Friday, August 30, 2013



Part 1
Part 2
Part 3: How Israel came to be in Egypt


The day came when a Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” came to power, and he looked upon the Israelites with wariness and contempt (Ex. 1).

It is hard to imagine a Pharaoh who would come to power who would not only not be grateful for Joseph and the warning that he gave that saved so many lives, but would not even acknowledge that he had existed. The Egyptians have a history of removing names from steles and pyramids and public monuments of former rulers that they disliked. The Pharaoh that came to power was most likely Ramses II, and he was native Egyptian, not Hyksos. And that is important.

Many scholars and researchers believe that it was the Hyksos who may have been in power when Joseph entered Egypt as a slave, and they may have even been in power for a couple hundred years past the time Israel and his sons came to stay, but at some point they were overthrown by an uprising of native Egyptians. The Hyksos had been hated, subsequently their works destroyed and their names stricken from public records and places wherever possible. This may explain, since Joseph was every bit a foreigner as the Hyksos, why Ramses II either didn’t know of him or refused to acknowledge him.

It is clear from the account in Exodus that there were two Pharaohs involved with Moses and his leading of the Israelites from Egypt. One is called the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and the other the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Scholars do not entirely agree upon the names of these two particular Pharaohs, nor for the dates of the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt, and the date for the Exodus itself is often disputed as well. For the purposes of this particular post, it is not particularly important, but I have chosen to go with the names of Ramses II for the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and the name of his son Merneptah as the Pharaoh of the Exodus (1).

When Ramses II came to power he did not care for the Israelites living in Goshen. Though it is uncertain how the Israelites passed their previous 400 years in Egypt, it is clear they were not enslaved that entire time. Ramses II, concerned that the Israelites might join outside forces if foreigners were to invade once more, consigned them to hard labor, hoping to reduce their numbers by brutal work as state slaves.

Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.

And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:

Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. --Exodus 1: 8-10

From the Layman’s Bible Commentary:

Pharaoh Ramses II was engaged in a royal building program in which he employed as slave labor a group of people known in Egyptian annals as the Hapiru; the similarity to Hebrew is apparent. One of the cities which Ramses built was Raamses (House of Ramses), mentioned in Exodus 1:11 as one of the cities on which the Hebrews labored (2).

From the New Layman’s Bible Commentary:

Settled in Egypt under royal auspices, in the course of time the Israelites found that they could no longer bask in the reflected glory of Joseph. Several centuries had elaspsed since the patriarch’s death and the Israelite community had developed to the point where the native Egyptians regarded them as a threat to national security (3).

The editors add this additional interesting analysis of verse 10:

Come, let us . . . lest: the Hebrew as much as the English recalls the scheming of the builders of Babel (Gen 11:4). Again the story centres on mortar and brick (14) and city-building (11) . . . Like the builders of Babel, the Egyptians were concerned with self-preservation; the presence of a potential fifth column in their midst was causing great anxiety (I Sam 29:1-11). The Egyptian NE border was the most important strategically and it was in that region that Goshen was located. The Israelites were in an ideal position if they ever saw fit to side with an invading army and free themselves from the Egyptian yoke.

Hester makes this important observation about Ramses II and the Hebrews:

The new ruler inaugurated a new policy toward them. They came to be regarded as foreigners, and because of the very rapid increase in their number they were feared as a potential threat to the security of the government. The Pharaoh, now determined to reduce them to slavery, set cruel taskmasters over them and forced them to do the hardest kind of public work, that of making bricks (4).

From Mould:

The Pharaoh who reduced the Hebrews to slavery most probably was Ramses II, mightiest sovereign of the nineteenth dynasty and ruler of Egypt for sixty-seven years, 1292-1225 B.C. Ramses II enslaved vast numbers of people in order to carry through the ambitious building enterprises by which he sought to enhance his personal glory. A mighty warrior, he sought to recover for Egypt the political control of Palestine and Syria which had been both won and lost by his predecessors of the eighteenth dynasty. He waged a disastrous warfare with the Hittites, who controlled Syria, and thereby damaged his reputation so severely that all Syria and Palestine revolted against him, the revolt spreading even to the frontier forts in the northeastern delta in Egypt itself. Located on this northeastern frontier were these unassimilated foreigners, the Hebrews. Ramses feared that in case of war these Hebrews would side with the enemy. Therefore, to employ them in strengthening the defenses of the border seemed a clever and sensible plan. So they were put to work on the construction of the nearby supply depots, Pithom and Raamses.

