The nation of Egypt plays a prominent role in biblical history and symbolism. Egypt will also become an example of transformation!
The modern nation of Egypt may be celebrating 100 years of independence, but its history goes far deeper into antiquity.
In fact, Egypt is mentioned many times in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. As a software developer of Egyptian heritage, I am intrigued by how many times Egypt is mentioned compared to other nations.
In the King James Version of the Bible:
- “Egypt” is found 611 times (735 times if you include “Egyptian” and “Egyptians”).
- “Egypt” is mentioned in 32 books of the Bible (including five books in the New Testament).
In contrast, “Babylon” is found 286 times; “Moab,” 168 times; and “Assyria,” 118 times.
Of course, Israel is mentioned about four times as often as Egypt in 47 books (13 books of the New Testament).
Still, Egypt gets a lot of press, considering that the Bible is primarily about Israel.
The nation of Egypt plays various roles in the Bible and provides several important lessons for us.
Egypt enslaved Israel
Early on in the Bible, Egypt is seen in a negative light, and for good reason.
Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites in fear that they would rebel against Egypt as they grew great in number (Exodus 1:9-11).
When they continued to increase, Pharaoh escalated his response by treating them more harshly and even ordering the male babies to be killed (verses 12-16, 22). But God saved a young baby from Pharaoh’s hand—ironically, to be raised in Pharaoh’s own household—to deliver the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby she found in a basket in the river and named him Moses, signifying he was drawn from the water (Exodus 2:1-10).
After spending his first 40 years as a prince of Egypt, Moses became concerned about his people in bondage and struck an Egyptian dead to defend an Israelite. But when Pharaoh found out, Moses fled to the land of Midian (verses 11-15).
Forty years later, God sent Moses back to Egypt to confront the new Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7). Moses pleaded with Pharaoh to release the Israelite slaves, but he refused to do so, so God sent a series of plagues on the land of Egypt (verses 1-6).
Egypt and the Passover
Moses then led the Israelites to the Red Sea, but Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army against them (Exodus 14:2-9). God divided the Red Sea, freeing the slaves from Egypt—but drowning the Egyptian army when He returned the water to its full depth (verses 21-31).
Egypt as a symbol of sin
Moses then led the people to Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1). God gave them the 10 Commandments, which begin with the preamble: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2).
This might seem like a strange introduction to the timeless 10 Commandments, as it was literally true only for those who came out of Egypt.
Yet the statement applies to all people. Egypt in the Bible is a type of this sinful world. For example, at one point sinful Jerusalem is described spiritually as Sodom and Egypt (Revelation 11:8). Sodom was known for its decadence and sexual depravities, sins which our societies have also fallen into. For its slavery of the Israelites, Egypt is a type of slavery to sin, which we all fall under.
Then it will be said, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:25).While we today were not slaves in Egypt, we have all been slaves to this sinful world. As Jesus stated, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).
It is Jesus who frees us from the slavery of sin. As the slavery of Egypt is a type of this sinful world, the Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites is a type of Satan, and the Passover lamb that the Israelites killed prefigures Jesus Christ who died for us as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29).
The Israelites’ freedom after crossing the Red Sea pictures Christians having their sins washed away in baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-2; Revelation 1:5). This is part of the conversion process that includes our commitment to repent of our sins (Luke 3:3) and never return to our former life of sinful habits (Exodus 13:17-18).
Egypt as an example of false worship and false hope
Despite having left Egypt, the Israelites later reverted to the false worship system of Egypt. They made a golden calf (Exodus 32:1-4), which represented a pagan god the Egyptians worshipped, instead of listening to God’s commandment forbidding the use of graven images (Exodus 20:4-5).
When they were in despair in the wilderness, the Israelites talked about returning to Egypt instead of trusting God (Exodus 14:12; Numbers 14:3). They failed to trust in God and instead looked to men for their salvation.
Hundreds of years later, Jeroboam sought refuge in Egypt from King Solomon, then returned to lead the 10 northern tribes in rebellion after Solomon’s death (1 Kings 11:40; 12:2). Jeroboam became king of the house of Israel (1 Kings 12:19-20), splitting Israel into two nations. Sadly, Jeroboam was a wicked king and reinstated the false worship system found in Egypt by erecting two gold calves in Israel (verse 28).
Trusting in Egypt
Around 300 years later, Assyria threatened Israel, and Israel relied on Egypt for rescue instead of trusting God. God rebuked Israel for it: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help . . . who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isaiah 31:1; compare 30:2).
After Assyria carried Israel away, the king of Assyria warned Hezekiah, the king of Judah, not to trust Egypt, calling it a “staff of this broken reed” (Isaiah 36:6). Hezekiah was one of the few righteous kings of Judah, and he relied on God (Isaiah 37:1-7, 14-20) instead of Egypt, and God delivered Judah from the hand of Assyria.
Years later, Judah was threatened by Babylon. This time Judah made the mistake of relying on Egypt instead of trusting God. When the Babylonian army came up against Jerusalem, the Egyptian army came to the city’s aid, causing the Babylonians to retreat. But this was a temporary deliverance. As the prophet Jeremiah warned (Jeremiah 37:5-8), the Egyptian army returned home, and the Babylonians came back and destroyed the city.
God calls Egypt a “staff of reed,” an allusion to the reeds that grow on the bank of the Nile River. The expression meant that Egypt could not be trusted, and that to trust them would result in one’s hurt. Because a reed cannot support your body weight, leaning against it would cause it to break and to pierce you (Isaiah 36:6; compare Ezekiel 29:6-7). To this day, a “broken reed” is an idiom for “something or someone that fails when relied on for support or help.”
Egypt as an example of transformation
When Jesus Christ returns to the earth, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4; compare Acts 1:11). Jesus will establish His Kingdom on earth, and the resurrected saints will rule with Him (Revelation 5:10; Daniel 2:44; 4:3, 34; 7:14, 18, 22, 27; Isaiah 9:6-7).
The headquarters of Jesus’ Kingdom will be Jerusalem, and from there, God’s law will be taught (Micah 4:2; Isaiah 2:3). This includes the seventh-day Sabbath (Isaiah 66:23; Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 23:1-3) and God’s annual festivals (Leviticus 23:4-44), including the Feast of Tabernacles (verses 33-42).
Zechariah records a warning that if a nation like Egypt does not keep the Feast of Tabernacles, the nation will be punished, including having rain withheld (Zechariah 14:18). The lesson is not just for Egypt, however. This is a message for all nations that rebel against Jesus’ authority (verse 19).
Such punishments will continue till they learn and are transformed to become “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” (verse 20). The nations will learn that their old way, which caused suffering and death, will not be tolerated.
Egypt and the other nations will learn their lesson. God’s Kingdom will be known for righteousness and justice (Isaiah 11:4-5).
Even the animals will experience a transformation, where wild animals of prey will dwell safely with tame animals (verses 6-8). This is also symbolic for the transformations our nations will experience, so much so that they will “not hurt nor destroy” in God’s Kingdom. Why? Because “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (verse 9).
“Blessed is Egypt My people”
God will bring Israel back from where He had scattered them and restore them (verse 10). Then He will establish a highway between Egypt and Assyria, the traditional enemies of Israel, and will transform Egypt and Assyria into righteous nations and a blessing. Then it will be said, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:25).
What a transformation that will be! God’s Kingdom will spread to include all nations. Even as these enemy nations will be transformed, so will the whole earth.
Unfortunately, it seems some nations will have to learn the hard way that their old ways lead to death (Ezekiel 38; Proverbs 14:12). But we can escape learning the hard way and commit our lives to Jesus Christ today.