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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE - 2014
Theme: Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances
What This Study Is About:
focus of this study is on the fact that our circumstances sometimes tempt
us to give in to the feeling that God has forgotten us. Looking at
Joseph’s life we will see that God never forgets and when we focus on
Him our circumstances will not defeat us.
Overcome Being Forgotten
Overcome Hard Times
Overcome an Earthly Mindset
doing what God has gifted you to do.
Stay Focused (Gen. 39:21-23)
For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)
Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)
OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE: Genesis
In return for his purity and integrity in refusing the advances of
his master’s wife, Joseph wound up in prison.
You would think that Joseph had hit rock bottom, but not so.
Even there God blessed him and gave him favor in the warden’s
Because Joseph was a man of integrity and did for the prison warden
what he had done for Potiphar—he lived out God’s blessing in his life
during a time when most men would have given up.
But God continued to bless him.
Seeing the big picture, God used two of Pharaoh’s out-of-favor
officials who were in prison to
further His plan for Joseph’s life.
Each official had disturbing dreams which Joseph, with God’s
insight, interpreted, asking only that one official who was about to be
restored to Pharaoh’s service remember Joseph when that day came.
However, the official forgot.
Overview is adapted from the following sources:
Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
of us have experienced times when we were in less than ideal
everyone has an occasional “bad day” either at work or at home.
But sometimes life’s circumstances may be very challenging.
Maybe your job is not as satisfying as you expected, or your
retirement has not worked out like you thought it would.
Perhaps your marriage relationship has grown stale, or your
children didn’t turn out the way you would have liked.
Or maybe a child has
chosen a life-style that has built a barrier between you two and destroyed
your relationship with that child.
This study focuses on a time in Joseph’s life when his dreams as
a teenager seemed hollow. Rather
than being an important person, he wound up in prison, falsely accused of
a crime he didn’t commit. When
he thought he has found a possible way out of prison, he was forgotten!
Focused (Gen. 39:21-23)
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted
him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 The warden put all the
prisoners who were in the prison under Joseph’s authority, and he was
responsible for everything that was done there. 23 The warden did not bother
with anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him,
and the Lord made everything that he did successful.
For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)
5 The Egyptian king’s cupbearer and baker, who were confined in the
prison, each had a dream. Both had a dream on the same night, and each
dream had its own meaning.
6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked
7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his
master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” 8 “We had dreams,” they
said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said
to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
two court officials joined Joseph in prison?
on verse 1-4, what do we know about these two men?
to verses 1-4, what was Joseph’s relationship with these two men?
does verse 4 tell you about the trust the warden had in Joseph?
was a cupbearer?
addition to being in prison, what else caused them to be troubled?
do you think the dreams of the two officials troubled them?
words or actions suggest Joseph was sensitive to and concerned about their
you think we (believers) should be sensitive to and concerned about the
well-being of others? Why, or why
are some things that allow us to demonstrate concern for others?
What are some little things that allow us to demonstrate God’s
concern to others?
did Joseph have the ability to interpret dreams (v. 8)?
you think it is important that we (believers) should give God the credit for all
the gifts He has given us?
What do you find most remarkable about
Lessons in Gen. 40:5-8:
should be concerned about others who share difficult circumstances with
reveals Himself in many different ways.
enables some to interpret His revelation to others.
all gifts we have, we should give God the credit and call attention to
Him, not to ourselves.
Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)
20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he gave a feast for
all his servants. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the
chief baker. 21
Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position as cupbearer, and he
placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22
But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them.
23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember
Joseph; he forgot him.
happened between verses 9-19?
was the cupbearer’s dream and what was Joseph’s interpretation of his dream?
(See verses 9-13.)
do you think the cupbearer felt about this interpretation?
did Joseph ask of the cupbearer? (See verses 14-15.)
do you think Joseph told the cupbearer that he was kidnapped from the land of
the Hebrews, and that he had done nothing that they should put him in the
dungeon? (See v. 15.)
did the baker respond to Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream?
(See verse 16.)
was the baker’s dream and how do you think he felt about Joseph’s
interpretation of his dream? (See verses 18-19.)
do you think Joseph was willing to help these two with the interpretation of
do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph and what Joseph had asked of him?
Why do you
think that sometimes the good we (believers) do is not always rewarded
cause you to feel like God has forgotten you?
If so, why?
How does it
make you feel when you know God is using you for a specific purpose? Why?
If you, like Joseph, had been rejected by his family, sold into slavery,
falsely accused, and forgotten in prison; just how would you feel as a result of
all this adversity in your life? How
do you think it made Joseph feel?
What does this tell us about Joseph’s relationship with God?
How do you think he was able to maintain a positive outlook in such
What comfort can we gleam from the knowledge that God gets the final
Do you believe turning from what God has gifted you to do—even when you
feel forgotten—should never be an option?
Why, or why not?
What are some things we can do to support each other to keep doing what
God has gifted us to do?
Lessons in Gen. 40:20-23:
deeds are not always rewarded immediately.
forgets us or abandons us.
people fail to keep their promises to us.
reward those who are His faithful servants.
Sometimes people forget about each other, but
God doesn’t. He has come
personally to us in Jesus Christ to offer us forgiveness of sin and
eternal life with Him. Therefore,
we need keep doing what God has gifted each of us to do.
We need to praise Him for not only who He is, but for what He is
doing for each of us. It can
be easy for us to slip into a trap of thinking we are forgotten, but we
need to remember that God never forgets us. He
is never finished with us this side of heaven. We
need to remember that we don’t have to do something on a grand
scale—we just need to do something!
We need to listen for what God wants us to do and obey.
Do you use your God-given abilities?
How faithful have you been in using these abilities to help others?
How faithful have you been in fulfilling the promises you have made
to: (a) God and (b) other people? Have
you been faithful in forgiving a person who has not kept a promises he/she
made to you? On a scale of 1
(very little) to 10 (all God want me to do) rate yourself on each of the
above five (5) questions. What
does your rating look like? Add
your rating of all five together, divide by five and see your average
rating? Do you think your
rating pleases God? If not,
what do you want to do about it? Ask
God to show you how to improve yourself on each individual rating.
He will, if you are serious in your request!
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the
center of God’s will.
Lesson Outline, Introduction,
Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Stay Focused (Gen.
