Bible Story Book Index
The Bible Story
Volume 1, Chapters 11 - 20
Joseph Becomes Ruler of Egypt
AT THAT time a plot was discovered to poison Pharaoh, king of Egypt. As a result, two high-ranking men of the king's court were put in prison. One was the chief butler, in charge of wine production and serving. The other was the chief baker, or chef. He had charge of preparing and serving food for the king's table. There was no proof that either of these men was guilty.
Potiphar, who by that time had probably begun to doubt that Joseph was guilty of his wife's accusation, came to Joseph and asked him to look after the two new prisoners. (Gen. 40:1-4.)
One day Joseph noticed that both appeared especially worried. When he asked them why, they told him that they had had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph observed that the dreams could have important meanings, and that the two men should tell them to him.
"I dreamed of a vine with three branches that blossomed and produced ripe grapes," the butler told Joseph. "I pressed the juice from the grapes into a cup, and gave it to the king."
The strange dream was impossible for Joseph to understand through only his own thinking. Later, by himself, he asked God for wisdom, and God revealed that the dream had a meaning, and what it was.
"Your dream means that within three days you will be freed from prison and will be given back your office as head butler to the king," Joseph told the butler. (Verses 12-13.)
On hearing this, the chief baker became anxious also to tell Joseph his dream, hoping that it would also have a pleasant meaning. So he told Joseph that he dreamed that he was carrying three baskets of food to Pharaoh on his head, and that suddenly birds swooped down and snatched up all the food from the baskets.
When Joseph realized the awful meaning of this dream, he knew who had schemed to poison the king. He didn't relish telling the chief baker what his fate would be, but he knew God would expect him to reveal the truth he had been given the wisdom to know.
"Within three days Pharaoh will have you hanged, and birds will pick the flesh from your bones," he said to the startled chief baker. (Verses 16-19.)
Three days later was Pharaoh's birthday. It was a day of feasting and great celebration, and on which certain prisoners would be brought from the king's jail and pardoned. On that day the chief butler was given a pardon and restored to his former office, just as Joseph had foretold. At the same time the chief baker was publicly hanged out where vultures came to eat his flesh, just as Joseph had said would happen.
"When the opportunity comes, please tell your king that I am an innocent Hebrew prisoner who has been held here unfairly for a long time," Joseph told the chief butler just before that happy man left to be pardoned. "Perhaps he will free me, too." (Verse 14.)
In his elation at being freed, the chief butler forgot about speaking to the king for Joseph. (Verse 23.)
Joseph Leaves Prison
Two years passed. One night Pharaoh dreamed two dreams which troubled him. He believed they held some meaning he should know, and therefore sent for men who were supposed to have magic powers to understand unusual dreams. Pharaoh related them to these men, but none was able to say what they meant.
It happened that the chief butler was serving the king when this took place. Suddenly he remembered Joseph. Realizing that he would find special favor with the king if he could direct one to Pharaoh who could interpret the dreams, he told the king about Joseph's ability. (Gen. 41:1-13.)
A little later guards came to escort Joseph to the king. This was the opportunity for which Joseph had prayed so long. (Verse 14.)
"I have been told that you have the power to tell the meanings of dreams," the Egyptian ruler said to Joseph.
"I don't have that power, but the God of Israel does," Joseph answered. "He will give you an answer through me."
Probably that answer made Pharaoh think that an overly-religious foreigner had been brought to him, but he was anxious to try any method of getting what he wanted.
"I dreamed that I stood by the Nile River and saw seven fat cows come out of the water," said Pharaoh to Joseph. "As these cows fed on the thick grass at the river's edge, seven thin cows came out of the water and ate up the seven fat cows. Even so, the thin cows remained just as thin as before eating the fat cows.
"I dreamed again, and saw seven plump heads of grain growing out of one stalk. Seven thin heads of grain, appearing withered by a hot wind, came out of the stalk and ate the seven plump heads. Are there important meanings to these dreams?"
"There are," Joseph replied. "Both dreams have the same meaning. God wants to make doubly sure that a warning will be heeded. The seven fat cows and seven plump heads of grain mean that the next seven years will bring a record number of stock animals and grain harvests to Egypt. There will be far more food than people can eat. The thin cows and withered heads of grain mean that right after the seven years of plenty there will come seven years of famine. Your herds will die because little will grow out of the ground. There will be so much misery that people will fail to remember the seven good years."
Pharaoh and those around him stared in silence at the young foreign prisoner who had told what would happen to their nation in the next fourteen years. His earnest manner caused them to believe him, though they didn't want to believe what he had said about a famine.
"If you can foretell the future," Pharaoh finally said, "I trust you also have the wisdom to advise what my people should do to prepare for the famine."
"They should use the seven good years to store up food," Joseph answered. "It would be wise to first choose a man capable of taking care of such gigantic preparations. Then, when the lean years come, there will be enough food, if it is distributed properly, to see Egypt through them." (Gen. 41:33-36.)
"I believe this young Hebrew is being guided by his God," Pharaoh told his advisors. "If he speaks the truth, it would be foolish not to take his advice."
There was a chorus of agreement. Those who had heard Joseph looked on him with awe and respect.
Joseph Appointed Ruler
"If I should choose a man to take care of storing food, what wiser man could I pick than this Joseph?" Pharaoh asked.
Again there was a chorus of agreeing voices. Even if the advisors hadn't agreed, the king probably would have decided on Joseph. The man who was the ruler at the time was more intent on doing what was best for his people than some who ruled before and after him.
Next time Joseph was summoned to Pharaoh, he received a great surprise for one who had spent so much time in prison.
"Because your God has given you great ability, from now on you will be the ruler over my house and all Egypt," Pharaoh told Joseph. "Though I will be over you, your word will be the law in all my realm." (Gen. 41:39-41.)
That was how God answered the prayers of Joseph, one who was living by His laws. Not only was he freed from prison, but he was made second in rank to the powerful king of Egypt. He was given the authority to sign important national documents, a special gold neck chain to show his high position, fine clothing, a costly carriage second only to Pharaoh's, beautifully furnished rooms to live in and servants to take care of his needs.
From the time Joseph was sold as a slave at the age of seventeen, he had advanced, in thirteen years, at the age of thirty, to be the real ruler of Egypt, the foremost nation on Earth at that time!
To further show his royal esteem for Joseph, Pharaoh arranged for him to meet Asenath, the daughter of a high official in Egypt. Joseph quickly grew fond of Asenath, and soon married her. (Gen. 41:45.)
For a long time after that, while Joseph traveled around Egypt, he saw wonderful crops and many fat herds. It was clear that God was carrying out His intention to bless the nation for a time with a great abundance from the ground.
Most of Egypt was usually dry, sandy desert. Without water from the great Nile River, that land never would have produced very much. But during those seven years of plenty, there was so much rain that areas far from the Nile gave unusual crops.
Joseph Orders Granaries Built
Before the grain began to pile up, Joseph gave orders for granaries to be built in various regions of Egypt. Later, he started a system by which a fifth of the crops was stored in the granaries. So much grain was stored in seven years that all record was lost of how much was taken in. (Verse 48.)
Meanwhile, Joseph became the father of two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. His life was so full that he almost forgot the years he had spent in prison.(Verse 50.)
Seven good years passed. The next year there was a change in the weather. Showers almost ceased. Streams dwindled. Hot winds blew more often. Green fields turned yellow. Within a few months it was plain that the crops were going to fail. The second half of Joseph's prophecy was beginning to happen. The time of famine had arrived.
Before long farmers in some regions began to run out of food for their animals and grain for bread. It was then that Joseph ordered the storehouses opened. As demands for grain grew, it was plain that if the crops hadn't been stored, thousands of Egyptians would have starved in the first year or two of the famine period. (Verse 54.) The famine wasn't only in Egypt. Lack of rain affected many nations. Before long other peoples were begging the Egyptians to sell them grain and meat. Joseph gave orders that provisions should be sold to all outsiders who were in dire need. (Verses 55-57.)
