Meditations in Exodus: 2. Time Passes
Ex 1:6,7 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
Over the first eight verses of this book over 400 years pass. It starts out with Jacob and his family and moves on to a time when the people had multiplied, families had grown and grown and over four hundred years some suggest they had multiplied to over a million people. Others suggest much smaller numbers but I am less inclined to believe small numbers simply because the current Pharaoh would not have seen the small numbers as a threat and acted as it did. No, his response indicates a big threat!
Now the danger with the passing of a long time, and four hundred years is quite a long time, is that it would have been quite possible for this family to have been assimilated into the Egyptian population. They could have married into Egyptian families and basically become Egyptians – but they didn’t! They clearly remained Hebrews.
But why? Look at immigrants to the USA and although they may be proud of their heritage they are first and foremost Americans. In fact they are proud of becoming American citizens. Centuries later than this time Daniel and his friends were taken into captivity in Babylon and the Babylonians did everything they could to assimilate them into their culture, but they failed. What was it about the Hebrews that kept them Hebrews? God and the Land. A little while back we did a series called ‘Focusing Faith’ and in the 17th study we considered Jacob in ‘Holding to the Plan’ and noted “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” (Heb 11:22) We noted in Gen 47:29,30 Jacob giving those instructions because he had gone on to explain that God has promised their descendants the Land (Gen 48:3,4) Joseph subsequently also instructed his family to take his bones back to the Land (Gen 50:24,25) and so Moses later took his bones back during the Exodus (Ex 13:19) and Joshua later buried them in the Land (Josh 24:32). It was all because of what God had promised and the thought of one day returning to the Land, I suggest, that helped keep them as a distinct people, despite the passing of time.
Now, as we read on, we see something else about this passing of time: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” (v.8) Joseph had been all-powerful, without doubt the Saviour of the nation and indeed the whole of the Middle East, but still second to Pharaoh. Old man Jacob had been respected and honoured and subsequently his family with him – but now time has passed. Respect can get lost with the passing of years and, in fact, with the passing of four hundred years memory fades and gives way to present circumstances.
It was the present state of the respective peoples that now gave cause for the next change to come about. So far Israel, the growing family-cum-nation, had been content to stay there and flourish but therein lay the problem: “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (v.8-10) Isn’t it strange how national insecurities can bring about negative behaviour. All the present king knew was that there was this distinct people group within his nation who were different from his people and who seemed to relish their difference, which meant they might not remain loyal to Egypt if Egypt ever had a conflict with a neighbour. Thus comes a downturn in the affairs of the people called Israel.
Time in the Bible sometimes gives rise to questions. There was this four hundred year period where the Lord had been silent while Israel grew in Egypt. From His words in Gen 15:16 that we considered in the previous study, He was waiting and allowing the sins of Egypt and Canaan to grow to a point where action was necessary. That may explain this period, but then there is the four hundred year period of silence between the end of what we now call the Old Testament and the beginning of the activities of the New. We are given no reason and there appears no obvious reason for this apart from, perhaps, the Lord allowing time to pass so that circumstances change and develop to become more favourable for the coming of the Messiah. Then there is the half hour silence in heaven in Rev 8:1; why was that? We are not told but it follows the opening of the final seal of the end time document and so perhaps it was a time to pause and consider the enormity of what was just about to happen.
Often time has to pass in Scripture to allow hidden things to change and grow. The case of Jesus illustrates this. He started his ministry about the age of thirty but apart from a fairly brief incident when he was twelve, we hear nothing of him between the Nativity accounts and the start of his ministry. When you read the book of Judges, it is like the writer is painting with big brush strokes and so we just hear that a big block of years passes to allow Israel to come to their senses under enemy oppression and to call on the Lord. Long period after long period. Go further back and observe that early men and women seemed to live much longer lives and so we see very long periods being mentioned with very little happening. Time is sometimes indistinct, such as in the end times seen in the book of Revelation. We really have no idea how what length of time passes for each of the events recorded there. In the Gospels time is charted often by the annual feasts held in Jerusalem. In many and different ways we are faced with time throughout the Bible.
Pondering on these early verses of Exodus one thing is clear: we cannot guess what is coming. If Israel had realised what was about to happen to them, being made into slaves, they may well have returned to their previous land a lot earlier. But something else comes out of this – the Lord knows what is going to happen and He knows therefore when it is going to get difficult for His people yet He allows it. Why? Because of the bigger purpose. As we said earlier, He is waiting for the sins of Egypt and of Canaan to grow to a point when action is required. He knows the Pharaoh will be hard hearted and enable a perfect opportunity for God’s power and mercy to be revealed. He has to allow Israel to become slaves for their comfort zone, living and prospering in Egypt, to be removed. It may also be that as the Lord looked into the future He knew there will come a man who will be the almost perfect shepherd to lead His people out of Egypt, a shepherd who will be named Moses. The passing of time allows a lot of things to change, things that will interact to enable the plans and purposes of God to be worked out. Waiting demands patience. Sometimes we are called upon to be impatient with imperfect circumstances. Now there is a whole area for home work. Ponder on those two things.