Care For Others (Gen. 40:5-8)
When Forgotten (Gen. 40:20-23)
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:
39:21 But the LORD was with
Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of
the prison. 22
And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the
prisoners that were in the
prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The
keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that
which he did, the LORD made it
40:5 And they dreamed a dream
both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the
interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt,
which were bound in the
prison. 6 And Joseph came in
unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were
sad. 7 And he asked Pharaoh’s officers
that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying,
Wherefore look ye so sadly
today? 8 And they said unto him, We have
dreamed a dream, and there is
no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you.
40:20 And it came to pass the
third day, which was
Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted
up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
21 And he restored the chief butler unto his
butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: 22
But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23
Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.
Version: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:
39:21the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness
and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22
So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he
was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The
warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was
with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
40:5 each of the two men—the cupbearer and the
baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same
night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.
6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw
that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s
officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your
faces so sad today?” 8 “We both had dreams,” they
answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them,
“Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
40:20 Now the third day
was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted
up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his
officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer
to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, 22
but he hanged£ the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to
them in his interpretation. 23
The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. (NIV)
New Living Translation: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23:
39:21 But the LORD was with
Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph
a favorite with the prison warden. 22
Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners
and over everything that happened in the prison. 23
The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything.
The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.
40:5 While they were in prison,
Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had
its own meaning. 6 When
Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset.
7 “Why do you look so worried today?” he
asked them. 8 And they
replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they
mean.” “Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied.
“Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”
40:20 Pharaoh’s birthday came
three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He
summoned£ his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other
He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could
again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22
But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he
interpreted his dream. 23 Pharaoh’s
chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another
Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament,” “The Pulpit Commentary,” and
“The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Genesis 39:21-23;
Here is, 1. Joseph wronged by his master. He
believed the accusation, and either Joseph durst not make his defence by telling
the truth, as it would reflect too much upon his mistress, or his master would
not hear it, or would not believe it, and there is no remedy, he is condemned to
perpetual imprisonment, v. 19, 20. God restrained his wrath, else he
had put him to death; and that wrath which imprisoned him God made to turn to
his praise, in order to which Providence so disposed that he should be shut up
among the king’s prisoners, the state-prisoners. Potiphar, it is likely, chose
that prison because it was the worst; for there the iron entered into the soul
(Ps. 105:18), but God designed to pave the way to his enlargement. He was
committed to the king’s prison, that he might thence be preferred to the
king’s person. Note, Many an action of false imprisonment will, in the great
day, be found to lie against the enemies and persecutors of God’s people. Our
Lord Jesus, like Joseph here, was bound, and numbered with the transgressors. 2.
Joseph owned and righted by his God, who is, and will be, the just and powerful
patron of oppressed innocence. Joseph was at a distance from all his friends and
relations, had not them with him to comfort him, or to minister to him, or to
mediate for him; but the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, v.
21. Note, (1.) God despises not his prisoners, Ps. 69:33. No gates nor bars
can shut out his gracious presence from his people; for he has promised that he
will never leave them. (2.) Those that have a good conscience in a prison have a
good God there. Integrity and uprightness qualify us for the divine favour,
wherever we are. Joseph is not long a prisoner before he becomes a little ruler
even in the prison, which is to be attributed, under God, [1.] To the keeper’s
favour. God gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
Note, God can raise up friends for his people even where they little expect to
find them, and can make them to be pitied even of those that carry
them captive, Ps. 106:46. [2.] To Joseph’s fitness for business. The
keeper saw that God was with him, and that every thing prospered under his hand;
and therefore entrusted him with the management of the affairs of the prison, v.
22, 23. Note, Wisdom and virtue will shine in the narrowest spheres. A good
man will do good wherever he is, and will be a blessing even in bonds and
banishment; for the Spirit of the Lord is not bound nor banished, witness St.
Paul, Phil. 1:12, 13.
Observe, I. The special providence of God, which
filled the heads of these two prisoners with unusual dreams, such as made
extraordinary impressions upon them, and carried with them evidences of a divine
origin, both in one night. Note, God has immediate access to the spirits of men,
which he can make serviceable to his own purposes whenever he pleases, quite
beyond the intention of those concerned. To him all hearts are open, and
anciently he spoke not only to his own people, but to others, in dreams, Job
33:15. Things to come were thus foretold, but very obscurely.
impression which was made upon these prisoners by their dreams (v. 6): They
were sad. It was not the prison that made them sad (they were pretty well
used to that, and perhaps lived jovially there), but the dream. Note, God has
more ways than one to sadden the spirits of those that are to be made sad.
Those sinners that are hardy enough under
outward troubles, and will not yield to them, yet God can find out a way to
punish; he can take off their wheels, by wounding their spirits, and laying
loads upon them.
III. Joseph’s great tenderness and compassion
towards them. He enquired with concern, Wherefore look you so sadly
today? v. 7. Joseph
was their keeper, and in that office he was mild. Note, It becomes us to take
cognizance of the sorrows even of those that are under our check. Joseph was
their companion in tribulation, he was now a prisoner with them, and had been a
dreamer too. Note, Communion in sufferings helps to work compassion towards
those that do suffer. Let us learn hence, 1. To concern ourselves in the sorrows
and troubles of others, and to enquire into the reason of the sadness of our
brethren’s countenances; we should be often considering the tears of the
oppressed, Eccl. 4:1. It is some relief to those that are in trouble to be
taken notice of. 2. To enquire into the causes of our own sorrow, “Wherefore
do I look so sadly? Is there a reason? Is it a good reason? Is there not a
reason for comfort sufficient to balance it, whatever it is? Why art
thou cast down, O my soul?”
IV. The dreams themselves, and the
interpretation of them. That which troubled these prisoners was that being
confined they could not have recourse to the diviners of Egypt who pretended to
interpret dreams: There is no interpreter here in the prison,
v. 8. Note, There are interpreters which those that are in prison
and sorrow should wish to have with them, to instruct them in the meaning and
design of Providence (Elihu alludes to such, when he says, If there be
an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness, Job
33:23, 24), interpreters to guide their consciences, not to satisfy their
curiosity. Joseph hereupon directed them which way to look: Do not
interpretations belong to God? He means the God whom he worshipped, to the
knowledge of whom he endeavours hereby to lead them. Note, It is God’s
prerogative to foretel things to come, Isa. 46:10. He must therefore have
the praise of all the gifts of foresight which men have, ordinary or
extraordinary. Joseph premises a caveat against his own praise, and is careful
to transmit the glory to God, as Daniel, ch. 2:30. Joseph suggests, “If
interpretations belong to God, he is a free agent, and may communicate the power
to whom he pleases, and therefore tell me your dreams.”