Jacob Sends His Sons for Food
Back in Canaan, Joseph's father, Jacob, was one of many worried by conditions. There was hardly any grass for his animals. Continued dry weather would mean they would die. There would soon be neither grain nor meat to eat.
Jacob had heard that Egypt had grain to sell, so he sent ten of his sons there to buy some. Because he had lost young Joseph years before by sending him on a trip, Jacob kept Benjamin, his youngest son, with him. (Gen. 42:1-4.)
Taking camels and donkeys to carry back the loads they hoped to buy, the ten sons went down into Egypt to find that they would have to bring their request for grain to the governor, who was next in power to Pharaoh. When they came before the governor, they had no idea that he was the brother they had sold for a slave many years before.
Joseph knew them as soon as they came before him. When they bowed, he remembered having dreamed as a lad that his brothers were bowing to him. At last that prophetic dream had come true. (Verse 6.)
Joseph wanted to welcome them and tell them who he was. Instead, he decided to be harsh with them for their own good.
"You say you have come from Canaan to buy food. Why should I believe that?" he asked harshly. "I think you are spies! Probably you think that Egypt is weakening because of the famine, and you are here to check on our military strength!"
"We aren't spies, sir!" they quickly replied. "We are the sons of an elderly man who needs food. Our father had twelve sons. The youngest is with him. One is dead." (Verses 9-13.)
Joseph wanted to ask about Benjamin, but he had to remain stern.
"It might be wise to keep nine of you in prison and send one of you to bring back the brother and father you claim you have," he continued. "Then I might be convinced you aren't spies."
The ten brothers stood uncomfortably before Joseph while he kept frowning at them.
"On second thought," added Joseph, "I believe it would be better to put you all in prison to give you a chance to think matters over and decide to tell the truth."
"But we're telling the truth!" they called to Joseph as guards led them away. (Verse 17.)
Three Days Later
After three days Joseph had his brothers brought before him. They still insisted that they had come only to buy needed grain.
"You will get your grain," Joseph surprised them by saying. "However, one of you will stay here in prison until the young brother you speak of is brought to me!"
The brothers' faces fell. Each feared he would be the one to be jailed.
"This trouble has come on us because of what we did to Joseph," they murmured fearfully among themselves.
"I told you it was wrong to treat him the way you did!" Reuben spoke up. "Now we may pay for it."
All this talk between Joseph, who spoke in Egyptian, and his brothers, who spoke only in Hebrew, had been through an interpreter. (Verse 23.) Joseph still remembered his native tongue, and when he heard his brothers talking excitedly among themselves, he understood every word. He felt so sorry for them that he turned his head away and wept, even though they had treated him brutally in the past.
"The guards will take one of you back to prison," he said, controlling himself.
He looked slowly over the tense faces before him. His eyes settled on Simeon, the brother who had suggested killing him when he, Joseph, was only seventeen years old.
"Take that man to the dungeon!" Joseph snapped, pointing to Simeon.
Guards swiftly bound the protesting Simeon and dragged him away. It was becoming plainer to the brothers that God was having a hand in their affairs.
"Leave now," Joseph told the remaining nine. "You will be told where to pick up your grain and how much to pay."
The Brothers Hurriedly Leave Egypt
Later, after the brothers had bought the grain and loaded it on their animals, they were relieved to depart. At dusk they stopped where the animals could be fed and sheltered for the night. When one of the brothers opened his grain sack to feed his animal, he discovered a bag of coins that contained the exact amount he had paid for the sack of grain.
"It must be the money I paid for my part of the grain!" he exclaimed. "How did that get there?"
"This is not good," one of the brothers said. "It could be a scheme to arrest you for not paying for the grain."
"They could arrest all of us if they could prove that one of us is a thief," said another. "God is dealing with us because of the wrong things we have done." (Verses 25-28.)
During the rest of the trip the brothers feared that Egyptian soldiers would overtake them, but they safely reached home in Canaan.
Jacob was happy at their return with the grain, but he was most unhappy to learn that Simeon was being held prisoner and that the governor of Egypt had demanded to see Benjamin.
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WHEN Jacob's sons began taking the grain out of their sacks, each was shocked to find a bag of money there. It was the same amount each had paid the Egyptians. When Jacob learned about this, he was worried lest his sons be considered thieves and taken back to Egypt.
"I have already lost Joseph and Simeon," Jacob said. "Now you say I should send Benjamin to Egypt. I won't do that because I don't trust you to return him to me."
"Let me take Benjamin so that we may prove ourselves and rescue Simeon from prison," Reuben suggested. "If I don't return, you may have the lives of my two sons."
"Don't make foolish promises," said Jacob. "I don't intend to part with Benjamin. If anything should happen to him, I would die of sorrow."
The Famine Grows Worse
As months passed, famine conditions worsened. Like most others, Jacob didn't know that there would be seven years without enough rain to make crops possible. Every day he prayed for rain, and each day he looked for a weather change. God had a plan He intended to carry out in spite of prayers from His followers.
The food supply brought from Egypt became so low that Jacob had to tell his sons to go back to Egypt for more. (Gen. 43:1-2.)
"There is no use returning for more grain unless we take along Benjamin," Judah respectfully told his father. "We were told by the governor that he wouldn't see us again unless we would bring our youngest brother to him." (Verse 3.) "If you want grain, Benjamin will have to go along. If anything happens to him, I'll be responsible." (Verses 8-9.)
"Then take him," Jacob finally agreed. "Take also some gifts for the Egyptian governor. My servants will prepare packages of honey, spices, ointments, perfumes and choice dates and nuts. Also take back the money that was returned to you in your sacks. Offer all these things to the governor. I pray that God will be with you, and that all of you will return safely with Simeon."
Once again Jacob's sons went to Egypt, and once again they stood before the governor, who was their brother. When Joseph saw that they had returned with Benjamin, he was very pleased. However, he had to keep from showing his feelings.
"Take these men to my house and have a very special meal prepared for them," he told his chief servant. (Verse 16.)
The servant escorted the ten sons to Joseph's quarters. They weren't sure why they had been brought to such a fine place. They began to wonder if they were there to receive some sort of punishment. Therefore they told Joseph's chief servant about their first trip to Egypt for grain, and how their money had mysteriously been returned to them. They explained to him that they wanted to give the money back, and that they had more money for buying more grain. (Verses 20-22.)
"Don't worry about these things," the chief servant told them. "Make yourselves comfortable until my master comes."
Simeon Released from Prison
While the brothers waited, they were given the chance to bathe, and their animals were fed. Then, to their surprise, their brother Simeon, who had been a prisoner for about a year, was brought in to them. (Verse 23.)
At noon Joseph arrived at his home with some high-ranking Egyptians. The brothers bowed low to the governor, and humbly presented the gifts they had brought from Canaan. Joseph thanked them and asked about their father.
"Is this the brother you told me about?" Joseph asked, looking at Benjamin.
"It is," was the reply. "This is Benjamin. He should help prove that we didn't come to Egypt last year as spies."
Joseph was so glad to get a good look at Benjamin that he almost wept. He had to excuse himself and go to another room, where he broke into tears. He returned shortly. No one could know how he felt in standing before eleven brothers who weren't aware that he was their brother. (Verses 29-31.)
Food was brought in for all present. With so many good things to eat and drink before them, the brothers quickly forgot their fears and worries. Benjamin enjoyed the meal more than anyone. For one thing, he was served far more of everything. Besides, he received special dishes not served to the others, inasmuch as Joseph quietly had instructed his servants to give him special treatment. (Verse 34.)
Of course Benjamin didn't try to consume all that was set before him, but it increased his awe for the governor. He would have been more awed if he could have known that the governor was his brother!
Brothers Prepare to Return to Canaan
Early next morning Jacob's sons set out for home with as much grain as their animals could carry. They were happy with the way matters had turned out. They couldn't know that something unpleasant was about to occur.
Toward noon they noticed a cloud of dust off to the southwest. As the cloud grew larger, they could make out that a band of men on horses was swiftly coming toward them. They were surprised when the leader of the band turned out to be the chief servant of Egypt's governor.
