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The Birth of the Nation Israel


Before a wedding ceremony can take place, there must be both a bride and a groom.  God chose the descendants of Jacob to be a special people and a wife unto him.  However, the children of Israel could hardly be considered a nation when it consisted of only twelve sons from one household.  God set his own schedule for the wedding ceremony.  Under His protection, He slowly began to nurture the pre-natal seed until the nation could reach the point of political recognition.  Through a series of circumstances, which involved divine intervention in the affairs of man, the family of Israel was moved from its homeland, and brought to strength in the womb of the foreign land of Egypt.

A Family in Egypt

Egypt, long known as the land of the Pharaohs and their glorious tombs, occupies the northeastern portion of the continent of Africa.  The heart and lifeblood of the country is the Nile river which flows northward and empties into the Mediterranean Sea about 300 miles southwest of the area where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelled.

Around 1720 BC, this fertile river basin was invaded, and conquered by a group of people known as the Hyksos.  They originated in Western Asia and were of the same race as the Hebrews.  It is highly probable that these Hyksos or Shepherd Kings ruled Egypt when Jacob (Israel) was rearing his family in the land of Canaan.

The Scriptures tell us that Israel loved his son, Joseph, more than all his other sons, and showed great favoritism toward him.  The older brothers did not overlook this fact, and they hated Joseph with a passion.  Their jealousy eventually led them to overcome him while they were in a pasture near Dothan.  Reuben convinced the older brothers not to kill Joseph outright, and Judah later suggested that they sell him as a slave to the Midianite traders who passed nearby. Through this unusual set of circumstances, Joseph was taken to Egypt and bought by an officer of Pharaoh’s bodyguard.

Joseph held true to his faith throughout all of the struggles that he experienced on his own roller coaster ride in life.  Eventually, when God provided him with the solution to a problem that perplexed the Pharaoh, Joseph was raised from a prison cell to become the second in command over all of Egypt.  God showed Joseph and the Pharaoh that a great famine was coming soon upon the land of the Middle East.  Forewarned, they made adequate preparations to survive the draught, and later acquired much wealth from the sale of their stored grain.

During the time of famine, in order to survive, Israel was forced to send his sons down into Egypt to buy grain.  Joseph recognized his brothers when they came, but did not reveal his identity to them until he had thoroughly tested them.  After being reunited with them in a very dramatic, fearful, and forgiving meeting, Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan to get their father, and arranged for the whole family to move to Egypt.  The land of Goshen, choice farmland, which lay on the east side of the Nile River, was given to the family by the Pharaoh.  For many years, they had a position of honor because of their relationship with Joseph.

The extended family of Israel, arriving in Egypt, was a sizeable family consisting of twelve sons and their households.  These twelve sons are now recognized as the fathers of what would later become the twelve tribes of Israel.  Interestingly though, the twelve tribes actually consist of thirteen or fourteen different groupings, and the composition of the “twelve tribes” can be seen to shift between the sons at different times throughout history.

Jacob’s immediate sons, in order of birth, are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.  When Jacob was old and ready to die, he claimed two of his grandsons as his own sons.   After being told that his father was sick, Joseph took his sons Ephraim and Manasseh to visit their grandfather.  The old man collected his strength and sat up in his bed to speak to them.

“God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession.’ And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. Your offspring whom you beget after them shall be yours; they will be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance” (Gen. 48:3b-6).

Let us make sure we understand the significance of what took place.  Jacob legally adopted Joseph’s two eldest sons as his own.  They were given equal shares with Jacob’s other sons in the inheritance so, therefore, Jacob legally had fourteen sons.  Jacob blessed his newly adopted sons.  “Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.  And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’”  “Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.  Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers…’“ (Gen. 48:14-16, 21-22a).

Since a double portion was given to Joseph through his son’s, Ephraim and Manasseh, the tribe of Joseph was mentioned very little in subsequent Scripture.  Although most of us think in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel, thirteen of his sons became the fathers of thirteen tribes. Collectively speaking, history will show that they are always referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel.