Here is, 1. The verifying of Joseph’s
interpretation of the dreams, on the very day prefixed. The chief butler and
baker were both advanced, one to his office, the other to the gallows, and both
at the three days’ end. Note, Very great changes, both for the better and for
the worse, often happen in a very little time, so sudden are the revolutions of
the wheel of nature. The occasion of giving judgement severally upon their case
was the solemnizing of Pharaoh’s birthday, on which, all his servants being
obliged by custom to attend him, these two came to be enquired after, and the
cause of their commitment looked into. The solemnizing of the birthday of
princes has been an ancient piece of respect done them; and if it be not abused,
as Jeroboam’s was (Hos. 7:5), and Herod’s (Mk. 6:21), is a usage innocent
enough: and we may all profitably take notice of our birthdays, with
thankfulness for the mercies of our birth, sorrow for the sinfulness of it, and
an expectation of the day of our death as better than the day of our birth. On
Pharaoh’s birthday he lifted up the head of these two prisoners, that is,
arraigned and tried them (when Naboth was tried he was set on high
among the people, 1 Kings 21:9), and he restored the chief butler,
and hanged the chief baker. If the butler was innocent and the baker
guilty, we must own the equity of Providence in clearing up the innocency of the
innocent, and making the sin of the guilty to find him out. If both were either
equally innocent or equally guilty, it is an instance of the arbitrariness of
such great princes as pride themselves in that power which Nebuchadnezzar set up
for (Dan. 5:19, whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive),
forgetting that there is a higher than they, to whom they are accountable. 2.
The disappointing of Joseph’s expectation from the chief butler: He remembered
not Joseph, but forgot him, v. 23. (1.) See here an instance of base
ingratitude; Joseph had deserved well at his hands, had ministered to him,
sympathized with him, helped him to a favourable interpretation of his dream,
had recommended himself to him as an extraordinary person upon all accounts; and
yet he forgot him. We must not think it strange if in this world we have hatred
shown us for our love, and slights for our respects. (2.) See how apt those that
are themselves at ease are to forget others in distress. Perhaps it is in
allusion to this story that the prophet speaks of those that drink wine
in bowls, and are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, Amos 6:6.
Let us learn hence to cease from man. Joseph perhaps depended too much upon his
interest in the chief butler, and promised himself too much from him; he learned
by his disappointment to trust in God only. We cannot expect too little from man
nor too much from God.
Some observe the resemblance between Joseph and
Christ in this story. Joseph’s fellow-sufferers were like the two thieves that
were crucified with Christ—the one saved, the other condemned. (It is Dr.
Lightfoot’s remark, from Mr. Broughton.) One of these, when Joseph said to
him, Remember me when it shall be well with thee, forget him; but
one of those, when he said to Christ, Remember me when thou comest into
thy kingdom, was not forgotten. We justly blame the chief butler’s
ingratitude to Joseph, yet we conduct ourselves much more disingenuously towards
the Lord Jesus. Joseph had but foretold the chief butler’s enlargement, but
Christ wrought out ours, mediated with the King of kings for us; yet we forget
him, though often reminded of him, though we have promised never to forget him:
thus ill do we requite him, like foolish people and unwise.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old
Testament; Parsons Church Group, A Division Of Findex.Com; Omaha Nebraska
Commentary – Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus: Genesis
And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, — literally house of enclosure; sohar, from
sahar, to encircle, meaning probably a turreted, arched, or rounded
building for the confinement of prisoners — a place where the king's
prisoners (i.e. State offenders) were bound: and he was there in
the prison. This, which some regard as having been a mild punishment (Delitzsch,
Keil), since, according to Diodorus Siculus, the laws of the Egyptians were
specially severe in their penalties for offences against women, is represented
by a Hebrew psalmist (Psalm 105:18) as having been accompanied with bodily
tortures, at least for a time; for his speedy elevation to a place of trust
within the prison almost gives countenance to the idea (Kurtz, Lange, &c.)
that Potiphar did not believe his wife's story, and only incarcerated Joseph for
the sake of appearances. That Joseph was not immediately punished with death is
not improbable (Bohlen), but exceedingly natural, since Joseph was Potiphar's
But (even if Joseph was
harshly treated in the tower of Heliopolis) the Lord — Jehovah (vide
on ver. 5) — was with Joseph (vide ver. 2), and showed him
mercy (literally, extended kindness unto him), and gave him favor
in the eyes of the keeper (or captain) of the prison (or round
Verses 22, 23.
And the keeper of the prison (captain of the round
house, or chief officer of the tower) committed to Joseph's hand all the
prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the
doer of it — literally, and all that they (the prisoners) were
doing there, he was the person doing it, or attending to it; i.e. the keeper
gave him charge to see that the prisoners obeyed whatever orders were issued for
their regulation; and, having implicit confidence in Joseph's probity, the
keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under (or in) his
hand (i.e. he did not trouble himself about anything entrusted to
Joseph); because the Lord (Jehovah) was with him, and that which he
did, the Lord (Jehovah) made it to prosper.
And they dreamed a dream both of them (on dreams cf. Genesis 20:3), each man his dream in one night
(this was the first remarkable circumstance connected with these dreams — they
both happened the same night), each man according to the interpretation of
his dream (i.e. each dream corresponded exactly, as the event proved,
to the interpretation put on it by Joseph, which was a second remarkable
circumstance, inasmuch as it showed the dreams to be no vain hallucinations of
the mind, but Divinely-sent foreshadowings of the future fortunes of the
dreamers), the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in
Verses 6, 7.
And Joseph came in unto them in the morning (a proof that Joseph at this time enjoyed
comparative freedom from corporeal restraint in the prison), and looked upon
them, and, behold, they were sad. The word זׄעֲפִים from זָעַפ, to be angry, originally signifying irate,
wrathful, τεταραγμένοι (LXX.), is obviously
intended rather to convey the idea of dejection, tristes (Vulgate). And
he asked Pharaoh's officers that were With him in the ward of his lord's house,
saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly today? — literally, knowing what (מַדּוּעַ — מָה יָדוּעַ — τί μαθών) are your faces evil, or bad (πρόσωπα σκυθρωπὰ, LXX.; tristier solito, Vulgate), today?
And they said unto him, We hays dreamed a dream, and there is no
interpreter of it — literally, a
dream have we dreamt, and interpreting it there is none. This must be noted
as a third peculiarity connected with these dreams, that both of their
recipients were similarly affected by them, though there was much in the
butler's dream to inspire hope rather than dejection. And Joseph said unto
them, Do not interpretations belong to God? — literally, Are not
interpretations to Elohim? i.e. the Supreme Being (cf. Genesis 41:16; Daniel
2:11, 28, 47). The Egyptians believed ὅτι ἀνθρώπων μὲν οὐδενὶ προσκέεται ἡ τέχνη μαντικὴ τῶν δὲ θεῶν μετεξετέροισε (Herod., 2:83). Tell me them, I pray you.
