Posts tagged Egypt
It takes a lot of power to destroy and then rebuild something. It takes a lot of determination and, ultimately, grace if that “something” is a nation. Like Israel, Egypt was a powerful nation. Unlike Israel, Egypt’s power was completely self-made (God’s hand, of course, was not against Egypt most of the time…and when it was, they were defeated.)
Israel and Egypt were alike in many ways – not the least of which is that they had both experienced God’s immense power in an incredible way, neither had aligned themselves with him. Israel claimed to be God’s chosen people, but they certainly didn’t act like it. Egypt had their own gods, but they walked away from the one God who actually demonstrated to them his power and authority.
It’s as if the lessons of history were totally lost on this generation of Egyptians (and Israelites). But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? For me and those in my generation, we can’t really understand the turmoil of the 1950s and 60s. We don’t really get the whole Vietnam War struggle or the civil rights battle. We have ideas about what it was like, but we didn’t live it.
And so, to us, those feelings, emotions and experiences are muted – still there, but not nearly as vibrant as they were and are for our parents. Another generation removed, my daughter may only really hear about that volatile, but crucial time in our history by reading it in a book or watching some movie about it. For her, there will almost be no experience…just academic study.
And so it was for the Egyptians and the Israelites. They had heard about God’s power, but they hadn’t experienced it. In their heads, they knew what was possible, but they had become convinced that it could never happen to them. They were too far removed from the events of history to actually get a sense of what was going on.
But God told them he wanted to change all that. This generation would have their own encounter with God – his power, his wrath and, yes, his love. God, in a way that only he can do, would destroy people, cities and whole nations, and then rebuild them from the ground up. He would give them the experience they were missing in hopes that such experiences would help to forge them as his people.
Yes, it takes great power to destroy something and rebuild it. It takes great wisdom to know when and how it should be done.
Everybody’s killing everybody in today’s reading! In fact, throughout the Bible, God uses this tactic of turning the nations against each other in order to eventually save his people from those nations. But in the midst of this epic war, God calls out some war-averse couch potatoes:
“A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!
A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!
“Moab has been at rest from youth,
like wine left on its dregs” (Jeremiah 48:10-11)
This is an interesting indictment, considering the other charges God could have leveled against Moab. After all, they had been in conflict with Israel for years. They were allies of Egypt and enjoyed considerable protection from their larger neighbor. But, in this case, as Egypt is having its head served up on a platter by the Babylonians, God chastises the Moabites for not pitching in.
He seems more concerned with the principle than he is with the outcome. The Moabites have an alliance with Egypt and yet, will not raise a sword to defend that nation. I’m reminded that so often, the biggest benefactors of power and wealth develop a sense of entitlement that causes them to hang back when adversity arises.
I think about my own entitlement – not of power or financial status – by my entitlement about my faith. I am the benefactor of a lot of battles – some physical, some philosophical – which have allowed me to grow up in a place where I am free to believe whatever I wish, no matter how wacky somebody else may think it is. I have had the privilege of not having my beliefs mandated by government officials and I’ve even enjoyed the privilege of being in the “majority” religiously-speaking.
But now, when the name of my God and Savior are being tarnished – from both outside and inside the family – my immediate reaction is to…well…to do nothing. I don’t want to get involved in the conversation. I don’t want to stir the pot any more than it already is. And, though I may disagree wholeheartedly with some of my fellow Jesus-followers, I really don’t want to go there. It’s just more hassle than it’s worth.
Then I’m reminded that life isn’t about the avoidance of hassle, grief, work or conflict. Life is about walking out the plans and will of God to the best of our ability. Everything else takes a back seat. Now sure, I can’t fight every battle any more than the Moabites could help defend Egypt on every side. But I can certainly get up off my couch and do something. Because, even though God is perfectly capable of defending himself, he does seem to like it if we put forth a little effort from time to time.
A promise is only as good as the integrity of the one making it. In the case of the story presented in Jeremiah, there were two different promises or vows made. God vowed to destroy any and all people who fled Judah and went to Egypt. He promised that he would wipe them off the face of the earth. This, of course, was because he had already told them he would take care of them if they would just stay put.
