Those Egyptians; they were a great, tremendous, and huge civilization. If all I knew about the Egyptians was from the many documentaries I’ve watched on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and PBS; I’d know quite a bit. The Egyptians were an inventive people. They were infrastructure builders on a scale so grand some refuse to believe they did it without help from above. “It must be aliens,” conspiracy theorists argue. It wasn’t extraterrestrials. The Egyptians were master builders, planners, and architects. They governed large areas of North Africa in an empire when Europe couldn’t find the Bronze Age on a map. Economically, they were tied in trade with countries and people all over the Mediterranean Sea. They exported their wealth and brought prosperity to their neighbors.
Their armies, equipped with modern chariots, were nearly invincible on the battlefield. Grain grew in the Nile deltas and the vast deserts turned green. The land yielded crops to feed Pharaoh’s people Out of this cauldron of intellectual fervor and creative ferment, the Egyptians developed a complex series of religious beliefs to understand the world they inhabited and the world yet to come. A pantheon of gods came to be worshipped. Priests served these gods in grand temples. The sun god, Ra, reigned supreme. The Pharaoh came to be viewed as a living God who dwelt among his people. Out of the need to worship and the desire to tell the stories of their god’s interactions with each other, written forms of human communication evolved. Culture, writing, and storytelling; they took hold and grew from these early Egyptian endeavors. You might say the Egyptians were a civilization, the likes of which, the world had never seen before. Some could argue, the Egyptians were a great and good people who believed, based on their success, their gods had blessed them. If we were to examine the evidence at hand, they look like “the” success story of the ancient world. Were we to start to nitpicking their achievements, where would it end; with the pyramids in ruins?
There is another side to the Egyptian story. It is a story of untold brutality and human suffering on a scale that it nearly impossible for us to imagine. For every amazing achievement, grand pyramid, and epic tomb; there unknown Hebrew slaves who paid with their lives. For every harvest that fed an Egyptian, there was famine in an Israelite home. For every new life brought into an Egyptian house, there was death delivered to an Israelite home. There is another side to the story. There are not good people on both sides of this debate. One side commits genocide. This side (while the Egyptian people watch) carries out a holocaust. The other side, they keep on dying.
Someone stands up and says, “But wait, wasn’t there violence on both sides?” “Wasn’t there this Israelite who was raised as an Egyptian prince? He was having an identity crisis and goes down to see these slaves, who he thinks he’s related to and sees an Egyptian guard whipping some other Israelite. Didn’t he get so angry that he beats the real Egyptian to death? Isn’t this proof of violence on both sides?” How can I condemn the Egyptians when Moses committed murder?
The Egyptian genocide of the Israelite slaves and Moses’ murder of an Egyptian soldier are not the same. There’s no moral equivalency between the Egyptians and anyone. Yes, Moses killed someone. Yes, there was violence on both sides. However, know this: the Egyptians are wrong. They will never be right. They are not good people. They never will be.
For Moses, killing an Egyptian wasn’t a tactic, it was a response. It wasn’t the proper response and Moses knew it. The Egyptians used murder, torture, and beatings as a matter of course. Moses realized, from that moment forward, liberation from exile meant this: God’s people don’t stoop to the level of those who kept you in bondage. Those words keep coming back again and again in the Torah.
In Exodus, justice is left to God. Thankfully, we don’t get to decide who lives and dies. Moses works for unity among God’s people. Moses carries God’s message. Moses does as God originally promised; he speaks the words God gives him.
The unfinished business between Pharaoh and the Israelites is settled by the Red Sea. Moses does not part the waters. You’ve seen the movie; it looks like Moses has the power. He doesn’t. The miracle of salvation (the Israelites were saved that day) is not something Moses or any single individual accomplishes alone. There’s always another side to the story; except for the Egyptians. They were really bad dudes.
Richard Lowell Bryant