Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Jesus all spent time in Egypt before returning to Israel. What is the significance of Egypt?


Egypt was already a great civilisation by the time it is first mentioned in the Bible. Abraham had gone to Egypt when there was a famine where he lived in Canaan.

A few generations later, Joseph was sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. During the great famine, his whole family (and therefore the whole Israelite nation) moved to Egypt. Four hundred years later, it was Moses who delivered the Hebrews out the slavery and oppression of Egypt into the Promised Land. And of course, Jesus was taken by Joseph and Panagia to Egypt as a toddler, under divine providence, to escape from Herod’s murderous rage.

To understand the significance of Egypt, we need to look at the significance of the Passover, which is the central event of the entire Old Testament.

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He revealed His calling to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. After many trials with the Egyptian pharaoh and after many plagues, he prepared the Israelites for the exodus. He ordered them to select lambs, to kill them, and to place some blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses. Standing up, clothed and ready to escape, they were to eat the lambs in the night. At midnight, the Lord slew the Egyptian firstborn. The houses marked with blood were spared. During the tumult, the Israelites began to escape, crossing the Red Sea, sojourning through the desert, eventually arriving at the Promised Land.

All subsequent generations remember this event, as the great sign of God’s fidelity and favour to his people.

In Jesus Christ, the ultimate meaning and universal purpose of the Passover and Exodus are revealed and accomplished. Jesus Christ is Himself the New Passover. He is the Passover Lamb, which is slain for the deliverance and liberation of all people from the powers of evil. The real “pharaoh” is the devil. He holds all men in slavery. The real deliverer is Jesus. He leads the people from the captivity of sin and death into the “promised land” of the Kingdom of God.

Thus, Egypt represents the state of sin; the foreign land mentioned in the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a representation of the worldly mentality; the condition of the soul held hostage by the passions. Thus, our spiritual life is our exodus from this land of slavery into the promised land of the Kingdom of God.

When Jesus with Joseph and Panagia escaped to Egypt, and ultimately returned, it prefigured His own descent into Hades followed by His resurrection. His visit to Egypt cleansed that land of the stain of idolatry and sin, so that through the desert fathers and other saints, the land of Egypt would become the cradle through which so many men and women would attain holiness. Likewise, when we welcome Christ into our hearts through repentance, He cleanses it so that we too can escape the clutches of sin and attain eternal life.



† Fr G. L.

Source: Lychnos October 2021 / November 2021