Strangers in a Country That Is Not Theirs

Christian MölkFriend of Strangers Leave a Comment

After Jacob and his entire family settled in Egypt, the Israelites multiplied and became very numerous.[i] But when a new king appears in Egypt, he forces the Israelites to work as slaves and makes life difficult for them,[ii] something God had told Abraham long before:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. ”

(Ge 15:13)

The Israelites who lived in Egypt were called “Hebrews” by the Egyptians. The term is believed to originate from Eber, a descendant of Abraham, the progenitor of the Israelites.[iii] “Hebrews” in this case means “sons of Eber”[iv] and is used as another word for “the people of Israel” in an ethnic sense.

The name “Eber” roughly means “on the other side” and comes from the Hebrew word ”abar”, which means “to pass” or “to cross”, i.e. to go from one place to another. Given that Abraham left his homeland, crossed the Euphrates River[v] and came to the land of Canaan, he and his descendants were Hebrews in the sense that they came “from across the river”. The fact that Moses led the Israelites to cross the Red Sea when they fled from the Egyptians and that Joshua led Israel across the Jordan River does not make this connection to the word Hebrew any less appropriate.

In the Bible, the term “Hebrew” is used mainly in the context of distinguishing between natives and foreigners, for example when the Egyptians describe the Israelites,[vi] or when the Israelites describe themselves as foreigners in contrast to the Egyptians.[vii] The Old Testament stops using the word Hebrew (apart from calling the language of Israel “Hebrew”) after the Israelites have settled in their new land and David has become king. In the New Testament, the term is used primarily to distinguish between native Hebrew-speaking Jews and foreign-born Greek-speaking Jews.[viii] It seems that the more God blessed the Israelites, the more jealous and suspicious the Egyptians became. They began to see the Israelites as a threat and called them “Hebrews” in the sense of “strangers” from across the river. The Egyptians avoided mixing with Israelites and considered it an “abomination” to even eat with them.[ix]

You have read a free chapter of my book Friend of Strangers. If you like this book, please consider purchasing the ebook through Amazon. Since English is not my native language, there may be some linguistic inaccuracies. Please contact me if you find any.

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Ex 1:1–7

[ii] Ex 1:8–14

[iii] Ge 10:24

[iv] Ge 10:24

[v] Jos 24:2–3

[vi] Ge 39:14–17

[vii] Ge 40:15, Ge 43:32, Ex 1:19

[viii] Ac 6:1, 2Co 11:22, Php 3:5

[ix] Ge 43:32

Share & Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *