suffering. Their exodus (departure) out of Egypt would not have been as meaningful if there had been no suffering.
The bottom line is that while we don’t understand reasons for certain things in our lives, God always has a purpose for our lives and He knows what He is doing. We must continue to trust Him and turn to Him during those difficult times.