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Egypt in History and Prophecy

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Since the beginning of 2011, an arc of crisis in Islamic countries has spread from Morocco in the west to Bahrain in the east.

Two long-time rulers have been ousted so far, in Tunisia (Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali) and in Egypt (Hosni Mubarak). Libya has been plunged effectively into civil war, with forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi attempting to quash the rebellion that seeks to oust him as well. Egypt, by far the most populous Arab nation in the Middle East with 83 million inhabitants, is now being led by a military council with presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled throughout 2011. With the radical Muslim Brotherhood as one of the most influential groups now on the scene, there is great concern that they will have considerable power in the next government.

As Joe Klein of Time magazine noted: "‘What happens in Libya stays in Libya,' a Middle Eastern diplomat told me. ‘What happens in Egypt affects the entire region.' . . . The revolution in Egypt isn't over. It has barely begun. The military is in power, as it has been, essentially, for the past 60 years. And a crisis is coming, a classic crisis of rising expectations: What happens three months from now when life hasn't changed in any appreciable way for the hundreds of thousands of young people who took to the streets in Cairo? . . .

"Something must be done, and soon, lest Tahrir Square fill again, six months from now, with protesters who are far less peaceful—and their radicalism catch fire across the Middle East" ("Middle East Priority: A Regional Infrastructure Bank," March 28, 2011).

What is happening in this troubled area, and how can it affect us?

Egypt is mentioned throughout the Bible, from the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation. It is destined to fulfill an important role in Bible prophecy. With recent events there, it's a good time to pause and study Egypt in history and prophecy.

National beginnings

In the Bible, the history of Egypt begins in Genesis 10, which lists the 70 families descended from Noah's sons. These would eventually develop into some 70 main nations around the globe.

William Albright, the famous archaeologist, commented about Genesis 10: "The tenth chapter of Genesis . . . stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel, even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in a genealogical framework . . . Many of the names of peoples and countries mentioned in this chapter have been discovered on the monuments for the first time . . . The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document" (Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, 1955, pp. 70-71).

We read in Genesis 10:6 that "the sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan." Mizraim is the biblical name for Egypt, and it was one of the earliest civilizations on earth. Egypt was a privileged place to live due to the Nile River that provided plenty of water. Its annual overflow also brought rich silt to fields along the Nile—normally producing an abundance of food in a region where drought was common.

The Nile River did for Egypt what the Tigris and Euphrates did for ancient Mesopotamia—it provided a steady flow of drinkable water, easy transportation and fertile soil. The area around the Nile is only 4 percent of the land of Egypt, but it is estimated that 99 percent of Egyptians live in this area.

Egypt is surrounded by deserts. The Libyan Desert to the west and the Sinai Peninsula to the east were like great walls that protected Egypt from invasions by land. The Egyptian people were known to be innovative, enterprising (witness the pyramids), and optimistic. Their ruler, or pharaoh, was eventually worshipped as divine.

Historians generally divide the early dynastic era of ancient Egyptian history into three main periods—the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, spanning more than a millennium. And it was a millennium after the fall of the New Kingdom that the last official pharaoh was removed by the Romans, as we'll see.

Further biblical and later history

The book of Genesis faithfully describes the geographical reality of Egypt having a reliable source of water while the land of Canaan was subject to periodic droughts. Thus, we read how Abraham, because of a drought, had to journey to Egypt for food and water (Genesis 12:10). Then the sons of Jacob did the same (Genesis 42:1-3). It was Joseph who, as the vizier or prime minister in Egypt, was able to provide food for his brothers and pave the way for the entire clan to move to Egypt. Their stay would last more than two centuries.

Exodus, the second book of the Bible, begins with the Israelites in Egypt and describes their oppression under Egyptian rule, their liberation under Moses and their departure to return to Canaan, the Promised Land. Yet God remembers the initial hospitality the Egyptians showed the Israelites and says, "You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land" (Deuteronomy 23:7).

Once Israel entered the Promised Land, the pharaohs still ordered occasional invasions there, since the Egyptians considered Canaan part of Egypt's zone of influence.

More than four centuries later King Solomon married the pharaoh's daughter and had considerable trade with Egypt (1 Kings 9:16).

Eventually, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the entire region around 600 B.C., including Israel and Egypt. Less than a century later, the Persians took over the control of Egypt, and then the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, subdued Egypt in 333 B.C. The Greek successors on Egypt's throne, the Ptolemies, styled themselves as pharaohs—the last of these being the famous Cleopatra, who died in 30 B.C. when the Romans took over.

In the New Testament, Jesus' adoptive father Joseph fled to Egypt to protect his family from the wrath of Herod the Great. Eventually, some of Christ's disciples spread the gospel to Egypt, and churches were established there. Since Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, when the Emperor Constantine sided with the Roman Church in the A.D. 300s, the majority of Egyptians eventually became Christians.

The Roman Empire at this time became divided between East and West, with Egypt as part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire until the 600s. The church in Egypt, known as Coptic after the native language, diverged from orthodox Catholic teaching in the 400s and became distinct. Then in 641, soon after the birth of Islam, the Arabs conquered Egypt and established Islamic rule, which is still the dominant religion today. (The Copts, who today make up about 10 percent of the population, are generally descendants of the ancient Egyptians and are mostly Christian.) 