Joseph's request implies that the consciousness of his Divine calling to be a
prophet had begun to dawn upon him, and that he was now speaking from an inward
conviction, doubtless produced within his mind by Elohim, that he could unfold
the true significance of the dreams.
And it came to pass (literally, and it
was, as Joseph had predicted) the third day (literally, in, or on,
the third day), which was Pharaoh's birthday, — literally, the
day of Pharaoh's being born, the inf. hophal being construed with an
accusative (vide Gesenius, ‘Grammar,’ 143) — that he made a
feast — a mishteh, i.e. a drinking or banquet (vide Genesis
19:3) — unto all his servants. “The birthdays of the kings of Egypt
were considered holy, and were celebrated with great joy and rejoicing. All
business was suspended, and the people generally took part in the festivities’
(Thoruley Smith, ‘Joseph and his Times,’ p. 62; vide Herod., 1:133: ̔Ημέρην δὲ ἀπασέΩν μάλιστα ἐκείνην τιμᾶν νομίζουσι τῇ ἕκαστος ἐγένετο; and cf. Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:21). And he
lifted up the head — here the one phrase applies equally, though in
different senses, to both. A similar expression occurs in the annals of
Assur-nasir-pal (Sardanapalus), column 2. line 43: “Their heads on the high
places of the mountain I lifted up” (‘Records of the Past,’ vol. 3. p. 54)
— of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants —
literally, in their midst, as a public example.
Verses 21, 22.
And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave
the cup into Pharaoh's hand (literally, Set the cup
upon Pharaoh's psalm): but he (i.e. Pharaoh) hanged the
chief baker (vide supra, ver. 19): as Joseph had interpreted to
Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph (as Joseph had desired, and as he doubtless had
promised), but forgot him — as Joseph might almost have expected (cf.
Ecclesiastes 9:15, 16).
Pulpit Commentary, The - The Pulpit Commentary
– Volume 1: Genesis and Exodus.
The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 1: Genesis
and Exodus; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Genesis 39:21-23; 40:5-8,20-23
39:20. Putting Joseph in the prison house where the
king’s prisoners were kept was not the severe penalty one would expect for the
crime Potiphar’s wife had accused him of. It was unusual for a slave to be
sent to a place where government officials who had displeased Pharaoh would be
kept. It may be that Potiphar was aware of his wife’s tendencies and may have
doubted the accusation. So he gave Joseph the lightest punishment possible,
though without any hope of release.
39:21-22. It was another test, after having been the business
manager with many privileges and comparative honor, to be put in prison. The
dreams of ruling must have seemed far away now. He had been slandered and
dropped into a situation worse than being a slave. Yet he accepted it without
saying a word or attempting to justify or defend himself. What an example of
suffering according to the will of God (1 Pet. 4:19)! Then the Lord showed He
was with Joseph by extending His covenant love and giving him favor with the
chief official who was over the prison (and who was a subordinate officer under
Potiphar). So the prison overseer put all the other prisoners under Joseph’s
care. Thus, whatever was done there, Joseph planned it and Joseph carried it
out. This was another step in God’s preparation of Joseph. He had to learn how
to deal with and direct difficult people before he could be used in the place
God had for him.
39:23. The overseer of the prison then left everything to
Joseph’s care and direction because the Lord was with him and brought success
to all he did. This seems to imply that Joseph’s witness to the Lord was known
40:5. One night both the chief cupbearer and the chief
baker had a dream. Each one felt it needed an interpretation, because the dreams
40:6-7. The next morning Joseph noticed they were dejected.
Though they were guilty and he was not, he did not resent them. Instead he
showed a spirit of concern and compassion as he asked them why they looked so
40:8. When they told him they had dreamed a dream and had
no access to an interpreter, Joseph gave a witness without hesitation. This is
evidence that he must have given his witness often before. So Joseph declared
that interpretations belong to God and asked them to please tell him the dream.
40:20-22. The third day was Pharaoh’s birthday. To
celebrate it, he made a great feast and invited all his servants (all the
officials of his court), and he set both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker
free in the midst of his servants. He apparently let them both enjoy the feast.
Then he restored the chief cupbearer to his former office by putting the royal
cup in his hand. But the baker he hanged, just as Joseph had said in his
interpretation of their dreams.
40:23. But the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, that is,
to do anything about him. Instead, he proceeded to forget him.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts. Database ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
or “butler” (KJV) mentioned in Genesis 40:5 held an important position in
many governments in the ancient world. This
person took care of the drinks served to the ruler.
The cupbearer usually tasted the drink before it was served to the ruler
to be sure it was not poisonous. The
cupbearer in Joseph’s story had been close to the king, but now he was in
prison. He probably had close
associations with the Pharaoh, knowing much about palace life.
Nehemiah had the same role during the reign of the Persian King
Artaxerxes (Neh. 1:11).
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Butler (KJV): The
Hebrew word translated butler (10:5)
literally means “one who gives a drink.”
It is translated “cupbearer” in the newer English versions.
This was no menial servant but a trusted advisor and member of the royal
court responsible for the king’s security when it came to assessing the
quality and safety of the beverages served to him.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
“one giving drink”; οἰνοχόος, oinochóos):
An officer of high rank at ancient oriental courts, whose duty it was to serve
the wine at the king’s table. On account of the constant fear of plots and
intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold this
position. He must guard against poison in the king’s cup, and was sometimes
required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential
relations with the king often endeared him to his sovereign and also gave him a
position of great influence.
This officer is first mentioned in Scripture in Gen 40:1ff, where
the Hebrew word elsewhere translated “cupbearer” is rendered “butler.”
The phrase “chief of the butlers” (40:2) accords with the fact that there
were often a number of such officials under one as chief.
Nehemiah (compare 1:11) was cupbearer to Artaxerxes Longimanus, and
was held in high esteem by him, as the record shows. His financial ability (Neh
5:8, 10, 14, 17) would indicate that the office was a lucrative
Cupbearers are mentioned further in 1 Ki 10:5; 2 Ch 9:4, where
they, among other evidences of royal splendor, are stated to have impressed the
queen of Sheba with Solomon’s glory.
