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Deuteronomy 12-26

What landmark to you think of when you think of Egypt? Pyramids

Egypt is the land of pyramids. The magnificent wonders of the ancient world. The great pyramid of Giza was built around 2700 BC. That was about 600 years before Abraham travels to Egypt (2100 BC) to avoid famine in Canaan.

Three generations later, great-grandson Joseph, now second in command of Egypt, gives the Israelite nation favored land in Egypt and the whole Hebrew clan of 70 people moves. But Egyptian dynasties are never lasting. A New Kingdom in Egypt begins and the Israelites are no longer favored people, although they had grown mighty in numbers while they were "guests" in Egypt, they become enslaved. The Exodus with Moses occurs around 1450 - 1250BC.

Covering over 3000 years of history, I am going to be talking about Egypt's history in very generic terms.

The pyramids of Egypt are symbolic of that country's history in more ways than one. Their society was fashioned rather similarly to a pyramid in its complex interdependence and interactions, yet overall simplicity.

The Most powerful and important in Egypt's society was:

Pharaoh - Egypt's central government emerged around 3000 BC. More than a king, blessed by, and working in harmony with the gods, destined to become a god, the Pharaoh reigns supreme. How does one become Pharaoh? It generally was kept within a family with brothers marrying sisters or nieces, etc. But history records a lot of fratricide among the different lines of families as they ruled in their time.

gods - Worshiped for over 3/5 of recorded history, Egypt is considered the most theocratic society of the ancient world. Herodotus called Egyptians "More religious than any other people." With over 1500 gods that we know of by name -- some major, some minor -- they were considered interactive gods. These gods might be represented by an object such as the sun, the Nile, a person, an animal or some combination of human and animal(s).

Priesthood - the link between the gods and the Pharaoh was the priesthood. Egyptian gods fell in and out of favor depending on the dynamics between the Pharaoh and differing priesthoods of the major gods who might be rivaling with each other. In vying for supreme power, one priesthood might support the rule of one family member over another, while another priesthood might support a different family member.

Government Bureaucracy - Any advanced society, such as Egypt had, must include their share of advisors and bureaucrats. International relations, internal workings, building programs, finances, record keeping, bookkeeping, food distribution, etc.

Military - The Egyptian military was for the most part for defensive purposes. Egypt generally was not interested in greatly expanding their borders, because they viewed their land as the most enviable in the world. But they did want to protect what was theirs from outside invaders who might want a share of Egypt's great wealth. Therefore if they did not have a good relationship with the new government of a neighboring country, they might need to invade and conquer - "for strictly protection purposes." Therefore the military was an important part of the Egyptian society.

The military also had the responsibility to see that the above mentioned segments of Egyptian society interacted appropriated. On occasion varying priesthoods might find themselves in conflict with a rival priesthood, all of whom had their own security forces to protect and promote their best interests. Intervention might become necessary. The military was charged with protecting the current ruler, but on occasion was involved in helping in the overthrow of a ruler.

Egyptian Population - All life and substance in Egypt belonged to Pharaoh and the gods. Farmers and merchants all were subject to the Pharaoh's whims and wishes. If it were not growing season, often the farmer was exploited to help on the latest building project.

Slaves - Low man on the totem pole was the slave - the Israelites - crushed and oppressed under this Egyptian society's load. Exodus 1 says their numbers were great. The land was filled with them and they grew exceedingly strong. In an attempt to gain control, taskmasters were set over them to afflict them with heavy burdens and to make them serve with rigor. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more the Egyptians were in dread of the Israelites.

We know so little about the lives of these Israelites under Egyptian oppression. As much as we know about Egyptian life, we do not have a complete Egyptian history. Since there is a lack of historical documentation, it is even debated among some scholars that the Israelites were never really slaves in Egypt. Of course, Bible believing people believe the Biblical account of Israelite slavery.

Four hundred years after the life of Joseph, how much of their own history did the common Israelite in Egypt know? Did they know their God who supposedly loved their Father Abraham? Prior to leaving Egypt, Israel's history was not recorded for them. We know from Joshua 5:5 that the Israelites had continued to practice circumcision while they were in slavery, but we have no record of them worshiping and offering sacrifices to God. The fact that Moses asks Pharaoh's permission to leave Egypt to offer sacrifices to God implies that they had not been doing so while in slavery. After centuries of oppression would you feel loved by a god? If there were a God of Israel wouldn't He be viewed even by the Israelites as a weakling compared to the gods of the Pharaohs?

Yet these are the very people that Jehovah God expects to become a holy nation.

After centuries of

  • being downtrodden
  • low man of the totem pole
  • of no consequence or importance in anyone's eyes
  • of not being allowed to think for themselves
  • to dream of a better life
  • no hope

Now they are to be holy? Maybe they had dreamed of freedom, but holiness? How do you take a people who cannot ever remember being special to anyone, especially a god that had not interacted with them in centuries, and expect them to become holy - dedicated to the purpose of God?

Let's do a little review of what we have studied about the Israelites this year.