"Why have you treated your host, the governor, so badly?" the chief servant asked the brothers.
"What do you mean?" they asked. "The governor's special silver cup is missing," was the answer. "That's the one he was using yesterday when you ate with him. He thinks one of you stole it!'.'
"We aren't thieves," the brothers exclaimed. "We brought back the money that was returned to us on our first trip to Egypt. Why should we steal now? Search us. If you find the cup in our belongings, we will become your servants. If one of us is hiding the cup, he shall die!" (Gen. 44:4-9.)
They felt that it would be impossible for the cup to be found with them. None would have dared take such a valuable article from the powerful governor of Egypt.
"Let it be as you have said," agreed the chief servant, motioning his men to search the brothers' belongings.
To the unpleasant surprise of Jacob's sons, money for the grain was again found in the sacks. And the silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack! (Verse 12.)
In miserable silence the brothers packed their belongings back on their animals. Surrounded by their pursuers, they rode back to face the governor. When Joseph appeared, they fell down before him.
"What have you been trying to do?" Joseph sternly asked. "Obviously you don't know that I sometimes have the power to recognize evil intentions."
"What can we say?" asked Judah, the brother who told his father that he would surely look out for Benjamin. "There's no way of proving we aren't guilty, and we aren't. We've done some wicked things in our time, and if God wants to punish us by becoming your slaves, so be it." (Verse 16.)
"It needn't be that way," Joseph said. "I ask that only Benjamin become my servant. The rest of you may return to your father."
Perhaps some of the brothers thought that this was a fair way of settling matters. Judah didn't. He wanted to get the governor to set Benjamin free. He pointed out that his father had almost died of sorrow when he had lost a young son by the name of Joseph, and that his father was certain to die of sorrow if his youngest son, Benjamin, failed to return home.
Joseph was so moved by Judah's plea that he could no longer keep his feelings under control. Joseph had treated most of his brothers harshly because he wanted them to be painfully aware of their evil deeds. He had returned their grain money twice to keep them in a sober state of mind. He had servants put the silver cup in Benjamin's sack so that Benjamin would have to stay with him for at least a while. (Gen. 44:1-2.)
Joseph Reveals Who He Is
Joseph was unable to continue acting the part of a stern ruler. He dismissed the Egyptian officials from his home so that he could be alone with his brothers (Gen. 45:1.)
"I am Joseph, your brother," he tearfully told them. Instead of saying anything, his brothers only moved backward, staring in surprise and unbelief.
"Come near me," Joseph said. "Look at me closely, and you should recognize the young brother you sold to Arabian slave traders years ago." (Verse 4.)
His brothers continued staring in silence. Perhaps some of them remembered Joseph telling them of his dream of their bowing down to him.
"Don't be unhappy because of my reminding you of things you have done," Joseph said. "God caused these events. He opened the way for me to be taken to Egypt and gave me ability to see a part of the future. It was for the good of many people, including you and your father, that God directed me to prepare for a famine. Five years without harvest are yet to come, so I want you to return to our father and tell him what has happened and what is going to happen. Tell him that as governor of Egypt under Pharaoh, I want him and his family and his animals and all of you and your possessions to come down to Egypt to live while the famine lasts. If you don't, you will probably lose all that you have."
Joseph then embraced Benjamin and his other brothers. This caused them to lose their fear of this man they had regarded only as a stern governor of Egypt. They began to talk as only brothers talk among themselves. It turned out to be a happy time, especially because Joseph wanted to forgive them for wrong things most of them had done to him.
When Pharaoh heard about Joseph's brothers, he was anxious to be of some help because of his high regard for Joseph. He supplied carriages and animals to take back to Canaan for the more comfortable trip to Egypt by the women and children that would come from Canaan. He felt that those who weren't up to the discomfort of travel by swaying camels and jolting donkeys would be helped. To this Joseph added new clothing. To Benjamin he was particularly liberal by including money. To his father he sent ten donkeys loaded with food (Verses 22-23.)
Besides these things, Joseph's brothers took the grain they had been sent for.
"Have a safe trip back home," Joseph said. "Go straight to Canaan and return as soon as you can with our father."
With this advice, the governor of Egypt sent his brothers away.
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SEVERAL years later Joseph's brothers arrived safely at their home in Canaan. When Jacob their father saw that eleven of them had returned safely, he was very happy.
"I thank God that you are back!" he exclaimed as he hurried to embrace them. "Now if only I could see your brother Joseph again!"
Joseph Is Alive
"You will!" one of the sons shouted excitedly. "Joseph is alive! We found him in Egypt!"
This remark startled Jacob, but it also saddened him more because he thought that the speaker was unwisely trying to cheer him up. When the other sons loudly echoed the news, and that Joseph had become the governor of Egypt under Pharaoh, Jacob had to believe them. He was so moved that he fainted with relief and joy.
Later, when he was shown the gifts and bags of grain from Egypt, and the carriages for his trip there, he was overjoyed at the prospect of going to see Joseph.
Jacob Journeys to Egypt
Before long Jacob, his sons, their families, servants and animals were moving southwestward. The carriages Pharaoh had sent made travel less difficult for small children and the elderly. Being one hundred and thirty years old, Jacob appreciated journeying in such awesome comfort.
At the same time he began to be concerned at remembering that God had forbidden his grandfather, Abraham, to go into Egypt. His worries about this ended when God told him in a vision that He meant Jacob to go there, and promised him a return to Canaan. (Gen. 46:1-4.)
As soon as Joseph heard that his father's caravan had reached Egypt, he drove out in his chariot with some of his cavalrymen to meet the visitors. The reunion of a fond father and long-lost son was a joyous one. Joseph felt that his life was so full that he didn't mind if it ended then. Happily, he was to live for several more eventful years.
Joseph Tells Pharaoh
"Pharaoh will want you to appear before him," Joseph told his father and brothers after informing the king that his family had arrived. "When he asks you what you do for a living, truthfully tell him that you tend cattle and sheep, even though most Egyptians regard animals as sacred, and don't like shepherds and drovers because they seldom think of animals as sacred."
Pharaoh at first asked five of Joseph's brothers to come before him. As Joseph had predicted, the king inquired about their occupations. When he learned that they dealt in cattle and sheep, he suggested to Joseph that they settle in the Egyptian area of Goshen. Joseph had hoped that Pharaoh would do that. The best nearby pastures were in Goshen. Besides, there were fewer Egyptians there who would trouble outsiders who lacked the belief that animals should be worshiped.
Jacob later was brought to Pharaoh, who treated him with honor because of respect for Joseph. The king saw that all of Jacob's family were settled in the rich Nile River delta land, the section of Egypt nearest Canaan. "
Weeks passed, during which Joseph had the opportunity to occasionally visit his father and his brothers and their families. Meanwhile, the famine grew worse. Those who had lived too luxuriously during the seven good years were first to feel the shortage of food. Joseph sent word to all the nation that farm animals would be accepted by Pharaoh as payment for grain.
After the animals had been turned in, there was a period of less complaint. Before long, though, people were again begging for grain. The only way they could pay this time was to turn their land over to Pharaoh, who soon became the nation's wealthiest landlord. Most of the land that didn't belong to him was retained by priests of Egyptian pagan religions.
The food problem increased with each passing day, but Joseph believed that the end of the famine was near. When seven years of it were almost up, he started moving the people back to the farms they had left.
"Pharaoh now owns your land," he told them, "but he will give you seed for starting new crops. In return, you must give him a fifth of your harvest."
The people considered this fair, though not many felt certain that the famine was about to end. After the end of the seventh year, when rain returned and crops began to spring up in abundance, the Egyptians had even higher regard for Joseph.
Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt. His children's families increased greatly in numbers. Because God had given Jacob the name of Israel, Jacob's descendants were called Israelites, a nation that developed inside Egypt.
Believing that his life was about over, Jacob sent for Joseph and his two young sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Jacob Adopts Joseph's Children As His Own
"God told me years ago that I would be the father of a great nation, and that those who live after me will be given the land of Canaan," Jacob told Joseph. "I want to adopt your sons as mine to make sure they remain part of our family instead of mixing with the Egyptians."