The title Rabshakeh (Isa 36:2), once thought to mean “chief of the
cupbearers,” is now given a different derivation and explained as “chief of
the officers,” or “princes” (BDB under the word).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James
Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Lift: To make lofty, to raise up. A very common word in
English Versions of the Bible representing a great variety of Hebrew and Greek
words, although in the Old Testament used chiefly as the translation of נָשָׂא, nāsāʼ. Of none of these words, however, is “lift”
used as a technical translation, and “lift” is interchanged freely with its
synonyms, especially “exalt” (compare Ps 75:5; 89:24) and
“raise” (compare Eccl 4:10; 2 Sam 12:17).
“Lift” is still perfectly good English, but not in all the senses in
which it is used in English Versions of the Bible; e.g. such phrases as “men
that lifted up axes upon a thicket” (Ps 74:5), “lift up thy feet unto the
perpetual ruins” (Ps 74:3, etc.), and even the common “lift up the eyes”
or “hands” are distinctly archaic. However, almost all the uses are
perfectly clear, and only the following need be noted.
“To lift up the head” (Gen 40:13, 19, 20; 2 Ki 25:27; Ps 3:3; Sirach 11:13; Lk 21:28)
means to raise from a low condition (but on Ps 24:7, 9 see GATE).
To “lift up the horn” (Ps 75:5) is to assume a confident position, the
figure being taken from fighting oxen (see HORN). “Lift up the face”
may be meant literally (2 Ki 9:32), or it may denote the bestowal of favor (Ps
4:6); it may mean the attitude of a righteous man toward God (Job 22:26), or
simply the attitude of a suppliant (Ezr 9:6).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James
Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
By Gary M. Poulton
Gary M. Poulton is professor of history and
president emeritus of Virginia Intermont College, Bristol, Virginia.
RITING ABOUT SLAVERY in the
ancient world is not an easy task. Writing
about events that occurred 5,000 years ago is never easy because of the
comparative lack of information. To
write about slavery is even more of a challenge because the main subjects
involved (the slaves) were most often illiterate and lacked chroniclers.
They were not laid to rest in massive tombs that contained artifacts;
they thus left little to tell us of their lives.
Most of the records and accounts we have of ancient slavery come to us
from the slave owners who represented the point of view of the master not the
compares ancient and contemporary economic institutions, the differences are
many. One of the most obvious is the
existence of slavery virtually everywhere among those societies that rose from
primitive village life to civilization. And
within these societies, one usually finds a variety of classes—from
aristocrats to slaves. The societies
were based on agriculture and the work was labor intensive, thus the need for
many workers. In some primitive
societies the easiest way to supply the needed workers was through slavery.
In many societies slaves did the necessary work while their masters were
either preparing for war or engaged in conflict.
civilization of Egypt was no exception. Ancient
Egyptian society resembled a pyramid. The
pharaoh was at the peak, followed by the priests, the aristocracy, military
commanders, and artisans. At the
base of the pyramid were the agricultural peasants and slaves.
Everyone was responsible to the pharaoh, and he supported them all.
As a reward, royal officials received land or gold while peasants
received food from the royal storehouses.
for Egypt, the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2200 BC) was a long period spent mostly
isolated from the rest of the world, the early pharaohs did prey on their
neighbors, especially those to the south (Nubia).
The Egyptians considered themselves superior to the people of that area
and thus felt justified in dominating them.
The Egyptians were after the same “unholy trio” as modern plunderers:
“gold, ivory and slaves.”1
As far back as the First Dynasty of Egypt (ca. 3000 BC), archaeological
evidence shows slaves being brought to Egypt bound in boats.
Later the pharaoh led an expedition into “miserable Kush” and
returned with over 7,000 captives whom he enslaved.2
of slavery in Egypt is thus almost as old as the civilization itself.
Added to captive slaves, Egyptians also enslaved their fellow man.
Ancient societies had no visible solution for a person who was unable to
pay his debts. As a result, many
ancient cultures developed a system known as debt bondage.
A person simply became enslaved to the individual to whom he was
indebted. The enslavement period
might be for a certain term or even for life.
We also have an inscription in which a woman says she will be sent “to
the back of the house.”3
This meant that she would become a domestic slave.
Some evidence also indicates that a lawbreaker could receive a penalty of
slavery. Such people were often
consigned to a type of concentration camp where they would work on royal lands
or construction projects.
Egypt of the
Old Kingdom was the time of the building of the Great Pyramids.
One common misconception is that thousands of slaves built the pyramids.
Undoubtedly some slaves were involved in the construction.
Most scholars today accept the explanation that free Egyptian peasants
and craftsmen labored on these massive projects.
Some historians regard this effort as one of the first
government-sponsored “public works” programs.
It gave people jobs during “down” times of the year and provided
those people with food in return for their labor.
Others see it as a sign of the people’s supreme devotion for their
pharaoh who, according to their religion, was a divine being.
The period of
Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1600-1200 BC) brought a dramatic increase in slaves.
This was a result of the pharaohs’ expansionistic goals.
Not only did slaves continue to come from Nubia, others came from lands
northeast of Egypt. One such
aggressive pharaoh was Thutmose III (reigned 1479-1425 BC).
We have accounts of his ships bringing the plunder of his conquests back
to Egypt. As his warships docked,
long lines of captives left the ships, their arms and hands bound or cuffed.
In native, brightly colored clothing and with long beards and hair, the
captives presented quite a contrast to the Egyptians, who wore white linen.
The captives’ strange speech and appearance made them objects of
ridicule, which even further degraded them as they were about to enter a life of
slavery and servitude.4
Those who led the military campaign received some of the slaves as a
reward. The majority, though, became
the property of the pharaoh and would be put to work on his estates or the
construction of his monuments and buildings.
In most ways
the life of the lowest Egyptian peasant and a slave were not much different.
In terms of punishment for a wrongdoing, the law did not seem to make
much distinction between the two. The
one big difference was that the lowly peasant or even servant had the option of
walking off the job, never to return. Stories
abound of Egyptian slaves who tried to run away.
These slaves were pursued and when recaptured would be harshly treated.
“In the tomb of Neferhotep we can see a scribe calling over a list of
slaves . . . . One slave has his
hands bound and is being dragged along by a rope, while two others have been
punished and the guard is about to fetter them.
The scene might be entitled ‘The recapture of the runaways.’”5
Records abound telling of slaves or other Egyptians robbing royal tombs.
Getting caught resulted in execution.
another problem was the unauthorized use of slaves by other members of the
nobility or royal officials. Out of
necessity, the pharaoh issued a decree to curtail this activity.
