EGYPT IS ONE of the oldest civilisations, a nation long associated with the biblical record and biblical prophecy. When the embryonic nation of Israel was formed in Egypt some 1,500 years before the birth of Christ, the Pyramids were probably about 1,000 years old. Today, these huge structures still stand as a testimony to the greatness of this land and her peoples in the past. Many tourists go to Egypt to see for themselves some of the treasures that relate to past dynasties. in the 19th Century, explorers and archaeologists from several countries enthusiastically worked to uncover the past. Some died in their efforts to shed light on a land and civilisation that fascinates us even today. This article is concerned with what the Bible has to say about Egypt, for it is the Bible that explains why this ancient nation still survives today, although much of her past glory has vanished into the dust. As we hope to show, there is a future for Egypt when God's kingdom is established upon the earth.
While this article will focus on Bible prophecy, it would be helpful to review what historians have to say about Egypt. The reader should bear in mind that there are `Egyptologists' and researchers of ancient history, not all of whom agree with each other but whose knowledge far outreaches that of the writer of this article. There are many learned books dealing with the history of this fascinating country. The antiquity of Egypt is attested to by the IVP Illustrated Bible Dictionary (published by Inter-Varsity Press), which shows that Egypt's history stretches back to some 3,000 years before Christ. In the Authorised Version of the Scriptures, there are 558 references to Egypt and the earliest of these is in Genesis chapter 12 where we read: `And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.' (Genesis 12.10) This would have been some 1,800 years before Christ and no doubt Abram (or Abraham as he was later named) would have marvelled at the great architecture he saw in Egypt. This is the first time in God's purpose with his chosen servants that Egypt is used to save life. As we shall see, the land provided a safe haven for God's people Israel and later for his only begotten son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dated approx. 2600BC this step pyramid of Zoser at Sakkara would have been in existence when Abraham went down into Egypt.
It is common to divide the long history of Egypt into dynasties. In fact there was a pre-dynastic period but this is hardly associated with Biblical history and prophecy. It is really from the time of the so-called `middle kingdom' from the 11th dynasty onwards around 1900 BC that we are really concerned.
The reader will probably be well aware of the general topography of Egypt and the Nile delta. The land area of Egypt is over one million square kilometres but 96% of the land area is desert and the vast majority of the population of Egypt live in the remaining 4% of fertile land. Under Roman domination, Egypt became the supplier of the essential corn upon which Rome and her armies depended. From Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast corn was shipped to Myra in Asia Minor, where Trajan built granaries to store the corn from Egypt. We are reminded of the expression `corn in Egypt' meaning abundance. (see Genesis 42.1-3) The River Nile is the central feature of the land and in times past its natural flooding each year allowed the small fertile land areas to become fruitful indeed. The Biblical account of the sojourn of the Children of Israel in Egypt tells of the wonderful produce of the land: `the fish... the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick' (Numbers 11.5) that God's people longed for after the Exodus, during their 40 years wandering in the wilderness.
Typical river bank scene on the Nile Delta.
Here was a land and people almost as old as history, who were to have a significant role to play in God's purpose with the nations. They are still with us today but are a shadow of their former glorious past. After the 21st Dynasty and the period during which the established kingdom of Israel had dealings with Egypt, decline set in. This decline was halted on occasions by a king of unusual ability and character, but in general the Biblical description of Egypt as a `broken reed' was accurate. (Isaiah 36.6) Today there is little relationship between the current Arab rulers of Egypt and the proud dynasties of the Pharaohs who once ruled supreme.
The first connection with the Biblical account is when Abraham went down from Canaan (Palestine) to Egypt to obtain food in a time of famine. Later on Abraham's son Isaac was tempted to do as his father had done but this time he was forbidden by God to do so:
`There was a famine in the land, besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham...Then the LORD appeared to him and said: "Do not go down to Egypt ; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."' (Genesis 26.1-4 NKJV)
God was true to His word and through the patriarchs the nation of Israel became a reality. Once again God's people benefited from `corn in Egypt.' Jacob the grandson of Abraham, sent his sons to Egypt for corn and it was there that they came face to face with their brother Joseph, whom they had sold as a slave some years before. Jacob believed that Joseph was dead and the moving account of their reunion in the book of Genesis has delighted Bible readers for generations. Egypt had once again played its part in saving life and Joseph was magnanimous enough to see the hand of God in all these events: `And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God : and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.' (Genesis 45.7,8)
These were remarkable events that led to a Semitic influence in Egypt and for a time Joseph ruled at the highest level. This deliverance through Egypt had been foretold in the scriptures. God had said to Abram: `Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their's, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.' (Genesis 15.13,14) So, three generations later, the words of scripture began to be fulfilled and several hundred years later Israel made their Exodus from Egypt. The twelve sons of Jacob became twelve tribes and upwards of a million people left Egypt taking with them the spoils of the land that had succoured them for hundreds of years. The prophetic words of scripture were fulfilled to the letter, for it is recorded in the book of Exodus that `the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.' (Exodus 12.36)
We can pin-point with reasonable accuracy the time period we are concerned with here and use it as the reference point for time periods associated with Israel and Egypt. Solomon, who disastrously involved himself with Egypt and more specifically married Pharaoh's daughter, built a temple to the glory of God. It is recorded in Scripture: `And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.' (1 Kings 6.1) This biblical fact fixes the date of the Exodus from Egypt circa 1440 BC and not as stated by some commentaries which place the event about 200 years later.
The Avenue of Sphinxes at the temple of Amon - Thebes.