Joseph agreed. He brought his sons to where his father, who had become weak and partly blind, rested on his bed. He fondly hugged his grandsons, observing that it was a great blessing from God to live to see them. He sat up to pray for them, placing his left hand on Manasseh's head and his right hand on Ephraim's. Thinking that his father was too blind to see which boy was which, Joseph gently removed Jacob's left hand from Manasseh's head.
"It is the custom that the RIGHT hand be on the first-born," Joseph said. "Manasseh is the older."
"I realize I put my right hand on the head of the younger one," Jacob explained. "The greatest nation of the earth will come from Manasseh, but a commonwealth of nations will come from Ephraim."
Jacob then asked God to cause mighty nations to come from each of the boys. (Gen. 48:19.) Then, knowing that his death was near, he asked to see all his sons.
A Prophecy for Today!
Jacob was inspired by God in what he said, for he told each son a little of what each vast tribe would be like in the far future.
He had the most to say about Joseph, whom ~ said would spread out into the wealthiest nations in the world. Now, thousands of years later, we learn through the Bible that Joseph was the father of the English-speaking nations. When we read what is foretold to happen to Ephraim, we know that it means Great Britain. And when we read what is to happen to Manasseh, we know it means the United States of America. Only in recent years, just as He said He would do, has God let us understand these things.
Jacob died right after speaking to his sons. Joseph ordered Egyptian physicians to prepare his father's body for burial by an Egyptian method known as embalming. This took many days. Then followed a long period of mourning by the Egyptians.
At last Joseph and his brothers and their families, except their very young children, along with a great number of Egyptian officials, soldiers and servants, started off with Jacob's body for Canaan. It was a trip of three hundred miles, and therefore this must have been one of the greatest funeral processions in history. (Gen. 50:7-13.)
This great ceremony for Jacob wasn't just because the Egyptians held Jacob in such high regard. It was mostly because they thought of his son, Joseph, as a national hero because he had saved their nation from starvation.
Jacob lived one hundred and forty-seven years. Some might have thought of him as a very plain, unimportant man. But he had a very necessary part in God's plan to bring into being the great nation of Israel, the nation God chose to help Him in a wonderful plan.
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AFTER Jacob's eleven sons returned to their homes in Goshen, some of them began to worry that Joseph might yet deal harshly with them because of the way they had treated him when he was younger. They sent a message to him asking for his forgiveness. Joseph was moved by the message, but even more when they came to ask for his pardon. He assured them that he wanted only to help them, and that God had used them to get him into Egypt to help many people. (Gen. 50:15-21.)
After governing Egypt for many years, Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten. Before his death he told his brothers that God would some day take the Israelites back to Canaan. He asked that his body be taken back there. However, he remained in a coffin in Egypt for many years. (Verses 22-26.)
For the next two centuries, the Israelites in Egypt increased to two million, most of whom continued to live in the Nile delta area. (Exodus 1:6-7.) Several pharaohs ruled and died meanwhile. The next one mentioned in the Bible after Joseph's time hardly knew who Joseph was. (Verse 8.) He disliked the Israelites. He planned to prevent them from increasing by turning them to hard labor.
The Israelites Are Enslaved
By being promised good wages, the Israelites were drawn from their farms and pastures to construction jobs. Soon they realized that they were being maneuvered into forced labor. The Egyptians supposed that in these miserable circumstances the Israelites would decrease. Surprisingly, they increased even more.
"Work them harder!" Pharaoh ordered his taskmasters. "Work them till they drop! Use whips and sticks on them!"
Under increasingly harsh treatment, and divided into gangs to keep them under control, the Israelites became hopeless slaves to the Egyptians. They were herded over the land to dig long canal beds, line the banks of the Nile with stone and build fortresses and pyramids. Most of them slaved long hours making huge bricks from clay and straw. (Ex. 1:9-14.)
All this failed to decrease them. The cruel Pharaoh therefore decreed that all Hebrew midwives would be expected to kill baby boys born to the Israelites. Failure to obey was punishable by death. (Verses 15-16.) The midwives had no intention of committing murder. On hearing that they refused, Pharaoh angrily called them to come to him to explain why.
"Israelite women are stronger than Egyptian ones," they said.
"They so seldom need our help that we never know about many births."
Pharaoh had intended to punish the midwives for their disobedience toward him, but because the midwives obeyed God, God caused him to change his mind. (Verses 17-21.) Pharaoh then moved in another direction. He instructed his police and soldiers to watch for and seize newlyborn male babies and throw them in the Nile. (Verse 22.)
There probably were babies who escaped this inhuman fate. Unhappily, most were drowned. The Israelites were filled with dismay. They longed to flee from Egypt, but they were too well guarded. They could see only a dismal future of servitude. There was no way of knowing that through one of those babies God was going to bring about a great change.
The Birth of Moses
At that time a boy was born to an Israelite couple living north of Pharaoh's palace near the Nile. They managed to hide the child from the police for three months. Then, because they knew the authorities were suspicious, they put the baby in a pitch-smeared basket and set him afloat in the river, trusting that God would cause someone to find him who would keep him safe. This was risky, they realized, but they reasoned that God had inspired their decision.
As God willed it, Pharaoh's daughter came to the river to bathe, and found the basket and its live cargo. (Ex. 2:5-6.) She was so impressed by the appearance of the infant, which she recognized as an Israelite, that she decided to try to keep it in her protection. At that point a little girl surprisingly appeared and courteously told the Egyptian princess that she knew of an Israelite nurse who could help. (Verse 7.)
Pharaoh's daughter approved, whereupon the girl raced off to the nearby home of her mother, who was also the Israelite boy's mother, to tell her what had happened. She was relieved at the turn of events, having sent her little daughter to try to find out what would happen to her floating baby. She quickly joined the princess, who asked her to take care of the baby for her for an indefinite time.
"While you have this child, don't worry about my father's police bothering you," she was told. "When I'm ready to keep the boy safely, I'll send for him."
Pharaoh's daughter sent servants to learn where the overjoyed woman lived. Her husband was suspicious of their presence, but when he later learned what had happened, he and his wife were thankful for God's intervention.
Several years passed. The beautiful baby grew into a handsome little boy. When at last Pharaoh's daughter's servants came for him, his parents grudgingly but promptly gave him up, admonishing him to carefully remember the laws of God he had been taught.
Moses Adopted by Pharaoh's Daughter
The Egyptian princess adopted the little lad and called him Moses. (Ex. 2:10.) Educated by the best instructors in the nation, he grew up to attain prominence and high rank in outstanding Egyptian pursuits. By the time he was forty years old, he became less interested in Egyptian matters and more concerned about the welfare of his mistreated Israelite kinsmen. Brutality by the Egyptians angered him increasingly. In one case he intervened to try to save the life of an Israelite who was being beaten to death. As a result, the cruel Egyptian guard died, too. (Verses 11-12.) Moses later learned that the fight had been seen by at least one Egyptian, and that Pharaoh's police would seek to arrest him for murder. (Verse 15.)
He managed to flee Egypt and escape to a mountainous region of the land of Midian to the east. The first people he had anything to do with were some young shepherdesses he befriended by helping them obtain water for their sheep. To show their appreciation to a person who obviously was a poor, wandering stranger, the young women took him to their father, an important man in that area.
Bible Story Book Index
Reuel father of the shepherdesses Moses had befriended, asked why his daughters were back home so early from their work. He was told that a stranger, an Egyptian, had drawn water for their flocks in return for something to drink.
"I would like to meet this man," Reuel said. "Invite him to eat with us."
It didn't take Reuel long to find that the stranger was intelligent and educated. He offered Moses work as a shepherd. He didn't expect him to accept, but Moses did, feeling that it was safer to stay there than continue traveling on roads where he might be recognized. In Reuel's out-the-way pastures, he would have the opportunity to think and put his thoughts into words. He liked the solitude, and he had long wanted to be a writer. He couldn't even imagine that his writings would become part of the world's most famous book, the Bible.
