“ Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Exodus 1:8 (NASB)
This verse in my reading of Exodus today causes me to think about American politics and education. Now, if you're looking for someone who will parallel President Obama with an Egyptian Pharaoh, that's not going to be the point. Even though I'm sure one could find those parallels, especially looking back to the Pharaoh that took everyone's land in exchange for food. Might be some comparison there between all American Presidents that have run the budget on borrowing from the next generation, especially these last 2 that have done it “to keep us from collapse.” Why not be wise, realize that good is followed by bad, so we should, as a nation, have a reserve for when bad happens. And we should lead by example our people to do the same. I'm not even going to jump down to show the connection between Pharaoh's slaughter of babies and America's national shame of slaughtering babies.
Instead, I want to think about why a Pharaoh arose over Egypt that did not know Joseph. How could you not know Joseph? The nation had been saved from sheer disaster at the hand of Joseph! Joseph had been used by God to keep Egypt alive throughout a seven year famine that would have laid many nations low. This allowed the nation to keep its prowess, and to extend its influence by selling food to the nations around them. Joseph was the Pharaoh's right hand man. How do you not know?
There are a variety of Biblical studies theories, all of which are conjecture, since it's not even certain when along the time line this happens. It's got a 300-year time span to fit in, so there are many options. I think the Hyksos period has something to do with it, but exactly what escapes me.
What is definite, though, is a breakdown of education. There is a sheer failure to teach the history of Egypt and the people that have gone before. It may be that time had dulled out those memories. It might be that differing power groups wanted to downplay potential rivals' impact on the nation. There might have been a move to make sure all of Egypt was represented in the teaching. Conversely, a move might have been made to an “Egyptians-only” version of their history. However it happened, not only does the Pharaoh not know Joseph, but neither do his advisers or his ruling group. None of the taskmasters remembered why these sons of Israel were in the land, although apparently the lead midwives did. I wonder if “proper education” had reduced the story of Joseph to an “old wives' tale”?
So, the Egyptians chose to treat a people that had contributed to their greatness with contempt. The long-term result was the reduction of Egyptian power in the world. Egypt remains important in North Africa after Exodus, but never really recovers. The Assyrians, Philistines, Carthaginians, Babylonians all erode at Egypt until the nation is finally subjugated to Rome. How could Egypt's history had been different? Perhaps, though we'll never know, a Pharaoh concerned about the number of Israelites would have remembered they came from Canaan, an area under Egyptian dominance at the time. Had he simply sent them back, encouraged them to return, even provided the land as a gift, and Egypt is spared the plagues. Spared the deaths of the first-born, the loss of the army, and instead granted a strong ally in the land of Israel.
What should we learn for our politics and history? Here's my take:
History is what it is. America was founded by fallible people. Many of them were white men that owned slaves and thought women the weaker sex, even though they realized they couldn't manage a household on their own. That they were fallible doesn't require us to ignore them. Nor ignore their accomplishments. We need to continue to teach history as it was, not as we wish it was.
Some people in history aren't just like us. This is an extension of point 1. Not all of the people critical to American history are white men. We cannot ignore the good, and the bad, of the people of various races, ethnicity, and gender that built this nation.
It's an indictment on any nation to forget their debts to the generations before. We see a little bit of respect and admiration for the WWII generation in America as they are slowly passing away, but we seem ready to discard the next group. Rather than hear a word of what the “Baby Boomers” have contributed to America, we constantly hear how they're going to bankrupt Social Security, Medicare, they're destroying the health care system, they made the “consumer economy.” Enough.
They also built America into the prominent country in the world. Boomers fought in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Libya, and countless little conflicts around the world seeking to preserve democracy and prevent a third World War. Boomers guarded the Fulda Gap and DMZ in Korea, flew the alert force bombers and manned the missile silos that were the defense against weapons that there is no real defense from. They marched for Civil Rights, kept going to baseball games after integration, went to desegregated schools in spite of the bitterness in their communities. They have seen 2 Presidents shot, 17 Astronauts die, and were the last generation in America to face a draft. We cannot neglect them and their accomplishments. We cannot ignore that all of the great things we have in America were passed down by them. We cannot say, well, time to get them off our medical facilities.
Don't neglect old wives' tales. Don't assume that formalized education is the only way to learn what needs to be known. We've professionalized education in this country to the point of insanity. It's not down here in Monticello, but in Memphis there were people that were concerned that their 2-year-olds get in the right preschool to learn necessary skills. Necessary skills? At 2? Those skills are: more food in mouth than on face; go potty; sleep; learn to talk a little; walk; maybe throw a ball the way you want it to go. What else do you need? Listen to the old wives' tales that some kids don't learn to read until 7 or 8 or sometimes later and actually do fine. Listen to grandmothers who say to just let the kids play and they'll get it.
Many of us seem more ready to prepare to overthrow tyranny than to prevent it. Should we be that way?