Recently I visited Egypt and walked among the colossal monuments of kings and queens of an ancient superpower. Even now, thousands of years after these long-dead monarchs, the might and grandeur of the ancient Egyptian empire is evident.
Although Egypt has changed in many ways, it is sobering to realize that human nature and the human condition haven't changed that much. I saw much evidence that even there, in a land of ancient abundance and plenty, bloodshed and oppression were all too common.
Most students of the Bible quickly associate ancient Egypt with the suffering of the Israelite slaves at the hand of a cruel pharaoh. Their suffering was indeed harsh. According to the biblical account: ". . . Taskmasters were appointed over them to oppress them with forced labour . . . until the Egyptians came to loathe them. They ground down their Israelite slaves, and made life bitter for them with their harsh demands . . . In every kind of labour they made ruthless use of them" (Exodus 1:11 Exodus 1:11Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
American King James Version×, 13-14, Revised English Bible).
With a huge captive workforce, prospects looked bright for the Egyptians but never so dark as for their Hebrew slaves. As if their brutal forced labor were not enough, the Egyptian monarch instituted a policy of infanticide, commanding his minions to throw newborn male babies into the Nile. No one knows how many innocent infants met their deaths in the swirling, muddy waters of the Nile, nor how many Hebrew slaves perished under the clubs and whips of their captors.
The story of the Israelites' deliverance from slavery has been dramatized in two major films: The Ten Commandments and, more recently, The Prince of Egypt. Both vividly depict the suffering of the Hebrew slaves and their exultation when finally delivered from their oppression. Their story is one of hope and inspiration for people of all generations who long for the end of oppression.
In later years another saga of slavery played out on the world stage. Over a span of three centuries several million African men, women and children were systematically captured and sold into slavery. Forcibly shipped to the New World, many never saw their families and loved ones again. Then, once they made new families on American shores, all too often those unions were later broken up as family members were sold again.
Slavery was finally abolished in the United States after a decades-long struggle by many courageous men and women, black and white alike. Scars from the American slavery experience, however, remain with us to this day. Through its lingering effects we can still sense some of the deep-rooted agony and pain brought on by generations of degradation and humiliation. Bondage has never been a pretty sight.
We'd like to think we now live in an enlightened age. But do we really?
Not long ago a giant war machine used slave labor to build tanks, planes, bombs and bullets with which to enslave much of Europe. Laborers were worked until they dropped, then discarded like debris, their bodies burned or buried in mass graves. Families were again split up, some sentenced to a quick death and others to misery at hard labor before many of them, too, met their end.
It is sobering to think that these tragic conditions existed barely five decades ago—and in geographical areas of man's greatest cultural achievements. Perhaps we're not as enlightened as we think we are. The human heart still retains some desperately dark places.
Has the world seen the end of slavery?
Don't answer too quickly. Man's time of slavery is not yet over. Slavery remains alive and well and is more widespread than you think. Humanity has much to learn and far to go before we finish our quest for freedom. The Good News is dedicated to showing how that ultimate human freedom will come about. GN