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AHC G In the House of Bondage - Hebrew Catholics

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1. In the House of Bondage

 

The years that followed after the death of Joseph brought many changes, both to the family of Jacob in Goshen and to that ancient land which had given them a welcome and a shelter. For in that pleasant eastern province of the great land of the Nile the Israelites grew fast into a strong and prosperous clan. The numbered seventy when they came down out of Palestine; but generation by generation their numbers multiplied, until you might count them by thousands. The land around was high quality and fertile. Nowhere else in all the world, except perhaps in the other great river-land of Mesopotamia, was there such wealth, such skill in all the arts and crafts of life, or such wisdom as in Egypt; and the sons of the wandering shepherds who had come down at Joseph’s bidding out of Canaan were fast being changed into a nation, and were learning the ordering of a nation’s life from all they saw around them.

But if they were changing, Egypt herself was changing yet more rapidly. Joseph had not been long laid in his coffin, when the native-born princes of the land began to murmur against the rule of the desert kings who had lorded it over them for so long. Far up the great river, in the city of Thebes, which later grew to be one of the mighty cities of the world — “hundred-gated Thebes” — there arose a prince of the ancient race, who cast off the yoke of the foreign Pharaoh and sought to free the whole land from its foreign overlords. Then came many years of fierce war, and the struggle swayed up and down the long valley, as success turned to the Theban or to the shepherd princes. The prince, Seqenen-Ra, who led the revolt, was slain in battle; but ever, as the years went on, the Southerners (native race) grew stronger and stronger, and the Outlanders (Pharaoh and his foreign overlords) grew feeble.

At last they were driven into their great stronghold, Avaris, and beleaguered there. Stubbornly and long they held the strong walls, fighting fiercely attacks upon the besieger’s camp, and dashing out in warships on the canals around the city; but in the  end all of no avail. Unwillingly they had to loose their hold upon the land, and sullenly they withdrew beyond the deserts from which they had come in earlier times. And so it occurred that there arose up a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph, and many kings after him whose only thought of the men of Israel in Goshen would be that they were friends of the hated foreign princes who had been driven forth from the land.

So for generations Israel lived in the shadow, as they had previously lived in the sunshine, and were despised and hated where once they had been welcomed. And during these days Egypt became a mighty conquering power, and sent her hosts abroad over Palestine and Syria, even unto the great river Euphrates; and all the nations of the world bowed down before her star, and kissed the ground before her Pharaoh, as before God manifest in the flesh. Now it befell that after many years there came to the throne of Egypt a Pharaoh whose name was Ramses. Ramses the Great he is still called; but he was not great — only in pride and ambition. He was a fierce soldier, and, above all other things, a mighty builder.

Everywhere, throughout the land, he reared vast temples to the gods, and in the pride of his heart he set before them great statues of himself, hewn out of mighty blocks of granite, such as have never been handled by any other men in all the world, either before or since. For the carrying out of these great works he cast his eyes upon the men of Israel in Goshen. They were taken from their shepherding and husbandry and forced to bend their backs to all the bitter labour of Pharaoh’s building. Under the burning sun, and the cruel lash of the slave-driver, they moulded bricks, and dragged great blocks of red granite and white limestone and heaved huge stones up the long slopes of earth till they reached their place upon the wall. Two store cities in particular they built for their tyrant, Pithom, the sacred city of Atum, god of the Setting Sun, and Ramses, the name-city of a mighty monarch.

Yet, though many died in these labours and many were broken, not all the cruelty of Pharaoh could diminish the numbers of the men of Israel. Indeed it seemed that oppression only made them stronger. Then the cruel heart of the King was shaken with fear, because the number of this race of slaves increased continually; and he sent forth a cruel and hateful command. “Every son of the Hebrews that is born,” he said, “you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.” In this way he reduced their numbers so that the race of Israel should be cut off altogether out of the land.

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