The Pharaoh of Egypt knew the names of many gods and worshipped many gods. In fact, the Pharaoh of Egypt was considered to have traits of deity himself. Even the gods of the Semitic people from the land of Canaan were familiar to Pharaoh including Baal. Egyptian writing includes quotes claiming the king of Egypt was “great in power like Baal over foreign lands” and that the Pharaoh had a “roar like that of Baal in heaven.”
This information gives us insight into Pharaoh’s intention when he says, “Who is the Lord…?” Pharaoh most likely had heard of the gods of Canaan and was familiar with the existence of the Hebrew God. Although, it is possible very few were familiar with his name “the Lord.” If Pharaoh was educated at all, and he was, then Pharaoh would have at least known what and who the Hebrews believed in. Pharaoh was not ignorant of the Lord, but Pharaoh did not consider the Lord to be a viable force of contention considering all the other gods and the fact that Pharaoh himself was a god. The Hebrew deity called Yahweh was not going to be recognized or respected in Pharaoh’s court, and there would definitely not be any negotiations with Yahweh’s messengers.
Pharaoh’s statement, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him…,” includes a statement concerning Pharaoh’s own opinion concerning his deity compared to the authority of Yahweh: “…that I should obey him…” In Pharaoh’s worldview Yahweh had no right to make any demands on Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s world taught him that he himself was a god, that Pharaoh himself had authority and that this God of the Hebrew slaves was clearly either conquered or non-existent.
With this philosophical and theological perspective there is no wonder why Pharaoh opposed and resisted Moses. A man like Pharaoh didn’t just give into anyone who made a demand on him. Pharaoh dismisses Moses’ demand and Yahweh’s authority by saying, “I do not know Yahweh,” which means he does not recognize Yahweh as a god. So, Pharaoh’s social policies and political action stem not from the fear and honor of Yahweh, but from a bold, brazen confidence that Pharaoh had the right to rule and the power to enforce his policies which included oppression of the Hebrews.
This encounter is on a collision course where two contrary theologies and two opposite world views cannot coexist unless one of them is will to step down and give heed to the other. Yahweh is making his move by saying he has come to do his will, and Egypt must cooperate if they hope to exist. Or, Egypt must resist and successfully oppose Yahweh’s agenda. As long as Yahweh is willing to wait and allow a contrary theology and worldview some room Egypt can pretend they have the truth. But, once Yahweh arises and asks them to make a decision Egypt’s time for promoting false philosophies and worthless gods will come to a sick, dark, tragic death of plagues and disasters.
It is interesting to contrasts Pharaoh’s question with Moses’ question when they were both approached by God:
- Moses said, “Who am I?” and consider himself far inferior to the majestic God in Exodus 3:11.
- Pharaoh said, “Who is Yahweh?” and consider himself far superior to the majestic God in Exodus 5:2
Today many people have been taught like Pharaoh that the Lord is not a viable force, but that there are other forces much more real than God, including our own individual authority and personal desires. It would not be at all surprising to hear people of our generation say, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?" And, this is true because the Lord's authority has been ignored by the world both inside and outside of the church. And, the individual’s preference and rights have been exalted inside and outside the church.