If he received a report that “’My man slave (or) my female slave has
been taken away [and detained many days at work by the stewards;’ it shall be
done likewise against them].”6 On another
occasion the pharaoh ordered a punishment of 200 blows, 5 open wounds, and
replacement of work days lost as a penalty for the unauthorized use of royal
slaves by civil administrators.
slaves occupied the lowest rung of Egyptian society, circumstances did change.
In the declining years of the New Kingdom, Ramses III found it necessary to induct slaves into his
army and to surround himself with numbers of foreign slaves.
These personal attendants, known as “butlers,” could rise to great
prominence in the pharaoh’s household and government.
During the time of Ramses III, 11 such butlers served the pharaoh; 5 were foreign-born slaves.
The pharaoh found this situation necessary because of increasing domestic
unrest and his mistrust of his fellow Egyptians.
Egyptians commonly rented out or sold their slaves.
A merchant called Raia offers a client the
chance of buying a young female slave from Syria and the deal is concluded.
The price is not paid in gold or silver but in quantities of different
goods calculated in terms of a weight of silver.
Oaths are exchanged in the hearing of witnesses and registered with the
tribunal, and the slave becomes forthwith the
property of the buyer.7
From an ancient papyrus we have a record of a
transaction of a female slave for “two cows and two calves.”8
With our Judeo-Christian background we are much more familiar with
slavery in Egypt from the account in the Book of Exodus.
Joseph’s family took refuge in Egypt in a time of famine.
Generations later, Joseph’s descendants were enslaved.9
A new pharaoh, “which knew not Joseph” (Ex. 1:8, KJV) began to see
them as a threat because of their rapidly increasing population.
In the midst of this situation, God raised up Moses to lead the
Israelites to freedom. The Book of
Exodus shows how the Egyptians treated the enslaved Hebrews much like the slaves
of earlier times. Hebrew slaves were
involved in construction projects: “they built for Pharaoh treasure cities,
Pithom and Raamses” (v. 11, KJV). The
Egyptians forced them to work in the fields: “they made their lives bitter
with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the
field” (v. 14, KJV).
The Hebrews also faced physical punishment, “the officers of the
children of Israel . . . . were beaten” (5:14, KJV).
In the sixth chapter of Exodus, we see the Lord’s concern for the
Hebrews’ plight: “I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel,
whom the Egyptians keep in bondage” (6:5, KJV).
Until Moses led them to freedom, the Hebrews suffered from slavery like
so many others had in ancient Egypt. Ironically
the Hebrews would later practice slavery themselves.
William Y. Adams, “The First Colonial Empire:
Egypt in Nubia, 3200-1200 BC” Comparative
Studies in Society and History 26, no. 1 (January 1984): 40.
Ibid., 39, 42.
Alan H. Gardiner, “The Inscriptions of Mes, A
Contribution to the Study of Egyptian Judicial Procedure,” Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Agyptens 4, no. 3
(Leipzig, Germany: Hinrichs, 1905). Available
for the Internet: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/mes.htm.
Accessed 30 April 2012.
James Henry Breasted, A History of Ancient Egypt: From the Earliest Times to the Persian
Conquest (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), 308.
Pierre Montet, Everyday Life in Egypt in the Days of Ramesses the Great
(Philadelphia: Univ. of Penn. Press, 1981), 63.
James Henry Breasted, Records of Ancient Egypt, Vol. III: The Nineteenth Dynasty (New
York: Russell and Russell, 1906), 27.
David Lorton, “Treatment of Criminals in
Ancient Egypt,” Journal of Economic and
Social History of the Orient 20 (January 1977); 47.
James Henry Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933),
EGYPT Its River and Its Rulers
Gary M. Poulton
Gary M. Poulton is
president emeritus and professor of history, Virginia Intermont College,
Egypt has long fascinated modern westerners.
After some 4,000 years, books and movies are still being written and
produced about this ancient civilization. Even
as I write this, a new exhibit of King Tutankhamun’s artifacts is touring the
Christians, the Egyptians represent more than just an interesting but archaic
topic. For Egyptians are involved in
some of the most important events in the Old Testament.
The stories in the Book of Exodus of Moses and the Hebrews’ flight from
Egypt are some of the best-known events and stories in the Old Testament.
The life of Moses is interwoven with the Nile River.
For it was in the Nile that the pharaoh had decreed every newborn Hebrew
child was to be thrown and it is the Nile in which Moses’ mother placed him in
the hope that he would be found and saved. As
we know, Moses had the good fortune to be found by Pharaoh’s daughter who
adopted him as her own. The name Moses
translates “drawn from the water.” Because
of this interaction it is worthwhile for Christians to have a better
understanding of Egyptian civilization.
major influences set the tone for life in ancient Egypt.
One was based in nature – the other, in politics and world power.
Nile River, which is the longest river in the world, is the major geographic
feature of Egypt. The river flows
from the highlands of Central Africa to the Mediterranean Sea.
What we commonly call “the Nile” is actually formed by the union of
the While Nile, which comes from Lake Victoria in the modern nation of Tanzania,
and the Blue Nile, which flows from Lake Tana in the Ethiopia Highlands.
These two rivers join at Khartoum in Sudan and form the “Egyptian
Nile,” or what ancient Egyptians called the “Great Green.”
Impressive by itself, the Egyptian Nile, which flows over 1,600 miles, is
truly the “lifeblood” of this arid country.
Americans who are so conditioned to great rivers such as the Mississippi flowing
from the north to the south, the Nile seems unusual since it flows from the
south to the north. The ancient
Greek historian Herodotus declared Egypt “the gift of the [Nile] river.”
ancient times Egypt was confined to the narrow stretch of land near the river.
This was the land made fertile by the Nile’s annual flooding.
We see a marked contrast between this narrow strip of fertile land with
its lush vegetation to the arid territory all around it.
The Egyptians called their land Keme, “the Black land,” and
the desert Dashre, “the Red land,”1 The river’s annual
flooding was the most important event to the ancient Egyptian.
Egyptians regarded the god Osiris as the source of the Nile flood.
“The lakes fill, the canals are inundated by the purification that came
forth from Osiris.”2
flood season begins in late summer and continues until late November.
Even thought the timing of the annual flood was reasonably predictable,
the amount of water could vary significantly.
Too little water would mean insufficient water for all the fields and the
possibility therefore of a famine. Too
much water might lead to widespread destruction.
The height of canals, irrigation ditches, and
earthen dams were fixed for a certain level of water.
A foot above the average flood would damage the dikes.
