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Plundering the Egyptians

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Exodus 12:35,36

"Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold."

Exodus 11:2

I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.

Exodus 3:21,22

God said to Abram, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve and afterward they will come out with many possessions.

Genesis 15:13,14

We just worked backwards in Scripture by looking at the text references. God says to Abram (his name was later changed to Abraham) that not only will He give Abram a son in his old age, but that he will also have numerous descendants. Those descendants will be slaves in a foreign land for four hundred years. But God will bring them out of that land and when He does, they will come out with many possessions. God makes a covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:18.

Centuries pass between when God says what will happen and when it actually does happen; enough time for the descendants to become numerous. Abraham has Isaac. Then Isaac's son Jacob is born. Jacob has twelve sons. One of those sons, Joseph, gets sold into slavery in Egypt. There he rises to power as the second in command of Egypt. Because of a famine Joseph brings his family to Egypt. Seventy come in to Egypt. They become many people, a nation is being formed, and the new pharaoh enslaves them. After 400 years of slavery, God delivers them. The plagues and the exodus occur. The time period between when God made the covenant with Abram/ Abraham and the Exodus was six hundred years give or take!

What God promises to Abraham comes true. The events took place just as God's plan outlined.

Why do you think God told the Israelites to plunder silver, gold and clothing from the Egyptians?

Was it a reward, a reparation for their suffering? I suppose they would need new clothing after four hundred years in slavery. Was God simply providing for them? Or was there a more practical reason?

I turned to all my reference books and I couldn't find any explanation for why God would tell the Israelites to plunder the Egyptians. I find this very curious. It may seem like a minor detail in the account, but it actually is quite significant. I turned to the internet and read many articles on why the Israelites plundered the Egyptians.

Most scholars talk:

  • about the fulfillment of God's promise. True. God is faithful.

  • about how in ancient times victorious armies would often plunder those they defeated. True. God is the Victor.

  • about God humbles the haughty Egyptians. True. God punishes evil.

  • about transferring of wealth as an example of God's justice to repay the Israelites for their suffering. True. God is just.

  • about how this is considered God's blessing and this is a common motif in Scriptures. True. God blesses those who obey Him.

  • about how the world would see God is more powerful than the Egyptian gods. True. God is the one true God.

These are excellent reasons why God told the Israelites to ask the Egyptians for their wealth before they left Egypt. God is faithful, victorious, He punishes evil and blesses the righteous, is just, and the true God.

But there is an obvious practical reason that God commanded the Israelites to plunder the Egyptians! These spoils of Egypt will later be used in the construction of the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was going to be the place where God dwelled with His people, where He met with His people, and where He spoke to His people. It was central to God's plan. With the religious observances at the tabernacle God would teach His people they are to be holy before Him.

Turn to Exodus 25-40. There is chapter upon chapter of very specific instructions on how to build and erect the tabernacle. The Israelites were asked to bring freewill offerings of gold, silver, bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams skins dyed red, manatee skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones for the the ephod and for the breastpiece. (Exodus 25:3-7) The Israelites had been in slavery for four hundred years. Slaves don't have gold, silver, bronze and fine linen. God delivered them out of bondage and they are now in the middle of the desert. Where would you get these items after being slaves and in the middle of nowhere? From plundering the Egyptians!

God provides!

The tabernacle wasn't some little feat and needed a lot of metal, wood and linen to construct. It was quite large and quite ornate. It was portable in that it had to be carried and moved and go with them as they journeyed through the desert. When God moved and led them, they took down the tabernacle and moved it with them. When God came to their next stopping point, they erected the tabernacle again.

It was quite fancy! The table of showbread was to be overplayed with gold. The lampstand was to be made of pure gold. The massive curtains were to be made of fine linen and blue and purple and scarlet material. The Altar of Incense was overlaid in gold. The Veil was woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread with designs of cherubim embroidered on it and was hung with pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark of the Covenant was overlaid with gold. The Mercy Seat was made of pure gold. The Brazen Altar was covered in bronze. The washing basin and stand were made of bronze. The bases of the planks for the tabernacle were constructed of silver or bronze depending on where they were used. And depending on their location some of the poles were overlaid with gold and some with bronze. The priestly garments were made of fine linen spun with gold, blue, purple and scarlet yarn. Fine jewels and gold bells were put on them.

To make the tabernacle and all of its contents it took 2,193 pounds of gold, 7,544 pounds of silver, and 5,310 pounds of bronze. (Exodus 38:24-31) No wonder God had them plunder the Egyptians before they left!

When you are reading the Bible the biggest part of application for your life is to ask yourself what does the text tell me is true about God? It is true these verses on the Israelites plundering the Egyptians tell us many things about God.

God is omniscient. He knows everything past, present, and future. God specifically tells Abraham how long his descendants will be enslaved in a foreign land and He will deliver them with many possessions. About six hundred years later God commands the Israelites that when He delivers them out of bondage, they are to ask the Egyptians for their wealth. The Israelites are obedient and plunder the Egyptians as they leave. God knew the Israelites would be in the middle of the desert and need material to construct an elaborate tabernacle - a place where He will dwell, meet and speak to them.

He is the God who provides for all their needs.

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