Old Testament History

By Henry Preserved Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
EGYPT AND THE DESERT

As every reader of the Bible knows, the received history of Israel makes Jacob and his family go down to Egypt to the number of seventy souls. Here they are nourished during the famine and establish themselves in the land. During the years of Joseph's life they prosper and increase. Change of dynasty (so we may interpret) puts them into the power of a king who has no feelings of gratitude toward Joseph, and who fears the power of the growing people. His fear that they may make an alliance with future invaders (from Syria, of course) makes him take extraordinary measures to check their growth. He reduces them to forced labour, putting them at the hard work of making bricks. This measure proves unavailing, and he is driven to more drastic expedients, nothing less than the slaying of all male infants as soon as born or in the act of birth. During the time when this cruel decree is in force Moses is born. After exposure by his mother he is discovered and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. When grown to manhood his too lively sympathy with his oppressed brethren brings him into danger and results in his flight to Midian. Here, after some time, he is commissioned to deliver his people. His demand for their liberation is repeatedly refused, but the refusal is in each case followed by a signal manifestation of the divine wrath. The culmination is the death of the first-born in every Egyptian family, under the impression of which the people are thrust out. But the quick change of mind on the part of the king threatens to undo what has been done, especially as the fugitives get "entangled in the land." The new perplexity is solved, however, by a new deliverance, and an added stroke is inflicted upon the oppressor.

The crossing of the Red Sea opens the era of the desert wanderings. The immediate dearth of food is met by a miraculous supply; the equally trying lack of water is overcome by a similar act of God. The Bedawin dispute the way, but are successfully

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