“Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.”-Exodus 1:6-7
Verse 7 in chapter one of Exodus represents the end of Israel’s Golden Age in Egypt.
The ruling era of the Semite Hyksos Kings had ended and for the first time in a long time a full-blooded Egyptian ruler now sat on the throne of Egypt.
We are told that this new Egyptian Pharaoh did not know Joseph.
What this boils down to is that this new king had no intentions of honoring the agreements that the previous Pharaohs had held with the Israelites.
The rulership of this new Pharaoh was characterized by xenophobia and callousness.
We are told that he was threatened by the growing numbers of the Israelite population.
So did the Hebrews actually outnumber the Egyptians?
Well, in Goshen where they originally settled, they exceeded the Egyptians.
But in terms of the whole Egyptian population, they represented about 25% of the whole population which is pretty darn huge.
Today in the United States alone, the Jewish population represents only about 2% to 3% of the total population.
So seemingly out of the blue, the new Pharaoh announces that these Hebrews, who had been honorable and law-abiding citizens of Egypt for close to 200 years, are now a threat to the nation and have to be dealt with severely.
Can anyone see “Nazi Germany” in this situation?
While we are generally told that the Hebrews were made into slaves, let’s look into what really happened.
What this new Pharaoh did was conscript all the eligible Hebrew males to hard labor for the Egyptian government’s many construction projects.
Think of it like an army draft but without pay or benefits.
They were forcibly assigned to do the following work:
-make mud bricks
-construct houses and buildings
-build new roads
-build military fortresses
-build a network of canals and water reservoirs
So practically overnight, the Hebrew men became Egypt’s primary labor force and were just downright miserable because of it.
As a result of all this forced labor, Egypt was able to build up quite an impressive infrastructure making it the envy of other nations in its day.
Nevertheless, in spite of this persecution, the Israelite population continued to grow at an incredibly rapid rate.
The Hebrew word used to describe this rapid growth was SHARATS which means swarming and is the same word used to describe creeping things in the creation story back in Genesis.
There are a couple of significant spiritual takeaways I can glean from this event.
First, what God counts as a blessing, the world counts as a curse.
From a Godly perspective, the fruitfulness of the Israelites was a great blessing, but from Pharaoh’s perspective it was a curse that had to be nipped in the bud.
Isn’t this exactly how the secular world views the church and faith community today?
Second, the more God’s people are persecuted, the faster they grow.
It was true here in Egypt long ago, it has been true for the church historically, and it holds true even today.
Finally, and I feel this is the most important point, if Israel had just surrendered to Pharaoh’s persecution and decided to fully assimilate into the pagan ways of Egyptian society, they may have avoided oppression but as a result forsaken fruitfulness.
At many points in our walk of faith, we have are given two choices: surrender to the ways of the world or hold firm to our faith.
My boss wants me to work on Shabbat.
Do I tell him I can’t because it would be profaning the day that God has set apart as holy or do I make excuses and go into work anyway because I’m afraid that I’ll lose my job or be seen as an eccentric religious extremist?
I’m out with my good friends who all decide to go to a Chinese restaurant where practically every dish has pork or shrimp in it.
Do I hold firm to my Biblical conviction to stay away from unclean foods or do I make all kinds of excuses like “Well, this isn’t really a salvation issue” or “This one time only isn’t a big deal”.
Now lest you think I’m pontificating here, rest assured I’ve fallen in both of those exact situations.
These are simple examples and of course I could and I’m sure you could come up with many more instances where you are faced with a choice to either comply or compromise.
My point is and I believe the Scripture bears this out, whenever we decide to take the easy road to fit in more with the world, we will always sacrifice fruitfulness in our walk with the Lord.
This just seems to be the way God’s economy works.