The other promise was from the people living in Egypt (those who had already fled):
We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 44:17)
So, God says he’s going to do what he said he would do and the people say they’re going to do what they said they will do. It’s a standoff. But it’s a lopsided battle. You see, even if these people were able to hold up their end of the bargain, the “Queen of Heaven” is a figment of their imagination. “She” won’t be able to do anything for them.
On the other hand, the one who could do something for them – save them not only from the Babylonians and the Egyptians, but also from themselves – is also the only one that will be able to keep all of his promises. And he promises destruction on this unruly people. Oh, and he’s not one to back away from a fight:
Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will stand—mine or theirs. (Jeremiah 44:28)
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And God makes a mean pudding!
The prophecy against Egypt in Isaiah 19 is an interesting one. In many ways, it is similar to the kind of prophecies you see elsewhere about Israel. Particularly interesting are the verses leading up to verse 22 (which serves to summarize the idea well):
The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. (Isaiah 19:22)
He will strike them, then he will heal them. I have mentioned before that we only seem to respond to God when he punishes us. This was obviously true for the Egyptians, too. After going through a huge list of the ways Egypt was going to be punished for their arrogance and pride, God says that they will turn to him and be healed.
I can imagine that this was a really interesting prophecy for the people of Israel. The country that enslaved them would eventually turn to God (at least a portion of them would). Not only that, but another superpower, Assyria, would do the same. In doing so, they too would become part of God’s people.
It’s interesting to note that in the first century A.D., there was a lot of debate over whether or not Gentiles (non-Jews) could be followers of Jesus. In fact, many believed that only the people of Israel could be God’s people. And yet, right here in Isaiah’s prophecy, we are told otherwise:
The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:25)
It’s worth noting that these aren’t words of differentiation between the three nations (people, handiwork and inheritance). They are words of similarity. In fact, all three are words that are used in other passages to describe the people of Israel. What God is saying through Isaiah (though it appears few would notice) is that “God’s people” are not those born into a certain family line or those who are residents of a particular country. Instead, “God’s people” are those who follow him – those from Israel, Egypt, Assyria or even countries that weren’t yet formed, like the United States of America.
This is good news for us!
Some really fascinating reading today, huh? My question is: Did you read it all? I mean, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to skip through this big long list of names and not even bother reading it. In fact, we could probably get by with never reading this kind of genealogical list. And yet, I think there’s something in here for us to learn, even if we aren’t Biblical genealogists.
For me, this list highlights one of the main struggles of human beings – that we forget what we have in common. I have a friend, Dr. Rick Love, who is devoted to finding common ground among various people groups. It is Rick’s belief that peace and love (the God kind, not the hippie kind) can be found when we discover and focus on our commonalities rather than our differences. Rick leads a group called Peace Catalyst International. The stated goal of PCI is to “stimulate peacemaking between individuals and between peoples.” They do this by digging back through all the philosophical and cultural differences that have developed over time and finding one or more common guiding principles that all parties can agree on. In other words, they trove the cultural genealogies of people and look for common ancestry.
As we read these genealogies today, I’m reminded that all of the warring tribes and nations that we read about in the old testament (and indeed, those we see today) have a common ancestry – not just Adam and Eve, but Noah. Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth. From these sons came every person and nation that has ever existed. The great nation of Egypt was settled by one of Noah’s grandsons, as was the land of Canaan.
And so, this genealogy serves not only as a historical record of family line, which was very important in ancient culture, but also as a reminder that not so long ago, we were one people. I would imagine that someone reading these verses shortly after they were written would have hung his head and wondered how in the world things got so bad so quickly. How did things do south so rapidly?
It’s good to be reminded of our common ground. For the tribes of Israel and Judah, they didn’t even have to go back as far as Noah. They only had to go back to Israel – a man who had 12 sons. What would Israel have to say to his warring ancestors? What would Noah have to say to us?
As we stand in our modern context and declare ourselves “Pro” this people group and “Anti” this people group, have we lost site of our commonality? Particularly for Americans, as we place our stake in the ground of “Americanism,” have we forgotten that there is no such thing as a true, pure American? We are a mishmash, melting pot of cultures, identities and genealogies. We have, in our past, heroes and villains. And, the people that we seek to keep out of our country may have a lot more in common with us than we think. At the very least, they are more like our own ancestors than we realize.
Would you think twice about kicking somebody out of our country if they were your 2nd cousin? Commonality changes the equation a little bit, doesn’t it?