Ancient Egypt was no democracy so her king – the Pharaoh – was every bit a maximum ruler. No, I think I just lied. Pharaoh was actually a deity with all the concomitant powers and privileges of pseudo-divinity.
The Jews as a distinct people were economic migrants, having come to Egypt at a time of excruciating economic downturn, and when one of their own, Joseph was Pharaoh’s deputy. Though quartered apart from the Egyptians, they initially enjoyed much favour. Not only did they prosper but they were making immense contributions to their host’s development on all fronts.
With the passage of time and the enthronement of a differently-minded Pharaoh, Jews became a target of envy. For inexplicable reasons, their thriving represented an existential threat to Egyptian interests. As a consequence, laws and policies were crafted to repress and frustrate Jewish progress. No matter, Jewry galloped on.
Pharaoh then took matters a notch higher by officially enslaving his Hebrew assets: slavery with truly hard labour. Massive construction projects – products of Pharaoh’s megalomania – were inaugurated on the bases of free Jewish enterprise and labour. Still, this irrepressible people were not diminished.
It was then the diabolical bar was raised to the point all desperate despots eventually end up: genocide. Pharaoh’s modus was as ingenious as it was sinister: murder all infant males at birth. Smart and courageous Jewish midwives conspired to ensure the scuttling of this devilish decree.
All this while, cries and supplications for deliverance had been going up to the Almighty, and in the fullness of time, a man of especial pedigree was dispatched to secure Jewish release.
Moses had been born during the testy period of genocide emergency by an exceptionally wise and strong Jewish woman, Jochebed. Having succeeded in keeping baby Moses concealed for three months, she was to later script a brilliant scheme that saw him being adopted and raised as Pharaoh’s daughter’s son.
Moses’ eagerness to ameliorate the suffering of his people landed him in big trouble. Having wilfully murdered an Egyptian, he became a fugitive for forty years until the Almighty summoned him to take up an assignment he was least inclined to execute.
Standing before Pharaoh to demand the release of Jews was something Moses could never have conjured even at the height of desert heat-induced phantasmagoria; but when the Almighty has determined that a certain assignment has to be carried out in a particular manner by someone, it is usually impossible to find space to wriggle out.
So Moses finds himself trekking all the way back to Egypt, armed with a staff and the certainty of heaven’s backing – with a Midianite missus and kids in tow. Finding his people in a worse condition than he had imagined was both sobering and inspiring.
After joining up with elder brother, Aaron, Moses consulted with the elders of Israel. The duo later met with the people who gave their overwhelming consent to the exodus. They were predictably a notable few who were vehemently opposed to the idea of leaving Egypt.
Armed with this definitive referendum, Moses and Aaron strutted off to Pharaoh’s palace to table one simple prayer: “Let my people go!” Here is my paraphrase of Pharaoh’s predictable response: “Over my dead body!” And so began a show of power that culminated in the death of the first born of every living being and animal in all of Egypt.
Temporarily overwhelmed, Pharaoh capitulates and orders Israel to leave. No sooner had they left than he recovers a modicum of composure; realizing the full implication of the exit of the exceptionally gifted Hebrews. Intelligence promptly revealed that the path the Jews had taken would take them to Pharaoh’s preferred red line that was the Red Sea. Pharaoh must have been grinning impishly as he galloped away with his best fighting men – armed to the teeth – to what he must have imagined to be the final solution to the Jewish menace.
You can almost picture the sense of anguish that must have enveloped the Hebrew congregation when it became clear that the billowing cloud of dust was Pharaoh’s murderous cavalry charging at them with an indubitable intent: extermination. At this point, the low-decibel grumblings of dissenters grew to a deafening crescendo as Moses was roundly denounced and denigrated.
But Moses, reputed as earth’s meekest man kept his cool as he calmly executed divinely inspired processes and protocols. The rest is, of course, history – verified history.
Pharaoh neither survived his own red line nor lived to share his horrific testimony. His would-be victims now turned-survivors were magnanimous enough to record the story of his ignominious expiry.
I hope this serves as fair warning to every potentate and all despots under the delusion of omnipotence. That red line you have drawn, the lagoon and Red Sea you wish to drown your enemies might end up being the very place your wicked life comes to a deservedly violent end.
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