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When the world around them was perishing, God preserved the family of Jacob in the land of Egypt by His wonderful providence.  The events of Israel’s time in Egypt were foretold to Abraham (Gen. 15:13-16), and they were brought about through Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (Gen. 37), but God caused Joseph to become the second most powerful man in Egypt behind only Pharaoh (Gen. 41:37-44).  Joseph used his position to store abundant supplies of grain in Egypt during a time of prosperity in preparation for the coming famine (Gen. 41:46-49).  When the famine became severe on the earth, Joseph brought all of his father’s family to Egypt, where they settled in the land of Goshen (Gen. 45:10; 46:26-27).

Israel was tremendously blessed in Egypt, for they were prosperous and fruitful.  Goshen was the best land in Egypt and was perfectly suited for the flocks of Israel (Gen. 47:5-6).  While the rest of the world was suffering in the famine and the Egyptians were selling their property and themselves to Pharaoh (Gen. 47:13-26), Israel "acquired property in [Goshen] and were fruitful and became very numerous” (Gen. 47:27).  As generations passed, the sons of Israel "increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7).

However, the conditions for Israel changed such that their good fortune was turned to oppression and slavery.  When a new king who did not know Joseph arose in Egypt, he feared Israel’s large population.  Therefore, he enslaved Israel, put them to hard labor, and even killed their newborn sons (Ex. 1:8-22).

When God heard Israel’s cries for help (Ex. 2:23-25), He delivered them out of the bondage of Egypt.  God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, and through a series of ten plagues and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, God delivered His people from slavery into liberty (Ex. 3-14).  At last, Israel was free from the oppression of Egypt, but their journey was just beginning.  They had left the good land of Goshen for the harsh country of Sinai and the lands beyond.  It would require faith in their God who delivered them from Egypt for them to make it to the promised land of Canaan.

In spite of all that God had done for them, Israel often yearned to go back to the land of Goshen and the oppression of the Egyptians.  Even before they crossed the Red Sea, Israel was already questioning the decision to leave Egypt (Ex. 14:12).  When they suffered hunger, they longed for the "pots of meat” and "bread to the full” in Egypt (Ex. 16:3).  When they suffered thirst, they again questioned Moses for bringing them out of Egypt (Ex. 17:3).  When they became dissatisfied with the manna, they said, "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic” (Num. 11:5).  At last, when they sent twelve spies into Canaan and received a discouraging report from ten of them, they said, "Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?...Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt” (Num. 14:3-4).  Standing on the doorstep of the promised land flowing with milk and honey, Israel wanted to go back into slavery.

Israel’s story is not much different from our story.  We who are Christians have been preserved in this world with many good blessings, but we were also burdened and oppressed with the slavery of sin and death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23a).  Our souls cried out to God, "Who will set [us] free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24)  God has heard our cries and has sent us a Savior to deliver us from bondage (Rom. 6:23b; Heb. 2:14-18).  Through the long and difficult process of the cross, Christ Jesus has set us free and saved us, but our journey is not finished.  We wander now as aliens and strangers on the earth (1Pet. 2:11), and by faith we seek our promised land of "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2Pet. 3:13).

Like Israel, we who are Christians sometimes yearn to go back to the pleasures of sin and the oppression of Satan.  The temptations and trials of this life can cause our faith to weaken and our minds to turn back to our old ways.  The devil has a way of reminding us of sin’s pleasures while clouding our memories of how it was to be guilty, condemned, and lost.  The temporal things can sometimes block our view of the eternal things, and our judgment then becomes carnal rather than spiritual.

Dear brethren, let us forget the green pastures of Goshen and remember the harsh bondage of Egypt.  For us, the green pastures are the pleasures of sin and the harsh bondage was slavery to sin.  Regardless of how tempting it may be, we must not go back.  Likewise, let us forget the hardships of the wilderness and remember the joy of the promised land.  By faith, we must "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).  We now stand on the doorstep of heaven with nothing separating us from our final destiny except for death (Rev. 2:10).  How can we turn back now?

Stacey E. Durham



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