by Doug Ward

Christian Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is often asked about the identity of the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt at the time of the Exodus of the children of Israel. This is a longstanding puzzle for both professional and amateur historians. Unfortunately, the book of Exodus does not identify the obstinate Pharaoh who would not relinquish his Israelite slaves until Egypt suffered ten terrible plagues.


Why does the Pharaoh of the Exodus remain anonymous in the Bible? Dr. Hoffmeier addressed this question in a sermon delivered at Oxford Bible Fellowship in Oxford, Ohio, on March 5, 2017. The answer, he asserted, is that the book of Exodus is concerned with a different question: Who is the God of the Exodus?


The unnamed Pharaoh himself raised this question when Moses and Aaron came to him to demand the release of the Israelites. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?" he haughtily replied. "I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go" (Exod 5:2).


Yada, Yada, Yada

Hoffmeier observed that the verb "to know" (yada in Hebrew) that we see in Exodus 5:2 appears repeatedly in Exod 1-14 and points to a key theme in the narrative. We first encounter this verb in Exod 1:8, which begins the story of how the Israelites came to be slaves in Egypt: "Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." The king's lack of knowledge does not mean that he was unaware of Joseph's existence, but instead that he behaved as if Joseph's contributions to Egyptian society did not matter.


In the Hebrew Scriptures verbs like "know", "see", "hear", and "remember", that today we might associate with purely sensory or cognitive activities, imply actions that accompany those activities. It is helpful to keep this in mind when we read about God's response to Israel's suffering in Exod 2:23-25. The text says that God "heard their groaning", "remembered his covenant", "saw the people of Israel", and "knew." The message is that God was well aware of Israel's plight and already had been taking action-for example, in protecting and preparing Moses for his future leadership role-in order to carry out his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Many people would learn the answer to Pharaoh's question, beginning with the Israelites themselves. God told Moses, "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians" (Exod 6:7). Hoffmeier pointed out that the Hebrew phrase translated "I will take you" is the one used in the Bible when a man "takes" a bride. God was entering into an intimate relationship with Israel, a relationship that the Bible compares to a marriage (Ezek 16). Through the experiences of the Exodus and the ensuing years in the wilderness, Israelites would have the opportunity to come to know God well. They could also convey this knowledge to future generations by repeating the stories of God's mighty works (Exod 10:2).


A series of plagues would introduce the Egyptian people to the God of Israel. "The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord," God said, "when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them (Exod 7:5). The events at the Sea of Reeds would send a particularly clear message to the Egyptians. "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen" (Exod 14:18).


The messages conveyed by the plagues were especially intended for Pharaoh as leader of the Egyptians and the most powerful ruler in the region. He was to understand, as Moses said, that "there is no one like the Lord our God" (Exod 8:10; see also 9:14). The God of Israel was not one of Pharaoh's peers, or some minor territorial deity. Instead, he was the ruler of all the world (Exod 9:29).


Proclaiming the Gospel

The miracles of the Exodus were also destined to be known far beyond the borders of Egypt. God told Pharaoh through Moses, "But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (Exod 9:16).


The Exodus announced a gospel of salvation that spread to people from countries throughout the Near East. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were accompanied by a "mixed multitude" (Exod 12:38) that probably included other slaves from a number of nations. Moreover, news of the Exodus traveled far and wide. Jethro the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, would soon confess, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods" (Exod 18:11).


Forty years after that, people in Canaan still remembered what God had done. When the Israelites arrived there, the innkeeper Rahab stated that "we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt" (Joshua 2:10). Based on what she had heard, Rahab concluded that "the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath" (v. 11).


Generations later the Philistines, who came to Canaan from across the Mediterranean, still knew about the Exodus. When a new round of plagues accompanied the Philistines' capture of the Ark of the Covenant, their priests and diviners admonished them to "give glory to the God of Israel" (1 Sam 6:5). These priests added, "Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?" (v. 6)


The events of the Exodus still speak to us even today. Dr. Hoffmeier closed his message by highlighting four truths conveyed in Exod 1-14. First, the Israelites could not save themselves. They were "dead in their sins" (Eph 2:5), and God initiated their salvation. Second, God is always acting, even when we do not notice, as was the case when the Israelites suffered in slavery. Third, God continually reveals himself and his salvation to his human creation, as he did through the Exodus. Finally, God uses human beings as instruments of blessing and salvation for others. Moses was such an instrument at the time of the Exodus, and we can think of modern examples from our own lives.


Issue 31


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On 19 Mar 2017, 17:09.