I’ve heard a number of people say they wish God would just give them specific instructions. Do this. Don’t do this. Then it would be far easier to follow them. We see in today’s Zechariah reading, and we’ve seen it so many times before in Scripture, that there are some specific instructions. With these, you can’t go wrong. Be kind. Show mercy. Help the poor. Hopefully that helps.
- 1-8 – The horses and chariots seem to represent God’s power returning to Judah and Israel.
- 9-14 – Zerubbabel and Joshua were to work together to rebuild the temple.
- 8-10 – God tells the Israelites, through Zechariah, exactly how he wants them to live. He is looking for kindness, mercy, and help for the poor.
- 11-14 – The Israelites didn’t listen but hardened their hearts.
- 1 – Though “plague” is never an enjoyable thing, it is good that the wrath of God will soon be over.
- 1-4 – David admits his past sins and repents. He knows that no one can stand before God’s righteousness.
- 9-12 – David not only looks to God for forgiveness, but also for protection from enemies.
- These are fascinating examples of creatures who have been given little but make the most of it. Presumably, we could learn a lot from them.
Anyone reading the account of the plagues in Exodus comes upon a troubling phenomenon: sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart (8:15), whereas other times (7:3, 10:1) the Lord hardens Pharoah’s heart. Which is it? If it is the Lord who causes Pharoah’s heart to be hard, then how is it fair for Pharaoh to be held responsible for his actions?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Longer short answer:
The Bible is not a legal brief, written and revised countless times by people trying to close every possible loophole for future liability. The Bible is not an airtight mathematical theorem of a complex geometry problem. The Bible is instead a collection of writings that reflect God’s interactions with men and women over the centuries. The Bible tells the great story of redemption; it does not attempt to answer every question, reconcile every inconsistency, and remove every nuance. If it were a legal brief, you’d need to fire your lawyer. But, it’s not. The purpose of the Bible is not to defend God from a lawsuit; one of the purposes of the Bible is to tell us what we need to know about God’s plan of salvation.
I’ve wondered if perhaps the parts of the Bible that give us difficulty, that trouble us, are perhaps the parts of the Bible to which we most need to pay close attention. Maybe God wants parts of the scripture to trouble us. Maybe the parts that give us pause are the parts over which we most need to pause.
Beware Theological Schemes That Explain Everything
I tend to be wary of theological explanations that have an answer for every difficult spot in the scriptures. It is true that sometimes we have difficulty in the scriptures because we haven’t studied enough, and in these times explanations can be helpful and clear up a perceived difficulty that really isn’t a difficulty at all. But other times, the scripture is just difficult, and no one can really give a satisfactory explanation. The Bible is not a legal brief–ambiguity is allowed. The Bible is not a mathematical proof–you are allowed to have remainders that don’t completely fit into the system.
Two Ways of Understanding Pharoah’s Hard Heart
- Maybe we take the text at face value: sometimes Pharaoh deliberately resists God, and sometimes God supernaturally increases Pharaohs resistance. This seems unfair, but our perspective is admittedly limited, and maybe the Exodus can only happen if Pharaoh becomes more and more stubborn. Maybe things have to get worse before they can get better. As we’ll see, God will ultimately use Pharaoh’s evil against itself, so as to lead the Egyptians to destruction in the Red Sea. And, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9:14-19, we are not in the position to judge the Lord’s actions. We are not God.
- Maybe God just gives Pharaoh over to the desires of his heart. Maybe God doesn’t make Pharaoh do anything: maybe God just lets it happen. Maybe God knows that Pharaoh is not going to relent, but God’s foreknowledge might still allow space for Pharoah’s free (wicked) choice.
I don’t have a good answer to this theological problem, but maybe that’s okay. After all, life is not neat; life does not conform to a legal brief or a mathematical theorem. And neither does scripture.
What do you think?
It is a common theme in Scripture for people to make promises to God and then completely abandon them. The Israelites do it over and over as they commit to living faithfully and then worship other gods. Today’s culprit is Pharaoh. Note in the next few days just how many times he promises to release the Israelites.
- 23 – what originally cause the Egyptians to be “not God’s people”?
- So often we disobey God’s laws and commands and yet we’re surprised and even think it’s unfair of God when we experience consequences
- 15 – Sometimes God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own
- 8 & 28 & 28- How often have we bargained with God, and like Pharaoh, not held up our end of the agreement?
- 14 – childlike faith is praised several times in Scripture
- 16-22 – selling possessions could be interchanged with anything we hold to more tightly than God. What would you hate for Jesus to fill in that blank with?
- 30 – A countercultural thought. We, like ancient Israelites, try to get to the top. God calls us to humble ourselves instead.
- A musical version of this Psalm:
- Warning not to let others be in control of your life. Throughout Scripture, trusting others above God is a prominent sin of people
One of the most troubling passages in Scripture is that of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. Check out the video below to help you navigate it.
- 22-9 – God explains to Moses, and Moses to the Israelites, that God will restore the Israelites to the freedom and plenty of the covenant they’re under, but the Israelites are too oppressed to hear it.
- 2-9 – ancient Jews knew their history and revered the patriarchs; normally this type of introduction of God and explanation of what he would do would have been powerful; they were so separated and broken, it did not
- 10-13 – Once again, Moses has a set back and wants to shrink from what God is calling him to.
- 14 – we begin to see people identified by tribe. Moses and Aaron come from the Levite tribe
- 3 – The concept of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened is a challenging one. It begs the question, does God also harden our hearts or the hearts of others? This Bible Project video is very helpful in explaining the concept of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened.
- 8-13 – Pharaoh’s magicians could match Moses and Aaron’s miraculous acts to a point. God always prevailed somehow.
- 22-23 – So far, Pharaoh is unimpressed. It’s important to note that the Pharaoh was seen as a god. He felt that he was equal with God so it makes a little more sense why he struggles so much with humbling himself and being obedient to God.
- 23-35 – We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
- 3-9 – Moses created divorce certificates to put parameters around how divorce should happen. Creating the divorce certificates was not done so divorce could happen but to regulate the divorce that the Israelites were already doing.
- 11-12 – Eunuchs = men without genitals so they could not commit sexual sins; often used as servants so they could not defile the women they served
- The most famous psalm and possibly the most famous passage overall. This psalm is one showing David’s complete trust and reliance on God’s blessings and provision.
- God compared to a shepherd, a common occupation – cares for, protects, guides, and provides for his sheep.
- We view so many of our sins as fairly harmless or as one time events. Instead, our sins entangle us and drag us down to death.