|Biblical Egypt||by R. David Pogge|
After Moses led them wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, God finally allowed Joshua to take the Israelites into the Promised Land. Although God told the Israelites in no uncertain terms to wipe out all the inhabitants, the Israelites failed to utterly destroy them all. As a result, there were frequent skirmishes with the other tribes living in Canaan. Joshua was the Israelite leader for 48 years. Two years later (90 years after the Exodus) Othniel became the first Judge of Israel. Judges ruled Israel for 286 years until Saul became the first king.
The history of Israel during that time is described in the Biblical books of Joshua and Judges. They tell how the Israelites were instructed by God to drive out all the people living in Canaan, but they did not drive them out completely. 1 Because the Israelites did not drive them out completely, or break down the pagan altars, God made those people a snare to the Israelites. 2 When Joshua died, at the age of 110 3, the people did evil, so God fought against Israel. 4 God raised up Judges to save them, but people sinned again and again. 5 Specifically, the second chapter of Judges tells us,
Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, He was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. 6
The entire book of Judges tells the same story over and over again, with peace and prosperity as long as the righteous judge ruled (usually 40 years), and then a descent into sin, during which God punished the Israelites by allowing foreigners to oppress them. This passage is typical.
The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and because they did this evil the Lord gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel. Getting the Ammonites and Amalekites to join him, Eglon came and attacked Israel, and they took possession of the City of Palms. The Israelites were subject to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.
Again the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud had made a double-edged sword about a cubit long, which he strapped to his right thigh under his clothing. 7
The story gets rather gory at this point. Suffice it to say that Ehud killed Eglon.
This pattern of sin, punishment, and repentance is repeated many times in the book of Judges. I chose this passage for a reason. Israel was terribly oppressed by Eglon for 18 years until God raised up Ehud. Remember that because there will be a quiz later in this chapter!
The well-known stories about Gideon, Samson and Deliah, as well as some lesser-known judges, are found in the Biblical book of Judges.
The first 40 years, while Israel was marking time in the wilderness, Egypt was ruled by the last pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty. Egypt wasn’t interested in foreign affairs during the latter part of the 18th Dynasty. Akhenaten didn’t have much of an army left, and was too busy building his new capital city to care about conquering the world. Tut was just a boy, and only reigned 9 years before his mysterious death. During that time his advisors were more interested in restoring the traditional religion in Egypt than fighting wars. Ay and Horemheb had just started rebuilding Egypt’s army when the 18th Dynasty ended, 17 years after Israel entered Canaan. Horemheb led “at least two small campaigns during Tutankhamun’s reign against Libyans and Syrians.” 8
The first two pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty, Ramesses I and Seti I, continued the build-up of Egypt’s military.
Seti led a military expedition into Syria as early as the first year of his reign. … Other campaigns were waged against the Libyans of the western desert, and there was a renewed attack upon Syria and Lebanon where, for the first time, Egyptian met Hittite in battle. 9
The third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, Ramesses II, (a.k.a. Ramesses the Great) ruled for 67 years. He had been on the throne for 19 years before Othniel became the first judge of Israel. So, to correlate Biblical history with Egyptian history, the 286 years that judges ruled Israel (from Othniel to King Saul) correlates roughly with the time period from Ramesses II until Osorkon the Elder. That is, the 19th, 20th, and 21st Dynasties.
There is a significant quote about Ramesses’ successor, Merneptah, in Peter Clayton’s book, Chronicle of the Pharoahs. Here it is:
Merneptah’s great Victory stele … is precisely dated to the third day of the third month of the third season, i.e. summer 1207 BC. … its particular interest lies in the second to last line where the only reference in the whole of Egyptian literature to Israel occurs: “Israel is devastated, her seed is no more, Palestine has become a widow for Egypt.” It was this reference that led many scholars to identify Merneptah as the pharaoh of the Exodus, whereas modern opinion now leans toward Ramesses II being the pharaoh “who knew not Moses [sic]”. Cairo Museum. 10
Actually, the Exodus pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” 11 (not Moses) was Amenhotep III, as we showed in Section 5.3. Clayton’s book was first published in 1994. In 1994, some Biblical scholars might have still believed that Ramesses II was the Exodus pharaoh; but the Cairo Museum probably wrote that caption long before 1994.
Clayton’s chronology makes 1207 BC the 5th year of Merneptah’s rule, which is 143 years after the Exodus by my calculations. That would have been 6 years before Ehud became Israel’s judge by my chronology.
Here’s the quiz I warned you about:
Q. What did Ehud do, and why did he do it?
A. He killed Eglon, King of Moab, because Moab had devastated Israel.
Merneptah had no reason to invade Israel because Israel was devastated. To the victor belong the spoils, but if there are no spoils to be had, what’s the point in fighting? Israel was as useless as a widow to Meneptah.
Egypt fought the Libyans, Nubians, Syrians, and Hittites because they had spoils worth taking, or because those nations were strong enough to try to take spoils from Egypt. Israel was poor and weak. There was no good reason for the Egyptians to fight with Israel during the time of the judges.
You might think Ramesses wanted to take revenge on the Israelites for the ten plagues; but 71 years after the Exodus, who would have remembered what Ay and Horemheb had tried to blot out of history? The Exodus was 46 years before Ramesses was born. He certainly could not have remembered it. There would not have been any personal motivation for any of the 19th, 20th, or 21st Dynasty pharaohs to attack Israel.
During the time of the judges, Israel was busy defending herself from the various Canaanite tribes; it would have been foolish to attack Egypt. Israel could have asked Egypt for help, as Israel did centuries later; but at this time, why would Egypt want to help Israel? What’s in it for Egypt?
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Footnotes:1 Judges 1:27-35