Meet King Pharaoh: Arrogant Egyptian Ruler

Get to know the god-king pharaoh who opposed Moses

King Pharaoh and Dead Son
King Pharaoh and His Dead Son by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

The name of the pharaoh who opposed Moses in the book of Exodus is one of the most hotly debated subjects in Bible scholarship.

Several factors make it hard to identify him with certainty. Scholars disagree on the actual date of the Hebrews' escape from Egypt, some placing it at 1446 B.C. and others as late as 1275 B.C. The first date would have been during the reign of Amenhotep II, the second date during the reign of Rameses II.

Archaeologists initially marveled at the great number of structures built during the reign of Rameses II. Upon further inspection, however, they discovered his ego was so huge that he had his name inscribed on buildings constructed centuries before he was born and took credit for erecting all of them.

Even so, Rameses had a lust for construction and forced the Hebrew population into a slave labor horde. A wall painting in a rock tomb west of Thebes shows light-skinned and dark-skinned slaves making bricks. The light-skinned workers were Hebrews. An inscription of the time mentioned "PR" hauling stones for a fortress. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, "PR" meant Semites.

Since other pharaohs and pagan kings are mentioned by name in the Bible, one has to wonder, why not in Exodus? A good answer seems to be that Moses wrote that book to glorify God, not an egotistic king who believed himself divine.

Rameses may have spread his name all over Egypt, but he received no publicity in the Bible.

'Great House' in Egyptian

The title pharaoh means "great house" in Egyptian. When they ascended to the throne, each pharaoh had five "great names," but people used this title instead, much as Christians use "Lord" for God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Pharaoh held absolute power in Egypt. Besides being supreme commander of the army and navy, he was also chief justice of the royal court and high priest of the country's religion. Pharaoh was considered a god by his people, the reincarnation of the Egyptian god Horus. Pharaoh's likes and dislikes were sacred rulings, the same as the laws of the Egyptian gods.

This arrogant mindset guaranteed a clash between Pharaoh and Moses. Exodus says God "hardened Pharaoh's heart," but Pharaoh first hardened his own heart by refusing to let the enslaved Israelites go. After all, they were free labor and they were "Asiatics," considered inferior by the racist Egyptians.

When Pharaoh refused to repent after the 10 plagues, God set him up for judgment that would result in Israel's freedom. Finally, after Pharaoh's army was swallowed up in the Red Sea, he realized that his own claim to being a god and the power of the Egyptian gods was simply make-believe.

It should be noted that it was accepted practice for ancient cultures to celebrate their military victories in records and on tablets, but to write no accounts of their defeats. 

Skeptics try to dismiss the plagues as natural phenomena, since similar events are not uncommon, such as the Nile turning red or locusts descending on Egypt.

However, they have no explanation for the last plague, the deaths of the firstborn, which started the Jewish feast of Passover, celebrated to this day.

King Pharaoh's Accomplishments

The pharaoh who opposed Moses came from a long line of kings who turned Egypt into the most powerful nation on earth. The country excelled in medicine, engineering, trade, astronomy, and military force. Using the Hebrews as slaves, this pharaoh built the store cities of Rameses and Pithom.

Pharaoh Strengths

Pharaohs had to be strong rulers to govern such a large empire. Each king worked to preserve and expand Egypt's territory.

Pharaoh's Weaknesses

Egypt's entire religion was built on false gods and superstition. When confronted with the miracles of the God of Moses, Pharaoh closed his mind and heart, refusing to acknowledge Yahweh as the One True God.

Life Lessons

Like many people today, Pharaoh trusted in himself rather than God, which is the most common form of idolatry. Deliberately opposing God always ends in ruin, whether in this life or the next.     

Hometown

Memphis, Egypt.

References to King Pharaoh in the Bible

Pharaohs are mentioned in these books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Nehemiah, Psalms, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Acts, and Romans.

Occupation

King and religious ruler of Egypt.

Key Verses

Exodus 5:2
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.” (NIV)

Exodus 14:28
The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (NIV)

Sources

  • www.experience-ancient-egypt.com
  • www.biblearchaeology.org
  • www.ancientworlds.net
  • The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, R.K. Harrison, editor
  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Trent C. Butler, general editor
  • The Bible as History, Werner Keller