As time passed, Moses became very fond of Zipporah, one of Reuel's daughters. They were married and had two sons.
Meanwhile, back in Egypt, conditions were becoming worse for the Israelites. The pharaoh had died whose daughter had adopted Moses. The kings who succeeded him were even crueler. Suffering Israelites begged God to free them from the Egyptians. Soon God was to help them.
God Calls Moses
Moses had been in Midian about forty years when one day on a mountain he saw a strange sight. A bush was afire, and though it continued to burn like a torch, no part of it was burned up. As he approached the spectacle, Moses was startled by a strong voice from the bush.
"Don't come any closer, Moses!" he was told. "You are standing on holy ground. Remove your shoes and listen to what I, your God, have to say!" (Ex. 3:5-6.)
Moses was so awed that he hid his face with his jacket. When he heard what God had to say, he cringed and wanted to hide completely.
"I am going to deliver the suffering Israelites from the Egyptians," the voice continued. "I want you to go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let your people leave his country!"
"Why do you choose ME to do that?" Moses finally stammered. "Why would Pharaoh listen to a stranger like myself?"
Although God told him, through the voice of an angel, that he should contact the king of Egypt and the leaders of Israel in a move to lead the Israelites to freedom, Moses couldn't believe that a sheep herder would be chosen for such a task. He was on the verge of arguing with God, who patiently repeated His request.
"Don't worry about your people leaving where they are in a state of poverty," God added. "I will cause the Egyptians to contribute liberally to them at their departure." (Exodus 3:21-22.)
God Shows His Power
When Moses asked how he could prove that he had been sent to help his people gain their freedom, God patiently, to Moses' horror, displayed how Moses could appear to perform startlingly gruesome miracles.
Despite this, Moses felt that he shouldn't be sent because he didn't speak Egyptian very well. Furthermore, he was far from an expert with his native language, Hebrew. When God reminded him that his Creator could give him the ability to speak well, Moses still thought that the task was too much for him.
Moses Tries to Run Away from God's Calling
"Please find someone else for such responsible work," he begged God.
God was still patient. He told Moses that He would send Aaron, his brother, to do most of the speaking for him. This was pleasing to Moses, who knew that Aaron was much more articulate. Nevertheless, Moses wanted to bring up a last excuse by reminding God that he, Moses, was wanted in Egypt for murder. God spoiled that final effort by informing him that the Egyptian authorities who had sought him had all died.
Moses returned home with his flocks to surprise his father-in-law with the news that he planned to return to Egypt to visit his relatives. Just before he left with his family, he was warned by a message from God that Pharaoh would at first refuse to free the Israelites. He was told that if Pharaoh continued to refuse, God would bring some terrible things on the Egyptians, including taking the life of the Egyptian king's first-born son. (Ex. 4:23.)
On burros, Moses and his family set out for Egypt northward along the east side of the Red Sea. Before they had gone very far, Zipporah became angry with Moses because of a family matter. Moses sent his wife and sons back home. Quite likely God caused this to happen so that Moses could better apply himself to what he was to do in Egypt.
About the same time, in Egypt, Moses' brother, Aaron, was told by an angel to go down the east side of the Red Sea, and that he would meet the brother who had been missing for forty years. The brothers were thus brought together for a happy reunion. Moses told Aaron what God expected them to do. Together they went to Goshen, where most of the Israelite leaders lived. There Aaron gathered them together to explain what God, through Moses, intended to do. Most of the leaders were excited and pleased. A few started to cause trouble.
Bible Story Book Index
"WHAT proof do you have that God sent you to lead us out of Egypt?" some of the chief Israelites demanded of Moses and Aaron.
"We want to get out of here!" one spoke out loudly. "But we want to choose a leader instead of accepting just anyone who claims he has been sent by God!"
Encouraged by this kind of talk, other skeptics added their opinions. Aaron held up his hands for silence.
God Performs Miracles Through Moses
"God expects some to fail to recognize His servants," Aaron told them. "He has given my brother the ability to do unusual things so that you can see for yourselves God working through him."
Aaron motioned to Moses, who stepped up and held out his shepherd's rod and tossed it to the ground before all. The instant it touched the soil, gasps of alarm came from the onlookers. They fell back, staring. The rod had turned into a long, coiling, hissing snake!
To the astonishment of all except Aaron, Moses walked up to the snake and seized it by its tail. It wiggled furiously, then became rigid as it turned back into the lifeless shepherd's rod. The Israelite chiefs murmured among themselves in a tone that suddenly was different. In the silence that followed, Moses held up his right hand for all to see that it was a normal hand. After thrusting it inside his jacket, he withdrew it to display a white, leprous, decayed hand. There were expressions of horror, especially from those uncomfortably close at hand. Moses then again concealed his hand, and pulled it into sight to show that it had instantly returned to normal.
"No one could do these things without the power of God," some muttered.
"Not necessarily," said one. "Haven't you heard about the powers of Pharaoh's magicians?"
Ignoring the remark, Aaron called men to bring in a large jar of water. He announced that it was from the Nile, and invited onlookers to examine and taste it. A few did.
The Doubters Convinced
When the examination was over, Moses motioned for the helpers to tip the huge jar over. Many gallons of clear water surged across the ground, wetting the sandals of those who were nearby. At the same time Moses waved his shepherd's rod over it. The onlookers were startled to see the sparkling liquid curdling into a red mass.
"Blood!" someone shouted, trying to leap out of the thickening puddle. "It's turned to blood!"
After the expressions of horror had died down, someone began to speak out to thank God for sending men to help lead their people out of their misery. The others bowed their heads and silently joined in the prayer. (Ex. 4:31.)
Moses and Aaron were thankful that these men accepted them. Later, they and some of the leaders went to the Egyptian city of Memphis to appeal before the king.
"If these Israelites are here to ask a favor," Pharaoh told his aides, "they will receive none from me."
"We come in the name of the God of Israel," Aaron declared to Pharaoh when the Israelites were admitted. "Our God has told us to tell you to let our people go to the desert to worship Him."
There was a cold silence in the court, broken at first by faint giggling from Egyptian women who were the king's guests for the day. Pharaoh leaned forward from his elevated chair and frowned curiously down on Aaron.
"I don't know your God," he muttered. "Whoever He is, He isn't going to cause me to let the Israelites leave!" (Ex. 5:2.)
"We must obey our God," Aaron patiently went on. "All He wants is that we be given three days in the desert. If we don't go, we might be punished." (Verse 3.)
"I'm aware that you two are scheming to sneak your people out of Egypt!" Pharaoh snapped, glancing darkly at Moses and Aaron. "Go back and warn them not to let up on their work!"
Guards herded the Israelites out of the room while amused guests laughed. Pushed along with Aaron, Moses was discouraged because he was so helpless.
Pharaoh Oppresses the People
The more the king thought about the Israelite leaders coming to him for a favor, the angrier he became. He sent orders to his labor gang officers to work the Israelites even longer hours. (Ex. 5:6-9.) The Israelites were slaving on many projects, but probably the brick makers were most seriously affected by the new orders, which required them to walk long distances to widely-scattered fields to gather the straw that was necessary in making bricks. (Verses 10-13.)
Production became so difficult that the laborers fell behind in their tasks. Egyptian officers, fearing Pharaoh's wrath, began to beat the Israelite foremen, whom they expected to beat the workers into greater production. (Verse 14.) Instead, the Israelite officers sent men to Pharaoh to complain about matters. They managed to be heard, but Pharaoh took the opportunity to express himself.
"You Israelites are lazy!" he stormed. "You beg for time off to worship your God! That's a ridiculous excuse! Get back to work! And remember my new orders!" (Verses 15-19.)
The Israelite officers glumly left the palace. Moses and Aaron were outside, anxious to learn what had happened. The officers regarded them without friendliness, muttering as they strode past that it had been a grave mistake to anger Pharaoh by telling him that God required their presence in the desert.
Moses Prays for Help
Moses was discouraged again, and unhappy that God had expected him and Aaron to ask a favor of Pharaoh. As soon as he was alone, he complained to God for allowing the Israelites to fall into greater misery. (Verses 20-23.)
