Who Was the Pharaoh During the Exodus?

I’m starting a new series on Exodus this Sunday. At one point while studying the Exodus story I found myself getting a bit bogged down in Egyptian history. There are so many historical things that it would be helpful to reconcile and really pinpoint the narrative. At one point in my study I thought to myself, “Lord, it would have been so much easier here had you just named the Pharaoh who forgot all about Joseph.”

I listed out at least eight different options for who this king of Egypt was. It’s helpful for placing the story. Is it Thutmose II? Is it Ramesses II? Some of these would help us to understand a bit more about the policies this ruler of Egypt enacted. If this is a guy who is following up shortly after the Hyksos dynasty, then fear and suspicion of foreigners like the Israelites is a bit understandable. Though some of these eight possibilities are more plausible than others, at the end of the day we really don’t know.

But notice something about Exodus 1:15. We know the name of the two midwives who feared God and disobeyed the most powerful man in the world. Shifra and Puah go into the biblical record but the Pharaoh doesn’t.

The reason the powerful pharaoh isn’t named isn’t because the biblical author didn’t want to be fact checked. It’s because he is telling a different story. Yes, a true historical story, but one which has far more reaching implications than a mere statement of historical fact. He’s telling the story of the powerful God who is more powerful than any Egyptian ruler. And in this story insignificant midwives get lead roles and the guy one would think should be top-billed is a nothing but an unnamed foil to the main character–Yahweh.

So as we are studying biblical history and reading through the Exodus we shouldn’t bemoan the fact that the Pharaoh is nameless. We should celebrate because it’s soaked in the gospel’s story. God takes the the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He takes the weak things, like Hebrew midwives, to shame the powerful.

Here’s my answer to the title question. I don’t know. And that’s the point.

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