The tribes of Israel prospered in their new land, and increased in number as the years passed by. Exodus 1:7 says that they increased greatly and “became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them”.  But all was not a bed of roses like you would find in a fairy tale, because as time passed, their relationship with the Egyptians deteriorated.  After the passing of a few decades, the memory of Joseph faded and new faces appeared upon the scene among the rulers of Egypt.

Bondage and Birth

Secular history and archaeology tell us that about 1550 BC the Egyptians drove the Hyksos out of Egypt.  The Bible reveals the tremendous impact this change in dynasty had upon the children of Israel.  “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.’  Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses” (Ex. 1:8-11).

“… Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them” (Ex. 2:23a-25).

The children of Israel had been slaves for about two hundred and fifty years when God began to show mercy on them.  According to His timetable, He prepared to redeem His chosen people.   Near the Mount of Sinai, the ‘Angel of the Lord’ spoke to a man named Moses whom God had elected and prepared for a very special job.  Moses, who was of the tribe of Levi and reared and educated in an Egyptian palace, was called to lead his people out of bondage.  When Moses made excuses and complained about his inadequacies, God told him to begin his task and use his brother, Aaron, as a spokesman.

Moses and Aaron appeared before the Egyptian Pharaoh nine times asking him to let the children of Israel go.  Since Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, he refused to let them go.  Each time that he refused, God sent a plague upon the Egyptians to punish them.  After the ninth plague, Pharaoh agreed to let the people go if they would leave their flocks and herds behind.  They could not do this because God had told Moses that their possessions were to be taken with them.  In fact, they were to receive back pay for the labor that they performed while in bondage.  Before Moses left Pharaoh’s palace, he announced that one more plague, worse than all the others, would strike the Egyptians.

In order to ensure their own safety, The children of Israel were instructed to prepare a special sacrifice on the night of the final plague.  This sacrifice was to be repeated each year in the future to remind them of the night that they were redeemed from bondage.  Each family group was instructed to select and sacrifice a lamb, place some of the blood on the doorpost and the lintel of their house, and during the night eat the lamb as a feast.  At midnight on the designated night, an angel of death passed over the households of Egypt, and took the life of the first-born of each family where the blood was not applied.  Since there was no blood on the doorpost of the Egyptian homes, all of their first-born died that night.   But, because of the blood sacrifices, all of the first-born of the Israelites was spared.

“So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.  Then he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, ‘Rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and bless me also.’ And the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’” (Ex. 12:30-33).

“Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians” (Ex. 12:35-36).

It is estimated that over two million people from the thirteen tribes of Israel left the land of Egypt and entered the harsh environment of the nearby wilderness.  Exodus chapter twelve, verse thirty-seven, tells us that six hundred thousand men were traveling on foot.  We can only speculate as to the additional number of women and children who went along with them.  It is difficult for one to imagine the number of cattle, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, and other livestock that would have been included in the caravan or the enormity of the problems that the group faced. As Moses led the people on their journey, he soon learned that the birth pangs of a new nation could be exasperating and overwhelming.  Moses’ faith in his God had grown steadily since he first met Him near Mount Sinai, and it increased more and more as the journey continued.

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.  He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people” (Ex. 13:21-22).  God led them to their appointed destination as if they were on eagle wings.  Seven times, He met their special needs as they became hungry and thirsty, and faced their enemy.

After three months, at a slow pace through the wilderness, they came to Mount Sinai for an appointment with their God and their Deliverer.  God had instructed Moses: “… When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Ex. 3:12b).  There they waited in anticipation and apprehension for additional instructions.  Their departure from Egypt was a great initial leap of faith, and brought them out of bondage and under the watch care of their Creator.

The Marriage Proposal

Now to continue this study click on: A Marriage Proposal.

Preparations for the Promised Land

Now to complete this study click on: Preparations for the Promised Land.

All quoted scripture is from the New King James Version (NKJV) version unless otherwise noted.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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