Many voices vie for our attention claiming to teach wisdom. In our current point on the Information Age continuum, we would do well to remember Biblical flesh and blood archetypes and the Source from which their wisdom stories flow. 

In generational waves of mysterious foreshadowing, actual and allegorical, which only the Divine could accomplish, at least 400 years (as referenced in both the Torah and the New Testament, Exodus 12:40; Galatians 3:17) before Moses confronted Egypt’s Pharaoh, Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, served and brought blessing to Egypt’s Pharoah. And before the beloved son, Joseph, stood before Pharaoh, his great grandfather, Abram, in a transcendent connection to the future, stood before Pharaoh having come to Egypt to escape great famine. 

The word Pharaoh sounds exotic and far removed from 21st century.  In the sense, however, each person rules her own being, possesses her own prerogatives, makes his own decisions whether personal and unseen like how one feels about another, or public and far reaching like political policies or business practices, each person is a little Pharaoh. And as the three Pharaohs examined in this Biblical inquiry find wisdom (or don’t) when contact is made with God as symbolized by a Biblical patriarch, so each human heart finds wisdom or doesn’t as individual selves and the God Who made each one, connect. 

Abram + Pharaoh

Before Abram and God entered the covenant of the pieces, before Abram and Melchizedek, king of Salem and high priest of God, shared bread and wine, before the covenant of circumcision; and before God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, God first told Abram to leave all he had ever known; his country, his kinsmen, his now deceased father, Terah’s household, and go to a place God would show him. Abram obeyed God. God made this promise to Abram,

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12: 2-3 ESV) 

The most holy Ten Commandments which God wrote for Moses with His own finger, generations following Abram’s promise from God, contain the same pattern as Abram’s promise: human hearts which love the Law bind blessing to their lives and human hearts that dismiss the Law bind cursing to their lives. (Deuteronomy 28)

Abram and his wife Sarai were traveling to find the place God wanted them to find. On their way, a terrible famine swept the land, and the escape-country was Egypt. Because of Sarai’s great beauty, Abram realized there existed high probability he would be murdered and Sarai would be taken. He told Sarai to tell people she was his sister. This was true. Terah was their father. They had different mothers. (Genesis chapter twenty explains a little more.)  Word got back to Pharaoh about Sarai’s beauty and he brought Sarai into his household as his wife. 

The result? Plagues came to Pharaoh and his entire household. 

Through this lens of wisdom seeking, Abram represents God. Pharaoh represents humanity.  

Pharaoh had not intentionally done anything against God. He had no knowledge of Sarai and Abram’s marriage. And yet, because Pharaoh did something against God’s will – against the coming covenants between Abram and God – Pharaoh incurred God’s curses as plagues. 

Through this lens of wisdom seeking, Abram represents God. Pharaoh represents humanity.

Sarai, merely being in Egypt would not transgress God’s will and therefore bring plagues to Pharaoh.  But Sarai being brought into Pharaoh’s household as his wife would transgress God’s will and would bring curses to Pharaoh. 

Most things in everyday life: friends, food, work, entertainments are like Sarai in Egypt. They exist in neutrality, or even as blessings from God. But the friend who becomes inappropriately close to another’s spouse in heart and/or body; the food meant to sustain life that becomes an addiction (or prescribed medication, alcohol, sex); the work that morphs into a kind of consumption; the entertainment that distracts from pursuits of substance, and any other benign thing that becomes a Sarai in Pharaoh’s household, becomes a thing that transgresses the Law of God.  Therefore, that thing must bind curses to the human attached to it. This is true because God is without hypocrisy and does not contradict Himself. If one plants a watermelon seed thinking it is an apple seed, the watermelon seed’s DNA will grow up as what it is, regardless of the wishes or intents or ignorance of the planter. But once the planter realizes her mistake, she is wise to acknowledge a law exists that supersedes her wish (no matter how justified she feels it is) for apples. 

It is Pharaoh’s response to the plagues that shows his wisdom. Pharaoh realized there was a greater law at work beyond his understanding and simply saying, “But I didn’t know,” was not enough. Pharaoh, in essence, repented completely of taking Sarai as his wife.  The teachings of Jesus reflect Pharaoh’s response. Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” (Matthew 18:9 ESV)

Pharaoh understood it was better to lose Sarai than to continue hoping the consequence could be waited out. “And Pharaoh gave orders to his men concerning him (Abram) and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.” (Genesis 12:20 ESV)

Wisdom acknowledges God’s ways are better than all other human ways of living one’s life in transgression to His Laws. And wisdom recognizes this is true even if returning to God’s ways is deeply painful and costs a person something precious; something one might feel she cannot live without or is justified in keeping. A wise person, however, says in her heart, “I will have no other gods,” and ends the affair; gets help for the addiction; evaluates priorities and adjusts accordingly. A wise person asks God for His help in doing this. It cannot be done without His abiding Presence. 

Jacob, Joseph, + Pharaoh

After Jacob married Leah whom he didn’t love and Rachel whom he did love, Rachel gave him his youngest and most beloved son, Joseph. Afterward, Joseph understood his dreams of his accession to be from God and shared them with his brothers and father and mother perhaps while wearing the multi-colored coat Jacob had given Joseph, and after Joseph’s ten older brothers sold him into slavery so that he landed in Egypt, Joseph, handsome and well-built, served his master, Potiphar well and was rewarded with false accusations of rape by Potiphar’s wife.

