As I’m reading through Exodus chapter 1 I’m noticing how fear plays such a strong role in human nature. The Egyptians came to hate the Israelites and “worked them ruthlessly” for no other reason than that they came to fear them. They came to see their neighbors as a threat.
What drove the Egyptians to fear the Israelites so much? It was the simple fact that the Israelites were doing well. They were growing and bettering themselves. Why does someone else’s gain automatically have to become a threat to us?
Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. Exodus 1:6-7
This is the great and terrible people the Egyptians enslaved and began to fear. “They multiplied greatly.” That’s a creative way of saying they had a lot of babies. In today’s society, at least in my American culture, having a lot of babies is seen as somewhat of a limiter. It costs a lot to raise a lot of children so it limits you as to how much you can do and buy and have. You are less “free” with more responsibilities tying you down. This isn’t how I see it, but it’s how many see it.
For the Egyptians and the Israelites of Exodus however, more babies meant more people. More people meant larger potential armies. This meant large potential power. So the gain of the Israelites was feared by the Egyptians.
“Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” Exodus 1:10
There is no logic behind this line of thinking. It’s completely irrational and driven by fear. These are the Israelites. The only reason they are in Egypt is because of Joseph. Remember? The one who saved all of Egypt with his preparation for the coming famine? These are friends, not enemies. But fear doesn’t play by these rules of reason. Fear does not reflect accurately on history or trust those who have earned it. Fear reacts, preserves, and mistreats potential threats. And this is how the Egyptians choose to live. Fear, after all, is the great motivator—not for action, but for over-reaction. Fear panics. Fear assumes. Fear breeds suspicion and envy and hatred. Fear is a tyrant and it’s primary victim is the one who wields it.
How many of my life’s decisions are a reaction to fear?
What I find ironic in Exodus 1 is that the plan backfires on the Egyptians. They intend to oppress the Israelites and so minimize them as a threat. Instead, through harsh treatment and unfair abuse the Israelites thrive and continue to increase.
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. Exodus 1:12-13
The only ones who lost for all this fearing are the ones living in fear. Granted, the Israelites endure harsh treatment, but their story does not end with being treated harshly. Their story is not over, it is only just beginning.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18