"You will see that after I deal with the king, he will be ANXIOUS to get rid of Israel," God assured Moses. "Remember that I am your Creator the One Who made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Tell your people that I haven't forgotten my promises to them. I will cause great things to occur, and will bring them into the land I told them I would give them." (Ex. 6:6-7.)
Heartened by these words, Moses and Aaron went to encourage their people. Unfortunately, the laborers were so miserable that they weren't inclined to listen. (Verse 9.) Not long afterward, while Moses was trying to weather this repeated stress, God again told him to return to Pharaoh to ask for the release of his countrymen. Moses' reaction was to tell God that it would be futile to try to help people who didn't seem to be interested. God firmly reminded him that he and Aaron had the responsibility, and that it had to be done. (Verse 13.)
"You claim that your God has sent you to demand your countrymen's release," Pharaoh smugly repeated when the two Israelites came to him. "How can you prove that? What powers can your God show?"
Intending to amuse his court guests, the king settled back in his chair to enjoy the discomfort he expected Moses and Aaron to show. Moses glanced around at the grinning faces. Then he tossed his shepherd's rod to Aaron, who threw it on the thickly-carpeted floor in front of the king. There were sudden expressions of alarm. Grins faded. Pharaoh's bearded chin sagged. His narrowed eyes widened as he stared down.
As it had done before, the rod had turned to a large, wriggling serpent! (Ex. 7:8-10.)
Pharaoh straightened up and stared at the creature. He gestured impatiently to an aide, who approached nervously to listen to the king's hasty instructions and quickly leave. Minutes dragged as people gazed uneasily at the coiling, tongue-darting snake. Finally the aide returned to whisper something to Pharaoh.
Egyptian Magicians Appear
"Your display was clever," the king said to Moses and Aaron, "but now you will learn that I have men who are cleverer and can display more power."
From behind curtains several richly-robed men appeared, each carrying what appeared to be a shepherd's rod. They lined up a little way from the king, dramatically brandishing the sticks, then throwing them in unison to the floor.
Every stick, to the surprise of Moses and Aaron, turned into a live snake!
"My magicians have just sure passed the power of your God!" Pharaoh boasted, leering triumphantly at the Israelites.
Applause and shouts of praise came from the court audience. Under the king's amused stare, Moses bent down to pick up his snake so that it would turn back into his rod. But the snake wouldn't hold still to be picked up. It slithered away toward the other snakes. It was then that the applause abruptly ceased. Pharaoh's smirk dissolved to an expression of disbelief. Moses' snake was hastily gulping down the magicians' snakes! (Verse 12.)
This was too much for the onlookers, especially the magicians. As Moses snatched up his gorged snake, which turned back into a shepherd's rod, they scrambled out of sight. Even Pharaoh tried to exit nonchalantly.
"We have showed you the proof you wanted!" Aaron called out. "Now will you let our people go?"
Pharaoh whirled and glowered coldly at the two Israelites, whom he had suddenly come to dislike more than ever. For a moment it appeared that he was about to give in.
"I will," he muttered, "do no such thing!" and strode away. (Verse 13.)
Bible Story Book Index
ALTHOUGH Moses and Aaron were again disappointed, they felt that Pharaoh was beginning to take them seriously. Fearing that they would have no success in getting into the king's palace soon, they welcomed God's information that Pharaoh could be reached at his bathing pool, and how they should get there and what they should say.
One morning when Pharaoh was slipping into his tiled pool built in a bank of the Nile, he was startled to hear a familiar voice from the foliage bordering his pool. He looked up with curious dismay to see Moses and Aaron. Guards moved swiftly toward the two Israelites, but the king held up a restraining hand.
"Wait!" he commanded. "I want to know what kind of show this couple has in mind for me this time."
Aaron leaped at the opportunity, relating what God had told Moses.
"We have come to warn you that because you have refused to let our people go," Aaron said, "our God will turn this river into blood! The water creatures in it will die. It will be undrinkable. People will turn ill because of the horrible stench." (Ex. 7:15-18.)
"I would have been disappointed if you fellows had come with less exciting news," Pharaoh quipped, idly splashing water over himself. "The Nile is a mighty stream. It worries me to think of what to do with that much blood."
As the Egyptian guards and servants roared with laughter, Aaron lifted Moses' rod at arm's length. This gesture sobered the Egyptians. They were sobered further at a shout of alarm from Pharaoh's robe bearer.
"The water is turning red!" he yelled. Standing waist deep in the pool, Pharaoh glanced down to see that the water had lost its clarity and was growing redder by the second. He had a sudden desire to leap out of it, which he did in an undignified manner. The perturbed robe bearer thrust the robe over his master to hide the ugly crimson streaks, but there was no concealing the thick, red puddle in which the king uncomfortably wiggled his toes. (Ex. 7:20.)
"Call my magicians!" the king commanded. "Tell them what has happened!"
There was a wait for them to arrive and prove that they had power equal to what the Israelite God had shown through His followers. From his bathhouse Pharaoh gazed apprehensively across the reddened Nile flowing to the north, spotted with the white bellies of dead fish. The results of the power of the Israelites' God showed plainly, but the king didn't want to allow himself to believe what he saw.
At last the magicians appeared with servants bearing huge casks. These were opened in front of all to reveal many gallons of clear water. This was poured out on the ground while the magicians waved their arms and uttered strange words.
Before it could soak into the soil, it turned blood red! (Ex. 7:22.)
"There is no miracle your God can perform that my magicians can't perform," Pharaoh said to Moses and Aaron. "Of course you had the advantage. My men could hardly turn the river into blood when it already appeared that way!"
Hoping that Moses and Aaron had been impressed by this comparatively weak display, the king walked away as he struggled to maintain his dignity. (Verse 23.)
Seven Days Without Water
The whole nation of Egypt soon was in misery. Water was the life of that arid land. Even the canals, pools and ponds had become blood, which wasn't good even for fertilizer because it was too stenchy to use.
There was a frantic struggle for drinking water for people and livestock. Only in Goshen, where most of the Israelites lived, were there some wells with clear water. Getting it from there or sources outside Egypt was too great a task to serve the whole country. Even many Israelite slaves suffered, though they had the advantage of work stoppages.
Pharaoh and his family were supplied with fresh water at the cost of increased suffering by many servants. What mattered most was the welfare and lives of most of the Egyptians. Realizing that he could lose a nation to rule, Pharaoh decided less than a week later that he would have to contact Moses and Aaron. The discomfort, the shortage of water and the complaining of people were too much for him.
On the eighth day after the Nile had turned to blood, excited servants informed the king that the river and other bodies of water had miraculously returned to normal. There was great rejoicing in Egypt. Pharaoh was relieved that he would be spared asking Moses and Aaron for help, or even to see them. He was quite angry when he learned they had come to see HIM.
Moses and Aaron Return
Hoping the two Israelites had come to tell him they had given up their desire to take their people into the desert, Pharaoh nodded for his guards to admit the visitors.
"Spare me your old story of asking three days off work for your countrymen!" the king almost shouted as Moses and Aaron walked toward him.
"We have come to warn you that if you refuse to let our people go, God will bring millions of frogs into this country!" Aaron answered. "They will swarm into your kitchens, your beds and wherever you stand, sit or lie!" (Ex. 8:1-4.)
"Go tell your God that He can't do more than my magicians can do!" Pharaoh scowled. "I'm not frightened by your tiresome threats!"
The king was worried. He knew his magicians had failed miserably in trying to outperform Israel's God. He would have been much more concerned if he could have foreseen what would happen next morning, when he was awakened very early by the screams of women servants. As he turned over for more sleep, he felt something crawling on his face. He jerked to a sitting position to see in the dim light of early dawn many small frogs hopping and crawling over his bed covers! (Verses 5-6.)
Angered because his servants would allow such desecration of his quarters, he leaped out of bed to plant his warm feet on a slithery carpet of cold frogs swarming on the floor. He slipped and slid to the door just in time to collide with embarrassed servants struggling to sweep piles of frogs away from his bedroom door.
