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“And the Lord said unto Abraham, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years : and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterwards shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace ; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites (the natives of the land, who must be driven out or destroyed, in order to give you Hebrews possession of it,) is not yet full. . . . . . . In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” Here, in addition to the particulars already mentioned, namely, the formation of the people into a distinct nation, and the gift of a particular land for their residence; it is predicted, that before they entered into possession of this land, they should be an afflicted and enslavedí people, and also that God would execute judgment upon the nation which enslaved them. Who that has ever read the book of Genesis, can be ignorant of the simple, beautiful, and singularly interesting history of Joseph and his brethren ; in the course of which the special providence of Jehovah is so clearly marked, and in the sequel of which the aged Jacob and his household, threescore and ten persons, were brought into Egypt : And now the prophecy, implying that they should continue a separate people, was put to trial. Seventy emigrants, settling in the midst of a great nation, their brother the prime minister of the state, and themselves well received by the king for their brother's sake, -in the common course of human affairs would soon amalgamate with the nation, and lose their distinction as a separate people. This seemed likely to be the result to the Hebrews of a long residence in Egypt. The literal interpretation of the prophecy given to Abraham, and repeated to Isaac and Jacob, was indeed against this; but, perhaps, the literal interpretation was not to be closely insisted upon : perhaps some reasonable allowance was to be made for the figurative language of prophecy, delivered in strains of Eastern poetry. Perhaps separation from all nations might only mean that they were to be of a different spirit from other people; refraining from idolatry, and shewing a good example of worshipping the true God. Perhaps the predicted judgment upon the nation whom they served, might mean nothing more than the gradual conversion of the Egyptians to the religion of the Hebrews; and perhaps their possession of the land of Canaan, concerning which the prophecy was so explicit, might signify in a figure, that their influence would eventually predominate in the land of Egypt and elsewhere, through the growing prevalence of the religion of their fathers. Whatever might have been thought by some of the prudence and sobriety of such an interpretation at the time, we know, by the event, that it would have been wholly C
* Gen. xv. 13–18.
t This distinction between the affliction and the bondage of the Israelites, the former including the latter, but not confined to it—throws light upon the difficulty which has been experienced respecting the period of 400 years here mentioned. “Their actual bondage in Egypt was of comparatively short duration; but the affliction of the seed of Abraham commenced in his son Isaac. The interval between Isaac’s birth and the Exodus was 405 years ; and if we suppose the predicted affliction of the seed to commence in Isaac’s fifth year, when he would be beginning to feel the effect of Ishmael’s mockery, we then have the affliction enduring 400 years, and including in the last period of it the bondage.” What is said (Exod. xii. 40) “about the sojourning of the people for 430 years before the Exodus, presents no difficulty in the way of this solution, but rather confirms it ; because it is evident, from Gal. iii. 17, that this period of 430 years is to be reckoned from the giving of the
promise to Abraham, which was first done 25 years before
the birth of Isaac.” This corresponds exactly ; and so the
whole period of sojourn included the other two, which are
more accurately characterised as first a period of affliction,
and finally a period of actual slavery.
erroneous. . It does not appear whether any of the Hebrews relaxed into this spiritual interpretation, or anything approaching to it; but we know that neither Jacob nor Joseph did. The dying directions of the one concerning his burial, and of the other concerning his bones, make it manifest that they departed this life in the faith of the literal fulfilment of the prophecy.* That part of the prophecy which implied the separation of the people to dwell alone, received throughout this period a continuous fulfilment of the most obviously literal character. “ The men were shepherds; they were all men of cattle; and every shepherd was an abomination to the Egyptians. It is of moment to observe this historical fact; because the circumstance in it which looked to be most adverse to the fulfilment of the divine prediction, did eventually conduce to, and almost prepare the way for it. First of all, their occupation and habits of life as shepherds, were a reason for a separate place being given to them to inhabit the land of Goshen, the best fitted for their use. Next, the prejudices and antipathy of the Egyptians to their pastoral character, acted as a constant principle of separation, to preserve the selected race in union, with itself, and unmingled with the mass of their indigenous, but to * Gen. xlix. 29 ; l. 24–26.
them alien fellow subjects. The land of Goshen, covered with its cattle, in a country principally devoted, as Egypt always has been, to the labours of tillage; and the inhabitants of that pastoral oasis fenced in, like their own flocks, within a separate pale and fold, by the very hatred of the people who had given them a reception; wore a character of their own, and gave signs of the purposes which the Almighty Shepherd was preparing to bring out of such beginnings; when he should lead his people forth like sheep, as he afterwards did, by the hand of Moses and Aaron, and bring them, according to his promise, to their land of rest,”* “Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they