The title “Pharaoh” is used over 200 times in the Bible, referring to the ancient Egyptian kings. But what exactly does this title mean and what significance does it have in Scripture? In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the meaning and importance of “Pharaoh” in the Bible.
In the Bible, Pharaoh is the title given to the ancient Egyptian kings who ruled over the land of Egypt. The Pharaoh was considered to be a god as well as the political ruler of Egypt. He had total control over Egypt and its people and was seen as the most powerful human authority in the ancient Near Eastern world.
The first mention of Pharaoh in the Bible is in Genesis 12 when Abraham travels to Egypt to escape a famine and encounters Pharaoh. Throughout the book of Genesis and Exodus, the Pharaoh plays a central role in the stories of the patriarchs Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. The Pharaohs mentioned in these books represent some of the most powerful dynasties of ancient Egypt including the 12th, 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties.
Some key points about the meaning and significance of “Pharaoh” in the Bible:
- Pharaoh was the royal title of the ancient Egyptian kings.
- The Pharaoh was considered to be both a god and political ruler.
- Pharaoh represents the pinnacle of human power and authority in the ancient world.
- Genesis and Exodus record interactions between the patriarchs and the mighty Pharaohs.
- God using Moses judges the Pharaohs and shows His power over Egypt.
Over the course of Genesis and Exodus, we see the Pharaohs interact with the patriarchs Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. Through these interactions, God demonstrates His sovereignty and power over the Pharaoh and over Egypt. The stories involving Pharaoh reveal that despite his perceived power and authority, even the Pharaoh is subject to the will and purposes of God.
Meaning of the Title “Pharaoh”
The title “Pharaoh” originated from the ancient Egyptian term “per-aa” which means “great house.” It referred to the royal palace where the king lived. Over time, the title came to refer directly to the king himself. For nearly 3,000 years, from 3100 BC to 30 BC, the Pharaohs ruled over the civilization of ancient Egypt.
The Pharaoh was considered to be both the political and religious ruler of Egypt. As a god, he was seen to be the divine representative of the gods Horus and Osiris on earth. He was responsible for maintaining order and justice as well as taking care of Egypt’s temples and gods. As the political ruler, the Pharaoh had complete control over administration, the military, the economy, trade, and construction projects.
The Pharaoh was an absolute monarch said to wield “all power over all the people in the land.” He owned all the land, made laws, collected taxes, and conscripted labor for farms and building projects. Egyptians saw the Pharaoh as a intermediary between the gods and the people. Obedience and service to Pharaoh was seen as a religious duty that maintained order and honored the gods.
Significance of Pharaoh in Genesis
The first mention of Pharaoh in the Bible is in Genesis 12:15:
The princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s household. (Genesis 12:15 NKJV)
This statement comes from the story of Abram and Sarai traveling to Egypt to escape a famine. Sarai’s beauty catches the eye of the princes of Pharaoh, likely either Pharaoh Rameses II or Sesostris I during the 12th dynasty between 1991 and 1802 BC. Sarai is taken into Pharaoh’s household as Abram fears for his life because of her (Genesis 12:11-13).
This story displays Pharaoh’s great power but also his subjection to God’s will. God afflicts “Pharaoh and his house with great plagues” (Genesis 12:17 NKJV) until he releases Sarai back to Abram. This foreshadows the Exodus story when God releases Israel from slavery with the plagues against Pharaoh.
Later in Genesis, Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt and imprisoned under an unnamed Pharaoh referred to as “Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Genesis 40:11 NKJV). This is likely Amenemhat III who ruled during the prosperous 12th dynasty. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph is released from prison and made a ruler of Egypt second only to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:41-44).
Under Joseph, Egypt prospered and survived a severe famine. Joseph’s leadership blessed Egypt and brought the Israelites into the land under the favor of Pharaoh. The favor continued even after Joseph’s death under a new Pharaoh who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 NKJV). This Pharaoh was likely either Amenhotep I or Thutmose I during the 18th dynasty from 1550 to 1504 BC.
So in Genesis, we see the Pharaohs interact with Abram and Joseph, showing both their power and subjection to God’s plans. God uses the Pharaohs to accomplish His purposes in watching over Abram and exalting Joseph to preserve Israel.
Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus
The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is one of the major themes of the book of Exodus. After 400 years of Israelite slavery in Egypt, God raises up Moses to demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites from bondage as God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22). God sends 10 plagues upon Egypt when Pharaoh refuses to let Israel go.
It’s debated which Pharaoh Moses confronted in the Exodus. Possible candidates are Thutmose II, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, and Rameses II who ruled during Egypt’s powerful 18th and 19th dynasties. Whoever the Pharaoh was at the time, he represented the pinnacle of human power in the ancient world. Yet God humiliates him and the gods of Egypt through the plagues and the Red Sea crossing to display His unmatched power.
God says that He raised up Pharaoh for the very purpose of demonstrating His power:
But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16 NKJV)
At any time, God could have instantly destroyed Pharaoh with a mere word. But instead, God systematically deconstructs the supposed power and authority of Egypt through the increasingly devastating plagues. Each plague targeted specific Egyptian gods, displaying God’s absolute supremacy over all other gods and authorities.
Pharaoh hardens his own heart and bargains with Moses multiple times, unwilling to fully submit to God’s command to let Israel go. For Pharaoh, releasing all the Israelite slaves would be devastating to Egypt’s economy and his national pride. So God graciously gives Pharaoh opportunities to change his mind, but he refuses resulting in more plagues.
Finally after the death of the firstborn sons in the 10th plague, Pharaoh relents and releases the Israelites from slavery. But he again hardens his heart and pursues Israel to the Red Sea. There God miraculously parts the waters and drowns Pharaoh and his entire army, displaying for all time His absolute dominion over the “great” king of Egypt.
Through this climatic confrontation, God powerfully redeems His people Israel from slavery and establishes an enduring testimony to His supremacy over all the earth (Joshua 2:10). Pharaoh represents how even the strongest human authorities cannot thwart the plans and purposes of God.
Significance for Today
The stories of Pharaoh in Genesis and Exodus have timeless significance. Pharaoh represents the pinnacle of human power and authority opposing itself against God. The kings and rulers of this world may believe they are in control as they reject God’s ways. But the accounts of Pharaoh show how no human authority can ultimately stand against the Lord and Creator of all.
God raised up Pharaoh and permitted his defiance for a time to more powerfully display His glory, might, and salvation. Just like Pharaoh, all earthly authorities and spiritual powers are subject to Christ who reigns overall (1 Peter 3:22).
As Christians, we can have confidence that God is sovereign over every earthly power, whether political, social, or spiritual (Romans 8:38-39). When human authorities oppose God’s Kingdom and persecute the Church, we know that God can use even that defiance to promote His purposes, just as He did with Pharaoh.
No political platform, Supreme Court, legislation, or cultural trend can prevent the advancement of God’s Kingdom. Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He summons us to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel, walking in the faith and victory of saints like Moses. God will build His Church against which as Jesus promised, even the gates of Hades will not prevail (Matthew 16:18).
So may we as Christians walk without fear in the face of earthly powers. God reserves the right to exalt leaders and bring them down according to His redemptive plans. As we seek first God’s Kingdom, we can trust that He will governor the nations for the glory of His Name and the good of His people. Just like Pharaoh of old, current authorities are subject to Christ’s rule and unwittingly serve God’s eternal purposes.
To God be the glory and dominion forever!