Introduction: When Annalyse and I both had toddlers, we met weekly for a playdate. While the children bustled around the house making messes in various rooms, she and I talked about God. We didn’t follow a set devotion or Bible study. Instead, we shared how God was speaking to us through where his word and the circumstances in our lives intersected. During those playdate years, I learned so much from Annalyse, who holds a BA in Biblical studies. Our friendship is now long-distance, but she continues to bless me and others by taking her love and talent for Biblical/Historical research and weaving it into a relatable story with modern application.
Deeply researched and brilliantly presented, this new novel from Annalyse Mower puts us in Pharaoh’s shoes at the time of the great Biblical Exodus. Creepy? Yes. But, it challenged me to truly put myself at the feet of the Almighty God and realize that nothing, and no one, can stop the love he has for his people.
If you struggle with the problem of evil and suffering in our world, I especially invite you to read this alongside the story of Jesus, the ultimate Passover lamb. -Molly Poppe
Then You Will Know: The Crushing of Pharaoh
Take heed, O unrepentant nation. Beware, you of hardened heart. He can humble you – I know that of which I speak.
I am the son of the gods, the incarnation of Horus, in league with divinity: they heed my voice. I was chosen as the best from among my brothers, each a perfect and beautiful prince. I came from the lineage of warrior kings who live in immortal memory. My sons were many and my dynasty was assured. I was strong of arm, swift of chariot, mighty of army: I built cities of gold; I led conquerors and ruled kings; nations trembled before me.
Egypt was a perfect jewel, a heavenly oasis in the desert. It pleased the gods to give us all that was good, to build us into the mightiest nation on earth. My empire was sovereign; faraway nations trembled at my name. Tribute flowed from the north and the south, turquoise and copper from the wilderness. No other kingdom enjoyed strength like Egypt’s. I ruled the world.
But then, the Troublemaker arose.
He was weak. Despised. A traitor to the people who had opened wide their bosom and nursed him with the best of their land. He was given the choicest of everything and the fool threw it away for nothing – for nobodies. He aligned himself with slaves and followed the leading of a prideful delusion. It would be his destruction: I would see to it. It could be nothing else. The God of slaves could not conquer the sun-god, the king.
For I am Pharaoh.
Derisive laughter echoed from the room’s painted plaster walls, careening off marble columns to assault the ears. It circled the knot of dusty, threadbare slaves before me like a horde of demons. They cowered closer together, their lips tight in pale faces, their hollow eyes darting nervously from face to snarling face in the crowd behind them. Good. They remember their place, despite this one misjudgement. I felt my spine harden. It will not happen again.
Only two stood firm, like men. They were almost equal in height, but the one on the right wore the same threadbare clothes and stooped shoulders as the terrified mob behind him. I sniffed. Slave. The man beside him, however …
My lip twisted in a slight, mocking sneer and I raised my hand for silence, disgust pleasurably warm in my depths. As the court stilled, menace thickened the air. The slaves’ anxiety accentuating my unparalleled power was a sensation to be savored. Delicious. The mob shifted nervously, cringing, their wide eyes glinting like rabbits in the shadows. Except for their leaders. The two men stood still – an old slave and his foreign brother. The younger of the two stood tensely, his knuckles white as he grasped his staff. But he met my gaze.
“Who is Adonai, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” My booming condescension pushed the slaves into a tighter huddle, eyes on their filthy feet. Power surged through me with its familiar tingle and I sat, mighty and upright on my throne. “I do not know Adonai and I will not let Israel go.”
The simpering slaves deflated and I turned from them unceremoniously to beckon for wine. A tentative, unexpected voice arrested me.
“The God of the Hebrews has met with us.”
He dares to answer? I turned to face the speaker, my soul dancing with bemused incredulity. The two leaders clustered tightly together, the Traitor whispering into his older brother’s ear. Both were pale and pretended they could not feel me gaping. After a moment the slave spoke again, his gaze fixed on the wall behind my head; the Troublemaker stood beside him, rooted and upright as the dictated words echoed through the room. His shoulders tremble, though.
“Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to Adonai our God, or He may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” The slave’s weak, choked voice failed as doubt filled his face. He knows, as the others do – they have no hope.
Kenamun, my royal steward, approached the dais. After offering a formal bow he ascended the steps, his eyes carefully on each marble tread. When he reached the top, I perceived a smothered jeer and his derisive amusement goaded my own; I rolled my lips to stifle the undignified chuckles bubbling in my throat and instead took a deep swallow of wine. “What is your God’s vengeance to me, slave?” The traitor’s spokesman wilted and took a tremulous step back toward his brethren. I smirked and raised the cup to my lips again, its sweetness sliding over my tongue and down my throat, and eyed the audacity before me. “Moshe -” contempt dripped from the name “- and Aharon, why are you taking the people away from their labor?” I rested my elbows on my knees, basking in the anxiety that drank in my every movement. “Get back to your work.” The low growl danced on the menacing chuckles of my men.
The Hebrew slaves behind Moshe and Aharon bowed deeply and retreated, fleeing the confinement of my Great House and the guards who pursued them like dogs. Seething foremen collared some of the slower-moving elders and shoved them toward the door. But still Moshe and Aharon stood. I raised myself from the throne and ambled to the edge of the dais, my arm gesturing toward the sounds of construction and labor that seeped through my walls. Whips, groans, and straining ropes permeated the mud bricks.
“Look, the people of the land are now numerous – and you are stopping them from working.” My oozing sarcasm hardened into disdain. I rule this world. Did you really believe you could sway a god?
Aharon’s face blanched and he inclined his head, slowly inching his way out of the reception hall. Satisfaction tickled my innards and I allowed my arm to fall. Good. You remember this. Moshe remained stationary and defiant, his lips twitching with unspoken words.
“Yes?” I leaned toward him with glinting eyes. “You desire an audience with the son of Amun … prince?” The ridicule electrified my veins – powerful, warm, intoxicating – and made my head giddy. Moshe’s lips snapped tight, eyes hard in his pale face. His humiliation simmered pleasurably in my core and I sighed with contentment. And now you bow.
But he did not.
Instead, he strode from the hall without a backward glance, his shepherd’s staff clicking off his paces. My complacency turned cold and anger pricked my skin. He defied me. Before my men, he dared to defy me. Seething offense made me quiver as hot resentment kindled in my chest. With a grunt I flung my cup against the wall, its wine trickling in scarlet rivulets to puddle at the base.
“Captain!” Exasperation tore my throat.
Mahu, the captain of my bodyguard, came running, his plain sandals slapping the plaster floor as his short sword bounced against his thigh. “Your Majesty.” His low voice was steady, despite his run. He dropped to one knee with head inclined.
The flick of my fingers lifted him to his feet. “Gather the foremen and slave drivers. Tell them that they are no longer to supply the slaves with straw for the bricks; let the people go and gather it for themselves. But their quota remains unchanged.” Arms folded across my chest, my brow was furrowed with offended irritation but wicked delight stirred my soul. Sunshine from the doorway streamed into the reception hall, invigorating the colors on the floor with yellow light – but in my eyes, they had been stained by the Traitor’s presence. He will bow. My voice was smooth, low. “The Hebrews are lazy. Let us give them something else to think about.”
Mingled double-pipes, harps, and laughter stroked my ears, their music enhanced by the comfortable heaviness of the wine. I took a deep breath, the savory air flooding my tongue with saliva. My private courtyard was bright with flickering lamps, and the shimmer of dancers’ lithe, glistening bodies bewitched my eyes and intoxicated my senses as I relaxed into the merriment’s gentle caresses. Beyond the walls, the frogs and the Nile whispered lullabies to the deepening dusk. All was ma’at – the world was balanced, its harmony upheld by my might – and I was pleased.
The twinkles of light rippling across my dark wine satiated my soul, and I tilted the cup to better admire the gleam of its silver. A good world. Lifting it to my lips, I quaffed deeply and nudged the companion on my right. “And how is my son, Iuty? He is a true prince of the blood, is he not?”
The tutor politely inclined his head with a gentle smile. “He is indeed, your Majesty. A strong youth. I can hardly get him to leave the archery range for his other studies. But he is intelligent, like his father. He shows great promise for one so young.”
A lazy grin seeped over my countenance and I nodded. “Good. He should! The son of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt!” Chuckles danced over my thick tongue and I shook an unwieldy finger at Iuty. “Do not let him distract you into neglecting the arts. I would have him surpass me just as I have surpassed my father – both as a warrior and an artist.” My cup swayed as I drew it toward me and I carefully monitored its progress. “But let his first excellence be the battlefield! May he exceed even me … if he is able.” The wine drowned out my amusement at my own wittiness.
Again Iuty inclined his head politely, the quiet smile still in place. “Of course, Per’ Aa.”
I stared across the table at the girls gyrating to the music, a fire burning in my groin. “And when the time comes, make sure you teach him to fight hand-to-hand. He will need a good sparring partner.” I extended a wavering finger toward the tutor. “You are your father’s son. He taught me well – and you too. Do the same for my son.”
“To the best of my ability, Per’ Aa,” he murmured. “I will always do my best for your son.”
I nodded, enjoying the unbalanced sensation in my head, and slapped a hand on his shoulder, sloshing the wine in my cup precariously. “I know, my friend. That is why I chose you!”
My lecherous view of the lithesome beauties was spoiled by the decrepit figure of my father’s relic stumping toward me. The old man offered a bow stiff with arthritis and, without awaiting my leave, lowered himself into the open place beside me with a sigh. I ground my teeth and turned my head to avoid the stench of his advancing age. “Vizier Rekhmire.”
“Majesty,” he wheezed. He nodded to Iuty before beckoning to a nearby slave bearing a tray of honey cakes. “The only thing I can eat anymore … everything else is too hard to chew,” he panted through a congenial, toothless smile. I nodded, sparing the trouble of a reply with another gulp from my cup. Take what you want, old man. Just do not make me watch you chew it.
Rekhmire snuffled a few bites. “Is it true, what I heard about the court today?” He searched my face with watery eyes as he wiped the crumbs and spittle from his chin.
“That depends on what you heard.” My sight found more interesting fodder than his wrinkled face, and I let myself devour the tight, firm figures of the dancers.
He leaned close, his foul breath now intolerable with the sweetness from the cakes. “Has Moshe returned?”
I rolled my eyes as I lifted the cup to my lips. “What would that matter?”
Rekhmire gawked and puffed out his cheeks in over-dramatic shock, accepting a proffered cup of water from Iuty. “I have been in the Great House many years; I have seen many things.” He nodded to himself with a slosh. “Moshe – he was a great man. Would have done great things, if he had not … but that was before the … and now …” His tongue tied itself around words better left unsaid and he devolved into silence, still nodding while he sipped his cup and watched the girls.
I snorted without shifting my gaze, twitching with the irony. “And now he has aligned himself with slaves.”
“Slaves?” Rekhmire’s focus flew to my face, the wrinkles in his forehead shifting like sand. A light dawned in his mind and he took a deep breath. “Yes, the slaves. With Moshe, it is always the Hebrews.”
With a sigh, I glanced over my shoulder in his direction and fastened my look on the flickering lamp suspended above his head. “Apparently the slaves’ God demands a sacrifice. He demanded their release, to allow three days’ travel to perform His rites.”
“Hm.” Rekhmire sucked his gums. “And will you let them?”
Surprise choked me, wine burning my throat, as Iuty exploded. “Let them? My lord Vizier! Are you mad? Why should his Majesty release our slaves?”
Rekhmire surveyed us calmly. “I did not say he should. I asked if he would.” His normally weak eyes shone with a disconcerting light. “Have you made your decision, Per’ Aa?”
I shook my head and wiped the wine from my chin, my voice heavy with condescension. “Certainly not. Who is their God? Why should I let them go? Their quarrel with their God is no concern of mine.” They would never have made this request of my father. The remembrance of Moshe’s mocking defiance knotted my gut and ruined my enjoyment of the women. “They will learn that a greater warrior than even the mighty Thutmose holds the throne!” The declaration was loud with conviction and wine, and I raised my glass for a refill. When the cup was brimful of comfort again, I relaxed back against the cushion. “Besides, I have ensured that the slaves will have no more leisure for worrying about any maleficent deity – other than me.” Iuty joined in my merciless chuckles but Rekhmire remained strangely silent. I eyed him over the cup’s rim. “I did not realize you had so much love for the slaves, old man.”
His stooped shoulders startled and his eyes darted, his mouth slack with surprise. I grinned into my cup and glanced toward Iuty, himself hiding a smirk. Rekhmire swallowed and shook his head slowly. “No, not so, Per’ Aa. Not love. But,” he inched his way toward me, his foul, whispered breath offending my nostrils, “as your Vizier, I would caution you about the man Moshe. He is … there is …” I sighed impatiently and Rekhmire concluded, “he is not an ordinary man.”
Old fool. I scoffed and turned back to the naked dancers, my voice disdainful. “Then it is well that I am a god.”