Ramses II was at this time engaged in a stupendous building program all up and down the Nile in a desperate effort to restore Egyptian prestige and doubtless to enhance his own as well. He completed the Great Hall of Karnak. Obelisks and colossal statues, especially of himself, were erected in many cities. Two of these (at Tanis and Ramesseum) were originally single blocks of stone weighing nearly a thousand tons apiece (5).

From Irwin:

[Pithom and Raamses] were in the district of Heliopolis (“On,” which name the Septuagint adds to the other two), near the canal which joined the Nile and the Red Sea. “Pithom” (“House of Tum,” the Sun-god worshipped at Heliopolis) was identified by Naville, in 1883, as Tel-el-Maskhuta, about 20 miles from Tel-el-Kebir, and the ruins of the treasure-houses have been found, constructed of two kinds of brick, one ordinary, the other without straw. Raamses, now Tel-el-Retabeh, is about 10 miles west of Pithom (6).

From Henry:

Reasons of state were suggested for their dealing hardly with Israel (Ex. 1: 9, 10). 1. They were represented as more and mightier than the Egyptians; certainly they were not so, but the king of Egypt, when he resolved to oppress them, would have them thought so, and looked on them as a formidable body.

2. Hence it is inferred that if care were not taken to keep them under they would become dangerous to the government, and in time of war would side with their enemies and revolt from their allegiance to the crown of Egypt. Note, It has been the policy of persecutors to represent God’s Israel as a dangerous people, hurtful to kings and provinces, not fit to be trusted, that they may have some pretence for the barbarous treatment they design them. . . . (emphasis Henry).

When men deal wickedly, it is common for them to imagine that they deal wisely; but the folly of sin will, at last, be manifested before all men.

[The Egyptians] took care to keep [the Hebrews] poor, by charging them with heavy taxes, which, some think, is included in the burdens with which they afflicted them. . . . By this means they took an effectual course to make them slaves. . . . Pharaoh took care to find them work, both in building (they built him treasure-cities), and in husbandry, even all manner of service in the field; and this was exacted from them with the utmost rigour and severity. . . . They had taskmasters set over them, who were directed, not only to burden them, but, as much as might be, to afflict them with their burdens, and contrive how to make them grievous. They not only made them to serve, which was sufficient for Pharaoh’s profit, but they made them serve with rigour, so that their lives became bitter to them, intending hereby, (1) to break their spirits, and rob them of everything in them that was ingenuous and generous. (2) To ruin their health and shorten their days, and so diminish their numbers. (3) To discourage them from marrying, since their children would be born to slavery. (4) To oblige them to desert the Hebrews, and incorporate themselves with the Egyptians. Thus he hoped to cut off the name of Israel, that it might be no more in remembrance (7).

From Fausset and Brown:

[The Hebrew’s] increase and prosperity were viewed with jealousy by the new government; and as Goshen lay between Egypt and Canaan, on the border of which latter country were a number of warlike tribes, it was perfectly conformable to the suggestions of worldly policy that they should enslave and mistreat them, through apprehension of their joining in any invasion by those foreign rovers. . . .

Therefore, they did set over them taskmasters -- Having first obliged them, it is thought, to pay a ruinous rent, and involved them in difficulties, that new government, in pursuance of its oppressive policy, degraded them to the condition of serfs - employing them exactly as the labouring people are in the present day in rearing the public works, with taskmasters, who anciently had sticks -- now whips -- to punish the indolent, or spur on the too languid. All public or royal buildings, in ancient Egypt, were built by captives; and on some of them was placed an inscription that no free citizen had been engaged in this servile employment.

They built for Pharaoh treasure cities -- These two store places were in the land of Goshen; and being situated near a border liable to invasion, they were fortified cities. Pithom (Greek Patumos), lay on the eastern Pelusiac branch of the Nile, about twelve Roman miles from Heliopolis; and Raamses, called by the LXX, Heliopolis, lay between the same branch of the Nile and the Bitter Lakes. These two fortified cities were situated, therefore, in the same valley; and the fortifications, which Pharaoh commanded to be built around both, had probably the same common object, of obstructing the entrance into Egypt, which this valley furnished the enemy from Asia.

The Egyptians . . . made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick. Ruins of great brick buildings are found in all parts of Egypt. The use of crude brick, baked in the sun, was universal in upper and lower Egypt, both for public and private buildings; all but the temples themselves, were of crude brick. . . . Parties of these brickmakers are seen depicted on the ancient monuments with “taskmasters” --some standing, others in a sitting position beside the labourers, with their uplifted sticks in their hands (8).

