No Elephants in the World: Exodus 1
Note: I finished Genesis yesterday in Through the Whole Bible. What next? Exodus, of course. I hope to start adding in some New Testament, but I haven't decided whether to rotate chapters or books. If you have an opinion, leave a comment and let me know.
Exodus. It's a book about escaping from slavery in Egypt. Many people know Exodus better than any other part of the Old Testament because it makes for great movies and good stories. Yet there's plenty of material here to look back through and consider.
Take Exodus 1 (link) for starters. There's a very important message in this passage, and it's one you might have heard preached a time or two. If you have, great! If you haven't, well, maybe you will soon.
The first chapter of Exodus details how the family that arrived in Egypt at the end of Genesis went from being met at the Court of Pharaoh to being oppressed in slavery. It also covers some 430 years of time in the span of, well, one chapter. Much effort has gone into trying to determine who the Pharaoh was who "knew not Joseph" and, consequently, who the following Pharaohs are.
I actually think that what happens is a gradual forgetting on the part of the kings of Egypt. Think about it in American political history: how long do we remember the good deeds of one group or another? Think I'm wrong? Consider this: what national political party was formed primarily to unify abolitionists? If you don't know, then you should look that up—but you just proved my point. If you do know, consider how that party is viewed now—and that proves my point.
So, through the course of time, the Egyptian Monarchy forgets Joseph. They forget the benefits that he brought to the country. They forget that the flocks and herds of Pharaoh benefited during the years of drought because they were tended by nomads from arid regions. There have been the benefits of keeping the Israelite people together in the entrance lands of Egypt: new people groups have not been able to slowly infiltrate Egypt by migration, the land there is full.
Yet over the years, those benefits are forgotten. The Egyptian King says, in effect, "What have you done for me lately?" and finds the answer to be "multiplied in number but not assimilated into your culture." That answer is a threat.
With that in mind, here is a fact of life that we need come to grips with: there is no point in doing good things for the world around you. Seriously. Altruism is a waste of effort. Because, eventually, what you have done will be forgotten by those you did it for. Joseph saved Egypt and it was forgotten. Christians have been at the forefront of education, social reform, equality efforts, and religious freedom for all throughout centuries, but it's often forgotten.
The world forgets. So do not bother with doing things for the world. They won't appreciate it.
However, the chapter does not end with a forgetful king. It ends with a faithful God. Take a look down at Exodus 1:20. This refers to God honoring the midwives of the Hebrew people for their obedience to Him. A key component is that Shiphrah and Puah chose to do what was right in direct defiance to the law of Pharaoh. Direct defiance. They went exactly against what the world wanted from them and did what they knew would honor God instead.
How does this come to us:
1. As stated, trying to do things to please our worldly neighbors may help for a while, but it will be forgotten. So keep in mind that what you do will be overlooked eventually and the immediate reward you get, if any, will be all you get.
2. The real goal of God's people is not, nor should it ever be, to do things to please the world. It is to do the things which are pleasing to God. We see that here in Joseph and Shiphrah and Puah. We do not know Joseph's story from Egyptian archaeology. it's not there, at least not that has been found yet. Neither is Pharaoh likely to have recorded Shiphrah and Puah's bravery in defiance of him.
God, however, remembers. We find the stories of these three people in God's Word, where they are recorded to remind us of what matters most. Obedience to God, service to God.
Sometimes, oftentimes, that service is of benefit to the world around us, as Joseph's was: but he did it for God, not Egypt. We must be the same: we feed the poor for God, not society; we seek common good in obedience to God, not for rewards or even tax-exempt status.
Sometimes, and in growing times (see here regarding church efforts to feed the hungry) more often, doing the right thing will require disobeying the authorities of the world or at the least, disregarding what the world thinks is a good idea. It is valuable to remember that we work for God, not for man, and to do what God requires.
In the end, the only that matters is whether what we have done meets His expectation, because there are no elephants in this world: everyone forgets but God, who is eternal.
By the way, if you want my opinion, Amenhotep III is the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Thutmose III raised Moses, Thutmose IV ran him out of the country. Akhenaten is the Pharaoh who tries to put everything in order after it all goes splat. No, I know of no major scholar who holds that opinion. I'm still looking for one. Or accepting heavy-duty funding to become one, but that will require lots of time and a few trips to Egypt and England.