Certainly you’ve heard the story of Moses before, but this will explain the details you didn’t learn from Charlton Heston…or Disney.
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.
Well, actually, today’s Proverb would disagree with this line of thinking. Today’s Proverb instructs us not to share – our spouse that is. Today’s Proverb teaches us not to share spouses. This sounds like a pretty obvious point, but clearly it’s been a problem since at least Solomon’s days – heck, at least Abraham’s. Remember in Genesis when he lied and said Sarah was his sister?
- 1-9 – God performs a few smaller miracles to prove to Moses his power and that he was with him.
- 10-17. Moses continues to balk at the idea of confronting the Pharaoh. God rebuts his excuse of not being eloquent by explaining that God made his mouth and can make it do whatever he wants. Moses continues to make excuses so God allows Aaron, his brother, to accompany Moses.
- 21-23 – These verses are a quick summary of what is about to go down through the plagues, hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and Passover.
- 24-26 – Though a confusing and disturbing story, it seems that Moses had not fulfilled the Lord’s command that all Israelite males be circumcised. In positions of leadership, we are held to a higher standard of faithfulness and Moses wasn’t meeting the minimum. Zipporah’s quick thinking resolves the issue and ends the conflict.
- 29-31 – Moses and Aaron had to first get the Israelites on board before they confronted the Egyptians.
- 1-21 – Moses and Aaron’s initial presence and request is actually detrimental to the Israelites as Pharaoh, in his anger, makes their work even harder on them.
- 1-6 – Jesus, once again, flips culture on its head. It is not a great ruler or the most faithful disciple who Jesus calls the greatest. It is a weak, vulnerable child. Jesus explains that causing a child to sin is an error deserving death. We must responsibly care for those with whom we’ve been entrusted.
- 7-9 – Temptations are unavoidable because there is evil in the world. This makes it clear how detestable it is to tempt someone else and possibly cause them to sin. And it explains the lengths to which we should go, though somewhat hyperbolic, if something causes us to sin.
- 10-14 – This is similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son. When a sinner returns it should be the case that both God and the righteous rejoice. Instead, we often wonder why we, the faithful, don’t get more celebration. This reminds us that we’re all sinners.
- 15-17 – This is the proper way to call out a believer for sins. All should be done in love.
- 21-22 – Peter comes to Jesus looking for a limit. Jesus explains that grace should be limitless.
- This portion of the psalm shows how our lives should work: God gives us a variety of blessings and we praise him. David is a great example to us of how to be faithful in praise as we receive God’s continual blessings.
- Key point – be faithful to your spouse and what you’ve been given. It sounds like it’s teaching people not to share, but this is one area where that’s legitimate advice.
In today’s reading, Moses asks for God’s name. He responds, “I AM WHO I AM”. To ears in our culture, this may sound like a sarcastic or defensive response. Instead, God is sharing his eternal nature and the consistency of his character. I am who I was. I am who I am. I am who I will always be. Let God’s response be a comfort to you.
- 11-15 – Moses acted out in anger and though he thought he got away with it, people saw. Though he had grown up in Pharaoh’s house, he was still a Hebrew who had now killed an Egyptian.
- 23-25 – God heard the Israelites’ cries and acted accordingly. This gives us hope that God hears our cries for help as well.
- 1 – Jethro and Reuel are the same person.
- 2 – One of the many ways God goes beyond the laws that confine us.
- 4 – One of the many characters who answers God’s call with, “Here I am.” This is a statement of readiness and openness.
- 9-12 – It is pretty incredible that Moses, when the God of the universe makes a request of him, gives a simple excuse of not having authority. Clearly God is his authority.
- 14 – “I AM WHO I AM” has great meaning. Mainly it means that God is the same God he was yesterday, is today, and will be forever. There is no other word that can define him fully.
- 19-20 – It’s not that God wanted to send down plagues on the Egyptians, but he knew it would be necessary in order to get Pharaoh to cooperate.
- 12 – John the Baptist was seen as the second coming of Elijah, but he too was rejected.