From Magnusson:

Ramses II was perhaps the most vainglorious Pharaoh of all time. For the latter part of his reign he devoted himself to huge and grandiose building projects, largely designed to perpetuate his own name . . . One of his major buildings was the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes, now in ruins. It was this desolate site that inspired Shelley’s poem Ozymandias (9) of Egypt: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

“How are the mighty fallen!” That was the massive irony that informed Shelley’s poem, and it is an irony that strikes the mind like a bludgeon when you stand at the head of the fallen remains of the largest statue in Egypt: the Colossus of Ramesses the Great. It was nearly twenty metres tall originally, one thousand tons of carved and polished granite now irretrievably ruined by some earthquake. (10)

Treasures cities [were] store cities, situated on the frontier, and serving both as strongholds for defence against invasion and as military depots of provisions and arms. Pithom, i.e. the ‘Abode of the Setting Sun,’ has been identified with Tel-el Maskhuta, . . . . The walls of this ancient city are found to have been constructed of bricks made of Nile mud and chopped straw . Raamses or Rameses, has not yet been identified, but is supposed to have been situated at the modern Tel-el Kebir. It was in existence at the time of Joseph, as appears from Genesis 47:11, so that it was probably repaired or enlarged at a later date (11).

As we can see from the various comments made by these authors, there is agreement that the Hebrews were subjected to not just hard work, but brutal work. Every effort was made by “cruel” taskmasters to make their lives as “grievous” and “ruinous” as possible.

Here is what the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible says about bricks and brickmaking:

The clay was thoroughly soaked, generally mixed with straw or other vegetable matter, and brought in baskets to the artisan, who shaped the bricks by hand or a wooden mold. Such ancient molds and the pictures of brickmaking have been found. A few of the great monuments of ancient Egypt were made of sun-dried bricks and are still standing (12).

From Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life:

Although brickmaking was a simple process, it required an available source of clay, a sufficient supply of water and straw, and a large labor force. A shallow pit was dug and filled with clay and water. Chopped straw was added as a binder to retain the strength and form of the bricks, and the ingredients were mixed by treading through the mire with the feet. When thoroughly mixed to the right consistency, the solution was compressed into rectangular or square wooden molds and the resulting bricks set out in the sun to dry: “go into the clay, tread the mortar, take hold of the brickmold!” (Nah. 3:14) (13).

From Unger:

Egyptian bricks wre not generally baked in kilns, but dried in the sun, although a brickkiln is mentioned by Jeremiah (43:9). Made of clay, they are, even without straw, as firm as when first put up in the reigns of the Thutmoids and others, whose names they bear. When made of Nile mud they required straw to keep them from falling apart, and when laid up in walls were secured by layers of sticks and reeds. . . . Brickmaking was regarded as an unhealthy and laborious occupation by the Egyptians, and was, therefore, imposed upon slaves. . . . The tomb of Rekhmire, grand vizier of Thutmose III (c. 1460 B.C.) depicts Semitic slaves busy with brickmaking. Raamses II (c. 1290 B.C.) rebuilt the older city Zoan-Avaris (Raamses of Exod 1:11) and the bricks are stamped with his name. (14)

From the Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible:

They began by digging a hole in the ground and filling it with water, chopped straw, palm fibre and bits of shell and charcoal. The workmen then trampled the mixture until they had a soft and pliable mud. Most bricks were laid out to dry in the hot sun. Kilns produced stronger bricks which were used for the foundations. (15)

From the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to the Bible:

One Egyptian scroll from the time of Ramses II says that the ten men in a work gang had a daily quota of 2,000 bricks. An earlier record written on the wall of a tomb describes such workers as “dirtier than pigs . . . simply wretched through and through.” (16)

It is clear that the work of making bricks was backbreaking. The Israelites had to haul clay from outlying areas and dump into pits, and then from the marshes and wetlands near the Nile River carry water to the pits in order to force the clay into a malleable form.

Bricks were shaped and placed in the sun although some were placed into hot furnaces, kilns, that would bake the bricks into solid forms (17). Though both kinds of bricks are used for building, the bricks from the hot furnaces could withstand the elements longer.

The work was difficult and filthy, and, as one could only imagine, the Hebrews endured many skin infections from working in water for such long stretches at a time. Long exposures of skin to water tends to soften the skin considerably and make it less resistant to tears thus less resistant to bacterial infections. The Hebrews suffered from blisters and boils from working both extensively in water and so closely to the heat of the incredibly hot furnaces used to harden the bricks.

Ramses II did not limit their hard work to just making bricks. Exodus 1:11-14 tells us that Pharaoh “ made their lives bitter with hard bondage in mortar, in brick, in all manner of service in the field.”