An even higher level might sweep away the dikes and dams, which would
the Egyptians to be able to control the floodwaters was crucial.
In the earliest times the Egyptians worked diligently to reclaim land
from the river. Over the years more
and more land was added and brought under cultivation.
The Egyptians undertook a number of large civic projects to control the
water and to add to the farmland. Irrigation
ditches, canals, and earthen dikes brought the life-giving water to land not
adjacent to the river and also protected the people and their villages from the
flood waters. Such large-scale
projects indicate a country under strong centralized control.
Egypt under the leadership of the pharaohs exhibited such a centralized,
powerful government as early as 2500 BC.
the annual flood was right, the land produced an abundance of food.
Principal crops were barley and emmer (a coarse wheat).
Vegetables included beans, lentils, leeks, cucumbers, and onions.
Fruits, dates, figs, and grapes added variety.
A favorite meat was beef. Fish,
sheep, and pigs provided other meat sources.
In good years a surplus of food allowed for a large population –
estimated at 1.2 million in the Old Kingdom (2700-2160 BC) and over 2 million in
the New Kingdom (1550-1085 BC). The
surplus of food and a growing population allowed the Egyptians to develop a
class system, a division of labor, and the basis of an enduring civilization.
Nile was the subject of many Egyptian hymns.
to you, O Nile, that issues from the earth and comes to keep Egypt alive! . . .
he rises, then the land is in jubilation, then every belly is in joy, every
backbone takes on laughter, and every tooth is exposed.
bringer of good, rich in provisions, creator of all good, lord of majesty, sweet
book of Exodus also discusses the role of the Egyptian pharaoh and his
relationship with the Hebrew people. By
the time of the Book of Exodus, Egypt was in its period of history known as the
New Kingdom (1550-1085 BC). This
stand in ancient Egypt’s historical development was in marked contrast to the
preceding Old and Middle Kingdoms. During
the New Kingdom Egypt became an aggressive, expansionistic nation.
Egypt created an empire and became the most powerful state in the Middle
East. Pharaoh Thutmosis III
(1480-1425 BC) led numerous military campaigns into Syria and Palestine and even
went as far east as the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq.
Rameses II (1279-1213 BC) was another militaristic pharaoh who reoccupied
areas in the Middle East, which his predecessors had lost.
title of Pharaoh is well-known to the general public.
The history of this official is a mystery lost to us in the dust of time.
Narmer or Menes is the person credited with uniting Lower and Upper Egypt
into one nation. So perhaps the
earliest pharaohs were descendants of warrior kings.
Some speculate that the first people who could accurately foretell the
timing of the Nile flood became the first pharaohs.
Egyptians thought such people obviously would have direct communication
with the gods. Later pharaohs
claimed divine descent, powers, and wisdom; this alliance with the gods was the
secret of their prestige. The
pharaoh was, in effect, god on earth. “He
was constantly called ‘the good god.’ One
of his most frequent titles designates him as the son of the sun-god Re, and we
know this claim of divine parentage was not a mere figure of speech: it was to
be taken literally.”4
term Pharaoh means “great house.”
Ancient carvings show us the “Great House” from which the pharaoh
ruled and in which the offices of the government gathered.
From this “Great House,” which the Egyptians call Pero and
which the Jews translated Pharaoh, came the title of the emperor.5
pharaoh was a divine institution in ancient Egypt and formed part of a universal
cosmic scheme. In obeying the
pharaoh, subjects helped maintain the cosmic order.
A breakdown in royal power could only mean that citizens were offending
divinity and weakening the universal structure.
they possessed absolute power, pharaohs were not supposed to rule arbitrarily
but according to a set of principles. The
chief principle was called Maat. This
was a spiritual concept that conveyed the ideas of truth and justice but
especially order and harmony. Egyptians
believed these fundamental concepts had existed throughout the universe since
the beginning of time. Pharaohs were
the divine instruments who maintained these principles and were themselves
subject to them. The pharaoh served
as a mediator who intervened between the gods and mortal men to ensure order and
did not rule alone. Fairly early in
the Old Kingdom, a bureaucracy with regular procedures had developed.
Especially important was the office of vizier, “steward of the whole
land.” Directly responsible to the
pharaoh, the vizier was in charge of the bureaucracy.
Another important duty of the vizier was the oversight of the water
supply for the entire nation. By the
time of the New Kingdom, Egypt regularly had two viziers – one for Upper Egypt
and one for Lower Egypt. Joseph
likely served as the pharaoh’s vizier. Other
government officials called nomarchs who represented the pharaoh in areas away
from the capital also aided the pharaoh. Nomarchs
served essentially as governors over a district or a “nome.”
considered the living pharaoh to be god on earth.
“In one respect death made no change in the existence of the king [or
pharaoh]; he was a god on earth in this life, and he would join the circle of
the gods in the next life; he ruled in this world, and he would be ruler in the
next.”6 Because of this unique theology, it was imperative that the
pharaoh have adequate provisions in the afterlife.
Thus developed the Egyptian practice of mummification of the body and the
preparation of an elaborate burial chamber, which in the Old Kingdom resulted in
building of the great pyramids.
ancient Egyptians left the world an enduring legacy.
The pyramids and their artifacts along with their hieroglyphics tell us a
great deal about this ancient civilization.
An equally important source in the Old Testament.
The Book of Exodus gives the reader an interesting glimpse at the lives
and times of these fascinating people.
Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (London: Oxford University Press,
Henry Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (New
York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1912), 19.
“Hymn to the Nile” in World History, William J. Duiker and Jackson J.
Spielvogel, 4th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth Press, 2004), 16.
William Edgerton, “Government and the Governed in the Egyptian Empire” in Journal
of Near Eastern Studies, 4 (1947): 153.
Will Durant, The Story of Civilization Part One: Our Oriental Heritage (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), 163.
John A. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1951), 85.
and The ASIATICS
Harold R. Mosley
Mosley is Assistant professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist
Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
THE WRETCHED ASIATIC
– it goes ill with the place where he is, afflicted with [a lack of
(writer’s addition)] water, difficult from many trees, the ways thereof
painful because of the mountains.1
statement above is found in “The Instruction of King Meri-Ka-Re,” a piece of
Egyptian literature from 2100 BC. The
description reveals the Egyptians’ general sentiment toward the “Asiatics”
with whom they came into contact. The
term “Asiatics” refers to peoples from the eastern Mediterranean area
coast-lands, an area encompassing the Syria-Palestine region as far as the
Euphrates River. The Egyptians also
had several other names to refer to these foreign peoples.