- 14-21 – Once again, the disciples’ faith fails to be effective. Jesus, however, is able to step into the gap the disciples’ faith leaves and heals the boy. This is similar to when Peter’s faith is not strong enough for him to walk on the water. Jesus fills the gap.
- 24-27 – Jews struggled with Roman taxation. Jesus instructs Peter to pay the tax, but shows God’s ultimate power and sovereignty by providing the payment in a fish’s mouth.
- 1 – Jesus quotes this verse when on the cross and about to die.
- 8 – This too is reminiscent of the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus that he should be able to take himself down from the cross.
- 16-18 – Though written by David centuries before Jesus walked the earth, this psalm lists several events of Jesus’ crucifixion – here: pierced hands and feet and casting lots for his clothing.
- This is the continuation of yesterday’s urges to avoid temptation. This portion explains the aftermath of when temptation is not avoided.
Exodus begins in medias res with a listing of the names of the children of Jacob. (Jacob is also called Israel, and so his children are called the “Israelites.” The Hebrew name for the book we call Exodus is “Names,” taken from the first word of the Hebrew text of Exodus.) But who is Jacob, how did he have so many children, and how did they all end up in Egypt? To learn all that, you’ll need to read Genesis….
A few notes about Exodus 1:
- The Israelites are an immigrant people to Egypt, but the Egyptians, who initially welcomed them, begin to fear them because they grow numerous.
- The Egyptians decide to start oppressing the Israelites, but their oppression has the opposite effect (v.12): “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.”
- Pharaoh then commands the death of all the Hebrew baby boys. In other words, Pharaoh plans to commit genocide. Some things never change….
- In Exodus 1, we already see what will be the main theme of the first half of the book: a struggle between Pharaoh, the divine king of Egypt, and the Living God. Things will get interesting.
Leave thoughts or questions in the comments below.
[This post first appeared on my blog on 8/25/14.]
Yay! You’ve made it to the second book of the Bible! This is an incredible story of God’s love and provision for his people – so incredible in fact, that it is the story most referenced by later biblical characters. Pretty impressive!
Genesis 50:1-Exodus 2:10:
- 15-21 – Our sinfulness has long-lasting consequences. We often face them long after the actual situation is over. Joseph’s brothers still have guilt and shame on them and assume their brother will now pay back evil for evil. Instead, Joseph recognizes his place in the situation and recognizes that God redeemed to good what his brother meant for evil.
- 26 – Unlike his father, Joseph had made Egypt his home and was fine with being buried there.
- 7-14 – With a new king and the death of Joseph, the Egyptians quickly forget the good Joseph did for them. As the Israelites grow in size and strength while they live in Egypt, the Egyptians grow fearful of them and eventually enslave them to keep them under control.
- 15-16 – Pharaoh is trying to control the Israelite population and their ability to join enemies in war.
- 17-21 – Sometimes faithfulness seems impossible. The midwives chose faithfulness even though it was in direct disobedience to the king.
- 1-10 – Moses’ mother finds a way to give him a chance at life. Moses’ sister’s quick thinking allows his mother to nurse and care for him.
- 13-20 – Peter is the first of the disciples to identify Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus blesses him because this was clearly revealed to Peter by the Father. Peter becomes the rock of the church and is given great authority going forward.
- 21-23 – This is a quick transition between Peter being told he would lead the church to being called Satan. In this section, Peter puts his own plans for Jesus ahead of God’s.
- 24-25 – Note that no one knew Jesus would take up an actual cross at his death. He is calling them to be willing to make the same kind of sacrifice he will soon make.
- 28 – Though somewhat confusing, this is not intended to mean that some of the people standing there would still be alive when Jesus returned a second time. Though there are many interpretations, one feasible one is that Jesus is saying that some people would live to see Christ reign in the world. Many were alive as Pentecost and then the spread of the church began. Some even led it.
- 5 – This is the same phrase recorded from Jesus’ baptism.
- Note that many psalms filled with violence and seeking revenge still end with praise and exultation of God. Clearly praise was a fallback whether times were good or bad.
- This section gives a great description of just how seductive temptation can be. We would much more easily avoid temptation if it wasn’t attractive and sneaky. Before we know it, we have followed temptation into destruction.