Tuesday, July 10, 2012
God's Love: Pharaoh's hard heart
If we're going to discuss the loving nature of God in the old testament is not an easy task, lack of theology studies aside. These things that I am about to write are my own ideas, and I would encourage you to form your own opinions. I would also encourage you to remember that I am working on the premise that these things are part of a true text, and while I don't claim you must agree with me to understand, it wouldn't be bad if you familiarized yourself with the texts as well.
"And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. 3But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I smultiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5The Egyptians tshall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:1-5
One of my favorite examples of God's love is celebrated every year with food, wine, and a four hour ceremony in the middle of spring. We call it Passover, and it tells the story of how God heard his people in distress, and freed them from the bondage they were living in. But I'm not going to talk about what God did by freeing the people.
I'm going to talk about what God did through the hardened heart of Pharaoh.
Let me give you the brief version. God sent Moses, who had been raised in the palace, out into a new country after an unfortunate incident in which Moses murders an Egyptian. He gives him a wife, a family, and a good job tending sheep. And then one day, God sends Moses back to Egypt to enlist his brother's help in getting Pharaoh to let the people go. But despite a number of signs and wonders, Pharaoh says no to letting the people leave.
As a child, I often questioned the validity of God's decision to let Pharaoh say no again and again. If God wants it done, it's going to get done. Why play games with the people?
But if you look at the verse above, God makes his intentions very clear. His intention in allowing Pharaoh's heart to stay cold is about reaching out and letting everyone see His greatness. His wonders increased in magnification and wonder each time Pharaoh held on to the people, starting small with turning the water to blood, and ending with the finale of the death of the first born. The story even talks about the magicians being able to recreate some of the earlier plagues, as a security for Pharaoh, who even in his hardness was not completely convinced God wasn't the driving force.
I know that it's hard to see the love in a story that ends where people lose their oldest children, but let me see if I can break it down for you the way I see it. The earlier plagues grew in both mystery and difficulty- in the end, Pharaoh even claimed to give in to get Moses to rebuke the plagues just to get them to stop. Before the original pass over, Pharaoh recognized that the "God of Moses" was a real force to be up against. His hardness of heart was grounded in the fact that he saw God, and ignored Him.
But thanks to Pharaoh's defiance, other people were able to recognize God and His power. As a result, many Egyptians were able to have their homes passed over and their children's lives spared (see exodus for the ritual needed to avoid the plague.) Many of those same Egyptians even left with the Jewish people, and were saved from the drowning fate that befell the monarch and his people when they tried to recapture the Jewish people.
God had the option to just remove the people- to take them out of the hands of slavery in a moment. He could have struck down all of Egypt and let His people take the land. He could have just made Pharaoh say yes and let Israel walk easily out. But instead He choose to reveal Himself, to the generation of children that were already His, and to the population of their captors. Furthermore, as Israel travels once they're out of the land of Egypt, other nations hear of their reputation, and some even tremble and stop themselves from falling to a fate like that of the Land that was once most powerful.
Later, in the books of the prophets, God reveals that the plan is to make Israel a light to all the nations, and the fulfillment happens when the Jewish people reject Jesus.
God's plans are never contingency plans- He knows, and has known from the beginning. It's a desire for all people to come to Him, a love for all nations rather than just a chosen people, that drives him to make an example of Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus. The choice to fear and respect Him is suddenly offered to all people- anyone who heeds Him. While God does eventually have vengeance on those who disobey, he offers a repentance chance first.
A very loving thing indeed for a people who needed to see first hand. And for a people who are often to stubborn to see the need for their own sorrow, unless they understand the might of the God they think about. It’s interesting that God would use such a powerful figure to start the issue of His Sovereignty, but would consistently bring it to a personal level for the people that He loves, in all times and generations.