A couple years ago, a couple friends and I were setting at Cheddars restaurant after a rodeo. We noticed this large, behemoth of a man setting at the table next to us. Lucas told me to challenge him to an arm wrestling match. With my upper body strength, I will never be in position to challenge someone. The way I see it, there is just too much time involved to make myself look anywhere near a normal weight for someone my height (plus it is embarrassing when you are straining to bench press 80 lbs down in the gym, when surrounded by guys who have no purpose in life other than to lift heavy things that don’t really need to be lifted). This guy would have killed me. I decided that it would be advantageous for me to back down from the challenge. You can call it cowardice. You can call me a panzee. I don’t care, what am I going to do fight you? I backed down. Then the idea was purposed (I believe by Brownie, but can’t be quoted) that I should arm wrestle the waitress.
Any guy who has been in this situation knows that it is a no win situation at this point. There is no way to gracefully beat her; because if you do you will be labeled a jerk. However; if you let her win, the five guys surrounding me will never let me live it down. As it was, they had all of their cell phones out recording the grudge match. Behind our table there was a table of a couple guys who had been at the restaurant the entire time we had been there. I had lost count of the number of margarita’s and beers that their table had consumed, but it was well over the amount that any self respecting adult should partake of in public. One of the guys at my table turned to them and informed them that I would be arm wrestling the waitress. The leader of the group (I deduced that he was the leader by the fact that he was the first to speak, the most drunk, and the most incoherent) began to speak to me in what sounded like a garbled, Cajun accent. Sure enough it could have been simply a southwest Missouri accent, but he was so inebriated that your guess is as good as mine. This man began threatening me with embarrassment should I lose. He threatened to hang me upside down from the rafters, like a piñata, if she was to beat me. This would be where my nickname from him would come from. For the rest of the night he would refer to me as piñata.
The waitress made her way over to our table and promptly informed us that she was having a rough night. She was responsible for all of the tables on the patio, which judging from the quality of the people that I had observed there, seems to have been quite the ordeal. While sitting at our table she let us know that she had a lot of pent-up rage from the night. This posed a few serious problems for me: (1) She was kind of scary. (2) The rage that she was carrying was soon to be allocated in my direction. No clear cut solution presented itself, so I proceeded on with the match. We grabbed hands. Just as our hands met, moron #2 from the drunken table walked over and placed his hands on top of ours. He had appointed himself referee. Suddenly this had become serious with a referee and the paparazzi made up of all of my friend’s video taping with their cell phones. We have the hecklers, meaning the drunk guy that is affectionately calling me “piñata” at the top of his lungs. Servers and bus boys are taking breaks to watch, and I wasn’t sure, but I think I heard it announced over the intercom. The referee, who now has my hand and her hand in a death grip, has made it clear that there was no backing out now.
I really felt good about my odds. That is until I heard the word “go.” As opposed to letting go of our hands and allowing us to fairly arm wrestle, he slams mine and her hand in the direction that she was aiming for and declared her the winner. It was over in less than a second. If you were to look really closely at the video tape, you can see glimpses of him helping her out. But the tape hides it quite well. I am not lying to you here. I was cheated. Now without any pride, and any dignity, I stand before a broken and dejected man. For I know that I was cheated and am unable to prove it. All that was left was for me to do was to cry in my cheese fries.
In the middle of the book of Exodus begins an arm-wrestling match between Yahweh and the most powerful man on earth. The powerful hand of Yahweh against the hand of Pharoah. It has been argued that Moses, in his composition of the book of Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, borrowed this idiom, “the hand/the arm of ___” from Egyptian grammar.
The phrase “the hand/arm of Pharaoh” began during the Middle Kingdom (1970-1800 B.C.E.), according to the study of inscriptions and hieroglyphs. This would have been during the time of the patriarchs and into the time of Joseph. One pharaoh, Apophis, of the Hyksos dynasty, perhaps the dynasty that “did not know about Joseph, who came to power”, made his prenomen of “Re is the Lord of the Strong Arm”. It is of no coincidence that the first time the hands of Yahweh are mentioned it is Exodus.
“…But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3.19-20)
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, because of my mighty hand he will let them go, because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.'” (Exodus 6.1)
So it is the hand/arm of Yahweh in a grudge match with the arm/hand of Pharaoh of which they say:
“He is a mighty man who achieves with his strong arm…” — Hymn to Senusret I
“Great of Power, Mighty of Arm” — Thutmose II
“No my majesty made an occasion of victory with my very own arm.” — Thutmose III
“His father [the god Amun] gave victory to his arms.” — Thutmose III
“Amenhotep…who smites foreign rulers of the far north, he is a god whose arm is great.” — Amehotep II
For many years, through many rulers, the motif of Pharoah’s strong and outstretched arms and hands is central to his idenity as Pharaoh, both in Egypt and spreading through the Ancient Near East. Starting in Exodus 3 the match begins and the reader is drawn into the suspense, asking “whose arm will prevail?”
The answer would be clear chapters later…the Hebrews walked out of Egypt with “hands raised high” [Ex. 14.8; “boldly” in the NIV] while the Arm of the Lord held back the Egyptians (Ex. 15.16). The true power, power over creation and nature, power over kings and rulers, power over life and death, was held in the hand and arm of Yahweh.
How often do we forget that? In times of election and politics, cancer and divorce, hubris and pride? The arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh ends the same way today…with Yahweh holding the upper hand and Pharaoh crying in his cheese fries.
Research for this article came from:
Hoffmeier, James K. “The Arm of God Versus the Arm of Pharaoh.” Biblica. vol. 67 (1986)
Currid, John D. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 1997)