Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Wisdom of the Egyptians

17 “But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph. 19 He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive. 20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God's sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” (Acts 7:17-22 (ESV)
Stephen will move on to Moses and spend a good deal of time on Moses as another type for Jesus who was rejected by Israel, at least he was rejected by Israel at first. In the first century A.D. Moses was honored, but when you read the five books of Moses, you find quite a different story. It is actually a bit hard to think of a prophet that was despised more during his life time. At every turn Moses was met with opposition even as the people followed him. I suppose any Christian can relate to that though, in relation to how well we follow Jesus in this world carrying our crosses. How often do we find ourselves ignoring him when it is convenient, and grumbling against him when we can’t ignore? Our sinful nature has a tendency to do this despite our faith.
Stephen begins in Egypt with Moses being born at a time when children would be left for exposure. This was a common way of killing children in ancient times. Just leave them to die, and be eaten by wild animals. This was practiced even in first century Rome. But whereas the Egyptians didn’t mind having an excess of Hebrew females around, in Rome it would often be the females that were exposed and the males that were preserved. The Early Church made a habit of adopting these children, and if they couldn’t save them from death after the exposure, they would at least baptize them. This had to have endeared many a mother to the church, often slave girls who were given no choice in the matter.

It wasn’t the church that saved Moses, quite the opposite. It was Pharaoh’s daughter. As Stephen announces here, this exposed Moses to all the learning of the Egyptians, all their wisdom, which helped to make him mighty in words and deeds. Or he was mighty in words and deeds because he had been instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. This is more than a “know your enemy” sort of thing, though there is certainly that. But as slaves the Hebrews would have been kept as ignorant as possible about learning, and not given the education that would be needed in order to lead effectively. I think we do well to ponder that Moses, and the Israelites did not spurn education even if it came from pagan sources, but sought to learn. This would also be true of Christians in the early church, and men like Paul who we will be coming to shortly. 

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