"Forgive us, sire!" they stuttered. "These creatures are coming from the river in great hordes!"
The king shuddered. He remembered Aaron's prediction, uttered only the day before. He stared almost unbelievingly down on the masses of frogs, alive and dead, that matted the costly carpet of his sleeping chambers.
Later, when trays of food were brought to the royal dining table, the king resolved he wouldn't let the irksome state of affairs spoil his appetite, and dived into a bowl of food. Suddenly he stopped eating. Tiny green frogs were mixed in with what he had been contentedly chewing! His dining had suddenly ended.
During the next days, the discomfort of the Egyptians increased with the frogs. Again, in a weak attempt to prove that the God of Israel wasn't the only deity who could perform miracles, Pharaoh called on his magicians to display their pagan god-given powers. When they produced frogs, seemingly out of nothing, Pharaoh suddenly decided he had seen enough of such creatures, and that he would be more pleased in seeing them disappear. He called for Moses and Aaron.
"I am weary of gazing at frogs," he admitted to the two Israelites. "If your God will stop them coming out of the river, your countrymen will be free to go to the desert to worship Him!" (Ex. 8:8.)
Elated and thankful, Moses and Aaron promised the invasion of the reptiles would cease next day. Moses at once went to entreat God to stop the plague. Next day the frogs ceased coming out of the river. Then began the massive task of burning or burying the tons of dried and rotted flesh. Days passed. Moses expected the foremen of the Israelite workers would be instructed to tell the laborers the time had come finally to leave, but this didn't happen. Moses and Aaron went to ask the king why he hadn't done as he had said he would.
"I intended to let the workers off," Pharaoh casually and callously
explained. "Then I realized that I needed so many of them to help get rid
of the dead frogs."
Bible Story Book Index
GOD later contacted an angry Moses to tell him to tell Aaron to strike the ground with the shepherd's rod. Even the Israelites, who realized God's power was limitless, were awed at what happened. The dust particles of the soil began to move about as though alive, which they had become, having turned into tiny lice-like insects that flew away to afflict the Egyptians and their animals with painful bites and stings!
While many of the Egyptians were still occupied with getting rid of the frogs, they were attacked by this new plague of blood-sucking creatures. The air was so full of them that it was almost impossible to breathe without inhaling them. Human and animal hair became matted with the crawling masses.
Servants tried almost vainly to protect the king and his family, while requests poured in to the palace begging Pharaoh to yield to the requests of Moses and Aaron. By now the Egyptians were becoming aware of what was going on. They were increasingly fearful of the power that was causing so much woe.
"They are only tricks of the Israelites," Pharaoh kept saying hopefully. "My magicians have as much power through greater gods. Our patience will win."
But this time the magicians utterly failed to produce the horrible little insects. The head magician could only grovel before the king and admit he considered the Israelites' God too powerful to admit of any competition. (Ex. 8:19)
Pharaoh's anger was exceeded only by his desire to be free of the insects. He tried to do that by a dip in his Nile pool, where he was dismayed to find Moses and Aaron. He wanted to have the two arrested, but he feared what their God might do.
"We have come to tell you that if you refuse to let our people go right away, tomorrow your country will be overrun by swarms of larger insects!" Aaron told him. "Only Goshen, where most of the Israelites live, will be spared."
"Then I should simply move to Goshen!" Pharaoh sneered through his insect netting, and strode on toward the river.
Next day the Egyptians noticed the insects were dying. They brushed the creatures from their hair and clothing as much as they could. Hoping the trouble was almost over, Pharaoh was scornfully jubilant.
"I knew this pagan evil would end!" he boasted. "Only I had the wisdom of our gods to see how it would turn out!"
There were moments of reverential silence in the royal court as the king disdainfully brushed some dead insects from his beard. The quiet was broken by servants rushing in to loudly announce that clouds of larger insects were settling over the city. (Verse 24.)
Before long the Egyptians were victims of deep-biting flies giving more misery than the lice. Normal activities came to a halt in l he struggle to try to avoid this new plague. It brought such misery that Pharaoh's advisors entreated him to take any action to try to spare the people.
"Send for Moses and Aaron," Pharaoh finally said resignedly. When Moses and Aaron showed up, the king was quite fretful because of the course of matters. He became even more so when he noted the two Israelites showed no signs of insect bites.
"Why does your God allow these cruel things to come on my people?" he demanded to know. "If He is an intelligent God, He should know I am willing to let your countrymen make their sacrifices to Him. I've never denied them that favor."
"Our rites require that we get away from your people," Aaron pointed out. "They would be so offended by our ways of worship they would probably shower us with stones."
"Then go!" Pharaoh snapped. "Just don't go too far or stay too long, or you could die in the hot, dry desert! But first ask your God to take away these flies!"
"We'll do that," Moses said. "But remember your promise to let the Israelites go. Don't deceive us as you did before." (Verse 29.)
Moses asked God to remove the flies. That night a strong wind scoured the land. By morning the insects had been swept away, but they had been so voracious they had brought much death, sickness and destruction. Pharaoh realized Egypt couldn't afford another such catastrophe, but he regretted having promised to let the Israelites go.
Pharaoh Breaks His Promise Again
As might be expected, he sent a message to Moses reminding him his promise to let the Israelites go was made during a time of great mental and physical stress, and shouldn't be considered binding. (Verse 32.) Moses was very upset by such perfidy, and therefore welcomed God's instructions to him and Aaron to warn the king of an even worse plague to come to Egypt the next day. (Ex. 9:1-3.)
"You keep on relaying threats from your God," Pharaoh loftily observed. "He has yet to bring any woes unendurable to me!"
The fifth plague struck before most of the Egyptians knew what was happening. Within hours the land was strewn with dead cattle, horses, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. A sudden, fatal sickness to animals wiped out Egyptian livestock. Meanwhile, animals belonging to the Israelites were untouched. (Verse 6.)
This was also a serious religious blow to the Egyptians, to whom many kinds of animals were sacred. It was difficult for them to understand why their idols would allow death to come to the animals from which the idols had been copied.
Even through this tremendous loss to his people, Pharaoh remained stubbornly unbending. Perhaps he was less moved by this last plague because personal suffering wasn't as intense as it had been in former ones. Furthermore, he seemed even more intent on keeping the Israelites as a powerful working force to build Egypt up to the world's top nation in construction of public works and wonders. He had visions of a superglorious country, but if he could have foreseen what his stubbornness would bring, he would have had a much humbler attitude.
Bible Story Book Index
PHARAOH had just started on a tour to view the livestock damage outside the city, when he was advised to turn back because an especially strong wind was driving the sand. At the same time the king saw two unwelcome but familiar figures carrying a large leather bag, standing on the palace steps.
Moses and Aaron Reappear
"What do you have there?" the curious and unfriendly king called out to the Israelites.
Moses and Aaron came closer to reveal the contents of the bag.
"Ashes!" Pharaoh snorted. "How ridiculous!" "Are they?" Aaron queried. "Would it mean anything to you that they are from the brick-drying kilns where our people have slaved so long?"
Without more words, Moses and Aaron dipped their hands into the bag and flung the tiny particles into the rising wind.
Almost at once people living around Memphis, Egypt, broke out with painful boil-like blisters and sores. Minutes later those in more distant areas were overtaken with the same thing. Within hours all Egyptians became victims of the painful skin eruptions. The Israelites were the only ones in Egypt not afflicted. Even Pharaoh's magicians weren't spared, though the king futilely hoped they could help. The Bible account of this plague was the last time the magicians were mentioned. (Ex. 9-11.)
When Pharaoh, who was among the first victims, recalled how the two Israelites had tossed the fine ashes into the wind, he realized that each ash particle touching skin obviously produced a skin eruption, of which he had his share. To worsen matters, much of the livestock rushed into Egypt to help replace some of the losses of animals during the last plague was downed by the skin affliction.
