Thursday, February 03, 2022

Bible Reading Reflection (Exodus 10-12): Hardened Heart and God's Name

I still remember having difficulty with the claim by skeptics that God is a manipulative and vengeful God.  After all, didn't he harden Pharoah's heart and not allow him to repent so that God could inflict all kinds of plagues on him and Egypt?  Only after reading the text carefully did I realize that this difficulty only came from an ignorance of the events that led up to this and a possible misunderstanding of justice.  No one would have an issue with God doing the same sort of thing to Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.  Pharoah fits in the same category with other despots in history who are responsible for mass murder.  

It occurs to me that the text does not give the same amount of space to Pharoah’s genocide probably because the focus of the story is the living God’s judgment on Pharoah and Egypt for their brutal oppression of God’s people and murder of their babies in the Nile.  The text gives more space to how God came down and delivered his people from them while demonstrating his righteous wrath and judgment on Egypt.  Pharoah and the Egyptians are not innocent sufferers at the hands of a vengeful God.  They rightly become the objects of God’s righteous justice for their heinous wickedness against the Hebrews.  

I have reflected on why God artificially prolonged the conflict.  Sometimes Pharaoh hardened his own heart but most of the time the text says God hardened his heart.  Several times throughout the text, God says he does so to make his name known.  In chapter 6, God said, “You will know that I am Yahweh your God when I bring you out from the burdens of the Egyptians.”  In chapter 7, God said “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Yahweh, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”  He also told Pharoah, “By this you shall know that I am Yahweh: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”  This is a marvelous answer to Pharoah’s disdainful question in chapter 5, “Who is Yahweh that I should listen to him and let Israel go?”  When God removed the plague of frogs, he did it “so that you may know that there is no one like the Yahweh our God.”

However, God prolongs the conflict.  A few times Pharaoh hardened his heart, or the text simply says that his heart “was hardened” without specifying who hardened it.  However, the majority of the time, it says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, especially when the plagues began to intensify.  The conflict could have been over long before it ended, but God artificially prolonged the conflict.  God’s purpose was not merely to punish Egypt and redeem Egypt from bondage, but to make this a learning lesson as well.  In chapter nine, God explains why he prolonged the conflict.  He said to Pharaoh, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”  

Not only did God want his name to be known to the Egyptians and to Israel, but he wants his name to be proclaimed in all the earth.  God’s name comes with a history that reveals who he is and what kind of God he is. 

To further make his name known, God set apart the land of Goshen after the third plague.  God’s people, who were living in Goshen, did not suffer any more plagues that God afflicted Egypt with.  God communicated that he did this “that you may know that I am the Yahweh in the midst of the earth.”  Not only did God make known his power over Pharaoh and the impotent gods of Egypt, but God made his favor toward the Hebrews known as well.  He demonstrated his faithfulness to his covenant with Abraham and his ability to keep it in the midst of danger and opposition.  He made his name known as the living and faithful God who is present for his people that he make covenant with.

What a fantastic contrast between the name of Yahweh and the name of Pharaoh.  Unlike the name of the Pharaoh in Exodus 1, whose name we are not sure of, we know the name of our living God who is righteous, just, and all powerful.  God demonstrated the truth of Psalm 148:13 –“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven,” and Proverbs 18:10 – “The name of Yahweh is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

God, whose name we know, also gives his people a name.  I am reminded of this when I consider the contrast between Pharaoh and the midwives of Exodus 1.  We are not sure of the name of the Pharoah, but we know the names of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.  God gave them families for doing what they could to protect the Hebrew newborn sons.  In that sense, they were given a “name.”  But more significant is the name that God gives to all of his people.  In Revelation 3:12, the Lord said that, he will write on the faithful the name of God and his own name.  Nothing is more precious than the name that is above all names.

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