Updated: Feb 9
When Israel was in Egypt land, let my people go. Pressed so hard, they could not stand. Let my people go. Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land. Tell ol’ Pharaoh, "Let my people go!”
The above words are often the predominant image many people have of Egypt. The story of Israel's enslavement by the Egyptians has many parallels to the African American story of enslavement in the United States. Indeed, our forebears often appealed to the Exodus story to affirm that God is on the side of liberation, not oppression. Therefore, the predominant image for Egypt in the Bible is often one of slavery making Egypt most remembered for its captivity of Israel. Egypt was the place where a boy child was allowed to live. Egypt was the place where they had to make bricks without straw. Egypt was the place where the oppression was heavy and the taskmasters hard. Egypt was where it took 400 years, 10 plagues and a showdown at the Red Sea to let God’s people go.
However, that’s not the whole story. It is only the Exodus story. Before there was an Exodus, there was a Genesis. Therefore, I invite you to take another look at Egypt because Egypt is not only about being in bondage, it is also about believing until you get a breakthrough. Like most places, Egypt isn’t all positive and it’s not all negative. Therefore, I encourage you to look at Egypt as the real world, with real people, real problems and real possibilities in which Egypt isn’t reserved for special folk, some folk or certain folk. Today, I want to lift up Egypt as everybody’s place because we cannot get to where we are going without going through our own Egypt.
Abraham could not go for Ur of the Chaldeans, the place of his past, to Canaan, the place of his promise, without going through Egypt. Jesus could not go from Bethlehem, the place of his birth, to Jerusalem, the place of his resurrection, without going through Egypt. Joseph could not get from his father’s pasture to Pharaoh’s palace without going to Egypt. And it’s Joseph’s story that causes me to take a second look at Egypt. His story reminds us that there is something for us and God is with us in our Egypt.
You remember Joseph. He was the favored son of Jacob, the first born of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. He didn’t work in the fields or pasture the flock. No, he carried the messages between his father’s house and his brothers in the fields. He had the best clothes. He had the best chores. He had the most love and was a spoiled tattle tale bringing bad reports to his father about his brothers. However, in Egypt, the tattle tale had a tale told on him by Potiphar’s wife. The fine clothes became tattered and dirty from years in prison. The favored son of Jacob became the rejected slave of no one.
One of the things I find interesting about Joseph’s story is that the whole time he is at home living a carefree life, God is nowhere mentioned in the text. But once Joseph is in Egypt, we are told four times that “the Lord was with him”, two times that “the Lord caused him to prosper” and one time that “the Lord blessed him.” Every time he interpreted a dream, he gave the credit to God.
An Egypt experience teaches one to testify: “If it had not been for the Lord on [my] side” (Ps.124:1 ). An Egypt experience causes one to ask: “Where could I go but to the Lord?” An Egypt experience makes one sing: “He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”
You see, Egypt isn’t just a place of hard times. It is also the place where one receives his/her healing. There is some healing in Egypt because there were some hard times before you got there. Although Joseph was loved by his father, he was hated by his brothers. There is some healing in Egypt because hard times do not end when you get there. Although Joseph was lifted up by Potiphar, he was lied on by Potiphar’s wife. Although Joseph was favored by the prison guard, he was forgotten by the cup bearer and spent two more years in jail.
Indeed, Joseph did not have to wait until he could leave Egypt to find, to see God at work or for the situation to be turned around. God provided for Joseph in Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest. Asenath bore Joseph two half African sons who would become two tribes of Israel and whose names testify to God’s presence in Egypt. He named one son, Manassah, which means “making to forget” because God made him forget all of his hardships.
Egypt proves to us that only God can make us forget past pain—not a liquor bottle or drug needle; not a cigarette or another slice of cake; not more make-up, clothes or jewelry; not even a new boyfriend or another girlfriend. They may ease the pain, but they will not erase it. They may cover the sorrow, but they will not cure it. They may hide the pain, but they will not heal it. Joseph’s pain did not go away when he left prison, received a job from Pharaoh, or gained the respect of Egypt. The pain and sorrow went away because God gave Joseph what he needed to let the past go. For the love of the father he lost, God gave him the love a Pharaoh. For the coat of many colors that was torn and sprinkled with blood, God gave him fine linen clothes, a gold chain and a signet ring. For the loneliness he must have felt in a foreign land, God gave him the love of a faithful African woman. So that when the second child is born, Joseph names him Ephraim, which means “to be fruitful” for God had made Joseph fruitful in the land of his misfortune. Thanks be to God that we do not have to wait until we reach the Promised Land to get what we need.
Egypt teaches us to say: “All that I’ve needed thy hand has provided.” Egypt enables us to believe: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30: 5). Egypt causes us to testify: “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” Egypt allows us to say: “When mother and father forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." (Ps.27: 10).
Finally, Egypt isn’t just a place of slavery but also a place of salvation. For seven years, Joseph saved grain in Egypt’s storehouses. When famine came, Egypt was the only place that had food. Scripture says, “And the whole world came to buy grain in Egypt” (Gen.41: 57). Egypt was not only saved through famine, but the rest of the world was saved because of Egypt. When Israel had spent four hundred years in slavery in Egypt, Moses who was born in Egypt, reared by Egyptians, educated in Egypt and a prince in the court of Pharaoh, became the liberator of Israel as he led them across the Red Sea. And when Herod sought to take Jesus’ life and killed all the baby boys under years old, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt and Egypt’s borders saved the Savior of the world.
Egypt shows us that salvation does not always happen in the places we expect, among the people we know or in ways that we can predict. Egypt shows us that salvation is whenever and wherever God acts. But most importantly, salvation occurs for a purpose. That is what our Egypt teaches us. God does not save us to stay in Egypt. God saves us to get us out of Egypt.
Abraham didn’t stay in Egypt but kept left and on going to find a city whose founder and maker is God. Moses didn’t stay in Egypt but left and kept on going until met God on a mountaintop. Jesus didn’t stay in Egypt but left and kept on going until they hung high and stretched him wide, until he got up from a borrowed tomb and ascended to the right hand of God. Even Joseph didn’t stay in Egypt but when Israel left, they took Joseph’s bones with them as they had promised.
When we take another look at Egypt we see that Egypt is the place we have to go through to see God is with us. Egypt is the place we have to go through to allow God to heal us. Egypt is the place we have to go through to know God can save us. However, we also see that Egypt is not our final destination, our end, or our goal.
Egypt challenges us to say, “Lord, I’m strivin’, tryin’ to make a hundred, ninety-nine and a half won’t do”. Egypt enables us to say, “I’m going to work while I can, ‘til I cannot work no more, while the blood is running warm in my veins.” Egypt allows us to say, “I’m pressing on the upward way. New heights I’m gaining everyday. Still praying as I onward bound. Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Now that you have taken another look at Egypt, what is your Egypt experience teaching you?
 “Go down, Moses”, Slave Song.
 “Where Could I Go”
 Author Unknown, “Never Alone.”
 Thomas Chrisholm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.
 Thomas Moore, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”.
 “Ninety-nine and a Half Won’t Do”.
 “While the Blood’s Still Runnin’ Warm in My Veins”.
 Johnson Oatman, Jr. , “Higher Ground”.