Job description of trusted officials
Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. – GENESIS 40:1-3
The cupbearer and the baker were two of the most trusted men in Pharaoh’s kingdom. The baker was in charge of making the Pharaoh’s food, and the cupbearer tasted all of his food and drink before giving it to him, in case any of it was contaminated or poisoned. These trusted men must have been suspected of a serious wrong, perhaps of conspiring against Pharaoh. Later the cupbearer was released and the baker executed.
Gave Joseph new name
Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went through the land of Egypt. – GENESIS 41:45
Pharaoh may have been trying to make Joseph more acceptable by giving him an Egyptian name and wife. He probably wanted to (1) play down the fact that Joseph was a nomadic shepherd, an occupation disliked by the Egyptians, (2) make Joseph’s name easier for Egyptians to pronounce and remember, and (3) show how highly he was honoured by giving him the daughter of a prominent Egyptian official.
Made slaves of the Hebrews
“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 1:9-10
Pharaoh was afraid the Israelites were becoming so numerous that they would organise and threaten his kingdom, so he made them slaves and oppressed them to kill their spirit and stop their growth. Slavery was an ancient practice used by almost all nations to employ conquered people and other captives. Most likely, the great pyramids of Egypt were built with slave labour. Although Israel was not a conquered nation, the people were foreigners and thus lacked the rights of native Egyptians.
Couldn’t wear down Hebrew slaves
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. – EXODUS 1:12
The Egyptians tried to wear down the Hebrew people by forcing them into slavery and mistreating them. Instead, the Hebrews multiplied and grew stronger. When we are burdened or mistreated, we may feel defeated. But our burdens can make us stronger and develop qualities in us that will prepare us for the future. We cannot be overcomers without troubles to overcome. Be true to God in the hard times because even the worst situations can make us better people.
Did his daughter find Moses?
Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. – EXODUS 2:5
Who was Pharaoh’s daughter? There are two popular explanations. (1) Some think that Hatshepsut was the woman who pulled Moses from the river. Her husband was Pharaoh Thutmose II. (This would match the earlier exodus date.) Apparently Hatshepsut could not have children, so Thutmose had a son by another woman, and this son became heir to the throne. Hatshepsut would have considered Moses a gift from the gods because now she had her own son who would be the legal heir to the throne. (2) Some think the princess who rescued baby Moses was the daughter of Rameses II, an especially cruel Pharaoh who would have made life miserable for the Hebrew slaves. (This would match the later exodus date.)
Wasn’t afraid of God, at first
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.’ “
Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” – EXODUS 5:1-2
Pharaoh was familiar with many gods (Egypt was filled with them), but he had never heard of the God of Israel. Pharaoh assumed that the God of the Hebrew slaves couldn’t be very powerful. At first, Pharaoh was not at all worried about Moses’ message, for he had not yet seen any evidence of the Lord’s power.
Wouldn’t listen to Moses:
Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” – EXODUS 5:3
Pharaoh would not listen to Moses and Aaron because he did not know or respect God. People who do not know God may not listen to his word or his messengers. Like Moses and Aaron, we need to persist. When others reject you or your faith, don’t be surprised or discouraged. Continue to tell them about God, trusting him to open minds and soften stubborn hearts.
Did God intentionally harden his heart?
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses. – EXODUS 9:12
God gave Pharaoh many opportunities to heed Moses’ warnings. But finally God seemed to say, “All right, Pharaoh have it your way,” and Pharaoh’s heart became permanently hardened. Did God intentionally harden Pharaoh’s heart and overrule his free will? No, he simply confirmed that Pharaoh freely chose a life of resisting God. Similarly, after a lifetime of resisting God, you may find it impossible to turn to him. Don’t wait until just the right time before turning to God. Do it now while you still have a chance. If you continually ignore God’s voice, eventually you will be unable to hear it at all.
Broke his promise to Moses
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Pray to the LORD, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”
Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s. But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the LORD God.”
(The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bloom. The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)
Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands towards the LORD; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. – EXODUS 9:27-34
After promising to let the Hebrews go, Pharaoh immediately broke his promise and brought even more trouble upon the land. His actions reveal that his repentance was not real. We do damage to ourselves and to others if we pretend to change but don’t mean it.
Didn’t want Hebrews to leave Egypt:
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” – EXODUS 10:27-28
Why was Pharaoh so reluctant to let the people go? The Hebrews were Egypt’s free labour – the builders of their great cities. As Egypt’s leader, Pharaoh would not easily let such a great resource go.
How could he see God’s power & still refuse to listen?
The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you – so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country. – EXODUS 11:9-10
You may wonder how Pharaoh could be so foolish as to see God’s miraculous power and still not listen to Moses. But Pharaoh had his mind made up long before the plagues began. He couldn’t believe that someone was greater than he. This stubborn unbelief led to a heart so hard that even a major catastrophe couldn’t soften him. Finally, it took the greatest of all calamities, the loss of his son, to force him to recognise God’s authority. But even then he wanted God to leave, not to rule his country. We must not wait for great calamities to drive us to God, but must open our hearts and minds to his direction now.
©Kingsway International 1973.