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Middle Egypt, which lies immediately to the north of the Thebaid, was called in ancient times the Heptanomis, from the seven nomes, or counties, into which it was formerly divided.
The northern portion was called Lower Egypt; and here once stood the other great capital of the whole empire, Memphis. But the three great pyramids of Ghizeh, the colossal sphynx in their neighbourhood, and the tombs hewn in the rocky platform on which they are erected, are the only remains of its former greatness. The hand of the spoiler has pressed heavily upon it, and the site of ancient Memphis is now covered with a forest of date palms.
The vicinity of Egypt, however, to the land of Canaan, from which it is only separated by the portion of Arabia Petræa which extends to the shores of the Mediterranean, is the circumstance in its geographical position which renders its history and antiquities so peculiarly interesting and important. The Greek historians often allude to the relations, literary, political and commercial, that had at all times existed between the two countries, and their consequent interchange of manners and customs. But we know the fact upon far better authority. The Scriptures of truth inform us that the oriental name of Egypt, baya, Mizraim, is also that of the third son of Ham, by whose descendants it was first peopled, as well as the neighbouring countries. They also inform us that it was Canaan, the first born of Ham, who gave his name to the country which was afterwards colonized by his family, Gen. x. 6. 13. 20, This affinity would itself tend to promote close intercourse between the two neighbouring nations, Egypt and Canaan.
When Abram, in obedience to the call of God, had traversed the land of Canaan, and received that blessing which made it likewise the land of promise, he continued his journey into Egypt. The occasion of this removal into another country was a famine; and we may reasonably conclude, that others of the inhabitants of Canaan would be driven by the same necessity to migrate in the same direction, Gen. xii. 1-10. Thus Egypt would appear to have been the storehouse and granary of the neighbouring nations, and especially of the southern parts of Canaan and of Arabia, even at this early period, which affords us another proof of a constant intercourse between them. The periodical inundations of the Nile render the fertility of Egypt independent of the rain, which is indispensable to the productiveness of other countries. Moreover, the art of agriculture among the Egyptians was then considerably in advance of the Canaanites, who were principally feeders of cattle. Thence also probably arose the famines which are mentioned in its early history, though afterwards it became a land, the inhabitants whereof ate the increase of their fields, which not only flowed with milk and honey, but abounded in the fat of the kidneys of wheat, and in the pure blood of the grape, Deut. xxxiii. 14. The tenor of the history would seem to imply, that though the famine was grievous in the land of Canaan, there was abundance in Egypt; for it proceeds to relate that Abram returned from thence after a short sojourn greatly enriched, Gen. xii. 14–20; xiii. 2.
The next event in the order of time in which Egypt is connected with the inspired narrative, seems providentially adapted to continue the intercourse and connexion between
that country and Canaan, when the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham should extirpate the aboriginal inhabitants of the latter country, and thus dissolve the tie of blood relationship which existed between the Egyptians and the wicked descendants of the first-born of Ham, to whom that blessing was a curse.
Abraham had long since departed to the presence of the God who condescended to call him his Friend. But we read that his descendants became great and powerful, made wars and achieved conquests, Gen. xxxiv.; yet they remained shepherds, tending their flocks according to the customs of those primitive times, Gen. xxxvii. 12. We read also of the Midianitish Arabs traversing the sea of sand that separates Asia from Africa, with their camels laden with the fragrant productions of the happier portions of their wild country, to be exchanged for the corn and wine of Egypt, and trafficking with the Israelitish shepherd princes for the liberty of their younger brother, a stripling who had roused their jealousy by relating the prophetic dreams wherein God had forewarned him and his family of his future greatness. With a daring and fierce impiety, highly characteristic, nevertheless, of the hazardous and laborious occupation of shepherds in the wilderness, they resolve at once, by murdering their brother, to turn the counsel of the Lord into foolishness. Through the wiser and more politic advice of Judah, Joseph was sold into Egypt, and thenceforth for 500 years the scene of the inspired narrative is laid in that country, Gen. xxxvii.
Joseph was carried into Egypt as a captive, and sold to the captain of the king's guard for a household slave. He who was his father's beloved son, the son of his bosom, the
child of his old age, must now work and suffer and weep in the house of bondage. But " whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” God had heard the prayers of the fond parent, and remembered the affliction of his beloved son. He blessed Joseph's master for his sake, and he " was a prosperous man;" and, far better, he created in Joseph a clean heart and renewed a right spirit within him; and the youth kept himself pure in the hour of grievous temptation. Cast into the dungeon as a criminal through a false accusation, God was still with him in the prison, and made all that he did to prosper. He that hath God with him need fear no evil; but shall find him, even as Joseph did, a very present help in the time of trouble, Gen. xxxix.
Thus did God work “signs in Egypt, and wonders in the field of Zoan.” The entire history of the Israelites in Egypt is a series of miracles. God imparted unto Joseph the gift of the interpretation of dreams, Gen. xl. ; thus making manifest his presence with him to all them that stood by: but still “ until the time that his word came, the word of the Lord tried him.” Then after that he had suffered awhile according to His will, Gen. xli. 1, "the king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.” When he appeared before Pharaoh and his assembled princes, the dreams that had put to confusion “ all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof,” presented no difficulty to him. Divinely inspired, and full of the wisdom of God, he spake as an oracle. He warned the monarch of the coming danger; he clearly pointed out the remedy. Thus the true God was glorified in him ; for “ Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such an one as this is, a man in whom the
Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou,” Gen. xli. 38–40. Wonderful indeed were the ways of God towards Joseph ! He who just before had been brought hastily out of a dungeon, ver. 14, is now arrayed in vestures of fine linen; he has Pharaoh's ring upon his hand, and a gold chain about his neck; he rides in Pharaoh's second chariot, and they cry before him, Bow the knee; and so they made him ruler over all the land of Egypt, ver. 37-44.
Joseph immediately proceeded to exemplify the wisdom with which he had been so graciously endowed, by putting his plans into execution. “ And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt,” ver. 46, arranging everywhere, as the sequel shows, that the utmost advantage should be taken of the coming seven years of plenty ; building granaries, and appointing officers to superintend the purchase of the corn, and making all other needful preliminary arrangements. Thus prepared for the best improvement of the promised blessing, he reaped its full benefit. “And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number," ver. 47-50.
The plenty was in the land of Egypt alone, but the dearth