I’ve been reflecting today on Abraham’s time in Egypt. God led him to the land of Canaan and promised that his descendants would live there, but shortly after, Abraham and his family moved to Egypt, seeking relief from a severe famine. (See Genesis 12:6-10, Abraham 2:18-21.)
Abraham’s grandson Jacob moved to Egypt years later, again to escape a famine. His son Joseph was miraculously in a position to save his family. (See Genesis 45:17-28.)
And when Jesus was young, his father and mother also took him to Egypt for a time. (See Matthew 2:13.) Matthew saw this as a fulfillment of a prophecy by Hosea: “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Matthew 2:15; see Hosea 11:1).
But on other occasions, God warned people not to rely on Egypt. Isaiah warned the people of Judah that the Egyptians would not follow through on their promise to defend them from the Assyrians. (See Isaiah 30:1-7.) And Jeremiah later told them not to expect refuge from the Babylonians in Egypt: “The sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die” (Jeremiah 42:15-16).
Most references to Egypt in the Book of Mormon are reminders that the children of Israel were freed from captivity and led by God to the promised land. When Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, they didn’t seek refuge in Egypt, but they did travel close by, “in the borders near the Red Sea,” which must have reminded them of Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians. (See 1 Nephi 2:5, 8-9, 1 Nephi 4:2, 1 Nephi 16:14, 1 Nephi 17:26-27.)
Egyptian culture did influence the family, though: Nephi tells us at the beginning of the book that he is writing in the language of his father, “which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). Nearly 500 years later, King Benjamin tells his sons that, if Lehi hadn’t been “taught in the language of the Egyptians,” he would not have been able to read the records on the brass plates and teach them to his children (Mosiah 1:4). Moroni later tells us he and his father called their evolved version of the language “reformed Egyptian” (Mormon 9:32).
So is Egypt good or bad? For Abraham, Jacob, and the Savior, it was a refuge from danger. Lehi learned from its culture. But on other occasions, it has been a dangerous place or an unreliable ally.
Shortly before the 2020 election, President Dallin H. Oaks quoted Henry John Temple, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1855 to 1865:
We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow.“Love Your Enemies,” General Conference, October 2020
Six months later, President Oaks provided the following counsel to church members:
There are many political issues, and no party, platform, or individual candidate can satisfy all personal preferences. Each citizen must therefore decide which issues are most important to him or her at any particular time. Then members should seek inspiration on how to exercise their influence according to their individual priorities. This process will not be easy. It may require changing party support or candidate choices, even from election to election.“Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution,” General Conference, April 2021
When God led Abraham to Egypt, it didn’t become his promised land. God certainly didn’t intend for Abraham to adopt Egyptian religious beliefs and customs. Abraham benefitted from his Egyptian experience without being absorbed by Egypt. You might say he was in Egypt but not of Egypt. (See John 17:14-15.)
Today, as I engage with people who have different priorities and backgrounds, I will remember Abraham in Egypt. I will embrace the good that I can learn from them while holding on to the good that I already have. I will remember that temporary alliances can be beneficial, but I will remain focused on eternal priorities.