Moses in the Ten Commandments on screen at a drive in theatre in Utah 1958.

Why Egyptians disliked shepherds:

Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’  When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’  Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.” – – Genesis 46:31-34

Jacob moved his whole family to Egypt, but they wanted to live apart from the Egyptians. To ensure this, Joseph told them to let Pharaoh know they were shepherds.  Although Pharaoh may have been sympathetic to shepherds (for he was probably descended from the nomadic Hyksos line), the Egyptian culture would not willingly accept shepherds among them.  The strategy worked, and Jacob’s family was able to benefit from Pharaoh’s generosity as well as from the Egyptians’ prejudice.

(I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” – – Genesis 46:4. Jacob never returned to Canaan.  This was a promise to his descendants that they would return.   “Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes” refers to Joseph attending to Jacob as he faced death.  It was God’s promise to Jacob that he would never know the bitterness of being lonely again.)

(Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.  Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”  “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.”  They also said to him, “We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture.  So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”  Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land.  Let them live in Goshen.  And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.” – – Genesis 47:1-6. The faithfulness of Joseph affected his entire family.  When he was in the pit and in prison, Joseph must have wondered about his future.  Instead of despairing, he faithfully obeyed God and did what was right.  Here we see one of the exciting results.  We may not always see the effects of our faith, but we can be sure that God will honour faithfulness.)


As contrasted to the Hebrews:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family – – Exodus 1:1

The children of Israel, or Israelites, were the descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel (see Genesis 32:24-30). Jacob’s family had moved to Egypt at the invitation of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons who had become a great ruler under Pharaoh.  Jacob’s family grew into a large nation.  But, as foreigners and newcomers, their lives were quiet different from the Egyptians.  The Hebrews worshipped one God; the Egyptians worshipped many gods.  The Hebrews were wanderers; the Egyptians had a deeply rooted culture.  The Hebrews were shepherds; the Egyptians were builders.  The Hebrews were also physically separated from the rest of the Egyptians.  They lived in Goshen, north of the great Egyptian cultural centres.

(“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have come 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.” – – Exodus 1:9, 10. Pharaoh was afraid the Israelites were becoming so numerous that they would organise and threaten his kingdom, so he made them salves and oppressed them to kill their spirit and stop their growth.  Slavery was an ancient practice used by almost all nations to employ conquered people and other captives.  Most likely, the great pyramids of Egypt were built with slave labour.  Although Israel was not a conquered nation, the people were foreigners and thus lacked the rights of native Egyptians.)

(So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. – – Exodus 1:11. There were levels of slavery in Egypt.  Some slaves worked long hours in mud pits while others were skilled carpenters, jewellers, and craftsmen.  Regardless of their skill or level, all slaves were watched closely by ruthless slave masters, supervisors whose assignment was to keep the slaves working as fast as possible.  They were specialists at making a slave’s life miserable.)

(Ancient records indicate that these cities were built in 1290 B.C., which is why some scholars believe the exodus occurred early in the 13th century.  Looking at other evidence, however, other scholars believe the Hebrews left Egypt in 1446 B.C.  How could they build two cities 150 years after they left?  These scholars suggest that Rameses II, the pharaoh in 1290 B.C., did not build the cities of Pithom and Rameses.  Instead, he renamed two cities that actually had been built 150 years previously.  It was a common practice for an Egyptian ruler to make improvements to a city and then take credit for building it, thus wiping out all records of previous founders.  Also see the second note on 13:17, 18.


Often altered historical records:

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing towards it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. – – Exodus 14:27-28

No evidence of this great exodus has been discovered in Egyptian historical records. This was because it was a common practice for Egyptian pharaohs not to record their defeats.  They even went so far as to take existing records and delete the names of traitors and political adversaries.  Pharaoh would have been especially anxious not to record that his great army was destroyed chasing a band of runaway slaves.  Since either the Egyptians failed to record the exodus or the record has not yet been found, it is impossible to place a precise date on the event.

(Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. – – Exodus 14:21, 22. Some scholars believe the Israelites did not cross the main body of the Red Sea but one of the shallow lakes or marshes north of it that dry up at certain times of the year, or perhaps a smaller branch of the Red Sea where the water would have been shallow enough to wade across.  But the Bible clearly states that the Lord “drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land” (14:21; see also Joshua 3:15, 16; and 2 Kings 2:13, 14).  Also, the water was deep enough to cover the chariots (14:28).  The God who created the earth and water performed a mighty miracle at exactly the right time to demonstrate his great power and love for his people.)

(Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. – – Exodus 15:1ff. Music played an important part of Israel’s worship and celebration.  Singing was an expression of love and thanks, and it was a creative way to pass down oral traditions.  Some say this song of Moses is the oldest recorded song in the world.  It was a festive epic poem celebrating God’s victory, lifting the hearts and voices of the people outwards and upwards.  After having been delivered from great danger, they sang with joy!  Psalms and hymns can be great ways to express relief, praise, and thanks when you have been through trouble.)


©Kingsway International Church 1973.

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