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Against Heresies by Irenæus

Chapter XXX.--Refutation of another argument adduced by the Marcionites, that God directed the Hebrews to spoil the Egyptians.

1. Those, again, who cavil and find fault because the people did, by God's command, upon the eve of their departure, take vessels of all kinds and raiment from the Egyptians, and so went away, from which [spoils], too, the tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness, prove themselves ignorant of the righteous dealings of God, and of His dispensations; as also the presbyter remarked: For if God had not accorded this in the typical exodus, no one could now be saved in our true exodus; that is, in the faith in which we have been established, and by which we have been brought forth from among the number of the Gentiles. For in some cases there follows us a small, and in others a large amount of property, which we have acquired from the mammon of unrighteousness. For from what source do we derive the houses in which we dwell, the garments in which we are clothed, the vessels which we use, and everything else ministering to our every-day life, unless it be from those things which, when we were Gentiles, we acquired by avarice, or received them from our heathen parents, relations, or friends who unrighteously obtained them? -- not to mention that even now we acquire such things when we are in the faith. For who is there that sells, and does not wish to make a profit from him who buys? Or who purchases anything, and does not wish to obtain good value from the seller? Or who is there that carries on a trade, and does not do so that he may obtain a livelihood thereby? And as to those believing ones who are in the royal palace, do they not derive the utensils they employ from the property which belongs to Cæsar; and to those who have not, does not each one of these [Christians] give according to his ability? The Egyptians were debtors to the [Jewish] people, not alone as to property, but as their very lives, because of the kindness of the patriarch Joseph in former times; but in what way are the heathen debtors to us, from whom we receive both gain and profit? Whatsoever they amass with labour, these things do we make use of without labour, although we are in the faith.

2. Up to that time the people served the Egyptians in the most abject slavery, as saith the Scripture: |And the Egyptians exercised their power rigorously upon the children of Israel; and they made life bitter to them by severe labours, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field which they did, by all the works in which they oppressed them with rigour.| And with immense labour they built for them fenced cities, increasing the substance of these men throughout a long course of years, and by means of every species of slavery; while these [masters] were not only ungrateful towards them, but had in contemplation their utter annihilation. In what way, then, did [the Israelites] act unjustly, if out of many things they took a few, they who might have possessed much property had they not served them, and might have gone forth wealthy, while, in fact, by receiving only a very insignificant recompense for their heavy servitude, they went away poor? It is just as if any free man, being forcibly carried away by another, and serving him for many years, and increasing his substance, should be thought, when he ultimately obtains some support, to possess some small portion of his [master's] property, but should in reality depart, having obtained only a little as the result of his own great labours, and out of vast possessions which have been acquired, and this should be made by any one a subject of accusation against him, as if he had not acted properly. He (the accuser) will rather appear as an unjust judge against him who had been forcibly carried away into slavery. Of this kind, then, are these men also, who charge the people with blame, because they appropriated a few things out of many, but who bring no charge against those who did not render them the recompense due to their fathers' services; nay, but even reducing them to the most irksome slavery, obtained the highest profit from them. And [these objectors] allege that [the Israelites] acted dishonestly, because, forsooth, they took away for the recompense of their labours, as I have observed, unstamped gold and silver in a few vessels; while they say that they themselves (for let truth be spoken, although to some it may seem ridiculous) do act honestly, when they carry away in their girdles from the labours of others, coined gold, and silver, and brass, with Cæsar's inscription and image upon it.

3. If, however, a comparison be instituted between us and them, [I would ask] which party shall seem to have received [their worldly goods] in the fairer manner? Will it be the [Jewish] people, [who took] from the Egyptians, who were at all points their debtors; or we, [who receive property] from the Romans and other nations, who are under no similar obligation to us? Yea, moreover, through their instrumentality the world is at peace, and we walk on the highways without fear, and sail where we will. Therefore, against men of this kind (namely, the heretics) the word of the Lord applies, which says: |Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote out of thy brother's eye.| For if he who lays these things to thy charge, and glories in his own wisdom, has been separated from the company of the Gentiles, and possesses nothing [derived from] other people's goods, but is literally naked, and barefoot, and dwells homeless among the mountains, as any of those animals do which feed on grass, he will stand excused [in using such language], as being ignorant of the necessities of our mode of life. But if he do partake of what, in the opinion of men, is the property of others, and if [at the same time] he runs down their type, he proves himself most unjust, turning this kind of accusation against himself. For he will be found carrying about property not belonging to him, and coveting goods which are not his. And therefore has the Lord said: |Judge not, that ye be not judged: for with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged.| [The meaning is] not certainly that we should not find fault with sinners, nor that we should consent to those who act wickedly; but that we should not pronounce an unfair judgment on the dispensations of God, inasmuch as He has Himself made provision that all things shall turn out for good, in a way consistent with justice. For, because He knew that we would make a good use of our substance which we should possess by receiving it from another, He says, |He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.| And, |For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was naked and ye clothed Me.| And, |When thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.| And we are proved to be righteous by whatsoever else we do well, redeeming, as it were, our property from strange hands. But thus do I say, |from strange hands,| not as if the world were not God's possession, but that we have gifts of this sort, and receive them from others, in the same way as these men had them from the Egyptians who knew not God; and by means of these same do we erect in ourselves the tabernacle of God: for God dwells in those who act uprightly, as the Lord says: |Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that they, when ye shall be put to flight, may receive you into eternal tabernacles.| For whatsoever we acquired from unrighteousness when we were heathen, we are proved righteous, when we have become believers, by applying it to the Lord's advantage.

4. As a matter of course, therefore, these things were done beforehand in a type, and from them was the tabernacle of God constructed; those persons justly receiving them, as I have shown, while we were pointed out beforehand in them, -- [we] who should afterwards serve God by the things of others. For the whole exodus of the people out of Egypt, which took place under divine guidance, was a type and image of the exodus of the Church which should take place from among the Gentiles; and for this cause He leads it out at last from this world into His own inheritance, which Moses the servant of God did not [bestow], but which Jesus the Son of God shall give for an inheritance. And if any one will devote a close attention to those things which are stated by the prophets with regard to the [time of the] end, and those which John the disciple of the Lord saw in the Apocalypse, he will find that the nations [are to] receive the same plagues universally, as Egypt then did particularly.

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