“Let us deal shrewdly with them…” said Pharaoh at the opening of Exodus (1:10). Immediately in the Exodus account, we find at least two main reasons for justification of genocide by the end of the first chapter.
The first reason was a refusal to remember when Egypt herself was in need. The verse says, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” In other words, the Pharaoh of Exodus 1 failed to look to the Pharaoh of Genesis 50 (approximately 390 years prior). In that episode, it was a Hebrew who saved the world through Egypt. However, “Pharaoh 2” of Moses’ day was preoccupied with the power and greatness of now. He had become the center of his polytheistic world. The news cycle was only 24 hours! Pharaoh didn’t have the time or the desire to know about some power from 4 centuries prior. He was the central power of today. When we were studying through this in our church, many people commented how much we recognized “the Pharaoh” in each of us.
The second reason was the animal talk. You can hear it in the word “shrewdly” which Pharaoh used. “If we don’t deal with them, they will be harmful to us.” You can also pick it up in the language of the text which repeats the fruitfulness of Israel and the following fear of Pharaoh. Read this opening verse (1:7), “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” Do you get the sense the narrator is emphasizing something here?
Yet, to Pharaoh and the mainstream Nile media it sounds like the Israelites are snakes or insects which slither and crawl on the ground. Look how Pharaoh begins to describe them a few verses later, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land…’ But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.” (1:9-10, 12)
So, Pharaoh’s first solution of oppressive working conditions for the sake of the national economy only made them grow faster. A second solution of sterilization through in-birth abortions wouldn’t work either. Finally, we read this brief but haunting verse, “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile.” (1:22) Everybody had to do their part! These Hebrews must be assimilated into our way of life (the Nile was the central vein of life, religion, culture, economy, & politics) — or else, genocide.
How do you get a people to commit slavery, sterilization, and then genocide? Taking a page from Pharaoh’s playbook, here are some of the steps:
- Forget or refuse to recognize God in any way.
- Make your way of life superior to all others and supreme to your own people; nationalize it.
- Make the foreigners into a threat. Deal shrewdly.
- Use animal-talk to make foreigners something sub-human. Tweet shrewdly.
- Deny the foreigners inherently have the image of God and any personal dignity.
- Make “elimination” the best and final solution.
Do any of these sound familiar today or were those wicked Egyptians just an anomaly in our Bibles and history books?
I recently shared how easy it was to begin to treat people as sub-human when we don’t naturally relate to them. In other words, people who are different from me (in color, language, customs, food, economics, and religion) usually make me feel uneasy and intimidated. If enough people who are similar to me dislike others who are dissimilar to us, then we can begin to call them “these people” or “these foreigners” and make the case to deal shrewdly with them. It is quite interesting to see Pharaoh’s worry about “these Hebrews” going to join a stronger enemy, returning, and attacking Egypt.
Early on, Pharaoh was using defensive language as if they had already risen up with coordinated armies against him. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the foreign army was God himself. And I think we have a fascinating lesson here in the irony and inner-working of divine justice. If we begin to talk like Pharaoh, making the weak to be our enemies, our greatest threats, and less-than-human animals, one day they will be — because we made them that way without regard to God who is repeatedly on the side of the weak. If we say the weak and poor are invading, attacking, or crawling out of their toilet-hole countries to destroy our way of life, then we’re defending our lifestyles on the pretext of lies. Only an idol will cause us to defend it against any perceived threat whether it is true or not. Is it not better to name and surrender our idols to God now than making our fears come true later? And how would we do that? I believe it is one Christian at a time and then one Christian community at a time. In other words, it begins with you and me and then our churches.
So, where do you think we as modern Western nations are on the ancient Egyptian scale of slavery, sterilization, and then genocide? My sense is slavery and sterilization are already quite active, and just a little more animal talk and policies to solve the problem of ‘these people’ and we are headed to a quiet, Nile-at-night result.
Please click here if you would like to read part 5 of this series, Where are YOU migrating to?