Having made their exodus, Israel were warned not to go back to Egypt. Under the hand of God, Egypt had provided for His servants in a time of trouble. However, Egypt, with its multiplicity of gods and pagan worship was no place for Israel. It is to Egypt that we owe the origin of such wrong doctrine as immortal souls which go to heaven at death! In preparing the nation of Israel for entry into the promised land, God warned them through Moses that any king they set up to rule over them must take care on several counts:
`Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.' (Deuteronomy 17.15-17)
Solomon failed in almost all of these points. Whilst he was indeed of God's choosing, he multiplied horses and took many wives one of whom was an Egyptian princess. Such influences were his downfall causing him to forsake the worship of the God of Israel for their pagan gods. (1 Kings 11.1-8) It was a costly error for the king and for his people.
As Israel declined because of disobedience, she became strangely attracted to the land of Egypt. It was almost as if they were unable to shake off the past when Egypt had provided sustenance in a time of need. In the days of Isaiah, God sent this message to them:
`Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.' (Isaiah 30.1-3)
History records that Israel did try to return to Egypt. In the days of Hezekiah, the Assyrians came to besiege Jerusalem and Rabshakeh the envoy of Sennacherib, taunted Israel about their dalliance with Egypt: `Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.' (Isaiah 36.6) So it proved to be for Israel. As foretold by the Prophets, first Assyria and then Babylon besieged the land and Israel went into captivity. But what about Egypt?
The Prophet Ezekiel foretold the future for Egypt. Ironically, it was because Egypt had been a `broken reed' and failed to help Israel, that God's punishments would come upon that nation, the effects of which can be seen to this very day. Israel had been wrong to trust Egypt rather than be obedient to God, but Egypt was to pay a high price for its failure to help God's people. Ezekiel chapter 29 begins with a description of Egypt and her king:
`Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt: Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself... And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder...' (Ezekiel 29.2-7)
This was but the beginning of Egypt's downfall and worse was to come as the rest of this chapter shows so clearly. Egypt was to go into captivity and return after 40 years, but her status would remain that of a debased nation. The words of scriptural prophecy are very clear:
`And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom. It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations.' (Ezekiel 29.14,15)
The prophetic words came true and Egypt has been an inferior nation from that day to this!
God used Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon to carry out the destruction He had decreed. Nebuchadnezzar worked hard to achieve God's purpose, though he was quite unaware of this at the time. It was for his own ambition and gratification that he set out to conquer the nations around the Eastern Mediterranean commencing with the Phoenician capital of Tyre. This was a costly undertaking and by the time the Babylonians took Tyre, the rich takings anticipated had long since fled by sea. Nebuchadnezzar was to be rewarded however, for God allowed him to take Egypt and the treasures that awaited a conqueror. So, God decreed through the Prophet Ezekiel:
`Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt for his labour wherewith he served against it, because they wrought for me, saith the Lord GOD.' (Ezekiel 29.18-20)
Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt circa 568 BC, thus fulfilling the words of prophecy. Pharaoh Amasis or Ahmose II ruled Egypt at this time and parallel events elsewhere were the fall of Jerusalem a few years earlier and the steady strengthening of the Persian Empire, which was being prepared by God to become the next world empire. (The reader is referred to Daniel chapter 2 and the vision of the great image seen by Nebuchadnezzar, which sets out clearly the world stage and its main players reaching down to the times in which we live.)
Egypt had another life-saving role to perform in God's plan. The Prophet Hosea, writing in the days of several Kings of Judah during the closing years of the Kingdom, spoke of a service to be made in the future. `When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.' (Hosea 11.1) The reader might be excused for believing this to be repeating a historical fact and that is true of course. But this was also a prophecy! It is in Matthew's Gospel record that we learn of the arrangements made by God for the safety of His only begotten son:
`...the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.' (Matthew 2.13-15)
In this account we see the hand of God at work to preserve the life of His son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the beginning of those early years of preparation for a lifetime's dedication to his Father's business.
So, we look at Egypt today; still a `base' nation and ruled by people of Arab descent. Yet unlike Assyria, Babylon and Medo-Persia, Egypt still exists; perhaps the oldest of the nations. Why? Because God decreed this would be the case. He had not said that Egypt would disappear or be absorbed into other nations, as has happened in the case of the nations mentioned earlier. Egypt still exists as a separate nation in her ancient land, a close neighbour to God's people Israel. Her `base' or low estate is a witness to Biblical prophecy and she still has an important part to play in the future. In the Prophecy of Isaiah we are presented with `The burden of Egypt.' It is a succinct prophecy which shows that God would reject and punish Egypt and yet include the nation in His plans for the future. The prophecy is clear: `And the LORD shall smite Egypt.' Despite this setback for Egypt, better news awaits her at a future time when:
`...he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt , and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.' (Isaiah 19.22-25)
The reader will note the reference to Assyria here. Just as God foretold, Assyria was overrun by the Babylonians and no longer exists as a separately identified nation. It is beyond the scope of this article to consider the identity of the latter-day Assyrian but we can take note of the future for Egypt, Israel and Assyria. They are to be a blessing in the midst of the land; they are to be included among the people of God together with `Israel mine inheritance.' (verse 25)
As we survey the world scene today and see the nations gathering together just as the prophets of Israel foretold, we should watch Israel and the Middle East because it is the centre of God's plan for the future. Christ will soon return to establish the kingdom of God upon the earth and will make Jerusalem the capital city of the world. Egypt will yet suffer a further smiting, but as Isaiah foretold, the land which played such an important part in God's dealings with His servants in the past, will be blessed in the future along with all those nations that submit to the new world ruler.