If we were only there in person, we probably would have thought that we were witnessing one of the bitterest family quarrels in history. The older lady, with her chin thrust out in a picture of royal determination, may have been almost 50 years of age at the time; and because she was the next royal personage in line to the throne, she must have been accustomed to having her personal wishes promptly acted upon. But here was a younger man—a prince to be sure—who was carelessly uttering such obstinate words to her very face. What could she do to make him see the profound wisdom of her demands, and the complete nonsense of his decision?
The Bible gives us only the briefest of insights into that emotion-packed moment; but the words are still very revealing, and they are immensely significant. We read them in Hebrews 11:24–26: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.”1
What makes the decision of Moses so extremely fascinating is the recent publication of some hitherto unknown details. These details provide us with new and exciting evidence about this ancient family quarrel and allow us to get a close-up picture of the mummy of the Egyptian princess who had adopted Moses and with whom he chose to quarrel. We can now understand more fully than ever before (indeed much more fully) just what the effect of Moses’ dramatic announcement had upon ancient Egypt and the royal family of pharaoh in particular.
We now know that Moses’ decision not only affected his life and future actions, it also had a profound effect upon the government of Egypt itself for several generations to come, even after the time of Moses.
Consider this. In the January 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, the editor quoted new information that located the dating of the Exodus as being two centuries earlier than what the scholarly world usually believed.2 This means that even liberal-minded scholarship is now able to agree with a dating of the Exodus that must have occurred close to the year 1445 B.c., as biblical chronology itself has always suggested. But how does this impact our understanding of Moses’ experience? The proper timing of the Exodus now allows us to give a more exact time for Moses’ life episodes, including the year of his birth and his decision to renounce his position in the royal family. This information of the timing of Moses’ life permits us to link up his life more easily with the individual members of the royal family that ruled Egypt during his lifetime.
Accepting an Exodus date of 1445 B.c., and recognizing the Bible clearly states that Moses was 80 years of age at that time (Exod. 7:7), that leads us to conclude that Moses must have been born in the year 1525 B.c. Then, if we assume that Moses was approximately 30 years old when he came of age, we can arrive at the year 1495 B.c. for the time when Moses made it clear that he was not the “son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” By making such a declaration, Moses was obviously renouncing the possibility that he would ever become the next ruler of Egypt. And, therefore, this represented a most highly consequential decision.
The family setting
Consider also another article. The National Geographic published an article by Chip Brown that places Moses in his proper family setting within the royal families of Egypt.3 This helps us determine just who the pharaoh and “Pharaoh’s daughter” were during the years when Moses was growing up in the palace of Egypt as well as confirming the year when Moses made his momentous decision.
With Brown’s article before us, apparently without Brown’s notice as to what his article has innocently accomplished, it now has become possible to identify the woman described in the Bible as “Pharaoh’s daughter.”
In the light of the details Brown mentions, the woman must certainly be identified with the famous princess known in the ancient Egyptian records as Hat-shep-sut, whose life span and later rule over Egypt now correlates perfectly with the pertinent episodes in the life of Moses. Therefore, it appears historically clear that the Hatshepsut of Brown’s article must be viewed as actually representing the same ancient princess of Egypt who rescued Moses out of the Nile River. In the article, for example, Brown interestingly mentions a small detail: that “her chief steward and architect Senenmut refers to her as ‘the king’s firstborn daughter,’ a distinction that accents her lineage as the senior heir of Thutmose I rather than as the chief royal wife of Thutmose II.”4
Of course, those who are familiar with the reference to her in the book of Hebrews will remember the apostle’s description of Moses’ adoptive mother as “Pharaoh’s daughter.” Obviously, there is now a historical reason as to why, in the renunciation statement of Moses, it should be mentioned that he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.”
But in the area of the relative chronology of Moses, the National Geographic article has become especially helpful and informative. We would doubtless be justified in assuming that pharaoh’s daughter, in the Moses’ story of the Bible, must have been around 20 years of age when she took the baby Moses from the Nile; and this would place her birth year at a time close to 1545 B.c. But, according to Brown, Hatshepsut did not begin to rule Egypt until 1479 B.c.5 Her total reign was 1479 B.c. through 1458 B.c. 6 This means that the royal family must have had at least 15 or 16 years (1495–1479 B.c.) to consider the potential effects of Moses’ statement.
