Slavery in Egypt

Due to a widespread famine, Israel moved his family to the land of Goshen, just outside of Egypt. There, he issued a special blessing to two of his grandsons; the sons of Joseph. They were to be treated as his own.

And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” (Genesis 48:5)

Once again, God bypassed the firstborn (Manasseh) and chose the second (Ephraim) to receive a promise related to his offspring. It’ll sound familiar.

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 48:17-19)

In Hebrew, “multitude of nations” is “melo ha’ goyim”. Melo is translated as multitude in this verse, but in many other verses as “full”. Goyim is plural and often translated as either nations or Gentiles. The sense of meaning is “the fullness of the nations” and also “not Israel.” While true that Ephraim received the first-born blessing, the message to him included the fact that his descendants would become many nations that didn’t belong to God. This will take place when we get to 1 Kings 11.

While in Egypt, the family of Israel multiplied greatly.

Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Genesis 47:27)

Over hundreds of years, Joseph was forgotten and a Pharaoh came along that saw Israel’s prosperity as a threat to Egypt. To address the threat, God’s fruitful people were enslaved.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” (Exodus 1:8-11)

God heard them in their distress and promised to deliver them from slavery. He also repeated the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” – Exodus 6:6-8

Indeed, God extracted his people from slavery in Egypt with Moses leading them. But they didn’t go straight to the promised land. First they would spend some four decades in the wilderness.