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Category Archives: Pharaoh of the exodus

Jewelry Speaks

For 3,300 years, King Tutankhamun secretly rested in the Valley of the Kings. In 1922 archeologists discovered his tomb and years later displayed his mummified body in a climate-controlled glass box. When researchers removed the burial linens that wrapped the king’s body, they found magnificent jeweled collars, bracelets, rings, amulets and daggers of gold, and semi-precious stones—all confirming the skill of ancient Egyptian jewelers. “The Egyptians loved their jewelry, and their craftsmen produced some of the most colorful and lovely jewelry the world has ever seen. Elaborate pendants with bead chains were made from semi-precious stones—deep blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and red carnelian, quartz and colored glass in dazzling blues and reds set in gold and silver.”[1] 

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with sem...

English: Winged scarab of Tutankhamun with semi-precious stones. This pectoral is composed of Tut’s Prenomen name: “NebKheperU-Ra”, the hieroglyphs of: Basket, Scarab-(in Plural-strokes), and Re. (The “James, 2000, Picture Book, Tutankhamun, describes this pectoral in the section of ‘Necklaces and Pectorals’, as: “Pectoral with Royal Prenomen and Lotus Fringe”, p. 234.) (Two other hieroglyphs are on the pectoral, the Eye of Horus, and the Ankh.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the stunning burial items found in the king’s coffin is the Collar of Nekhebet, a flexible piece that lay across the king’s chest. Made of 256 small gold plaques threaded together and inlaid with colored glass, the collar forms an image of the white vulture Nekhebet, the patron goddess of Pharaoh. In her talons the vulture clutches two orbs that symbolize the eternal protection thought to be in her power.

Symbolic of Power

The Collar of Nekhebet and other of the king’s treasures recall a time when Egyptian jewelry played an important role in Israel’s history. Jacob (Israel) and his family had moved to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. There the Israelite population grew large, and Pharaoh eventually forced them into slavery.  God had compassion on the slaves and delivered them under the leadership of Moses. In preparation for leaving Egypt, the Israelites “asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing” (Exodus 12:35). Note that the jewelry taken from King Tutankhamun’s tomb is dated roughly within 100-150 years of the time of the Exodus. So it’s probable that the riches Israel carried out, while not royal treasures, reflected the artistry of the tomb pieces.

God required an offering from the people. Under His inspiration, they built a tabernacle for the LORD from the clothing, jewelry, silver, and gold that once belonged to Egypt (Exodus 36-40). The tabernacle represented God’s presence with His people, and the end of Egypt’s power to enslave them.

Symbolic of Love

In an account pre-dating the Exodus, Rebekah accepted two gold bracelets and a nose ring from the servant of Abraham. In attaching the nose ring and slipping the bracelets on her wrists, the servant claimed Rebekah for his master’s son, Isaac. This formality of giving and receiving jewelry was the first step in a marriage negotiation.  Similar to wearing an engagement ring, Rebekah’s wearing of the nose ring and bracelets indicated her willingness to discuss terms of marriage (Genesis 24).

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God expressed His love in terms of giving jewels to His bride, Jerusalem.

“. . . I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth . . . you were exceedingly beautiful”  (16:10-13).

If negotiations had broken down between Rebekah’s parents and the servant representing Isaac’s interests, I believe Rebekah would have returned the nose ring and bracelets. They were given and received as a prelude to marriage with the hope that Isaac and Rebekah would build an enduring relationship with one another, which they did.  Isaac had no other wives, and the marriage between Isaac and Rebekah was characterized by affection.

That’s not how it turned out for God and ancient Israel, however. Ezekiel tells of God’s incredulity: Jerusalem (Israel) gladly received His gifts of material wealth and health, but failed to love Him. Shamelessly she used the presents to go after others.

Symbolic of Position

King Saul customarily wore a broad gold bracelet on his upper arm and a crown to signify his royalty. When an Amalekite killed Saul and took his crown and bracelet to show David, he made a fatal error in thinking David would be pleased with proofs of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:10-16).

Women of royalty wore bracelets on the upper arm, though more commonly their bracelets were narrow gold bands worn at the wrists. Anklets favored by women of high rank were hollow and “filled with pebbles, so that the rattling sound could be heard when they walked.”[2]

Packer and Tenney state that nose jewels were “one of the most ancient ornaments of the east” and were made of ivory or gold and set with stones. . . . At times these nose jewels were more than 6 cm (2.5 in.) in diameter and hung down over the women’s lips.”[3]

A silver coin dowry necklace or headdress was “one of the most prized pieces of jewelry worn by a bride.”[4] A woman’s dowry and jewelry belonged to her and formed a kind of insurance policy when her husband died, or if the marriage failed. It is suggested that the lost coin in Jesus’ parable may have been part of a dowry necklace or headdress, although Jesus did not specify the coin constituted part of the woman’s dowry.

