Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Hebrew noun מצרים (mitsrayim pronounced mits-rah'-yim) is the word for "Egypt" or "Egyptians." Given the geographical setting of the Hebrew Bible and Egypt's agricultural strength and stability, it should not be surprising that מצרים (mitsrayim) is a constant presence. Egypt stands as a possible haven from famine, as seen in Genesis 12:10, "Abram went down to Egypt (מצרימה) to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land." The fruitfulness of the land is even paralleled to the garden of Eden in Genesis 13:10, "well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt (מצרים)."

Egypt is famously the land of Joseph's slavery, Genesis 39:1, "Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt (מצרימה), and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian (מצרי איש), bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there," and the oppression of the Israelites, Exodus 3:7-8, "Then the LORD said, 'I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt מצרים); I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians (מצרים).'" Understandably, the memory of oppression in Egypt looms large and the act of deliverance is a defining moment in the relationship between Israel and the LORD, becoming both a prominent identifier for the LORD, Leviticus 26:13, "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt (מצרים)," and a reason for worship, 1 Kings 17:36, "but you shall worship the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt (מצרים) with great power and with an outstretched arm."

Egypt's presence in the Hebrew Bible does not end with the exodus but continues throughout the Hebrew Bible as Egypt remains a constant player within the regional power dynamics of southwestern Asia. The relationship between Egypt and Israel is diplomatic at times, as exemplified by Solomon marrying the daughter of a Pharaoh in 1 Kings 3:1, "Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt (מצרים)." However, it is often a relationship characterized by conflict as seen in 2 Kings 23:29, "In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt (מצרים) went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; but when Pharaoh Neco met him at Megiddo, he killed him."