Because of the later decree during the time Moses came to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out that the Hebrews had to make bricks without straw being supplied to them, we tend to forget the “other” work that the Hebrews were forced to do -- that of field work.

While several commentaries make note that the Hebrews performed field work, very few mention in detail what that field work involved though it is generally understood that the Hebrews tended the flocks and herds the Egyptians used in temple worship of their gods, particularly Apis, and growing crops. We see from Genesis 47:6 that the pharaoh who welcomed Joseph and his family during the time of famine requested that if any were trained among Joseph’s brothers in husbandry, then they could be assigned to his own herds for employment.

The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.

Dummelow makes this note about the “service in the field” forced upon the Hebrews:

This refers to the construction of irrigation canals and embankments, as well as to the making of bricks for building. With what rigour the system of forced labour was employed may be judged from the fact recorded by Herodotus that 120,000 workmen lost their lives in the construction of a canal connecting the Nile and the Red Sea in the time of Pharaoh Necho. In modern times Mohammed Ali’s canal from the Nile to Alexandria cost 20,000 lives. (18)

So we can determine from these brief remarks that herding cattle and ditch-digging were also part of the labor forced upon the Hebrews, and under Ramses II, it appears that this work, in some way, was made even more onerous.

In a further effort to reduce their numbers, Ramses II had the two midwives who helped the Hebrew women (and who are thought to have been Egyptian because of their names) throw all male Hebrew children into the Nile River where they would surely be consumed by crocodiles or drowned. The midwives failed in this effort, and it appears that it was deliberate for when Ramses II demanded they give account of themselves and why there were so many Hebrew baby boys, the midwives claimed that Hebrew women were quite strong and were able to deliver their babies before they got there.(19)

From Henry:

Two bloody edicts are here signed for the destruction of all the male children that wre born to the Hebrews.

1. The midwives were commanded to murder them. Observe, 1. The orders given them, v. 15, 16. It added much to the barbarity of the intended executions that the midwives were appointed to be the executioners; for it was to make them, not only bloody, but perfidious, and to oblige them to betray a trust, and to destroy those whome they undertook to save and help. (20)

When it became clear to Ramses that the Hebrew numbers were not going to be significantly reduced thru his subtle efforts with the midwives, he openly ordered the Hebrew parents themselves to throw their own children into the Nile.

It was during this time that Moses was born. We learn that he was born to a Levite family who already had a son and daughter who had been born prior to the decree that babies must be thrown into the Nile. Moses was hidden for three months and then his mother fashioned a small basket, made it waterproof and placed him in God’s hands.

As Moses’ basket floated along in the reeds and rushes, his sister Miriam watched from nearby. Eventually the basket floated to an area where the daughter of the Pharaoh saw it and opened it and immediately had a tender heart for the baby boy. Miriam offered to find a wet nurse for the child and quickly told her mother, who nursed Moses for a time until he was raised in Pharaoh’s court by his adopted mother.

As Moses grew, we are not told in the Bible of distinct instances of empathy Moses had for his own people, but it is clear that there came a day when he demonstrated it. When an Egyptian was beating a Hebrew slave, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. The next day, when two fellow Hebrews were arguing he attempted to intervene to which one of them asked if Moses was going to kill him like he did the Egyptian. Moses knew he had been found out, therefore, fearing for his life, fled into the wilderness.

Finding the tent of Jethro, a Midianite by descent from Abraham and his second wife Keturah, Moses found a place to stay. He married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah, and for forty years tended sheep in the wilderness of Midian. (Isn’t it interesting that he chose an occupation that the Egyptians abhorred?)

The day came when Moses was out near Mount Sinai, that he saw a burning bush, and upon investigation, discovered it was a supernatural fire and God spoke to him from the flames.

God was sending him back to Egypt for the pharaoh who Moses had known was now dead, and God had seen the affliction and oppression of His people in Egypt (Ex. 3: 7, 9), and was ready to deliver them. Moses was reluctant to go, citing his poor ability to speak and belief that the people would not accept him.

God allowed Moses’ brother Aaron to accompany him and to speak, and showed Moses through two miracles, that He intended to be with him and to accomplish this exodus.

And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. --Exodus 7:1

God warned Moses that His actions would “harden” pharaoh’s heart, a term indicating that pharaoh would be “offended” and would become obstinate (21).

Delivering the Hebrews out of Egypt was not going to be easy.

Nevertheless, Moses, at about 80 years old, returned to Egypt and thus began a series of confrontations between him and the son of Ramses II, Pharaoh Merneptah.

To be continued in Part 5.



1) Here are some of the pharaohs who are considered by some scholars to be the “Pharoah of the Oppression,” and who might be the “Pharaoh of the Exodus.”

