Everybody loves the story of God bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. We’ve got all of the plagues and these dramatic signs of God’s power, then nearly two million slaves are set free. The pharaoh of Egypt changes his mind about letting them go at the last minute and chases them to the Red Sea, then God splits the sea in half, and his people escape through it only to have these walls of water smash in on the Egyptian army pursuing them.
There’s an important verse before all of that, though, which we often miss. “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8, ESV). Joseph was an Old Testament archetype of Jesus Christ, and here we have a nation’s ruler who didn’t know him. It’s a hint that there’s a whole generation of people who didn’t really know Joseph and, through him, the God that he served. We’ll come back to that. It’s important.
So the nation of Israel is set free in epic style, but then the narrative gets a little confusing for some people. God promised all of these people who had been slaves all of their lives a beautiful land that would be their own. He promised to lead them to this place; they wouldn’t even have to find it on their own. Before that, however, he made them wander in the desert for 40 years.
You see, he needed to get the culture and spirit of Egypt out of his people before they came into the place he’d promised them. If he hadn’t, the Israelites would’ve walked into the promised land with all of the habits and culture and beliefs of a generation who had forgotten Joseph and didn’t know God’s nature.
The same is often true for us as modern day believers. This life of the Holy Spirit is the life that we’ve been called to as followers of Christ. However, if we try to bring the lifestyle and ways of pharaoh and the world into our dealings with God, we’re going to run into trouble. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the early church applies to us just as much today: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness…” (Ephesians 5:8-11).