And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him: And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I [am] the LORD.
Interesting. Here, God takes full responsibility for Pharaoh’s hardening (kabad) of heart (leb). He also lists three motivations (I’m tempted to say justifications):
* to show signs (‘owth)
* so that the Israelites can tell (caphar) their children (ben)
* that they may know (yada`) Yahweh (Y@hovah)
For now, let us ignore the question of Pharaoh’s free will; after all, given enough time omniscience is equivalent to omnipotence. At some level, God either set up Pharaoh or knew he would do all this and chose to allow him, so He’s ultimately responsible. What then does that say about God?
Judging God is always a dangerous activity, but Job taught us that this doesn’t make the question go away. And ultimately we do have a responsibility to discern the character of God, since we are often obligated to emulate it. So how do we do that?
Well, I consider myself a teleologist: I believe actions need to be evaluated in light of their purpose. So, God tells us up front that the purpose of His activity is for the Israelites (and perhaps the Egyptians) to know Yahweh, and know that He is God. He does this through signs, and for the sake of generations to come. Clearly worthy goals, and surely successfully accomplished (or I wouldn’t be writing this a few thousand years later).
But, part of me wonders, is God justified in doing this to Pharaoh? I can’t answer that, except to say God is God and I am not. However, I can answer a related question: does Pharaoh deserve this suffering? Under any reasonable system of morality: yes. Whether God or the Devil “makes” us do something, we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of our choices and actions. That’s just the way the world is. Pharaoh has sinned against God and the Hebrew people — not just here, but for over a generation — and reaped the benefits of their labor. Now he must pay the price.
And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast:
Moses finishes with a certain amount of drama:
And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day. And he turned himself, and went out from Pharaoh.
Which apparently makes an impact on Pharaoh’s household:
And Pharaoh’s servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?
They at least know the price that will be paid. This raises the trickier question of whether the Egypt as a whole deserve to pay for Pharaoh’s sins. But that ultimately comes down to the nature of leadership. And again, I believe a country is ultimately responsible for its leaders, just like individuals are ultimately responsible for their choices — even if we are so dysfunctional we have no coherent control. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, but as far as I can tell its the only way the universe could function.
Note that “responsibility” doesn’t necessarily mean “fault.” Sometimes we just didn’t know the consequences, or have the capability to choose differently. But we’re still culpable.
After hearing the petition of his court, Pharaoh seems willing to give in:
And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: [but] who [are] they that shall go?
Ah, but with conditions. Then begins another one of these strange dances of negotiation. I’m still not sure why God doesn’t just say up front “Let my people go permanently” and be done with it. Why the big charade?
I don’t know. Sure, it does seem like He’s working up to that, but given how Pharaoh keeps refusing I’m not sure what’s gained by the incrementalism. Perhaps it will become clearer later. At any rate, this time Pharaoh is apparently only willing to let the men go, but not their families, so negotiations break down:
Not so: go now ye [that are] men, and serve the LORD; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.
If nothing else, we learn that God values families more than freedom. And that Pharaoh pays a high price for his stubbornness (as his servants predicted):
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous [were they]; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.
Pharaoh thus humbles himself, at least momentarily:
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste; and he said, I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore forgive, I pray thee, my sin only this once, and intreat the LORD your God, that he may take away from me this death only.
Interestingly, Pharaoh doesn’t appear to make any promises, nor does Moses ask. He appears to just forgive (nasa’) and heed the entreaty (`athar), perhaps because Pharaoh asks in the name of Yahweh.
And he went out from Pharaoh, and intreated the LORD. And the LORD turned a mighty strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt.
Or, maybe Moses doesn’t trust promises anyway, and just feels sorry for the Egyptians. Still, if Moses was expecting gratitude, he’s disappointed:
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.
So, now comes Pharaoh’s darkest hour:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness [which] may be felt.
This is bad enough that Pharaoh is willing to relax his position:
And Pharaoh called unto Moses, and said, Go ye, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be stayed: let your little ones also go with you.
He’ll let all the people go, but not the animals. Moses, as might be expected, isn’t satisfied:
And Moses said, Thou must give us also sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God. Our cattle also shall go with us; there shall not an hoof be left behind; for thereof must we take to serve the LORD our God; and we know not with what we must serve the LORD, until we come thither.
I have to admit, that seems a bit transparent for an excuse. God’s telling you all about these detailed plagues, and you can’t find out what kind of sacrifices He wants? No wonder Pharaoh is ticked:
And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in [that] day thou seest my face thou shalt die.
Moses, oddly, seems almost to approve of this ultimatum:
And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.
He’s probably as tired of Pharaoh’s duplicity as Pharaoh is of Moses’ intransigence. Apparently even God has had just about enough, too:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague [more] upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let [you] go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.
Okay, I suppose that’s one answer: that God is deliberately exasperating Pharaoh so that he grants them full release. But, that would almost imply that God felt Moses didn’t have the right to ask for such a release up front. Hmm.
I wonder if God is working through the Egyptian’s own concept of law. That is, perhaps even by their standards the Egyptians should have granted a leave to worship God, and by failing in that they become obligated to liberate the Israelites. Pure speculation, of course, but (at least to me) it would explain much.
A side benefit is that the dramatic exit will allow the Israelites to leave wealthy rather than paupers:
Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.
In fact, their public esteem (chen) was definitely on the rise:
And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses [was] very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.
I suppose that’s another good reason for the progressive emancipation. It helps the people (`am) discover their true worth (in the eyes of God and others), which had presumably been greatly diminished by generations of enslavement.
To accomplish this, Moses tells Pharaoh God Himself will take a hand:
And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt:
To inflict the harshest plague yet:
And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that [is] behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.
With perhaps the starkest differentiation (palah) between Egyptian and Hebrew:
And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel.
I presume the cry of a dog (keleb) — used here for the first time — represents death somehow.
This apparently is all part of the last words of Moses to Pharaoh; either God had spoken this to Moses previously, or the word from God came while Moses was saying his goodbye. After a final warning/prophecy, Moses leaves in a huff (choriy ‘aph):
And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.
God then reiterates His promise:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.
Which is echoed by the author:
And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.
So many wonders (mowpheth). And even after all these centuries, we still wonder.
God, I confess that Your ways are not my own, and are beyond me. Yet I seek to know You, and be like You. Teach me the ways of Your glory. Help me to take responsibility for my choices, and to pay my debts. Yet forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors. Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from doing evil and causing pain. By Jesus blood. Amen.