God’s Word for You
Acts 7:17-19 In fourteen hundred and ninety-two…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 16, 2019
17 “As the time approached for God to keep the promise he had declared to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt 18 until another king rose up to rule Egypt, one who did not know about Joseph. 19 He took advantage of our people and deceived them, oppressing our forefathers and forcing them to abandon their babies so that they would die.
This begins the second part of Stephen’s apology; the defense of his faith. Stephen recalls examples of various people who opposed Moses, but he does more than this. He sets out moment after moment in Israel’s history when men in authority did not recognize God’s servant, just as the Sanhedrin did not recognize God’s servant and Messiah, Jesus Christ. Then he adds moment after moment when God’s people and especially their elders committed terrible sins, such as murder and idolatry, just as the Sanhedrin, chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, murdered Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah, in the ultimate act of idolatry and rebellion against God.
The first example of this might go unnoticed by some; perhaps the men of the Sanhedrin caught it. There isn’t really much of a reason for Stephen to quote Exodus 1:8 (“a new king, who did not know about Joseph”), except that this sets the stage for all of the other leaders who “did not know about” God’s other chosen servants.
Almost a century ago, Sigmund Freud (Moses and Monotheism, 1939) proposed that it was the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (d. 1336 BC) who was the founder and creator of monotheism. Freud, a Jew by birth, refused to believe that either Moses or God himself had anything to do with the concept of worshiping only one God. Freud attached this theory to a mistaken chronology of Egyptian history commonly held in his time, the same flawed history which led to Hollywood’s famous mistake in “The Ten Commandments,” naming Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Following the facts about Old Testament chronology given in the text of the Bible (especially 1 Kings 6:1, which places the beginning of the building of the temple by Solomon in 926 BC “four hundred and eighty years after the Israelites had come out of Egypt”), we can say with certainty that the Exodus took place in 1446 BC. To help students remember some of these details, I have adapted a famous rhyme:
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
The Pharaoh’s name was Thutmose II.
In fourteen forty-six B.C.
The Pharaoh’s name was Thutmose III.
Thutmose III ruled from 1458-1425 BC. Since Moses tells us that the Israelites lived in Egypt 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41), and we know that the Exodus happened in 1446 BC, we can also safely say that Joseph brought his father Jacob and his brothers down to live in Egypt in 1876 BC (see also Galatians 3:16). These two passages, 1 Kings 6:1 and Exodus 12:40-41, are two of the most important verses for understanding and calculating Old Testament historical dates. These verses and others like them should not be taken in a figurative or spiritual sense, but in the way that Stephen takes them, as actual, historical counts of years (Acts 7:6).
Why didn’t this Pharaoh know about or remember Joseph? There are at least three or four reasons:
First, the Egyptians were famous for re-writing their own history. When a Pharaoh seized power, he found that all he had to do was tell people he was the legitimate king and threaten them, and they would either believe him or at least tolerate him. Thutmose III, for example, obliterated the name of his predecessor, Queen Hatshepsut, from almost every monument in Egypt.
Second, more than four hundred years had passed. Very few details from centuries ago are passed down by word of mouth from one generation to another, and this was even more the case in the days before the Greek writer Herodotus invented the literary form that we call history.
Third, sin causes us to forget or suppress those things that contradict our sinful desires. As British author Chris Boucher said: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views—which is a problem if you happen to be a fact which needs altering” (The Face of Evil, 1977).
Fourth, if our understanding of Egyptian history is correct, then Egypt was overrun and temporarily conquered sometime after Joseph’s days, and for about a century they were subject to a nation they called the Hyksos. Finally, an Egyptian leader rallied troops to drive out the Hyksos. The Pharaohs who reigned after this, such as the Pharaoh who spoke with Moses, might have known very little about Joseph because they concerned themselves with more recent events.
The oppression that subjugated the Jews included the horrible practice of throwing Hebrew babies into the Nile (Exodus 1:22). Stephen says that they were to “expose” the babies (ektithemi, ἐκτίθημι), which means to abandon a child outdoors so that it will die from the elements or from predators. This is another way of describing the Pharaoh’s orders that the boys (Exodus says that only the male infants were to be killed) were to be thrown out into the River Nile. In the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon (18:5) there is a neat point which I might otherwise have missed: “When they had resolved to kill the infants of your holy people, and one (certain) child had been abandoned and rescued, as a punishment you took away a great many of their children; you destroyed them all together by a mighty flood.” God saw the misery of his people and heard them crying out (Exodus 3:7), and since the Egyptians had thrown so many Hebrew boys into the water, he destroyed an army of Egyptian men in the water of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:28).
Failing to believe in God is always the path to the most horrifying sins. Man without faith is the summit of God’s creation without any help or guidance from God. He is a terror loose in the created world, wreaking destruction both spiritual and physical everywhere he goes, no matter what guise he tries to hide his intentions in. You can do something about this today; right now. Share your faith with the people that you love, to protect them from their own sins and from the wickedness of the devil’s craft. Let them know our beautiful Savior, the place we have in God’s kingdom thanks to the mercy and grace of Jesus our Lord.
Pastor Timothy Smith