After Joseph bore his underserved punishment in prison by serving the prison keeper well, Joseph became a conduit of God and correctly interpreted the Pharaoh’s servants’ dreams while they were in prison and was finally remembered (two years later) by Pharaoh’s cupbearer when none of the Egyptian spiritualists could interpret Pharaoh’s recent troubling dream.

Joseph, like his great grandfather Abraham, stood before the Pharoah of Egypt.

After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, he boldly proceeded with an action agenda to prepare Egypt for the next fourteen years.  

Pharoah, representing humans, listened to and accepted all that Joseph, representing God, said.

How interesting Pharaoh expressed no concern nor grief about his own spiritualists’ inabilities. Like the Pharaoh of Abraham’s time, this Pharaoh submitted himself to God without needing to cover his uncomfortableness with Joseph’s God, with statements like, “You’ve given me a lot to consider,” or “I’ll need to weigh my options.”

Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find a man like this in whom is the Spirit of God?” Clearly the rhetorical answer was no because immediately following the question Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over all my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.” (Genesis 41: 38-39 ESV)

Not only did Pharaoh wholly recognize the immediacy of God over his former spiritual practices, but he also submitted his own efficacy, his own autonomy, his own prerogatives, and all his kingdom institutions and persons in it, to Joseph’s instructions, and therefore the implied supremacy of God emblemed through Joseph. Pharaoh, being wise, had no fear his advancing Joseph would diminish him.

Because the Pharaoh understood submitting to God meant there would still be difficult years ahead; that following God’s instructions did not guarantee an easy path, one can see the ruler had genuinely humbled himself to the degree true wisdom requires. To his credit he didn’t cajole his spiritualists to manifest a different outcome. He didn’t ask Joseph to intercede so perhaps God would change the prophetic dream. He simply recognized God’s authority over all outcomes throughout time and place and submitted his kingly authority to God’s counsel. The wisdom-seeking person will do the same.

During the dream-prophesied famine, Joseph’s father, Jacob, and his entire household came to Egypt to buy food from Pharaoh’s storehouses.

Pharaoh again humbled himself before God represented in Jacob’s person. 

Jacob, whose name God had changed to Israel, blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh who did not ask for the blessing, humbly received it, knowing by doing this he was admitting God, through Israel, was greater than Pharaoh and all Egypt.

Not only did Pharaoh humble himself to receive Israel’s blessing, but he also gave to Israel and all his household, the best land in Egypt, the land of Goshen.

The wise person will do the same. She will humble herself before God admitting she is not all-sufficient but dependent on Him for her very breath, and when she receives from Him whatever blessing He chooses to give, she will return a portion of it, the best of it, to Him, with delight. 

Moses + Pharoah

After generations passed and the Twelve Tribes of Israel populated Egypt, the good stories of Joseph and the God he served were forgotten and the Pharaoh feared the increasing numbers of Israel’s children thriving in Egypt and made them slaves who built him great cities.

And after the cries of Israel’s children reached God, Moses came to the burning-but-not-consumed bush and in his great humility asked God His Name. God answered, “I AM.”

Moses, then, like his father Abraham and his father Jacob and his father Joseph, stood before Pharaoh.

The Pharaoh before whom Moses stood embodied all that is antithetical to wisdom.

He was irrational. In miracle demonstrations between his spiritualists and God, he could not admit his practices and his spiritual disciplines were empty and ineffective. Perhaps he was afraid of God’s demonstrations of power, but he needed to appear right and never acknowledged God’s superiority. 

The Pharaoh before whom Moses stood embodied all that is antithetical to wisdom.

He was manipulative and indiscreet. Six of the ten plagues God sent produced from Pharaoh a promise to let the children of Israel go to the desert and worship God as God had instructed them, if only Moses would ask God to lift the plague. God kept His word and lifted each plague each time He was asked. Pharaoh broke his word and refused to the let the children of Israel go every time he promised he would.  Pharaoh made promises knowing he would break them if the alternative looked better.  The unwise person manipulates to get her way but lacks the discretion to see, after a while, each broken promise reveals the ignorance and self-centered ambition of the manipulative heart. 

Jesus would explain it like this, “Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:37 ESV) 

And finally, the most reckless, dull, and witless demonstration of Pharaoh’s proud stupidity is this:

Then he (Pharaoh) summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also! (Exodus 12:31-32 ESV)

It is the last three words that reveal Pharaoh’s folly. We know from the text this declaration will simply be another broken promise. Pharaoh, unlike the Pharaohs of Abraham and Joseph’s time had no true heart submission to the supremacy of God, which allowed no mental revelation of the preeminence of God’s ways compared to his own. Pharaoh wanted relief from the consequences of his rebellion to God without humbling himself through repentance. Pharaoh had no desire to submit his rule to God’s authority, much less to ask for His guidance. But hey! If he can manipulate a blessing for himself in his dealings with the allegedly inferior Moses, then why not ask? 

Another line of reasoning in Pharaoh’s demand, “bless me also!” is Pharaoh needed to equate himself with God. He got the last word in (so he thought) and that last word translates to: While you’re blessing your God, bless me as your god too.

Moses did not answer Pharaoh. Perhaps that is the wisest reply. 

In the New Testament, James writes the first letter to the nascent church, which he calls the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad. (This is because persecution had come). James explains there are two kinds of wisdom and describes their characteristics and source:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:13-18 ESV)

If wisdom is to be grasped, surely one would do well to consider these sacred stories rolling and returning upon themselves in patterns and complexities only an all-wise God could communicate.