The Bible names many different countries: Israel, Babylon, India, Ethiopia, Persia, Syria, Moab, Egypt, Italy, and many more. The most common one is Israel – not surprisingly, since God says that for him it is the centre of the world, the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (whom he renamed “Israel”).
Judah was one of the leading tribes of Israel from the beginning and later became a separate kingdom for several hundred years. It is therefore not surprising that the nation named most commonly after Israel is Judah – although only about one third as often.
What may surprise you, however, is that the third most common country named in the Bible is Egypt, not far behind Judah in frequency.
Egypt appears in the Bible at different times as a place of both safety and oppression. Abraham went there for refuge when there was a famine in Canaan. Later, Joseph, Rachel’s son, was sold there as a slave. However, while he was there, God helped him to interpret a dream that warned of a coming famine and he rose to a position of power and saved both Egypt and his own family. Still later, though, the Egyptians made all the Israelites slaves, and God had to send ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them go free. In the New Testament, when Herod was trying to kill Jesus, God warned Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt so that Jesus was not killed along with the other boys in Bethlehem.
I find it fascinating that more than 100 of the references to Egypt in the Old Testament were reminding the Israelites that God had led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.
For example, here is one of about ten examples in the book of Jeremiah alone:
Given that Jeremiah was prophesying about 700 years after the exodus, God is reaching far back into history to make the point that he was the one who had led his chosen nation into the land he had promised to Abraham and then set them up as a nation. God does not forget the past, or his promises. He doesn’t want us to forget his actions in the past either, since they are our reason for expecting him to keep his promises in the future.
Since Egypt was one of Israel’s neighbours, it is no surprise that it is often mentioned as a place that people came from or visited. For example, Sarai/Sarah’s maid Hagar was an Egyptian, and when the prophet Uriah was running away from King Jehoiakim, he went to Egypt.
However, some of the most interesting references to Egypt are found in prophecies about Egypt. We will look at some of these in another newsletter.
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|↑1||Sometimes it is hard to separate God’s love for the land from his love for the people he chose to give it to: see Ezekiel 5:5; 20:6; 38:12; Isaiah 41:8-9; Zechariah 2:8 and Jeremiah 12:14. When you think about it, it makes sense that God would give his favourite land to his best friends!|
|↑3||Genesis 16:1, 3; 21:9; 25:12|