January 16, 2016

Hard hearts

Exodus 5-11

In ancient times if a nation was successful and powerful, its gods were given credit. The many gods of Egypt were supposedly behind the success of that nation, but in Exodus 5-11, those Egyptian gods were soundly defeated by the God of a group of oppressed Israelite slaves.

In chapter 5, God instructed Moses to ask Pharaoh for permission to take those slaves out of the land so they could worship. It is no surprise that Pharaoh rejected this request and countered by increasing the work required of his slaves. This had an unexpected effect; it made the Egyptian leader more determined and the slaves became angry at Moses for this increased hardship.

However, God promised to redeem His people. He unleashed His power in a series of nine miracles which struck Egypt, devastating that land and defeating their so-called gods. The final and decisive plague took the life of every firstborn male in Egypt.

These plagues went beyond natural disasters. They were intense, came and left at Moses’ command, and some occurred only in Egyptian districts, leaving areas occupied by the Israelites untouched. However, Pharaoh wasn’t looking for natural causes. He was more concerned with comfort and control. Each plague produced increasing excuses for not obeying God, and in his mind, more reasons to harden his heart.

Since a short written devotional cannot unpack the full meaning of these chapters, my jump to application doesn’t mean the steps of interpretation should be skipped. Yet after reading these passages, I can see how the attitude of Pharaoh is not a singular experience. I’ve had those attitudes too.

At the first request of Moses, this Egyptian leader replied, “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.” (5:2) Not knowing God might explain disobedience, but Pharaoh uses it as an excuse.

Then he said, “Let a heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” (5:9) This is another way to get around doing what God asks; work hard, keep busy, involve others. Who has time for God if their daily to-do list is 27 hours long?

Moses performed a miracle with snakes, then “Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.” (7:11-12) One of Pharaoh’s evasive actions was to imitate the wonders of God using deception. This implies that God is not needed for anything, a clever ploy, but no one can outsmart God.

As the disasters increased, Pharaoh appeared to yield to God and begged for relief, but as soon as things slacked off, he hardened his heart and would not listen, just as the LORD said would happen. (8:15) This pattern continued for five of the plagues but then came a drastic change in why Pharaoh would not listen: But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them . . . .” (9:12)

Pharaoh typifies many who refuse God. They may claim to agree with what He wants during the tough times when their house is full of frogs, or gnats, or darkness, but as soon as the particular trouble is fixed, their hearts harden and God is pushed away. This is called temporary faith. It is insufficient evidence of eternal life. The danger is obvious; do it often enough and risk not being able to stop.

Pharaoh’s words were cheap, but words of repentance and faith without a change in life are as empty as Pharaoh’s promises.

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