We have been studying the first part of the Exodus story and the confrontation between Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron and actually God. One of the aspects of the story that is often bothersome is the idea that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and then went on to bring judgment on him and all of the Egyptian people. I am not a Hebrew scholar but with some of the tools available, various commentaries and concordances, I would like to share some of the things that I have gleaned from looking at this important part of the Exodus events.
I see it as a progressive process that reveals Pharaoh’s attitude and heart. Being considered as a god by the Egyptian people and having his wishes and instructions being seen as commands and immediately carried out, he probably does not take easily to someone refusing to do as he says and even less likely to be receptive to someone who comes and tells him he has to do something, particularly if that someone is from the people he has enslaved. I can just imagine him thinking, “Who does this guy Moses think he is coming and telling me what to do!” and who is this “God” he is talking about, for I am god. So I can easily see his reaction as being, “I’ll show him who he’s dealing with here and who’s in control!” So from the beginning it is a struggle to show who is the most powerful.
The first challenge comes in Exodus 5:1:
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” (Ex 5:1)
and you can hear the disdain in Pharaoh’s voice when he responds:
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Ex 5:2)
I believe that this shows the state of Pharaoh’s heart, his arrogance and pride, and sets the stage for the struggle that will ensue. From here on it is a downward spiral for Pharaoh as God continues to challenge him and with each challenge Pharaoh digs in his heels even more.
So did God actually cause Pharaoh’s heart to harden? Or did God present a challenge to show Pharaoh’s heart? Do we not see Pharaoh’s pride and arrogance when he chooses to reject God’s instructions and submit to His authority? By doing so he became more resolute in his rejection of God until he reached that point of no return. We can see the progression of Pharaoh’s downward slide in Ex 8:8-15 where we see that Pharaoh asks Moses to ask God to take away the frogs. It appears that he recognizes the struggle he is in and that he is not on the winning side. But when God took the pressure off and removed the frogs Pharaoh went back to his old obstinate ways and hardened his heart:
But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Ex 8:15)
I believe this should be a lesson to us for when problems and trials come our way. Could they not be sent to show us what is really in our hearts and what things we need to repent of and change? In the prayer of Moses recorded in Psalms 90 he prayed:
You bring frail mortals to the point of being crushed, then say, “People, repent!” (Ps 90:3)
But so often we ignore or reject what God wants to do in our lives and like Pharaoh refuse to submit to God, dig in our heels and go our own way. The writer of Proverbs warned us:
There can be a way which seems right to a person, but at its end are the ways of death. (Pro 16:25)
So often when trouble and trials come our way the enemy gets us to turn our eyes on ourselves and gets us crying “poor me” instead of turning our eyes on God where they belong and looking to Him for help. The Apostle James exhorts us to:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1:2-4)
and the Apostle Paul teaches us that:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:1-5)
I believe that from this we can learn that as God’s children everything that comes our way, whether good or bad, comes to us for the purpose of drawing us to Him, for the purpose of refining us and helping us to become more like Him. So rather than starting a big pity party for ourselves we should put our trust in God, believing that He is in control and knows what we need, and submit to Him, looking to see what He is trying to show us and teach us. We can of course be like Pharaoh and refuse but then we, like Pharaoh, will begin that path downward and each step down and away from God will make it more difficult for us to return to God and submit to Him. If our path downward continues unchecked we will one day find ourselves without recourse, our conscience will be seared to the point that we will no longer be able to recognize God reaching out to us. Then, like Pharaoh who continued on his path until all of Egypt was destroyed, the destruction of our lives will become complete. God didn’t force Pharaoh down that path, he chose it himself, and God doesn’t force us to submit to Him and follow Him, He leaves the choice up to us. He sets before us life and death, blessing and cursing and pleads with us to choose the path of life and blessing.
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Mt 7:13-14)
Let’s be part of the few!