Thursday, July 14, 2011

Exodus 1:8-10 Pharaoh what's-his-name

"Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.  'Look,' he said to his people, 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.  Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.' "

Exodus 1:8-10 (NIV)

I have been spending much time trying to figure out which pharaoh reigned during the time of the Exodus.  Along the way I was amazed about how complicated things can become.  I don't really have a background in Egyptology, so I am starting practically from scratch, outside of various articles and books which I have read during the previous years.  At times I wondered if it really mattered for our purposes here.  Was I wasting my time?  Especially since even well-informed scholars can't seem to agree upon many of these matters.

However, I kept reading and researching, because along the way, I discovered a lot of fascinating information which could be helpful to us as we study the biblical text.  As long as you realize that this is a work in progress, I will share the things I have found or am thinking about as we travel through the book of Exodus.  Nearly every day I read of archaeological discoveries which confirm or at least shed light upon biblical texts, so it is like a puzzle which is constantly being updated.

First, I took a look at the text itself.  Just who was this "new king, who did not know about Joseph" who "came to power in Egypt"?  This seems to indicate an outsider, or at least a younger Egyptian, who did not know Joseph personally.  At first I thought it had to be someone from an outside culture, for otherwise, how could they be unaware of what Joseph, Pharaoh's prime minister, had accomplished for Egypt?  However, then I thought that even in our own times, it is not unusual for people to be ignorant of important figures even from as recently as their parents' or grandparents' times.

Next, I noted that this new king seemed to be somewhat familiar with the Israelites.  He is concerned that the Israelites might join forces with some opposing army, fight against Egypt and then later leave the country.  Geographically, the Israelites were in a good position to do this, for any army would probably have to sweep in from the north, passing through the Nile Delta area, where the people of Israel were living.

The fact that this king seems to be reluctant to let the Israelites leave the country shows me that even though they had not yet been enslaved, already there is some tension on the Egyptians' part, and a sense that the Israelites needed to stay in Egypt.  Perhaps this is only due to the fact that the Egyptians would be reluctant to lose this buffer zone of Israelites between themselves and any possible enemies.

This new king notes that the Israelites have become very numerous.  Perhaps you have heard about the concept of a hostile witness?  One aspect of this type of witness happens when someone who is not on the same side as the defendant nonetheless gives testimony which supports the defendant.  Well, probably without even realizing it, this king is giving clear testimony that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph is keeping His promise to grow Israel into a great nation during their time in Egypt.

In my next post, I will try to give an outline of some of the possible candidates for Pharaoh-during-the-Exodus.

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