Who was the firstborn of Pharaoh that died?

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By BibleAsk Team


The death of the firstborn of Pharaoh is a pivotal event in the Biblical narrative of the Exodus. This event is often examined within the broader context of the ten plagues that God inflicted upon Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus. This essay will explore who the firstborn of Pharaoh was that died during the final plague, the theological significance of this event, and the historical and cultural implications, using references from the Bible.

The Context of the Ten Plagues

Before delving into the specifics of Pharaoh’s firstborn, it is essential to understand the context provided by the ten plagues. These plagues were a series of divine judgments aimed at compelling Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery.

  • Exodus 7:14-12:30 (NKJV) outlines the sequence of the plagues, culminating in the death of the firstborn. The plagues begin with turning water into blood and escalate through various natural and supernatural disasters, each progressively more severe.

The ten plagues are not just random acts of divine retribution but are structured as a theological and cosmic battle between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt, including Pharaoh himself, who was considered a god.

The Final Plague: Death of the Firstborn

The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn, is announced in Exodus 11:4-6 (NKJV):

  • “Then Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: “About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals.”‘”

This plague represents the climax of the divine confrontation with Pharaoh. Despite numerous warnings and lesser plagues, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened. The death of the firstborn is both a judgment against the Egyptians and a demonstration of Yahweh’s supreme power.

Who Was Pharaoh’s Firstborn?

The Bible does not provide a specific name for Pharaoh’s firstborn who died during the final plague. However, historical and archaeological research can offer some insights. During the approximate time of the Exodus, Egypt was under the rule of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The identity of the Pharaoh of the Exodus has been debated among scholars, with candidates including Amenhotep II, Thutmose III, and Ramesses II. Each of these Pharaohs ruled during the period that some scholars associate with the Exodus, which is traditionally dated to around the 15th century BCE, although some propose a later date in the 13th century BCE.

  • Exodus 12:29-30 (NKJV): “And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.”

Given this broad description, the event clearly affected every stratum of Egyptian society, emphasizing its severity and universal impact.

Historical Indication

According to Biblical chronology, Moses fled from Egypt a few years before the beginning of the sole reign of the Thutmose III. If we consider Amenhotep II as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, it was his eldest son, the brother of his successor (Thutmose IV) who was killed by the angel of death at the tenth plague.

There are no records of this event in history as the ancient Egyptians didn’t record events that were unfavorable to them. However, Thutmose IV left proof of the unexpected death of his brother and his own rise to the royal throne.

This evidence is found on the stele of the Sphinx at Giza for it documents that he had the sand taken away from that ancient monument in gratefulness for the divine choice he suddenly had in its shadow. In the inscription, he tells of how he was hunting one day near the Sphinx. And while he was resting in its shade, this “great god” (the Sphinx) was revealed to him in a vision speaking to him as a father speaks to his son, telling him that he was going to be the pharaoh of Egypt.

The fact that this story is written on the monument reveals that Thutmose IV had not been first assigned to be the crown prince for this came as a surprise to him. It also shows that he credited his rising to the throne to the god’s selection and not humans. It is clear to those that study Egyptian inscriptions that an unusual thing happened to the eldest son of Amenhotep II.

Naturally, Thutmose IV didn’t wish to speak about what the God of Hebrews did to Egypt by sending the Ten Plagues, so he told the story of Sphinx foretelling of his rise to the throne. This was customary in ancient Egypt, for when Hatshepsut followed her father on the throne, it was declared that the god Amen had begotten her and commanded her to be Queen of Egypt. Also, when Thutmose III, rose to the throne as the pharaoh without any legal right during a temple uprising, a specific announcement of the god Amen was declared to make his reign official.

The Role and Significance of the Firstborn

In ancient Egyptian culture, the firstborn son was significant as the primary heir to the throne and the one who would inherit the responsibilities and privileges of rulership. The death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son symbolized not just personal loss but also a blow to the future stability and continuity of the Egyptian monarchy.

  • Exodus 4:22-23 (NKJV): “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”‘”

This proclamation highlights a key theological theme: the concept of Israel as God’s firstborn. The death of Egypt’s firstborn can be seen as a divine response to Pharaoh’s refusal to release God’s “firstborn” nation.

Theological Significance

Theologically, the death of the firstborn underscores the concept of divine retribution and justice. It also serves as a pivotal moment of deliverance for the Israelites. The Passover, instituted as a memorial of this event, commemorates not only the sparing of the Israelite firstborn but also their liberation from bondage.

  • Exodus 12:12-13 (NKJV): “For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”

This passage not only reiterates the judgment against the gods of Egypt but also introduces the practice of Passover, a foundational ritual for the Jewish faith that symbolizes deliverance and redemption.

Conclusion

The death of Pharaoh’s firstborn during the tenth plague is a significant event in the Exodus narrative, rich with theological and symbolic meaning. While the Bible does not specify the name of this firstborn, the event’s impact is clear: it represents a decisive act of divine judgment and the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver His people from bondage.

  • Exodus 12:29-30 (NKJV): “And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.”

This event underscores the theme of God’s sovereignty and justice, demonstrating His power over the gods of Egypt and His commitment to His covenant people. The death of the firstborn also prefigures the ultimate sacrifice in Christian theology, where Jesus, referred to as the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15, NKJV), dies to deliver humanity from sin.

There is a historical indication that the eldest son of Amenhotep II and the brother of Thutmose IV is the firstborn of Pharaoh that died in the plagues on Egypt. This is suggested by the stele of the Sphinx at Giza.

The combination of biblical text, historical inquiry, and theological reflection helps to deepen our understanding of this pivotal moment in the story of the Exodus and its enduring significance for both Jewish and Christian faiths.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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