Symbolic of Pride

The prideful wearing of jewelry usually brings undesirable consequences. Isaiah wrote of God’s displeasure with the arrogant women who made an ostentatious display of themselves.

“. . . Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet; therefore the Lord will strike . . . in that day the Lord will take away the finery, the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes” (Isaiah 3:16-23).

 It may have been in response to the heavily adorned female attendants at the Temple of Diana, that Paul and Peter advised Christian women to be moderate in their wearing jewelry and in their dress. Peter stated that a woman has both an outer and an inner adornment to consider in light of God’s preference.

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4; see also 1 Timothy 2:9).

With all that can be studied in the scriptures about jewelry and adornment, my favorite passage about jewels has to do with conversation among believers. Malachi says that God listens to the conversations going on among those who fear the LORD. He takes note of their discussions in a book of remembrance. These people will be His “in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him” (Malachi 3:16-17).—Mary Hendren


[1] NIV Pictorial Bible, Zondervan publishers, l978, p. 128

[2] Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, J.I. Packer and M.C. Tenney, p. 484

[3] Same resource, p. 484

[4] The Women’s Study Bible, NKJV, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, p. 116

The Midwives

Pharaoh’s growing problem

Pharaoh was anxious. The increasing size of the Israelite presence in Egypt’s Delta region was worrisome, and in spite of his imposition of harsh servitude, they just continued to multiply. These people were a strong, valuable workforce, and he knew they couldn’t arm themselves and turn against Egypt. After all, they were in bondage and dependent on Egypt for food. However, if his slaves ever aligned with an enemy, that would pose a significant threat. Three million slaves lived in Goshen and 600,000 of them were men—potential warriors. Something must be done.

A depiction of the Hebrews' bondage in Egypt, ...

A depiction of the Hebrews’ bondage in Egypt, during which they were forced to make bricks without straw. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pharaoh had to deal with the number of slaves without destroying slavery. His solution was to decrease the number of Hebrew males. Harsh servitude hadn’t worked. Perhaps a systematic elimination of baby boys would lower the slave birthrate, and the forcing of the females to marry Egyptian men or become household slaves in Egyptian homes would produce children loyal to Egypt. So he devised a plan.

He would require midwives to do the extermination. They assisted at Hebrew deliveries and could quickly drown the babies before suspicions were raised.[1] They could report that the infants had been stillborn.

Who were these midwives?

Scripture does not say if Shiphrah and Puah were Egyptian or Hebrew midwives. Likely they were Hebrew because of their Semitic names and their fear of God (Ex.1:17). The two women probably represented of a guild of midwives, and that may have been why Pharaoh singled them out. He explained the procedure they were to follow at the birth of a Hebrew boy and expected them to pass on the order.

When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools,[2] if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.

Looking back over 3500 years, it’s hard to imagine what happened when Shiphrah and Puah stood before Pharaoh. Did they say anything in his presence? Did they remain silent and feign compliance? Did they tell the other midwives to secretly disobey? How did they evade his order? Scripture doesn’t say. But they were successful for some length of time because “the people multiplied and grew very mighty” (Ex.1:20).

Amazing Intervention

Eventually Pharaoh realized that the Hebrew baby boys were being saved, and he asked the midwives for an explanation.

Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?

Shiphrah and Puah came up with what seems like a barely credible excuse for all the live baby boys.

The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before a midwife can get to them.

As Pharaoh listened, God must have endowed their words with believable-ness, creating a reasonable delusion in his mind—His plan wasn’t working because Hebrew women had faster rates of delivery than Egyptian women.

God blessed the midwives in additional ways: Pharaoh didn’t execute them for disobedience; the Egyptian king shifted the responsibility for killing babies to the Egyptian people; and God provided households for the midwives (Ex. 1:20).

Legacy

The names of Shiphrah and Puah[3] were recorded in Exodus for succeeding generations to understand that their courage mattered to God. It made a difference in history.[4]

I wonder if they ever knew that one of the baby boys who lived was Moses—the one destined to become the deliverer of Israel.—Mary Hendren

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[1] According to John J. Davis, in his book Moses and the Gods of Egypt (1971), p. 50, midwives aided at childbirth by “taking the newborn child, cutting its umbilical cord, washing the baby with water, salting, and wrapping it.” Some propose that babies were to be drowned under the guise of washing them immediately after their birth.

[2] Egyptian women were often delivered while squatting on two large bricks. There is some evidence that, at least in the New Kingdom, birth took place, if possible, in a specially built structure erected perhaps in the garden or on the roof of the house. (See Women in Ancient Egypt, Gay Robins, 1993, p. 83.)

[3] It is interesting that the specific names of the midwives are given, but the pharaoh of the Israelite oppression remains anonymous and a subject of continuing debate and discussion. (See Exploring Exodus (1971), Nahum Sarna, pp 24-5.)

[4] The Nelson’s StudyBible, NKJV, 2007, p. 91, note on v. 15.

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