Pharoah Don’t Know Didly

During the summers of 1952 and 1953 sports writer Roger Kahn covered the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team for the New York Herald Tribune, daily rubbing shoulders with the players. Fifteen years later he decided to find out how the years had treated them. So he traveled the country to find  “the Boys of Summer.” What he found was staggering. Kahn’s boys, once full of youthful vigor, had, almost to a man, encountered personal tragedy.

In some ways the saddest case was Billy Cox, the third baseman of those great Dodger teams. In his day Cox was the finest defensive third baseman in the game. Game after game he would dive through the air, spear a line drive, and hear the roar of thousands of fans. To find Billy Cox, Kahn had to drive out into rural Pennsylvania to the little town of Newport. When he inquired about Billy’s whereabouts, he discovered that Billy had recently changed jobs from bartender at the American Legion to bartender at the Owls Club. When they finally connected, Billy suggested they go to the VFW bar to talk. It seemed as if he spent most of his waking hours in bars. No longer was Billy the slim athlete of 1953, and half of the middle finger on his throwing hand was missing. As the two of them sat in the bar, strange scenes began to unfold. Some nearby patrons of the bar began using crass terms to describe African Americans. An enraged woman came storming into the bar, started hitting a man on the head with a purse, and shouting, “I know about the redhead.” Cox got up and began to shoot a few billiard balls at a nearby pool table, muttering to himself. Kahn records his thoughts at that moment: “No one present though, except myself, could have realized that this broad-shouldered, horse-faced fellow tapping billliard balls missing half a finger on one hand, sad-eyed, among  people who would never be more than strangers, was the most glorious glove on the most glorious team that ever played baseball in the sunlight of Brooklyn.” Billy Cox had become a classic example of a has-been.

That’s kind of the way it was with Moses. At one time he had lived in a king’s palace in Egypt. Yet the day came when he fled to the desert, leaving behind the glory of Egypt. For years he lived out on the back side of the world working as a shepherd.

But then a strange thing happened. We read about it in Exodus 3. Put yourself in Moses’ sandals for a moment. You’re tending your flock near a strange sight—a burning bush, which, despite being enveloped by flames, is not consumed. This sight caught Moses’ attention; as he moved closer, he heard a voice declaring, “Moses! Moses!”

“I’m here.”

“Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

At this point Moses covered his face, knowing how dangerous it is to catch a view of God.

The Lord continued: “I have indeed seen how my people are suffering in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of what their slave drivers do to them. I am certainly aware of the pain they are experiencing. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to lead them up out of that land to a good, wide land…. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (paraphrase of 3:7–10).

Now be honest; if you were Moses, what would you say? Moses’ response seems appropriate. He said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11).

Good question, Moses! Let’s face it. On the surface this command seems downright ludicrous. How in the world can a lowly shepherd, a has-been, a nobody, deliver an entire nation from the most powerful ruler on earth? To appreciate the apparent absurdity of this, we need to look more closely at Moses and at Pharaoh.

In the ensuing dialogue Moses emerges as a pathetic character with no self-confidence. After offering a series of objections to God’s commission, he finally admits, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you began speaking to your servant. I’m not articulate” (cf. 4:10). When God counters, Moses begs, “O Lord, please send someone else” (4:13).

When we take a closer look at Pharaoh, God’s proposal looks even more ridiculous. Many evangelical scholars date the Exodus around 1446 B.C. The Pharaoh then was Amenhotep II. Amenhotep inherited a longstanding tradition of greatness. He had already demonstrated his prowess as a warrior by conducting successful military expeditions. Groomed from birth to rule Egypt, he learned horsemanship, archery, and rowing. An Egyptian inscription from that time describes him as follows:

His majesty appeared as king, as a beautiful youth, who was well developed and had completed eighteen years upon his thighs in strength…. He had no equal on the field of battle. He was one who knew horses; there was not his like in this numerous army. Not one among them could draw his bow; he could not be approached in running.

This same inscription tells how he could row a boat three times as far as other men. He even shot four arrows through a copper target, something no Egyptian warrior had ever accomplished.

Certainly these descriptions and Amenhotep’s exploits are exaggerated, but, as one Egyptologist observes, “The claims of royal prowess have a basis in fact, for several other monuments of this king extol him as sportsman and his mummy is that of an exceptionally tall and strongly built man.”

Amenhotep II was the Bo Jackson of ancient Egypt. Remember the old Nike commercials? I can see it now—the Nike marketing department enters a time tunnel along with a few other folks. Swept back into ancient Egypt, they devise this commercial. We see Amenhotep riding a horse, and then the camera pans to Prince Charles on his polo horse saying, “Amenho knows horses.” Then we see Amenhotep running, and Michael Johnson appears and says, “Amenho knows running.” The scene shifts to the arrow range where Kevin Costner, dressed as Robin Hood, declares, “Amenho knows the bow and arrow.” Finally we see Amenhotep rowing in the Nile and an Ivy League crew team appears and says, “Amenho knows how to row.”

On the surface, inarticulate, aged, seemingly washed-up Moses from just east of nowhere versus athletic, proud Amenhotep, warrior-king of the greatest nation on earth, looks like one of the greatest mismatches in history.

And it was. Amenhotep never stood a chance! This ancient Egyptian Nike commercial is going to end with God (minus the guitar) saying, “Amenho may know horses; Amenho may know running; Amenho may know the bow; and Amenho may know how to row. But Amenho don’t really know diddly.” Why? Because Moses is not going down to Egypt alone.  God said to Moses, “I will be with you” (3:12). In fact He even gave Himself a new name for the people to use—Yahweh, which means “He is.” In light of verse 12, the name may be paraphrased, “He who is the Ever-Present Helper.” But what’s the big deal about having Yahweh with you? The immediate context tells us:

  • This is Yahweh, the faithful God of the patriarchs. Four times in chapters 3–4 he has identified Himself as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He already has a track record.
  • He is a compassionate God, who is moved by His people’s suffering (3:7–8, 16).
  • He is the incomparably powerful God, capable of performing supernatural deeds (v. 20).

So you see, Moses versus Amenhotep really was a mismatch. Amenhotep didn’t have a chance because Moses was not alone. Amenhotep would really be fighting Moses’ traveling companion, Yahweh, “The Ever-Present Helper.”

And how does this relate to us? Like Moses, we have a special commission from God. Our task is to evangelize the lost and teach them to obey the commands of Jesus (Matt. 28:18–20). As we go out to fulfill this commission, we need Jesus’ authoritative presence. We’re in a hostile world where there’s an all-out war between God and the forces of darkness.

The realities of the war demand not some arrogant trust in our vision and skills, but utter, humble, day-to-day dependence on Jesus, who is Yahweh, the God of Moses, the ever-present Helper who is faithful, compassionate, and possesses divine authority. He is building His church and has declared that the power of hell will not prevail against it. He can spit in the enemy’s eye and say, “Just try to stop me.”

About the Contributors

Robert B. Chisholm

While Dr. Chisholm enjoys teaching the full breadth of Old Testament Studies, he takes special delight in the books of Judges, Samuel, Isaiah, and Amos. Dr. Chisholm has published seven books, with commentaries on Judges-Ruth and 1–2 Samuel forthcoming. He was translation consultant for the International Children’s Bible and for The Everyday Bible and is senior Old Testament editor for the NET Bible.