It seems ironic on the surface of it that God enacted ten judgments on the Egyptians in order to release the Israelites from their bondage, only to have them turn on Him more than ten times after they had departed from their slave masters. One of their last of their acts of defiance was to decide to (elect a president and) return to Egypt! It seems trite to say so, but it was easier to get Israel out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of Israel. Obviously, I am speaking of a spirit of Egypt*. This is a spirit that probably still controls affairs in Egypt, but its influence in Israel was quite strong as well. I’m speaking of the passing of an entire generation before that spirit was out of the people of Israel.
*That’s not really a far-fetched idea. Consider the “prince of Persia” in Daniel 10:10-20. One might readily infer that these powerful spirits remain at the “same address” in the absence of other information.
Consider the following passages of scripture (emphases added). The reference point for the Israelites in all these situations was Egypt. The memory of Egypt was more pleasant to them than the will and provision of God in their then-current situations. Even in the case of the golden calf at Sinai, the people made a god like ones they had known in Egypt and referred to the Egyptianesque god as their savior. They went so far as to assign the name of The LORD to the calf. Yes, they already had the commandment regarding graven images before that point in time, but they went in that direction anyway.
Exodus 14:11-12 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Exodus 16:3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Exodus 17:3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
Exodus 32:7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. (the golden calf)
Numbers 11:4-5 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
Numbers 14:2-4 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
[Numbers 14:20 (God’s reaction) Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.]
Numbers 20:5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”
Numbers 21:5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
As you can see, the primary, and oft-repeated, complaint concerned water and food. These recently emancipated slaves, who were now a nation, remembered the provision in Egypt even though it had come at the cost of repression. Even the oppression that came with that provision seemed more attractive than trusting The LORD when it came right down to it. The plagues suffered in Egypt and the judgments of God in the wilderness were still not enough to convey to the Israelites that God was serious and was more powerful than the “spirit (prince) of Egypt.” To go back under that spirit’s dominion should have been unthinkable.
Was there a solution? Well, the Israelites kept wanting to go back to Egypt. That actually was not a solution for reasons discussed above. Egypt had failed. God had demonstrated He could provide. Perhaps the solution could be found in God? Surely, but for a significant number of the Israelites that wasn’t the solution they wanted. At the same time, we can be pretty sure they didn’t want those brick inventory numbers. It had to be about the food and the perception of safety (provision and protection).
They kept grumbling even after God had pronounced a final judgment upon all those who had been adults in Egypt but could not let Egypt go. They would die in the desert. Still, their hearts were set on Egypt. They would not do things God’s way, no matter what.
What else could God do? They preferred repression in Egypt to His will. It was necessary for the sake of the next generation. Their children didn’t remember Egypt as they did. They had been children or not even born yet when the exodus occurred. Egypt did not necessarily yet have its hold on the children. We might say they were not fully imbued with the “spirit of Egypt” as were their parents. To prevent the next generation from becoming a people in thrall to Egypt, the generation that was still filled with Egypt had either to change or to “go.” They had proven they would not be through with Egypt, so they had to go, if only for the sake of those in the next generation.
In Genesis 3:21 we have a fairly brief description of redemption in the most basic form found in scripture. The animal didn’t just remove its skin and turn it over for the coverings for Adam and Eve. Redemption by shedding blood is obviously pre-figured in that narrative. In Genesis 22:13 we see a much more specific figure of blood-based redemption in the saving of Isaac from the knife. Arguably, the passage in Exodus 12:5-13 speaks to a corporate redemption by blood sacrifice.
It does not seem unreasonable at all to assert that, before leaving Egypt, “all Israel” had experienced a corporate redemption, redemption of an entire people. This redemption stood in stark contrast to the death that had, at the same time, wrought havoc in Egypt. The death of first-born would seem poor in contrast to the redemption of a whole people.
Exodus 14:13-14 speaks of “salvation” in specific contrast to the conditions in which the Israelites found themselves. Moses said to the people “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Redemption permitted the people to leave Egypt. Now salvation saved them from Egypt’s pursuit. By the way, “salvation” is translated from the Hebrew word yeshua, which is the name Mary gave to her son who was born in Bethlehem. I realize these are largely allegorical observations and subject to disagreement. However, they are worthy of serious consideration.
Israel was redeemed and saved – in type. Still, Israel wanted to return to Egypt, from which it had been saved, because it was unable to change to a new culture in spite of its salvation.
Could it be there is a spirit at large in the Body of Christ today that is as persistent as is the “spirit of Egypt?” Such a spirit would cause the Body of Christ to be torn between two world views. There’s a world view in which “Egypt” looms large and there is a world view that is at irreconcilable odds with the “spirit of Egypt.”
In times of uncertainty, we often take stock. How much Egypt am I dealing with? Such an evaluation might even be appropriate in our current time of uncertainty.