The return of Egypt

During the period of Solomon’s reign, and the civil war, we see another major theme in the biblical theology of war – the return of Egypt. Up to this point, Egypt has generally only been mentioned as a memorial – the place of slavery that God brought Israel out of (Ex 20:2). Deuteronomy 17 specifically bans kings from turning to Egypt for horses. However, Solomon marries Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 3:1), makes an alliance with Egypt, , and imports horses and chariots from them (1 Kings 10:28-29). Why is this such a problem? Up until now, Israel’s whole international diplomacy has consisted of dealing with the previous inhabitants of the land, and that was entirely about fighting. However, now Israel has reached out to a nation in peace, for alliance and assistance. Surely this is a good thing?

There is no clear explanation of God’s prohibition against military treaties with Egypt, but the context gives us some clues. Firstly, Egypt was the superpower of the day. In a few hundred years, Egypt’s star will fade, and be eclipsed by Assyria, Babylon and Persia. But at the time, there was no-one greater in the region. An alliance between Israel and Egypt would not be an equal thing; Egypt would be the lord, and Israel would be the vassal. So firstly, such an alliance would suggest a return to the slavery that God has rescued Israel from.

Secondly, the nature of the alliance is significant. It is not a trade agreement, it is a one-directional supply of military equipment. To take horses and chariots from Egypt is to say that Israel were incapable of defending themselves adequately without help. It is to say that Israel were no longer trusting God for their protection, but their armies and, by extension, Egypt. By focussing on developing the latest in military technology, Israel have forgotten that God had given them victory after victory against enemies with overwhelming advantages – both numerical and technological. In judges, only the Philistines had iron weapons (the Israelites were left with the vastly inferior bronze). God won that victory, not through supplying his people with Iron, but by calling up a judge to defeat the enemy.

Regardless, Solomon makes a treaty with Egypt, and he collects his horses and wives. But Egypt does not stay an ally for long. When Solomon turned away from God, God raised Hadad the Edomite to attack him (1 Kings 11:14). In the following verses, we are supplied a detailed back-story of Hadad’s life which shows his close connection to Egypt. Not much later, Rehoboam of Judah turned to worship false gods and God sent Egypt to attack (2 Chr 12:1-12). They took Jerusalem, looted the Temple and became vassals of Egypt (v8).

This introduces a whole new class of war for Israel and Judah – war against other nations apart from the original inhabitants. As you can see from my chart of every war in the Bible, there are a number of battles against Egypt, Cush (around southern Egypt and Sudan), Assyria and Babylon. Almost every single one of these battles are declared by God to be punishment against his people, and every single one of them was lost. There is no give-and-take as with the original inhabitants, the battles with other nations are a unilaterally bad thing for Israel and Judah. Of course, these battles culminate with the destruction of Israel by Assyria, and the defeat and exile of Judah by Babylon, but we will return to those events later.

 

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