Lesson 5—Pharaoh and the Egyptians
The Pharaoh was probably the most important person in Egyptian society. The Egyptians believed he was a god and the key to the nation’s relationship to the cosmic gods of the universe. While the Pharaoh ruled, he was the Son of Ra, the sun god, and the incarnation of the god Horus. He came from the gods with the divine responsibility to rule the land for them. His word was law, and he owned everything. Thus there were no law codes, because the king upheld order and justice and insured the stability of society.
When the Pharaoh died, he became the god Osiris, the ruler of the underworld and those who live after death. The Pharaoh was the head of the army as well as a central figure in the nation’s religious life. As an intermediator between gods and men, the Pharaoh functioned as a high priest in the many temples in Egypt. Because the Egyptian people believed their fate was dependent on that of the Pharaoh, they seldom attempted to overthrow the government, although some pharaohs were very cruel.
(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
The Pharaohs were among the richest and most powerful rulers who ever lived but such great wealth and power did not preclude covetousness! The Egyptian Princes recommended Sarai to the first Pharaoh who immediately took her to his house. It made no difference that he could have had any of the Egyptian women, but he coveted a defenseless foreigner (Gen. 12:14-15). Abraham knew the power of their covetousness and that they would murder to attain their desires. In this lesson, whether or not Abraham did wrong by affirming that Sarai was his sister is not the point. The point is that the Egyptian’s and Pharaoh’s greed was so powerful that nothing could stop them from attainting their goal. God stopped Pharaoh from taking Sarah as his own wife by sending a plague (Gen 12:10-20). When Pharaoh saw that God forbade him from keeping his newly acquired foreign possession he sent Sarai and Abraham away (Gen 12:19-20).
Although some modern researchers have contested the previous findings, the second Pharaoh we read about in scripture, the one who dealt with Joseph and his family, appears to have come from a group that was generally known as the Hyksos (light skinned, Arian) kings. Only about 200 years after Abraham, a man called Potiphar, officer of the second Pharaoh, cast Joseph into prison, when his wife falsely accused Joseph of evil behavior. Potiphar’s wife had coveted Joseph’s love, but when Joseph remained faithful to the Lord, her covetousness gave way to vehement hatred and lies (Gen. 39). Once Joseph was vindicated and had interpreted the terrible dream, the second Pharaoh displayed great affection for Joseph and made him ruler over everything. Because the seven years of famine were so severe, the Egyptians were willing to trade their cattle, their property and eventually even themselves in order to buy grain. Even though Joseph did not receive any personal benefit, the second Pharaoh came to own everything through Joseph’s system of taking money and possessions from the Egyptians when he sold them food in the famine (Gen. 47:13-20). When the brothers of Joseph came from Canaan to buy grain, Joseph persuaded his father and them to settle in Egypt where food was readily available. Pharaoh gladly sent carts to bring Joseph’s brothers and father (Gen 45:16-20) and gave them the fertile land of Goshen (Gen 47:1-6), also called Rameses (Gen. 47:11).
More than 300 years after Joseph’s generation, there rose up another Pharaoh who did not know what Joseph had done to save Egypt from the famine (Exod. 5:1-2). The third Pharaoh had a different attitude altogether. This attitude was manifested in the enslavement and torture of the children of Israel. Pharaoh and the Egyptian rulers coveted the power the Lord gave the Israelites, and yet feared that their numbers would put them in control of the Egyptian nation (Exod. 1:8). Rationalizing that Israel might rebel and conquer Egypt, they enslaved all but Moses, who had been raised in the Pharaoh’s own house (Exod. 1:11-2:10; Exod. 5:5-6; Acts 7:21-22). Seeing the cruelty of the Egyptians to his own people, Moses slew an Egyptian overseer and was forced to flee for his life. At the age of eighty, Moses returned from the land of Midian by God’s command to take his people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
This third Pharaoh did not know nor accept the God of the Israelites and refused to obey His voice (Exod. 5:1-2). He and the rulers of Egypt feared the Israelites’ power, but still coveted their labor and the produce from the land which the former Pharaoh had given them. Instead of letting them remain under ordinary slavery, they put them under cruel bondage with unbelievable laws to keep them from multiplying further. The miracles and the plagues shown by Moses and Aaron did not persuade Pharaoh to let the coveted slaves go because his heart grew harder day after day (Exod. 4:21, 7:3, 14:4, 17); however, each plague was carried out so the Israelites, the Egyptians, and Pharaoh himself would know that Israel’s God was the only true God (Exod. 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29-30; 10:2) and that Pharaoh was no god at all.
1. Psalm 105:1-2 begins with this exhortation: “O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.” What “wondrous works” of God are recounted in verses 16-38?
2. From which dynasty or kingdom does the Pharaoh spoken about in Genesis 12:15-20 come? How does he demonstrate covetousness?
3. What does Potiphar’s wife covet (Gen. 39:1-20)?
4. After two years, Pharaoh dreamed a dream he could not understand. Summarize that dream and what Joseph, by God’s revelation, said it meant (Gen. 41).
5. What honor did Pharaoh bestow upon Joseph (Gen. 41:45-46; Acts 7:10)?
6. When the Egyptians cried to Pharaoh for food, what did he tell them to do (Gen. 41:55)?
7. What did Joseph suggest each family should “lay up in store” each year for the seven years (Gen. 41:34-35)?
8. How did the Pharaoh respond to the idea Joseph suggested (Gen. 41:41-44)?
9. How did Pharaoh come to own everything in Egypt (Genesis 47:19-20)?
10. What law was made that fed the people but still brought income to Pharoah (Gen. 47:22-24, 26)? See if you can find any information about a similar contract made with renters of farm land or “share croppers” during the early years of the USA?
11. When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, were they able to pay with money (Gen. 42:25-28)?
12. At the time Pharaoh invited Jacob and his sons and their families to come to Egypt, how did Joseph plan to secure the land of Goshen for them (Gen. 46:33-34; Gen. 47:2-4, 11)?
13. How many years later did the third dynasty of Pharaohs make new edicts (Exod. 1:11; Exod. 1:22)? What was their reasoning behind the cruel laws?
14. Instead of repenting of his evil, covetous heart, what did the last Pharaoh determine to do to his slaves (Exod. 5:10)?
15. RESEARCH QUESTION: We often read of God hardening Pharoah’s heart, and some have questioned God’s judgment in this.
a. Study the account of the plagues and see how many times Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
b. What caused God to give up on Pharaoh and determine to destroy him and the Egyptian nation?
c. When God finally gave up on Pharaoh, how did he determine to use him for the sake of the people (Rom. 9:17)?