Irwin’s Bible Commentary (1928, pg 29): This Pharaoh is now generally understood to have been Ramses II, called “the Pharaoh of the Oppression” (so Sayce, Brugsch, Ebers). His mummy was found in 1881 at Deir el-Bahari. Two colossal statues of him are to be seen amid the ruins of Memphis, near Bedrashen, 20 miles from Cairo, and some of his hieroglyphics may be seen on Cleopatra’s Needle, now on the Thames Embankment. “The Pharaoh of the Exodus” was his son, Merneptah.

Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia (1964, pg 238): Ramses II as the Pharaoh of the Oppression and his son Merneptah as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

Jamiesson, Fausset and Brown (copyright date not given, pg 48): Amosis or possibly Thothmes III as the Pharaoh of the Oppression; as for Pharaoh of the Exodus, the commentators do not name him but simply address him as “the Pharaoh.”

Magnus Magnusson notes that “according to the majority of scholars it was the tyrant Ramesses (or perhaps his father Seti I) who grew alarmed at the way in which the Children of Israel had prospered and multiplied,” and thus could have been the Pharaoh of the Oppression. And Magnusson believes it was Merneptah, Ramses II’s successor, who Moses faced upon his return to Egypt. (Archaeology of the Bible, 1977, pg 59)

Merrill F. Unger: If the early date of the Exodus (c. 1441 B.C.) is subscribed to, Thutmose III (c.1482-1450 B.C.) furnishes an ideal figure for the pharaoh of the oppression. According to the Bible, Moses waited for the death of the great oppressor before returning to Egypt from his refuge in Midian (Exod. 3:23). However, late-date theorists commonly identify Seti I (c. 1319-1301) as the pharaoh of the oppression, disregarding the Massoretic chronology. Amenhotep II (c. 1450-1425 B.C.), son of the famous empire-builder Thutmose III, likely is the pharaoh of the Exodus. (Unger’s Bible Dictonary, 1957, pg 853)

Davis Dictionary of the Bible: It is quite generally, though not universally, believed that [the Pharaoh of the Oppression] was Ramses II, third king of the nineteenth dyasty and son of Seti I. (1955, pg 599)

J. R. Dummelow: The Pharaoh of the Oppression is usually supposed to have been Rameses II, and the Pharaoh of the exodus his son and successor Merenptah, who began to reign about the year 1300 B.C. (The One-Volume Bible Commentary, 1936, pg 47)

2) Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia, 1964, pg. 238.

3) The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, 1979, pg 176.

4) The Heart of Hebrew History: A Study of the Old Testament, H. I. Hester, 1949, pgs 110-111.

5) Essentials of Bible History, Elmer W. K. Mould, 1951, pg 97.

6) Irwin’s Bible Commentary, 1928, pg 30.

7) A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry, (copyright date not given), Vol. 1, pg 272.

8) Commentary on the Whole Bible, Rev. Robert Jamieson, Rev. A. R. Fausset, and Rev. David Brown, (copyright date not given), pg 48.

9) There is a parody of this poem Ozymandias entitled Obamadias, which I will look at in a subsequent post.

10) Archaeology of the Bible, Magnus Magnusson, 1977, pg. 57.

11) The One-Volume Bible Commentary, J. R. Dummelow, 1958, pg 49.

12) The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1, Abingdon Press, 1962, pg 466).

13) Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life, Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, 1978, pg 358.

14) Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill F. Unger, 1966, pgs 155-156.

15) The Lion Encyclopedia of the Bible, edited by Pat Alexander, 1978, pg 180.

16) Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to the Bible, 1998, pg 30.

17) Researchers do not agree on how extensively furnaces were used, with some believing that they were not used at all. Since Exodus 9:8 speaks of a furnace and Gesenius says this is a kiln, I am comfortable with accepting that there were some kilns in use in Egypt for the making of bricks.

18) The One-Volume Bible Commentary, J. R. Dummelow, 1958, pg 49.

19) Some have asked how God could possibly bless the midwives (Exodus 1:20) when it appears that they lied to pharaoh in an effort to thwart his plans. Yet, it should not be suggested that they lied. Instead, verse 19 says that the Hebrew women gave birth BEFORE the midwives arrived. It is possible that the midwives merely delayed arriving too soon so that the Hebrew women gave birth and then the midwives arrived afterwards to help at that time.

20) A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1, Matthew Henry, undated, pr 273.

21) Holy Bible TBN, Special Hebrew-Greek Key Study Edition, 1984, pg 85 -- footnote on pharaoh.