Because this was the kind of plague that pained the king both physically and appearance-wise, Pharaoh didn't delay for long an appeal for help to Moses and Aaron. He sent a messenger -- obviously one who didn't have boils on his feet -- to ask the two Israelites to come to the palace. Pharaoh didn't want to see them, but he needed relief. Besides, he was curious to learn what was going to happen after his next refusal to let the Israelites go. He didn't have to wait long, though the wait was painful.
"I know! I know! You are about to warn me of a new plague!" he growled as Moses and Aaron appeared. "But first get rid of this one!"
"Instead of mocking, you should be giving thanks that you're not dead," Aaron advised him as Moses nodded in agreement. "Our God has spared you only to continue letting you witness His great power. If you still refuse to let our people go, a terrible hailstorm will come on Egypt tomorrow, making your boils even more agonizing!" (Ex. 9-19.)
"Hailstorms have occurred in Egypt before," the king observed, trying to appear painless as he tormentedly shifted his weight in his chair. "Small ice particles falling, surely will be endurable. Meanwhile, no Israelite has my permission to leave!"
Moses and Aaron weren't the only ones to hastily leave Pharaoh's court. Some of the Egyptians who had heard of the hailstorms to come were fearful of them, and hurried to try to get their property under cover. They warned friends to do likewise, and to seek shelter for themselves.
Hailstorm and Lightning
Later, on God's orders, Moses pointed his shepherd's rod toward a sky already darkening. Strong drafts of wind set the clouds boiling. Lightning flashed and shimmered through them. The roar and rumble of thunder threw the Egyptians into panic. Those in the open began to race for shelter from the expected downpouring of heavy rain.
But instead of rain came awesome bolts of fire. It cracked against the ground and hissed and sizzled off in all directions, scorching people, animals, shrubs, crops (except those still in the seed stage) and buildings. This was followed by huge hailstones smashing down on everything and snuffing out the lives of the unprotected. Only in the Goshen area of Egypt was there no lightning and hail.
In the smoking, rattling shelter of his palace Pharaoh shakily turned from a window to confront pale-faced Egyptian officials and servants. The accusing stares, the roaring bombardment, the vivid flashes of fire, the hideous rumble of thunder and the cries of people and animals in pain finally prevailed over the king's stubborn desire to hold the Israelites.
"Somebody must go after Moses and Aaron!" he shouted above the din, though he knew that anyone he sent probably couldn't survive the storm.
Almost miraculously the two Israelites shortly appeared, obviously protected by God from the frightful forces on their way to the palace. Pharaoh eagerly strode forward to meet them.
"I and my people have been wrong!" the king exclaimed, generously sharing the blame. "Beg your God to stop this horrible storm! Your people will be free to leave Egypt at once!"
This was a far different Pharaoh from the one who had defied God a few hours before. Moses and Aaron could hardly believe that he had changed that much, but they were encouraged. Moses assured the king that the storm would cease after God had been asked to stop it, which Moses knew should be done without the presence of an Egyptian audience.
Pharaoh and his people were greatly relieved when the roar of fire and hail came to a halt. But as usual, as soon as matters improved, the king's stubbornness and hostility began to revive. Even while the dead were being carried away for burial, Pharaoh was deciding to do nothing to help the Israelites leave -- which was according to God's plan.
Hours and days passed. Because of no word from the king, Moses and Aaron went to him to give him another warning from God.
"You have broken your word again," he was reminded as he sourly regarded the two Israelites. "Unless you give the word for our people to leave right away, another misery will come to your land tomorrow."
As soon as Moses and Aaron had gone, Pharaoh's advisers crowded in to complain that the nation couldn't survive another plague. They were surprised to hear Pharaoh say that if they felt so strongly about the matter, they should see that Moses and Aaron would be brought back. Moses and Aaron were also surprised to be escorted back. Pharaoh then asked them how many of their people were expected to leave. He hoped only the women and children would have to go, so that he could keep the men working.
"All of us and our animals are to go," Moses answered. "Then go!" Pharaoh exploded, angered by the reply. "But you'll regret leaving! You'll soon wish you had stayed in Egypt!"
Pharaoh was so enraged he had the two hustled out of his presence. Once they were in private, Moses pointed his shepherd's rod to the sky and asked God to bring another plague to Egypt. Immediately a wind sprang up. It increased in intensity as the night progressed.
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NEXT morning the troubled king of Egypt arose early to observe a strangely murky sky. When he parted the curtains to get a better look, he knew that another woe had started. Huge black and red locusts were streaming by. Many of them were attaching themselves to the outside of the window and crawling inside!
Locust Plague Descends
Pharaoh backed away from the window, staring wildly as the huge insects pounced on the flower plants in a long planter box in the open side of the room. Within seconds they gnawed the plants down to the soil, then hopped, fluttered and buzzed desperately about searching for something else to devour. Suddenly the palace was in a furor. Servants and guards swatted and pounded frantically at the invaders, which by their awesomely increasing numbers were impossible to overcome. They crawled over each other in a horrid, squirming blanket several inches deep in places. They didn't bite people or animals, but it was a ghastly feeling to be crawled on and almost smothered by the sea of squirming, buzzing insects, which were well on their way to destroy the grass, trees, shrubs and plants of the country except in Goshen. (Ex. 10:15.)
Meanwhile, advisers rushed to Pharaoh to beg him to try to put a quick end to the terrible destruction of vital growing things. They claimed he had gone too far in opposing the Israelite God, and there would soon be no worthwhile country for him to rule. Pharaoh knew they were right. Besides, he was becoming nauseated from mashing so many locusts.
"Send for the two Israelites!" he muttered sickly. When Moses and Aaron arrived, Pharaoh again expressed his regret for acting as he had, and humbly asked them to entreat God for deliverance from this unnerving situation. (Verses 16 and 17.) The two Israelites silently regarded the unhappy ruler and left, leaving him and his advisers and servants swatting at locusts in uncertain despair.
Shortly after Moses had asked I God to stop the plague, a strong I west wind came up over Egypt. It grew so intense people began to fear it would be almost as damaging as the insects. However, it did no more than blow the locusts eastward into the Red Sea, where they were drowned. (Verse 19.)
After the locusts had disappeared and the wind had died down, Pharaoh went to his outer court gardens to view the damage. The shrubless sight of what had been his horticultural pride caused him such anger he decided he would hold the Israelites after all. He sent a courier to Moses with the defiant statement that the Israelites had to continue with their work. When Moses received the message, he knew the Egyptians were in for more misery.
Plague of Darkness
That same day the distressed Egyptians were puzzled to note a strange gloom filling the sky. It increased alarmingly until the darkness of night prevailed in the middle of the day. That was frightening enough, but the darkness turned to utter blackness of such a strange quality that only the strongest torches could partly penetrate it. (Verse 22.) Almost all usual activity came to a stop. People stayed in their homes and beds as much as possible to avoid accidents in the intense blackness.
As time for dawn approached, there were hopes that light would come, but the depressing dark continued. There was daylight in Egypt only in the land of Goshen. (Verse 23.)
Three days of these maddening conditions were three days too many, especially to Pharaoh, who had to keep surrounded by air-polluting clusters of torches to maintain his sanity. He managed to contact Moses and Aaron, whom he anxiously assured the Israelites could leave if daylight were restored. However, he forbade them to take any of their flocks of sheep and goats or herds of cattle. (Verse 24.) Moses pointed out that all the animals would have to be taken because such had to be used in sacrifices to God. This angered Pharaoh. He and the Egyptians were badly in need of meat. Besides, he believed that the Israelites couldn't survive without animals to eat, and would be forced to return to slavery in Egypt.
"Unless you leave the livestock, you won't get to leave!" Pharaoh stormed. "I am weary of your demands! Get out of my palace! If I see you two here again, I'll have you killed!"
"You won't see us again!" Moses agreed. "This is the last time we'll be around to listen to you ask us to call off a plague!"
As the two Israelites departed, Pharaoh was elated to see daylight beginning to show in the sky. The ninth plague was ending! It was a wonderful relief to have light from the sun again, but at the same time the king was miserably uneasy at the thought of any new plague that would come. He had just cut himself off from the opportunity of asking Moses and Aaron for any help from God.
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