The Bible Invites Us To Look Deeper

 

In Exodus 14:15, God challenges Moses just as Pharaoh approaches and the people stand on the edge of the sea: “Why do you cry out to Me; speak to the children of Israel that they go forward.”

I tend to think that I have a nice sense of what this verse means, and I’ll share that view below. But what impresses me most is how many sages have read it very differently over the years.

Here are a but a few of their fine and provocative  perspectives:

 

  1. Wouldn’t it be natural for Moses and the people whose salvation from Egypt was entirely due to God to continue to pray at this moment?

 

  1. Was the problem that there was a certain weakness or shallowness in the prayer that was bothersome to God, especially given the people’s complaining spirit at the time?

 

  1. Is it possible that God had heard the prayers of the people and that was why they were saved, but it was continuing prayer from Moses, as leader, at this time that had no further purpose?

 

  1. Or was it that Moses was seen by God as crying out of frustration at the people’s complaining rather than their peril, and was told to stop it and get going?

 

  1. I rather think with many commentators that this is a different struggle than what the people faced in Egypt. Now they’ve been freed. They need to take on the responsibility of a free people. This moment is for action, not prayer. They must begin to take charge, as God’s partners, in shaping their destiny.

 

Yet, however much I favor this view, I like reading all good accounts of the words and believe we’re all the richer for them. The Bible invites us to look deeper and rewards us for doing so.

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Why Would God Harden the Heart of Pharoah?

Heart of Pharaoh picGod’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh has mystified readers of the Bible for centuries.

Why would the God of mercy and compassion harden the heart of the evil-doing Pharaoh rather than, say, softening his heart to relent and give way to a solution with Moses?

And wouldn’t God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart remove his culpability for wrongdoing?

The sages offer several answers and explanations to these difficult questions.

First, let’s recall that Pharaoh’s heart hardens of its own volition during the first plagues. Early on, Pharaoh could have changed, but he gets so deeply onto the destructive path there is no turning back.

In other words, as one’s evil compounds, one’s freedom to make a different choice is constricted. This reality in nature could be what is meant by God’s hardening of the heart.

Yet, it appears even more is at stake in the enslavement in Egypt. A short term “political victory” is not God’s intention here. This is to be a signal intervention in history, one all mankind will recall forever – as a sign of God’s sovereignty in the world, a force that drives both toward a real abiding sense of freedom from tyranny as well as a commitment of all to walk in God’s ways.

God deploys Divine wonders to fulfill a complete, not a partial or temporary, redemption from material-governed tyranny. This sort of victory doesn’t happen easily or quickly, or without pain and real transformation. While it might feel better if this weren’t so, it is so, both for the oppressor and the oppressed.

Further, it is natural for an evil person to press ahead strongly, even to the point of his/her destruction. Isn’t this proclivity also suggestive of a toughening of the heart? Tyrants don’t listen or often reflect on or heed consequences; they don’t give ground. As things get bad especially, they often temporize and steel up to avoid fear or truth.

The redemption of the Israelites from the Pharaoh was God’s wish. Our redemption from all things-Pharaoh in our own lives is also God’s wish. We must understand that the heart of Pharaoh – both then and now – never softens.

Heart of Pharaoh pic