Graves in Egypt

“And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?” (Exod. 14:11).

In a general way, I think, I had for years entered into the irony of this speech of the children of Israel, but the full force of it never came home to me until our recent visit to the land of Egypt. Next to spending some time in Palestine, it was my earnest desire to visit the land where Joseph had been so wonderfully used of God, where the people of Israel sojourned so many years and out of which they were delivered, and which long centuries afterwards afforded a haven for the Infant Jesus when as a Babe He was taken there by Joseph and Mary to escape the wrath of Herod. It was most interesting when we did get there, to sit down on Lord’s Day evening at a five o’clock Communion Service in the ancient town of Heliopolis; and as we looked out of the window, right across the street we could see a gnarled tree, which they told us was about nine hundred years old, but had sprung from a stock that was very much more ancient. It was covered with bits of rag and paper that were tied to its limbs. Tradition says that under that very tree, Mary, the mother of Jesus, rested and was bathing the holy Babe, when a poor leper came by and begged for an alms. Instead of giving him money the mother of Jesus is reported to have thrown the bathwater over him and in a moment he became perfectly clean! And because of that reputed miracle the Copts and others attach great virtue to that tree, and write out their prayers on paper or cloth and tie them to its boughs, hoping they will receive answers because of the sacred locality. It all seemed very sad and pitiable—the lamentable ignorance and superstition of people bearing the Christian name, to whom the New Testament is a sealed book.

We literally went down into Egypt. We had spent some eleven days in Palestine and would have stayed longer, but at the Gospel Center in Cairo, a week’s Bible Conference had been arranged for, and word sent around inviting all the missionaries of the various Boards to come in for five days of Bible study. So we cancelled the last four days of our intended visit in Jerusalem and took the train to Cairo to fit in with this program. We felt quite sure that it was the Lord’s doing, for we had a most delightful time of ministry with those beloved missionaries. We left Jerusalem in the morning, taking the train for Egypt, a railroad running right across the Sinai Peninsula to Cairo. The new and old methods of traveling are in close juxtaposition. As we came down from Jerusalem we had only to look out of the window to see long caravans of camels, sometimes thirty, forty or fifty animals at a time, plodding along on the desert, and there we were on the steam train hastening on to Egypt. Israel, we are told, would have needed eleven days in the journey over that same trail, but they took forty years to go to Canaan by another route, largely because of their unbelief. It took us ten hours.

We beheld many things of great interest. As we sped along through the Philistine country we saw the rock Etam, and the cave in which Samson hid after he slew the Philistines. Other places of historic interest there were, too numerous to mention. We enjoyed a marvellous view of the desert. We reached El Kantara on the bank of the Suez Canal in the evening at about six o’clock, and took dinner there, had our baggage examined by Customs and then passed into Egypt proper and on to Cairo, which we reached about ten o’clock at night, and found our good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Boutros and others waiting for us. They drove us out to Maadi, to the home of Dr. Wilson, an earnest Christian and an employé of the Government Hospital, who is particularly engaged in treating the Egyptians for eye-trouble. Thousands of them are afflicted with trachoma. That is one of the things that is so pitiable in a Mohammedan country. There, dear little children sit about in the hot sun, their festering eyelids covered with flies that must cause them great distress, but if the little ones raise their hands to brush them off, the parents sometimes say, “Do not disturb them; it is the will of Allah that you should be bitten by flies.” It is no wonder that hundreds of them become absolutely blind, though the British authorities in co-operation with the Egyptian Government are doing a great deal to teach the people the necessity of proper treatment, and to show them that it is not true that they must go blind, but can be healed if the trouble is dealt with in time.

We saw much of interest as our friends took us about Cairo, a marvellous city extending some five miles along the eastern bank of the Nile. The old name for Egypt is Mizraim, and they tell us that means “the land of double narrowness.” It aptly describes it—two narrow strips of arable land on either side of the River Nile. A few miles beyond and you are right in the desert, and it is a constant fight to keep the desert sand from encroaching on the tillable land. The Nile, as you know, is in flood every year unless there is some unexpected happening, such as lack of rain in Ethiopia, but otherwise it overflows the whole country, when the natives plant their com in accordance with the precept, “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.” The seed sinks down into the deep alluvial mud and generally a rich harvest can be depended on. It is very suggestive to those of us who try to preach the Gospel. How little we know just where the Word we proclaim may reach. I cannot tell as I seek to exalt Christ whether the Word is being received by any one or not. But it is my business to sow the seed and expect that I will see fruit after many days. When one stands at the judgment-seat of Christ, he may learn of many who were saved, of whom he knew nothing down here.