“Sand-crossers” were ones who had crossed the deserts.
Another name for the strangers was “Bowmen,” apparently because of
their tendency to use that particular weapon.
Another phrase, “Wild men of Asia,” was roughly equivalent to the
modern meaning of “terrorist.”2 Also used was the term “Retenu,”
a name found in early Egyptian documents for the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Egyptians’ hostility toward foreigners is clear in the descriptions
given in many Egyptian writings and artistic depictions.
“The Prophecy of Nefer-rohu,” for example, describes the land as
suffering hardship because Asiatics were present in Egypt: “Everything good is
disappeared, and the land is prostrate because of woes from . . . the Asiatics
who are throughout the land.”3
relationship between the Egyptians and the Asiatics was long and varied.
The first contacts probably stemmed from the areas of trade and commerce.
This interaction between the Egyptians and various cultures in Asia began
early in history. For example,
contact with Mesopotamia brought the forms and symbols related to kingship.
Egypt borrowed and adapted these concepts for use within the dynastic
system of kingship in Egypt. Kingship
existed in the Mesopotamian region long before the emergence of similar concepts
in Egypt.4 The early Egyptians also had trading ventures with the
Phoenician city of Byblos, importing both the logs and the skill for
shipbuilding.5 Egyptian commercial interests in the mines of Sinai
also brought contact with other peoples. Although
peaceful trading relationships may have existed with other peoples at the
beginning, conflicts between the Egyptians and Asiatics were not long in coming.
As early as the First and Second Dynasties of Egypt (3100 – 2700 BC),
Egyptian annals record victories over the Asiatics.
In paintings from these early periods, Egyptians are pictured leading
columns of defeated kilt-wearing Asiatics into captivity.
peoples from various ethnic backgrounds had been migrating back and forth into
the Nile delta region for centuries. The
Nile River provided Egypt with a relatively certain economy when it flooded each
year, spreading rich silt and life-giving water over the delta region.
This attracted many Asiatics who had grown tired of frequent droughts and
famines elsewhere. The fact that
Asiatics came often to Egypt to seek relief from famine is seen easily from many
archaeological finds. In one text a
frontier officer noted the passage of a group of Bedouin shepherds into Egypt to
find pasture for their flocks.6
increased numbers of Asiatics in Egypt eventually caused conflicts.
By the 18th century BC, foreign peoples had become firmly
entrenched within Egypt’s borders, especially in the Nile delta region.
In the mid-17th century BC a new group of well-organized
warriors arrived who began to exert influence over the area.
During a time of weakness in the native Egyptian dynastic rule, some
foreigners seized control of the delta region.
These rulers became known as the
Hyksos, a term meaning “foreign rulers.”
The Hyksos established their capital in Avaris, near the northeastern
border of Egypt. Later they extended
their control to all of Egypt.7 The Hyksos period lasted about 100
years (ca. 1650 – 1550 BC) until the native Egyptians regained control under
scholars view the Hyksos era as the likely time of Joseph’s ascent to power in
Egypt. The Egyptians were suspicious
of Asiatics. This suspicion would
have been a hindrance to a foreigner rising to a high official position within
the government of a native Egyptian ruler. Joseph’s
position as second-in-command to the pharaoh is more understandable if the
pharaoh himself were of foreign ancestry.
the Egyptians drove the Hyksos from power and re-established native Egyptian
rule, Egypt became a power without equal in the ancient Near East.
The sting of the Hyksos domination had instilled in the Egyptians an even
deeper distrust of foreigners. With
this distrust came a determination that Egypt would not allow another foreign
power to rule within the borders of Egypt. As
a result, the pharaohs sought to control not only Egyptian territory, but also
as much territory in Asia as possible. In
an effort to drive its frontiers deep into Asia, Egypt controlled lands as far
north as the Euphrates River in upper Mesopotamia.
In Addition to conquering lands in Asia, the pharaohs enslaved the
defeated territories’ people.8 This time period marked the
beginning of the large-scale use of Asiatics as slaves.
Certainly, some Asiatics were slaves in Egypt’s early history.
However, the numbers of enslaved Asiatics were not large until after 1550
BC.9 One pharaoh of this period, Amen-hotep II (1447-1421 BC),
boasted of taking nearly 100,000 men as slaves during one of his major Asiatic
Egypt’s history, slaves had been a part of the pharaohs’ work force.
However, the use of captive peoples as slaves for royal building projects
was especially typical of the reign of Ramses II (ca. 1290-1224 BC).
Ramses began a series of building projects in the Nile delta region.
He rebuilt the ancient Hyksos capital of Avaris as his capital city and
renamed it “The House of Ramses.” Documents
from this period mention the state slaves who worked on the projects.11
Ramses also restored other long abandoned cities and built completely new
cities. Some of these new cities had
brick walls surrounding them as large as 60 feet high and 50 feet wide.
Such building projects required a huge quantity of bricks.
This large number of bricks demanded an unusually large work force to
make the bricks and to build the walls. One
interesting archaeological find sheds light on this era of building.
A leather scroll from the time of Ramses II mentioned a quota of 2,000
bricks from each 40 workmen.12
relationship between the Egyptians and the Asiatics gives insight into the
biblical account of Israel’s experience of bondage in Egypt.
The use of Asiatic slaves by the pharaohs for the many building projects
in the delta region fits well alongside the biblical account.
The Egyptians’ suspicion toward outsiders, especially following the
Hyksos era, made the enslavement of foreigners likely.
The mention of Israelites making bricks in the Exodus story relates an
historically accurate picture of the conditions present under the pharaohs.
Thus, the evidence from Egypt regarding the relationship between the
Egyptians and the Asiatics reinforces the biblical account.
B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, NJ): Princeton
University Press, 1950), 416. Hereafter
cited as ANET.
B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1992), 32.
Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 17-19.
Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 38-40.
Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1981), 60.
Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 148.
B. Redford, A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph, Supplements to Vetus
Testamentum, vol. 20 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), 195.
Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., Robert Wilson Crapps, and
David Anthony Smith, People of the Covenant, 4th ed. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 176.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1998
What Is The Answer
To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (11/02/14)
(This is a 3-part question) In a battle against the Syrians, what killed how
many of the Syrians in what city? Answer
next week: (1) What killed the Syrians? (2) How many were killed? and (3)
Where were they killed?
The answer to last
week’s trivia question : (10/26/14) (Two-part question) (1.) In what Psalm did King
David refer to the tribe of Judah as his (2.) what? Answer: (1.) Psalm60:7; (2.) His lawgiver (royal scepter).