(by Professor Dave)
The Word for today: Exodus 10, 11
There are some people who question God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, as if somehow God was preventing him from believing in God. This, however, stems from a misunderstanding of what the word “hardening” really means. The Hebrew word for hardening is להתקשחות which carries the idea of “strengthening in resolve.” In other words, God was not causing Pharaoh to reject God. He was, in fact, strengthening Pharaoh’s own resolve to reject the God of the Hebrews. Remember that Pharaoh believed that he, himself, was the most powerful god in Egypt.
If we look back in Exodus 8:15, we see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart after the plague of frogs was removed. By the time we come to Exodus 10:1, Pharaoh and his servants had seen enough to be convinced of the power of the God of the Hebrews, and if God hadn’t strengthened his resolve in preventing the people from leaving, Pharaoh likely would have let the people go simply because of all of the destruction which had already taken place in Egypt. But God wasn’t finished with the work which He intended to accomplished, and Pharaoh and his servants’ hearts were hardened. God’s intent was that all of Israel and the generations to come would be able to look back on what was done in Egypt and know for a certainty that He is the LORD. Through the plagues which God performed in Egypt, God not only showed that He was more powerful than Pharaoh, but He also demonstrated that He was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt.
John J. Davis, an author of Old Testament Studies, has written a book entitled Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, in which he gives details of the plagues of Egypt and how they were directed against the many gods of Egypt. (1) For example, the Nile River was considered sacred, as the source of life for all of Egypt, and had many gods associated with it. Some of those gods included Khnum, Hapi, and Osiris.(2) When God used Moses and Aaron to change the water into blood, He demonstrated that the true source of life is in the blood, and at the same time defiled the Nile as a source of life. The Bible teaches that the fish died and the river stank (Exodus 7:15-21). That which had been looked upon and worshipped by the Egyptians had suddenly become death and a source of loathing. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty different gods worshipped in Egypt during the time of Moses. (3) God dealt with them severely through the plagues upon Egypt. The gods of Egypt had no power, but the God of the Hebrews was and is all powerful.
Pharaoh himself is the last god of Egypt with whom God dealt. The people of Egypt believed in divine rule, and that Pharaoh was the god who ruled over them. The divine succession was to be passed down through the first born of Pharaoh household. That succession was ended with the death of Pharaoh’s first born, and Pharaoh and all the gods of Egypt could do nothing against the hand of the God of the Hebrews. God not only proved that he rules in the lives of those who trust in him, but He has control over the lives of those who reject Him as well. We indeed serve an Awesome God.
(1) Davis, John J., Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus (Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971, 4th printing 1976).
(2) Ibid: page 94.
(3) Ibid: page 86.