The Ark of Bulrushes

Now Jacob was called Israel. He was the son of Isaac, whose father was Abraham, the servant of God. And these are the names of Jacob’s sons that came down with him out of Canaan into Egypt: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Benjamin. With their households, their wives and their children, seventy souls of Jacob’s blood in all, with their servants and herdsmen and handmaids, they came down, and set up their tents in the rich pastures of Goshen, a land east of Egypt, and west of what were then the northern reaches of the Red Sea. And a shallow cultivated strip of land, watered by a canal, stretched out east again of Goshen towards this sea.

There, as long as Joseph lived, and in his loving favour and protection, they dwelt. There they prospered, following the peaceful life of shepherds. And to some of them was deputed the charge of the king’s cattle. They were the keepers of Pharaoh’s herds.

As time went on, they died, and all their kindred and all that generation. But their children’s children who had been born and reared in Egypt, and their descendants also, increased so abundantly that in the centuries that followed they spread abroad throughout the whole region of Goshen. They became a nation. The land was filled with them.

They too continued to prosper. But there came at length a day when a new king rose in Egypt—a king to whom the name and fame of Joseph was nought. He was a man of rare personal beauty and renowned for his valour. He reigned for many years, and in power and conquest was one of the mightiest monarchs that ever sat on the throne of Egypt. He led his armies to victory in Syria, in Libya, and in Nubia. He besieged Khetesh, the chief city of the Hittites, on the island in the midst of the river Orontes, and utterly subdued them. He built vast solemn temples to the gods of Egypt, rich in splendour and treasure, himself both priest and king. The avenue of sphinxes, man-headed lions of stone, which he caused to be made, his prodigious pylons or gateways, the granite image of himself towering above thirty cubits in stature from its head-dress to its foot, and the records of his victories incised in the stones of his monuments—all these continue for earthly record of him to this day.

But he knew not Joseph. The services that as viceroy Joseph had rendered to Egypt in the seven years when its harvests failed and when by his insight and wisdom he had saved its people from famine and death, had been forgotten. In the eyes of this Pharaoh the Hebrews in Goshen were no longer a favoured people under his special grace. He regarded them with suspicion and distrust.

They occupied territory on the most dangerous frontier of Egypt. He saw how rapidly they grew in power and numbers—a race of alien blood and customs and religion, and, though small in stature, keen and alert in body and mind. And he feared that a day might come when Egypt being at war, they might ally themselves with his enemies and, fighting against him, fling off his domination over them and become a free people. His distrust poisoned his mind against them; and when the campaigns beyond his borders no longer occupied his mind, he took counsel on the matter with his chief statesmen and advisers.

‘These Hebrews,’ he said, ‘have become a danger and a menace, and if nothing be done to keep them in subjection, they will swarm like flies among us to such a degree that they will become more numerous than the Egyptians themselves. Let us so deal with them, then, as to give them neither the power nor temptation to revolt and to betray us.’

He set over them masters of works or overseers, men who would enforce his orders with a high hand. These overseers divided Goshen into districts, and the Hebrews who dwelt in them into droves or gangs. They were each of them responsible for a certain district; and over every gang they appointed a foreman who was himself a Hebrew. They spared no man either on account of his youth or age or infirmity—all must serve the king.

Little by little they increased the labour they exacted from the Hebrews until they had reduced them to a state of cruel bondage from which there was no respite. They brought down their lives to a continual bitterness, compelling them to toil like beasts of burden, driven on by rod and lash, until, worn to skin and bone, they could work no more, and were flung aside to die.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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