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empty Posted January 2001
Rev. Robert Ash Rev. Robert Ash People Of Color In The Bible  
(Part 1 - Egypt)

by Rev. Robert Ash

(Gen 41:45) And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over [all] the land of Egypt.

Knowing that God can use us is one of the most powerful and encouraging blessings in any Christian's life. Feeling that God cannot use us or that we have accomplished nothing for Him is one of the most disheartening situations that any committed Christian can face.

Galatians 3:28 teaches, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." God has always honored this principle. Man, however, has not.

For centuries, up through today, European-descended Christians have exclusively portrayed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as being European in virtually every visual representation they have made including paintings, books, television and films. This has even continued decades after it has become widely known that Jesus was not a European at all. Portraying Jesus as being one color or another is not a problem in and of itself. No brother or sister in Christ should ever object to visual portrayals of the Lord Jesus as being of any race. The problem is that there are many in the church who use the European Jesus image to exclude other peoples from identifying with Jesus as being one of them.

Black people and other people of color have dealt well with this state of affairs, focusing not on portrayals and images, but on the truth of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ and the brotherhood of all of His children. But overuse and abuse of European images have "given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" Him (2 Sam 12:14) by calling Christianity a "white man's religion", a religion of racial prejudice, when it is neither. There is no need to wrongly accuse Christianity, nor to depart from orthodox Christianity into Black Liberation Theology or other variants. People of color have a strong presence both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and in church history.

The things we're sharing now are things that most Bible teachers we listen to and whose works we read never tell us. Some do this purposefully because of prejudice, pride or peer pressure. Many others actually don't know these things themselves, or don't realize what great help and encouragement it would be to Christians of all backgrounds to know how God has throughout history redeemed and used people with willing hearts "from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Rev 5:9).

God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26). Preaching this is not preaching "social gospel". From God's perspective it's just as important to make it a point to mention that people He used were Africans or other people of color as to mention they were Roman, Greek, German or English, "for ye are all one in Christ Jesus".

It's all there, out in the open. It's just not presented by most Bible teachers or books in a way that makes it obvious. We just have to dig a little and when they mention all these ancient names, know a little bit about their history, then just look on a map and find out where they actually are!

The first people of color we'll share about are Egyptians. We usually think of Egypt today as an Arab country, and that's the way we talk about it. But there were no Arabs in Egypt in Bible days, Old Testament or New Testament. In fact, there were no Arabs in Egypt until the time of Mohamed, almost 600 years after the Bible was already finished. The early Egyptians in the Bible days and earlier were Africans of various colors. About 1/3 were black-skinned; more importantly, the people who lived in the area known as the Fayoum depression, that laid the foundation for Egyptian civilization in the dynastic ages, were black-skinned Africans. There were even black-skinned Pharoahs.

For many, many years European and American historians and anthropologists created what is now called the Hamitic Myth, that light-skinned Africans were responsible for all civilization in Africa. First, that's wrong.  Second, most of the light-skinned peoples they talked about were nomads, who traveled the desert going from place to place. Most of the black-skinned people were settlers. What does it take to develop civilization? Agriculture, settled lifestyle, stability. That's why Egyptian civilization started with those black-skinned Africans in the Fayoum depression.

Egyptians were very prominent in bloodline and ethnic heritage of Israel. They were in Egypt for over 400 years, and they didn't grow from 70 people to 2.5 million people just marrying each other. Joseph married an African woman while he was president of Egypt. Her name was Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of the city of On (Gen 41:45). Joseph's children were half-African, and each of his two half-African children (Ephraim and Manasseh) became a tribe of Israel. Because the tribe of Levi was not counted in the census of armed men for Israel's army Joseph was given two half-tribes. Two of Israel's tribes were fathered by men who had African blood in their veins. All of the Jews from both of these tribes had an African forefather.

And they're not the only ones. A large mixed multitude of Africans came out of Egypt with the Israelites (Ex 12:38). Many Bible teachers talk about them as though they were bad people and many say they never should have allowed them to come along. They say unkind and untrue things about them (one prominent Bible teacher even said they were 'all mixed up and didn't know who they were' because they were racially mixed), and say they caused all kinds of trouble. And they did. One time.

Numbers 11:4 says, "And the mixed multitude that [was] among them fell a-lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?" But God said the nation of Israel provoked Him not just one time, but ten times in the wilderness. Why does the mixed multitude (i.e. Africans and the people who were mixed Hebrew and African) who provoked God one time get more bad press than the other Israelites who provoked Him ten times? And even that one time the children of Israel were right there weeping with them. Weeping for flesh to eat because they didn't like the manna God fed them from heaven every morning.

The most important thing here, though, is that God never once spoke against the mixed multitude. He never once had even one thing to say against the African people who followed Israel out of Egypt to worship the God of Israel. God has always welcomed anyone who wants to follow Him. God never minded when the Israelites married other people from other races who turned from their false gods to follow the only true God. He was only angry when the Israelites married other races to follow their gods. That's when He got angry.

The attitude God had toward the mixed multitude, even those among them who had no Hebrew blood at all, is written in Ex 12:48 "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land..." God repeats this teaching in GAL 3:27. " For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Once again, God's thoughts are higher than man's thoughts.

It's human prejudice and carnality that makes Bible teachers single out the mixed multitude and blame them for Israel's problems. It's only human prejudice that says Israel never should have let the mixed multitude go along, and implies that Africans' going along was a bad thing. God never said these people were all mixed up and didn't know who they were. That's not the way God sees it! Those Egyptians that followed Him were treated and loved by Him the same as the Hebrews that were native born. So while man has been "pre-ju-dus", so to speak, God's been "use-ing us."

We should understand this, and understand where they're coming from when they say that. But we should never talk about them the way they talk about us. We should never react to white prejudice with black prejudice. Instead, let us show the love that Jesus showed. Let's recognize people even who don't recognize us or give us the credit that God gives us. As Ro 12:21 says, "Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good". And 1Pe 3:9 "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing."

To be continued....
Watch for the next part where we will talk about People of Color in the Bible, Ethiopia.

Recommended Books

Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995; Africa World Press, Inc., Lawrenceville, New Jersey, 1995)

D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Baker
Comments: Teaches believers how to see through denominational, personal and other biases and reasoning errors (logical, semantic, historical, linguistic, grammatical, Greek/Hebrew, etc.) Bias in particular is the root of blindness, selective morality and prejudice. Except for the Bible itself, this book (and Frank Stagg's "New Testament Theology") has influenced my Christian walk and helped me see the Bible more clearly than any other work I have ever read. Challenging reading but well worth the effort.

Jill Kamil, Coptic Egypt: History and Guide (The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt, 1987)

Rev. Robert Ash is co-pastor and youth minister of Euphrates Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland, California. He has 18 years of preaching, teaching, evangelism and apologetics experience in church, prison, college campus, and street ministry. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master's degree from Stanford University. The opinions expressed are those of the author. This article is used by permission.
Copyright 1999

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