Beware of the Pharaoh Syndrome

images-2In Exodus 9 there is strong contrast of leadership that is put on display. Moses, the one time adopted child of Pharaoh, is now the somewhat reluctant leader of Israel. Along with his brother Aaron, Moses is demonstrating bold courage on behalf of the people to free them from slavery and deliver them to the promised land.

Pharaoh, on the other hand, is somewhat of a foil in the narrative. We read simultaneously that he has hardened his heart towards Yahweh and Yahweh has hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But make no mistake, Pharaoh is ultimately responsible for his own choices. In the midst of the plagues that Yahweh sends upon the Egyptians we see both God’s ultimate purpose and the cause of leadership gone bad. Nestled in verses 16 and 17 we read this, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.”

Did you catch that?

God’s ultimate purpose is to make His own name great in all the earth.

His power is on display as a contrast to Pharaoh’s power. Egypt was the greatest nation on the planet at that time. Most would have seen Pharaoh as the most powerful man alive. But God is out to prove that His power is vastly superior. He does so to the proclamation of His own name. As Christ-centered leaders this should be our purpose too. We are to be about making His name great in all the earth. We are to trust in His power alone to accomplish this because his power is vastly superior to our own.

Warning: We must be very careful not to fall prey to the Pharaoh syndrome–self exaltation.

I can live out the Pharaoh syndrome in many ways, most of them quite subtle and a few that are quite obvious. Whenever I am trusting in my own power over that of the Holy Spirit I am leaning towards self-exaltation. Whenever I secretly want credit for the success around me or run from credit when failure occurs, I am leaning towards self-exaltation. When I see my team as those who are there to advance my agenda I am leaning toward self-exaltation. These attitudes are about me making my name great, not His.

I need the three allies of the faith to avoid the Pharaoh syndrome: the Word of God as a regular dietary part of my day; the Holy Spirit in all of His leading power in my life; and the community of believers to speak truth into my life (and leaders, you will have to openly and honestly invite this into your life).

What are some other ways the Pharaoh syndrome shows up for you? Where are you leaning towards (or possible basking in) self-exaltation? How will you purpose to lean into His power today and make His name great in all the earth?

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  1. […] wrote about the “Pharaoh Syndrome” from the Bible in Exodus 9. In that chapter God states that He is about making His own name great. […]

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