Second Fiddle: Pharaoh and the problem of human worth. Part 2

This is part 2, of a four-part series looking at old Bible stories in new ways.  This week, we’re looking at Egypt, pharaoh, and who is worthy of love. Check out week 1 here.

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Israel’s past with Egypt

It is impossible to begin this passage without remembering how the first arrived to be residents in Egypt.

We are reminded stories of Joseph, his mult-colored coat. We’re reminded of how his trust in God, and his dedication to him, allowed him to prove his worth to another Pharaoh, who elevated Joseph to the rank of 2nd in command.

This proved a divine appointment when a famine swept the homeland of his youth. Until this point, Joseph had used his influence to ensure Egypt had stored food for a time of famine, and because of his leadership, when famine happened, Egypt was prepared.

It was through a great story of forgiveness that Joseph’s family (the very earliest of a group of people who would eventually become the nation of Israel) was invited to come and live in Israel.

Israel grew…

And grew. And grew. And eventually, the outgrew the area of Egypt they had been given to live.

As is natural, generations were born, the original generation of Egyptians and Israelites, including Joseph and the original Pharaoh, eventually passed away. And with the passing of this generation, we see a new generation rise to power.

A new pharaoh filled with new ideas.

A Pharaoh obviously afraid and feeling threatened.

Before this Pharaoh’s own eyes, he is watching a group of foreigners- non Egyptians- growing, and growing, and growing.

And he immediately begins to be filled with fear and dread over what that might mean for him and his kingdom.

And in this fear, he takes drastic steps to correct what he sees as a very big problem.

He puts the early Israelites under slave labor, and appoints ruthless and cruel men to ensure they are “hitting their quota.” They were probably forced into building projects, digging irrigation channels, or other jobs of grueling labor.

When the Pharaoh sees that this isn’t changing anything, he takes it a step further, he mandates that all males born to Israelite women are to be thrown into the Nile. If he cannot dwindle their numbers through hard labor, he will remove half the equation in terms of reproduction.

What is going on here?

If you take a moment, forget that Israel is God’s chosen people, and just put yourselves in the shoes of the Pharaoh, you begin to see what he is feeling and thinking. And while you cannot justify slavery and murder, you begin to understand where the man is coming from, right?

In a time when leaders are regularly usurped or over thrown, kings, pharaohs and leaders had to be vigilant and ruthless if they wanted to maintain power and control.

And as he takes a look at the land he rules, and the people who serve him, he sees a glaring threat to all he holds to be important; a group of people who don’t look like him, act like him, talk like him and come from the same place as him.

While these foreigners have been a positive part of his society up to that point, there was no promise that should they continue to grow, another nation wouldn’t gain their allegiance and use them to overthrow his rule…or that they would move away, establish a new country, and eventually invade and conquer him.

In this man, and in this point of the story, we see a man afraid of losing control. We see a ruler dedicated to preserving life as he saw fit. We see a man who valued complete obedience and refused to see those different from him as human beings.

These foreigners were only here to serve me. They cannot be trusted. They must be controlled at all costs.

And it was in this progression that he finds himself willing to slaughter the lives of thousands of innocent newborns.

It begins and ends with how he saw those different from himself.


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