Will the performance of a few miracles impress the downtrodden enough to make them feel worthy of God's favor. Apparently not. The people trembled and were extremely frightened at Mt. Sinai while God was giving the Law to Moses. "Moses you go, you deal with this God," was basically what they said.

Will feeding the masses in the wilderness with supernatural food -- mannah -- make them feel worthy of God's attention? No. It was not as satisfying to them as the food of slavery they received in Egypt.

How do you shake off that slave mentality to move forward? How do you forge a downtrodden people into seeing themselves as a lovable people who even want to show appreciation to a God. Even if they manage to change their view about this God who is now intervening and working on their behalf, how do you change a people's own view of themselves, their own self image as being worthy of God's attention?

The Israelites solve that dilemma themselves with the 12 spies episode and rejecting God's direction to go take the Promised Land in Numbers 13.

  • After 10 plagues
  • miraculously crossing the Red Sea
  • receiving their own special law directly from God

they still have a "lowlier than thou" mentality and do not believe that they can take the land promised to them by God. Truthfully, they could not take the land, but they still did not trust this God who said, "I will give you the land."

Was it a matter of trusting God's strength? No. God had proven He could overcome the mightiest nation on the earth.

I propose that the older generation did not trust themselves as being important enough in God's eyes that He would use His power to overcome these petty nations that occupied the land of Canaan.

So God has them wander the wilderness for 40 years until that older generation dies off and He can start with a new generation who has not been downtrodden for the majority of their lives. Through Moses and Aaron, for 40 years God molds these younger people into a nation who can think of a future with hope. Finally, in today's lesson, we see a people that God can expect to be Holy - dedicate themselves to God.

Early in our lesson today in Deuteronomy 14:2, God says,"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth." After 40 years, now they feel chosen, ready to take the Promised Land, and think of themselves as a special treasure. They can begin to prepare to be God's holy people.

It is no accident that among our scriptures today, as God is expanding on their civil laws that they are to obey when they take the land, God tells them 10 times to purge the evil from among them, purge the guilt. "When this happens, purge the evil; when that happens, purge the evil." A holy people is a people that is dedicated to God, given to the purposes of God, not given to the purposes of evil.

How many of you are holy? I didn't say "holier than thou." Ephesians 1:4 tells Christians that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. Holiness does not happen overnight. And perhaps it is something that we should not feel, for we do not earn it ourselves. But God calls us to be holy- dedicated to His purposes.

Is it hard for us to think of ourselves as holy, just as the Israelites struggled with that concept? We know our sins, we are familiar with guilt. We find sin hard to purge from our lives. If the people of Israel can overcome their slave mentality to become God's holy nation, ready to take the Promised Land, then I think we can do likewise. What does it take to become and perfect holiness?

From this lesson I have identified 5 components:

  1. Hope - The first generation out of Egypt could not overcome their slave mentality to generate hope of a better life. They could not see or imagine a better life in their future. They saw the new hardships of the wilderness. It took a new generation to produce hope.

    > For us to develop holiness we must have hope for a better future and desire a better life with God in heaven.

  2. Remember the Slavery - To overcome a slave mentality, God doesn't ask the Israelites to forget that they were slaves. In fact, 4 times in our scriptures today, God specifically tells them to remember that they had been slaves. He gives them a brief history lesson on their slavery in Deuteronomy 26:5-10 that the Israelites recited when they gave their first fruits sacrificial offerings. They remembered from whence they came and thus the blessing they had been given.

    > For us to progress in holiness, we need to remember that we were once slaves to sin before giving ourselves to Jesus who took away our sin. We need to remember our slavery and what it took to free us. Remember the sacrifice.

  3. Reliance on God - The new Israelite generation had known little other than reliance on God to provide for their safety and needs. This is going to be important to them as they face fierce enemies in taking the new land. They developed trust not only in God's strength and ability, but in His love to act on their behalf.

    > To develop holiness we must also rely on God to provide the needs of our soul, trust in His love and appreciate that He wants a relationship with us.

  4. Purge the Sin - God desperately wanted a relationship with this people, but Isaiah 59: 1&2 tells us God will not be in the presence of sin. The Israelites are instructed to purge the sin from among the people. Purge is a strong word - a forceful removal of the undesirable. Sin is hard to abandon. It takes purging.

    > Are we ready to purge sin from our lives? II Corinthians 7:1, Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

  5. Obedience - If we continued our study of the Israelite people into the book of Joshua, you would see the extent to which the people became obedient to God's instructions as they take the strongly fortified city of Jericho - explicit instructions that they were to follow for 7 days, not altering to suit their wants and desires, but they did it God's way. The new generation took obedience seriously.

    > We must be just as diligent in our obedience to God. Obedience shows our dedication to God's purposes instead of our own purposes.

Our lesson ends today in Deuteronomy 26:19 where Moses says to the former slaves, God will "set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken."

I leave you today with what God expects of you. From the lowliness of slavery to sin, Christians today are called to be no less holy.

I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Deuteronomy 26:5-10 sums this period up very succinctly: "My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, 'a land flowing with milk and honey'; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me."

Deuteronomy 18:15-19, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me: 'What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.'"

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Spring 2004

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