When Israel dwelt in Egypt something like 1600 years before Christ, it was already an ancient kingdom. The great pyramids, which are located about eight miles south-west of Cairo across the Nile, were built, so far as archaeologists can ferret out, about 2900 years before Christ, and the lesser pyramids of Memphis and Saccarah are supposed to be 5000 years old. Some may ask, Does that fit in with the story of the deluge? The deluge, I believe, occurred something like five or six hundred years before that. Personally, I am inclined to think that the chronological system which is based upon a careful study of the Septuagint would be more correct than that of Usher, and would carry history back nearly a thousand years earlier than that which is based upon the received text. The people of Israel saw those vast temples, they saw the obelisks, they saw the pyramids and Sphynx. These things were there in their day. They stand still, monuments to human vanity, and to the ancient Egyptians’ belief in immortality, for these great pyramidal structures are all tombs.

Egypt is God’s type of the world. He sent Moses to deliver His people out of Egypt. Now, in the New Testament we read that the Lord Jesus gave Himself for us that He might deliver us from this present evil world. This is our Egypt. How naturally it suggests things of the world: in its wisdom, for the wisdom of the Egyptians was renowed; in its riches, for the Egyptians were a most luxurious people; in its love of pleasure, for with the Egyptians the pursuit of pleasure had been reduced to an exact science; and then in its love of fame and honor, for after these the kings of Egypt ever strove. And yet as we think of that great land today, we find ourselves using the very words that the people of Israel used, when they spoke to Moses angrily because they had not been immediately brought into the promised land of which he had told them. Their history is a most interesting one. They picture worldlings everywhere who are in the bondage of sin. The Apostle Paul tells us, speaking of their history, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” There are several things one learns from that verse. Observe, “All these things happened.” There are some people today who tell us they never happened. But the Holy Ghost says, “All these things happened.” But then, He says more than that. He shows that there was a reason for the happening—that God had something in view that He wanted to picture for other people in the suffering and redemption of Israel. So we read that all these things happened to them for types and they are written for our learning and instruction, we upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived.

Consider the Passover. We do not have to guess as to the meaning of that. “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” What a marvelous picture of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus you have there! God was going to bring judgment upon the land of Israel, and He says unto them: “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.” Now observe, it was not the beginning of months. Quite the contrary. It was the seventh month of the year, but He says, “It shall be the beginning of months to you,” because they were going to make a new start, reckoning from the time they were redeemed. That is why Christ said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The moment one is saved life really begins; it is an entirely new start, for all who believe the gospel are born from above. Have you ever experienced anything like that? Have you ever known what it was to put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and thus begin all over again? Have you found yourself a bondman to sin and evil habits of various kinds, from which you are unable to deliver yourself? You may have said sometimes with Tennyson:

“Oh, for a man to arise in me,
That the man I am may cease to be.”

God wants to give you a new start; He wants to create in you a new nature. Through Christ you may be born again, and delivered from the bondage of sin.

But how men shy away from this tremendous truth. It has been told of one who often preached on that text, “Ye must be born again,” that someone said to him, “When you were here last you preached on that subject, and the time before, and now you preach on it again. Why do you preach so frequently on this text, ‘You must be born again?’” And the preacher looked at him with a smile, and replied, “Because ye must be born again!” God would have that truth impressed upon men’s souls. “This month shall be the beginning of months.” They were to begin beneath the sheltering blood of the Lamb. Notice three expressions:—“Take a lamb,” “The lamb,” “Your lamb.” The lamb typifies the Lord Jesus Christ. Is He just one of the world’s saviours, a lamb? Or have you come to the place where you say, “No, I would never think of putting Him on the same level with other teachers; to me He is the Lamb?” Can you go a step further? Can you say, “He is my Lamb, my Saviour, the One in whose redemptive work I am resting tonight?” Your lamb? Moses said, “You are to slay the lamb.” You and I have had a part in the slaying of the Lamb. It was our sins that put Him on the cross at Calvary. It was because of what we are and what we have done that He went to the cross.

