And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.…
This is our first introduction to Egypt in the Bible. Let us ask what religious lessons it is intended to teach us; what was the relation of Egypt to the chosen people and the religious history of mankind? It is, in one word, the introduction of the chosen people to the world — to the world, not in the bad sense in which we often use the word, but in its most general sense, both good and bad. Egypt was to Abraham — to the Jewish people — to the whole course of the Old Testament, what the world, with all its interests, and pursuits, and enjoyments, is to us. It was the parent of civilization, of art, of learning, of royal power, of vast armies. The very names which we still use for the paper on which we write, for the sciences of medicine and chemistry, are derived from the natural products and from the old religion of Egypt. Hither came Abraham, as the extremest goal of his long travels, from Chaldea southwards; here Joseph ruled, as viceroy; hero Jacob and his descendants settled, as in their second home, for several generations; here Moses became "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." From the customs, the laws, and arts of the Egyptians, many of the customs, laws, and arts of the Israelites were borrowed. Here, in the last days of the Bible history, the Holy Family found a refuge. On these scenes for a moment, even though in unconscious infancy, alone of any Gentile country, the eyes of our Redeemer rested. From the philosophy which flourished at Alexandria came the first philosophy of the Christian Church. This, then, is one main lesson which the Bible teaches us by the stress laid on Egypt. It tells us that we may lawfully use the world and its enjoyments; that the world is acknowledged by true religion, as well as by our own natural instincts, to be a beautiful, a glorious, and, in this respect, a good and useful world. Power, and learning, and civilization, and art, may all minister now, as they did then, to the advancement of the welfare of man and the glory of God.
2. But, secondly, the meeting of Abraham and Pharaoh — the contact of Egypt with the Bible — remind us forcibly that there is something better and higher even than the most glorious, or the most luxurious, or the most powerful, or the most interesting sights and scenes of the world, even at its highest pitch, here or elsewhere. Whose name or history is now best remembered? Is it that of Pharaoh, or of the old Egyptian nation? No. It is the name of the shepherd, as he must have seemed, who came to seek his fortunes here as a stranger and sojourner. Much or little as we, or our friends at home, rich or poor, may know or care about Egypt, we all know and care about Abraham. It is his visit, and the visit of his descendants, that gives to Egypt its most universal interest. So it is with the world at large, of which, as I have said, in these old days Egypt was the likeness. Who is it that, when years are gone by, we remember with the purest gratitude and pleasure? Not the learned, or the clever, or the rich, or the powerful, that we may have known in our passage through life; but those who, like Abraham, have had the force of character to prefer the future to the present — the good of others to their own pleasure.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.