Then the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh, and tell him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
I know Yahweh (Y@hovah) has said this a couple times before, but today I was struck by the idea that the purpose of their release was to serve (`abad) God. I had previously been reading this more as part of a ploy to get them out into the desert, so they could escape. But, now I’m wondering whether in fact God’s ultimate goal is not so much to loose them from Egypt, but bind them to Him. The same word is used to describe their labor in Egypt as well as God’s first sign to Moses. As Chesterton might say, the greatest freedom is being able to bind ourselves.
Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which [is] in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: [there shall be] a very grievous murrain.
And the LORD did that thing on the morrow, and all the cattle of Egypt died: but of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one.
Note the distinction between Israelites and Egyptians. I suspect the word ‘all’ is a translation artifact, as I can’t find it in the Hebrew, and the Egyptians apparently still have cattle later in the chapter. Regardless, Pharaoh doesn’t budge:
And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the Israelites dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.
Next come the boils (sh@ciyn):
And the LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth [with] blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.
Ick. Somewhat amusingly, the magicians (chartom) are too afflicted to even try to match it:
And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boil was upon the magicians, and upon all the Egyptians.
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken unto Moses.
So, God gets Moses up (shakam) for a big speech:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that [there is] none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence; and thou shalt be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this [cause] have I raised thee up, for to shew [in] thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
Hence the folly of Pharaoh in seeking to exalt (calal) himself instead:
As yet exaltest thou thyself against my people, that thou wilt not let them go?
I suspect it always comes down to that simple question: are we seeking to exalt ourselves, or God?
Perhaps to drive home that point, God gives Pharaoh a command, or perhaps a choice:
Send therefore now, [and] gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field; [for upon] every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.
Some obeyed, some didn’t:
He that feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses: And he that regarded not the word of the LORD left his servants and his cattle in the field.
I would wager that Pharaoh made this a loyalty test: do they fear (yare’) Yahweh or Pharaoh? I’m sure Pharaoh was furious with those servants (`ebed) who heeded Moses’ warning. At least until the hail fell:
So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that [was] in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.
And of course, to add insult to injury, Goshen is unscathed:
Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel [were], was there no hail.
This apparently gets through to Pharaoh. He seems willing to confess his sins (chata’):
And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned this time: the LORD [is] righteous, and I and my people [are] wicked.
and repent of his injustice:
Intreat the LORD (for [it is] enough) that there be no [more] mighty thunderings and hail; and I will let you go, and ye shall stay no longer.
It certainly sounds like he is willing to let them go (shalach) completely, though that may be inferring too much. Its moot in any case, since he won’t follow through. Moses knows this, though he still calls off the hail:
And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; [and] the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth [is] the LORD’S. But as for thee and thy servants, I know that ye will not yet fear the LORD God.
Interesting how he apparently includes all the servants (`ebed) in that condemnation. Not sure if Moses is simply generalizing, or actively implying that even the prudent ones don’t have an enduring fear. The text seems to imply the latter:
And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
One could almost read that as Pharaoh hardening the hearts of his servants. That may be excessive inference, but not implausible. One of the main roles of a leader is to interpret events for their followers, and Pharaoh — in his folly — is failing to do so properly on behalf of his entire nation.
God, teach me to fear you, and to interpret you rightly — both for myself and others. Save me from the folly of trusting myself, and seeking to exalt my own name. Help me to interpret the story of my life in terms of what You have done, that You may receive all the glory. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
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