Yes, unsaved one, you had a part in the death of the Son of God. Now will you have a part in the salvation that He wrought out by His death? It is not enough that Christ has died, but God said, “And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and sprinkle it on the door-posts, and the lintel, and go into the house, for I am going to pass through in judgment tonight, but when see the blood I will pass over you.” What does it mean? It means the appropriation of the death of Christ by faith for your personal redemption. Have you put your trust in Christ? Has the blood been sprinkled over your door-post? Are you inside in the place of security? If you are, thank God, the judgment can never reach you there.

But now notice it was not only God’s thought that they should be saved in Egypt that night, but they were to be saved out of it altogether. He does not want us to go on with the world after He has saved us. He said to Moses, “Let the people camp between the mountains and the sea,” and behind them was Pharaoh’s army, and the the people were in great distress and they said, “This is not deliverance. Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that thou hast taken us away to die in the wilderness?” No graves in Egypt! Why, that is what you will always find in Egypt. No other nations made so much of graves as the Egyptians. Everywhere we went in Egypt our friends were directing our attention to graves—not only graves of their mighty men, kings and priests and priestesses, but graves even of the lower animals, graves of crocodiles and of oxen and other creatures. We went into the recently-discovered catacombs and saw the graves of the twenty-four great bulls, and these beasts were buried in vast mausoleums so high you had to climb up to look into them, and they are all empty now because the mummies have been taken away and placed on exhibition. Graves in Egypt? The pyramids, those vast structures, are only graves. The Great Pyramid covers thirteen acres of ground, and yet that great pile is nothing but a tomb like the rest.

We visited the Royal Egyptian Museum. We saw the vast treasures that had been taken out of the tomb of Tutankhamen, a tomb containing almost fabulous stores of wealth and ornaments of all kinds, precious stones, and furniture that was simply amazing to behold. It is all intensely interesting, and gives a remarkable insight into the civilization of long ago. Egypt, a great Egypt, but a type of the world. There is nothing stable here. You can live for the world, you can go in for its pleasures, you can seek its honors, you can pile up its wealth, and what will you find? Only a grave. Would you have something that will last beyond the grave? That is what you are offered in Christ.

The one outstanding piece of literature that has come down to us from ancient Egypt is “The Book of the Dead.” Their mighty kings are written in “The Book of the Dead.” But God’s blessed Book speaks of a Book of Life. Is your name in it?

Graves in Egypt? They are everywhere. And so it is with the world. Go where you will, the dead are there. But the blessed Son of God came into this world of death and declared, “The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” How foolish to live for a world like this! How foolish to turn away from the gracious invitation of the Son of God, who offers eternal life! If you live for the world and refuse the salvation God has provided what will you have at last?

After the joys of earth,
After its songs of mirth,
After its hours of light,
After its dreams so bright—
What then?

Only an empty name,
Only a weary frame,
Only a conscious smart,
Only an aching heart.

But after this empty name,
After this weary frame,
After this conscious smart,
After this aching heart—
What then?

Only a sad farewell
To a world loved too well,
Only a silent bed
With the forgotten dead.

But after this sad farewell
To a world loved too well,
After this silent bed
With the forgotten dead—
What then?

Oh, then—the judgment-throne!
Oh, then—the last hope gone!
Then, all the woes that dwell
In an eternal Hell!

Why will men forfeit heavenly glory for earth’s passing, fading folly? Why will they risk the loss of the soul for a little sensual gratification? “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Well, you will never gain the whole world. What will it profit a man though, if he could gain the whole world? You will lose it all some day. A rich man died in New York some years ago, a multimillionaire, and the next day on Exchange they said, “So-and-so is dead.” “How much did he leave?” asked one. “Oh,” was the reply, “he left it all.” Selling your soul for a grave in this Egypt-world! Why will you die?

“Oh, turn ye, oh, turn ye,
For why will ye die
When God in great mercy
Is drawing so nigh?
Now Jesus invites you,
The Spirit says, Come!
And angels are waiting
To welcome you home.

“How vain the delusion
That while you delay
Your heart may grow better
By staying away.
Come wretched, come starving,
Come just as you be,
While streams of salvation
Are flowing so free.”

Come then to Christ without further procrastination and, trusting Him, you may know your name is in the Book of Life from which it can never be blotted out.