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Despoiling the Egyptians

Does a God of justice connive at people borrowing valuables from their neighbours with the intent of never returning them? According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites asked their Egyptian friends and neighbours for everything of value they could carry, and then fled Egyptwith Moses. The Egyptians did not know that the Hebrews were planning to leave, nor that their valuables would never be returned.

At Exodus 3.21f the Almighty told the Israelites:

21And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty. 22But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.

At Exodus 11.1f and 12.35f:

1And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether. 2Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver and jewels of gold.

35And the children of Israeldid according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: 36And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

The Hebrews’ borrowing without any intention of returning the jewellery and clothing of their unsuspecting victims may strike us as a swindle, a fraud, and a betrayal of trust and confidence. As evidenced in Against Marcion 5.13 (AD 213) by the church father Tertullian, and in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, this incident was a source of common pagan criticism against the Creator and Scripture in early Christian times.

Three reasons why Israel’s actions were justified were provided by Titus Flavius Clemens, better known as Clement of Alexandria, in his book Stromata 1.23, which he wrote at intervals between AD 192 and 202. He was the dean of the foremost instituteof Christianhigher learning.

Clement denied that the Hebrews acted out of a desire to get rich quick or out of the sin of covetousness. His first justification was that God was punishing the Egyptians for their own greed in enslaving the people of God after they had come to them in distress, seeking to buy food. Second, the Hebrews had won a decisive war against Egyptby God sending plagues on them and by the Egyptians being defeated in their attempt to keep the Israelites in slavery. According to the time-honoured laws of war, the victors are permitted to confiscate any property of the losers they wish. Third and last, during the centuries of bondage, the Israelites had served the Egyptians without recompense. The Egyptians owed them back wages. By leaving the country with their valuables, the Israelites were merely collecting what was long overdue to them.

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