We can only imagine the internal turmoil that Moses’ decision must have caused in the Egyptian palace during those few critical years after 1495 B.c. There surely would have been many pleading for Moses to change his mind and not be so obstinate. This possibility is pointed out by the fact that male heirs for the throne of Egypt were in very short supply at that time. In addition to Moses, there was only one other boy who could be remotely considered, and he was the son of a secondary wife of the previous pharaoh—a boy (later to bear the name of Thutmoses III) who was 10 to 20 years younger than Moses.
The remaining years of Moses, and of the other actors in the dramatic events of that period as well, are now easy to work out. After making his decision publicly known, Moses remained in Egypt only ten more years, that is, until 1485 B.c. Then, after killing an Egyptian, he fled the country (Exod. 2:12–15) because he feared the king of Egypt (at that time, the ruler of Egypt would still be Thutmoses II, the father of Hatshepsut). Six years after Moses left Egypt, Thutmoses II died and Hatshepsut needed to act. She obviously did not feel comfortable about marrying the youngster who would later become Thutmoses III, and there was no other male heir left for her. Hence, in a bizarre chapter of ancient history, Hatshepsut boldly took command as though she were a male and declared herself to be the herself to be the pharaoh of the land of Egypt (hence, the title of Brown’s article “The King Herself,” or the title on the cover of the National Geographic as “The She-King of Egypt.”). It was as though she were replying to Moses, “All right, if you won’t cooperate and become the next pharaoh, I will do it myself!”
Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as a male ruler for approximately 21 years. During this time, she had a number of pictures and statues made of herself, but she always appeared with clothing that typified a king—never in the garb of a queen. In fact, she typically appeared in her representations, even with an artificial beard to accentuate her assumed maleness. Then, soon after her assumption of power, she elevated young Thutmoses III to be a second pharaoh with her. But he was always forced to appear in a secondary role—always with her out in front—a role under which he surely chafed.
Thutmoses III revealed his true feelings about Hatshepsut soon after her death in 1458 b.c. First of all, her carefully mummified body was rather rudely taken out of the sarcophagus that she had previously prepared, and her mummy was carelessly tossed even out of her burial chamber into a small adjoining room that had been prepared for the location of some of her servants and their supplies for the supposed afterlife. Then in various places throughout Egypt, her pictures and statues were systematically mutilated to show the contempt that her successor felt towards her.
Brown has provided us with a splendidly helpful article about the life and times of Hatshepsut. His article is even more interesting because he seems not to detect the place that this ancient queen-king might have had in the life of the great lawgiver. But placing the two articles together makes it plausible now to make an obvious identification; and Brown’s article provides all busy pastors with much more of the human interest details that pertain to the early life of Moses, should they ever wish to employ these in a sermon. Also, Brown provides a number of interesting details about the search for Hatshepsut’s mummy, including such topics as the fascinating discovery of a mummified tooth that eventually helped with the final identification of her mummy.
Making the right choice
For preachers planning to prepare a sermon that uses Moses’ early life, it will certainly prove highly interesting and valuable to refer to the National Geographic article, to read the details the article provides, and to look at the mummified face of the woman who tried to adopt the boy Moses as her own son, and who later failed in her quarrel to make him the next king of Egypt. 7
The telling of the dramatic story, of course, seems to possess a powerful built-in sermonic appeal that encourages us all to make right choices in life. There may come to any of us times of personal struggle when, if we were to choose the wrong way, great advantages seem to be promised—such as the throne of Egypt for Moses. But the example of the great lawgiver should encourage us to look the choices over very carefully and then choose correctly. Otherwise, a person might end his or her life story as an interesting exhibit in a museum case somewhere. Moses, instead of becoming an interesting museum exhibit, was given the privilege of being one who could personally encourage our Lord on the mount of transfiguration, and he probably now possesses a lofty administrative responsibility of some kind in the heavenly government of God above. How wonderfully good that he knew anciently just how to make the right choice.
1 All Scripture passages are from the New King James Version.
2 See Hershel Shanks, “When Did Ancient Israel Begin?” Biblical Archaeology Review 38, no. 1 (2012): 59–62, 67.
3 Chip Brown, “The King Herself,” National Geographic 215, no. 4 (April 2009): 88–111.
5 Ibid., 94.
6 Ibid., 104.
7 See the photo gallery at “Hatshepshut,” National Geographic, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/04/hatshepsut /garrett-photography.