Dealing “shrewdly” with the Israelites in Egypt was the Egyptian plan installed by the Pharoah that didn’t know Joseph. There was no memory of how Joseph and his clan had blessed them in generations past. Joseph made Egypt the greatest nation in the world. Egypt supported the world during the seven years of famine. As is the case with just about everything, we soon forget the past and look to only the benefits that I might accrue in the present.  God blessed Israel over the centuries as they lived and prospered in the land of Goshen.  The new Pharaoh began to entertain bad thoughts about the Israelites and became afraid of them. He was also jealous of them and decided to use and abuse them for his own benefit. The “shrewd” dealing with them began by putting them to work on his projects. Exodus 1:11 says, Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” Regarding this situation, Hester writes, “They came to be regarded as foreigners, and because of the very rapid increase in their number, they were feared as a potential threat to the security of the government. The Pharaoh, now determined to reduce them to slavery, set cruel taskmasters over them and forced them to do the hardest kind of public work, that of making bricks. Under these conditions, the sons of Jacob were no longer a free people, welcome guests in another land, but were slaves whose lot was one of oppression and suffering.”[1] Stephen tells us in his sermon in Acts 7:6 that the Israelites lived like this for 400 years!

The Israelites were foreigners in a foreign land. When they were settling in their own lands, God reminded them of this fact and urged them to treat the foreigners who lived amongst them well. Pharoah, the man with the military might, afflicted the Israelite foreigner with heavy burdens and forced labor. I don’t see much of this from my secure home in West Omaha. Yet all over the world as well as in other places in my country, this still takes place in some ways. Merida says, “The injustice we read about here bears some resemblance to our day. People of power continue to abuse the weak for their own devilish reasons. Some report upwards of thirty million slaves in the world today ( Tragically, human trafficking is now the second-largest organized crime in the world. What motivates this atrocity? Two of the main roots of this evil include sexual perversion and financial greed. Despite the existence of injustice like this, we believe that God remains a God of justice standing on the side of the oppressed.”[2] As we watch the incredible influx of foreigners across our southern borders today, we’re aware that the migrants are not all innocent victims of society’s woes of the day. The modern “Pharaohs” that are enslaving and trafficking the innocent are the Cartels, not the American citizens. They turn their victims into drug mules, sex workers, and slave laborers. God is opposed to this as much as He was opposed to the Egyptians that enslaved the Israelites.

The Israelites bore the “heaven burdens” of slavery in Egypt. It’s somewhat shocking to learn that both England and the United States utilized slaves into the 19th Century. The plight of these slaves has been captured in many of the spiritual songs during the era. Old Man River is one of the best expressions of the life of a slave in the American South, “Dark people work on the Mississippi. Dark people work while de white people play. Pullin’ them boats from the dawn to sunset. Gettin’ no rest till the judgment day. Don’t look up, an’ don’t look down. You don’t dare make the white boss frown.  Bend your knees and bow your head an’ pull that rope until you’re dead. Let me go ‘way from the Mississippi. Let me go ‘way from the white man boss; Show me that stream called the river Jordan. That’s the ol’ stream that I long to cross.” Crossing the Jordan marked the freedom that Israel was to gain when God took them into the promised land.

[1] Hester, Hubert Inman. 1962. The Heart of Hebrew History: A Study of the Old Testament. Rev. ed. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Merida, Tony. 2014. Exalting Jesus in Exodus. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference.