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The Pharaoh's River

The Nile River (as it's known in English) is named from the Greek word Neilos (see The Ptolemies), the Latin/Roman version of which is Nilus, both of which may be transliterations of a similar-sounding Hebrew word (even with the natural accent difference) which means river, or river valley. The ancient Egyptians called the river Ar (or other rendered variations, such as Aur or Iaro) which meant black, in referring to the rich organic sediments that are carried along the river and deposited in the fertile Nile Delta region before the river ends in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the world's longest river. It begins south of the equator in the north-central region of the African continent where its principal flow is known as the White Nile. It then travels northward for over 4,100 miles (about 6,700 kilometers) before arriving at its terminus in northern Egypt.

A number of different Hebrew words of the Holy Scriptures are translated as "river," however only one of them, pronounced yeh-ore, meaning a channel, is almost always used specifically for the Nile beginning with the account of the Pharaoh's dreams, at the time of Joseph, and ending with the Exodus, in the time of Moses.

"41:1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 41:2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 41:3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 41:4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke." (Genesis 41:1-4 KJV)

"In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river"

The Israelite patriarch Joseph rose from being a falsely-accused dungeon prisoner to the Prime Minister of Egypt (see Joseph, Prime Minister Of Egypt) because the LORD enabled him to know and interpret the Pharaoh's dream about the Nile River.


"41:17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river: 41:18 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in a meadow: 41:19 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness: 41:20 And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up the first seven fat kine: 41:21 And when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke.

41:22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good: 41:23 And, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them: 41:24 And the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.

41:25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do. 41:26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. 41:27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine." (Genesis 41:17-27 KJV)

Centuries later, when the Israelites had grown from a family of poor refugees to a powerful alien nation within Egypt (see the Fact Finder question), another Pharaoh used the Nile for genocide. Ironically, the Nile River, which was viewed as a source of life, was used by that Pharaoh as a means of death.

"1:22 And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive" (Exodus 1:22 KJV).

2:1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 2:2 And the woman conceived, and bare a son [i.e. Moses; see The Prophets: Moses]: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 2:3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink. 2:4 And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.

2:5 And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. 2:6 And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children." (Exodus 2:1-6 KJV)

The Egyptians also regarded the Nile River as one of their gods. It was therefore a prime target for the plagues that came upon the Pharaoh (see also Plagues Of The Pharaohs: Past and Future).

"7:17 Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. 7:18 And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.

7:19 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.

7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. 7:21 And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

7:22 And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. 7:23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also. 7:24 And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river. 7:25 And seven days were fulfilled, after that the LORD had smitten the river." (Exodus 7:17-25 KJV)

Fact Finder: Why did the Israelites become slaves in Egypt - because they became too weak, or because they grew from a small family of refugees into a powerful nation? Was the Exodus merely a response to Israel's bondage, or was it a fulfillment of a prophecy that the LORD made to Abraham centuries before?
See Why Were The Israelites Made Slaves In Egypt?

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