After its assimilation into the spreading Islamic world, Egypt came under the rule of various Muslim kingdoms, including the Turkish Ottoman Empire. With that empire's fall in World War I, Egypt became a British protectorate but was granted independence in 1922, ruled then by a king. 

Egypt had its last king in 1952 when King Farouk was overthrown by the military under Gamal Abdel Nasser. Then came Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981, and Hosni Mubarak took over until the beginning of 2011. With Mubarak's removal, Egypt's political future is now uncertain—especially with radical Islamic groups waiting in the wings.

What does Bible prophecy say about Egypt?

The Bible contains a number of notable prophecies about Egypt—some already fulfilled and others yet to be fulfilled in the future.

Egypt was a proud civilization, confident it was quite self-sufficient with its steady supply of food and water. It was a major power in the Middle East and occasionally cruelly subjugated many smaller nations.

One remarkable Bible prophecy foretold that the mighty and haughty pharaoh, considered divine by his people, would eventually be replaced by foreign rulers. We read in Ezekiel 30:13: "Thus says the Lord God, ‘I will also destroy the idols, and cause the images to cease from Noph [that is, Memphis, the northern Egyptian capital]. There shall no longer be princes from the land of Egypt; I will put fear in the land of Egypt."

This prophecy about "the princes from the land of Egypt" is generally understood as meaning that proud Egypt would not have any more native rulers over it, but rather foreigners. This is precisely what happened after the Babylonians conquered Egypt, as the pharaohs were reduced to being lackeys of the Babylonian kings.

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible says about this scripture: "There shall no longer be princes from the land of Egypt . . . that is, a native of that country; or that should rule over the whole of it, and in that grandeur the kings of Egypt had before; or, however, not dwell in Memphis, which was the seat of the kings of Egypt, but now should be so no more: when Egypt was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, it was under the Babylonians; and then under the Persians; and then under the Greeks; and afterwards under the Romans . . . so that it never recovered its former glory; and indeed, after Nectanebus was driven out of it by Ochus, king of Persia, it never after had a king."

Egypt's role in the end times

Bible prophecy also describes Egypt as having a role in the end times, prior to the return of Christ. We read of a war between "the king of the South" (which includes Egypt) and "the king of the North."

We read in Daniel 11:40-45: "At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him, and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious Land [the land of Israel], and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand; Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon [these names designating the area of modern Jordan].

"He [again, the northern ruler] shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver; and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall follow at his heels.

"But news from the east and the north shall trouble him; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many. And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the seas and [or in] the glorious holy mountain [that is, between the Dead and Mediterranean Seas in Jerusalem]; yet he shall come to his end, and no one will help him."

What we see here is that in the end time, Egypt, along with its bordering nations, will eventually be invaded by the "king of the North." For much of this chapter the "king of the North" refers to the Greek Seleucid Empire that covered an area north of the land of Israel and fought with the "king of the South" (the ruler of Egypt and neighboring countries to the south of Israel) for the control of the entire region.

In the end time, we will again see a "king of the South" in approximately the same geographical area as before who will play an important role in provoking an invasion from the north. The prophecy also reveals that the "king of the North" will temporarily conquer these southern lands.

What we are witnessing now in the Middle East could eventually lead to a coalition of Arab and Muslim peoples with a "king of the South" leading them. There will also be a "king of the North" heading a coalition of European states in a coming revival of the Roman Empire. (The ancient Seleucid kingdom was taken over by the Romans, whose empire has experienced a number of revivals in history—a final one being yet to come.)

It is enlightening to watch as warfare in Libya "provokes" a reaction from the European nations, among others, that have sent jets to bomb certain Libyan targets. So what we see is a pattern of events in the "South" causing the "North" to intervene militarily, precisely the same biblical pattern described in Daniel 11! Yet the one described in Daniel is on a much larger scale.

We also clearly see by the context of Daniel 11-12 that these events will unfold shortly before the return of Christ, the resurrection of God's people and the establishment of His Kingdom. That time could be alarmingly near!

Good news for Egypt

God says that Egypt will be subjected to "the hand of a cruel master, and a fierce king will rule over them" (Isaiah 19:4). Yet there is good news for Egypt in the end. God has not forsaken them or any other country. He is not a respecter of persons—or for that matter, of nations (Acts 10:34-35), and many will eventually learn His ways.

When Jesus Christ returns, we find the Bible saying Egypt will learn to observe God's laws. At first this will take some disciplining.

Zechariah 14:17-19 tells us: "And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles."

Yes, here is clear biblical evidence that the Feast of Tabernacles, one of Gods' festivals revealed in Leviticus 23:33-36, will be kept worldwide when Jesus returns to the earth!

But notice how the story of Egypt ends on a very positive note: "In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt, for they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them.

"Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day . . . And the Lord will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the Lord, and He will be entreated by them and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria [a reference to the northern power], and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians.

"In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance" (verses 19-25).

But until that time when peace will at long last finally dominate the Middle East, we need to keep our eyes open as this present turmoil unfolds in Egypt and among its neighbors, and watch to see how these events shape the region for the fulfillment of these biblical prophecies of the end time!