We Gentiles celebrate Easter but we should make sure we honor the dress rehearsal for God performed for it- Passover. Christ certainly did in his earthly walk. It is a story of salvation and a wonderful lesson about being obedient to God or in the alternative how an entire culture can suffer the consequences.
It’s All a Matter of the Heart
The plagues that God set upon the Egyptians in the Exodus story serve as a mighty example of how He is in total control of the events and affairs of men. Yet many times men think they are just as capable as God. In so many ways we Christians and our friends the Jewish people have thought His thoughts after him and reaped the rewards of the highest standards of living ever achieved, and a peace and prosperity that those of other faiths will never have. But that shouldn’t lead us to a belief that we are gods or have god like powers like the Egyptians did.
There is a humorous scene from the 1984 motion picture “Ghost Busters” where some female demon from hell is confronted by the heroes of the film (played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis). As they begin to question her authority she asks them if they are gods. The character played by Dan Aykroyd answers “No!” and she hits all of them with some power that nearly sends them over the edge of a skyscraper to their deaths a zillion floors below. A supporting actor in the film exclaims something like “Man, whenever someone asks you if you’re a god you always say ‘Yes!’” It’s funny in a movie but not so in real life. That’s where the Pharaoh of the Exodus story was. He was oh so ripe for the one true God to show his supremacy over any man made god.
Hey, We Can Do That Too!
Take for example when the Lord turned Aaron’s staff into a serpent, then He turned every drop of water into blood, not just in the wells, rivers and streams but even inside holding vessels. Then He plagued them with frogs. In each of these events the magicians and wizards of Pharaoh matched God’s capability.1 Gotta admit Pharaoh must have felt pretty sure of himself. He was emboldened and his heart was hardened to the idea of allowing any freedom to the Hebrews, that is until the Lord threw his mighty powers into a higher gear leaving the Egyptians behind in his dust from the third plague on. But I think the Lord was out to demonstrate to Pharaoh and his court that he not only controlled all of the natural elements but even Pharaoh’s own conscious decision making capabilities.
We know the mighty one’s ways are mysterious and one example is how he freed the Hebrews by using the Egyptian’s own death cult against them. For beginners let’s recall how at one point Pharaoh admitted that the Hebrew god was superior to his own. In fact on two other occasions he confessed that he was a sinner and unrighteous2 yet later his heart hardened. What is it with this hardening of the heart business? Why doesn’t the biblical narrative just say “Pharaoh refused” or something like that? Instead it says “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” Is there some significance to this wording? How did the Lord use it?
God Played With Pharaoh’s Heart
Well, in the ancient Egyptian spiritual belief system it was believed that when someone died their soul would go to a cosmic hall of judgment where they were interrogated to determine if they lived a good life or not. The Egyptian “Book of The Dead” tells how the deceased would be read a long list of sins and depending on his answers his heart, depicted on the left side of the scale, would be off-set by the truth, symbolized by the feather on the right. Of course everyone would conveniently respond with their “negative confession”3 that they were sinless but there was a way to find the truth.
Egyptians believed that though you may claim you lived a good life your heart would confess all. Yes your heart wouldn’t lie and either doom or redeem you. So the only thing for one with a guilty conscience to do was to have their prearranged burial instructions to include (and they probably paid dearly for) having a stone carved in the image of a dung beetle (which was considered sacred) with spells and charms inscribed on it to be placed in the chest cavity of their corpse. This would magically lead to a “hardening of the heart” keeping it from truthfully admitting to one’s sins so they made a successful entrance into the Egyptian paradise.
In the biblical account God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to where he wouldn’t react like anyone in their right frame of mind would have, at least after the first four or five plagues. By that time I’m certain you and I would have gotten the general idea that this Hebrew god was not to be denied and we would have ordered, no begged the Hebrews to leave. Not Pharaoh. Instead his kept stiffening up to and even after the final plague. So in this case a hardening of the heart brought not salvation but destruction.4
In fact I think God wasn’t just freeing his chosen people from Pharaoh and his court. He was demonstrating that he could turn on and off the plagues and Pharaoh’s own self will. His own heart was hardened then unhardened and in between there he was on numerous occasions admitting he was an unrighteous sinner. Think about it, at some point in time everyone in his court maybe even the great one himself must had been thinking “What is it with this let ’em go then no they can’t leave business? Why don’t you just let these people go? You are powerless against their god!” Moses and the Hebrews began to be sympathized with, feared, or approved of by the Egyptian people. We know this from Exodus 11:3.
Any sane person would have followed through and let the Hebrews go. Let’s not forget, Pharaoh did cry “Uncle” more than once to Moses so he certainly was not a mentally touched person. But something, some force well beyond human logical thinking and capability had control of him. It was a power that probably only Moses had a limited but best grasp of understanding since he did have a face to face with God in the burning bush meeting on Mount Sinai.
The Final Demonstration of His Authority
Of course a fuller extent of God’s power and majesty came in his demonstration of how he is capable of taking life when he chooses and that he knows the future. Remember, before he sent the final plague he told Moses and Aaron that after it occurred Pharaoh would finally surrender to His will.5 Isn’t that an example of how when God says something is going to happen it happens?
Then the Lord most definitely showed how even further he was in control. He gave very specific instructions that he would personally appear at midnight6 and would take the life of not just any person but the first born person of anyone’s family.7 Doesn’t that reveal how He knows each of us, even those who haven’t accepted Him, personally? He also provided a specific way for His people to survive his deathly visit, that is if they did as he instructed.
They had to stay behind doors with the lintel above it and the posts on either side stained with lamb’s blood. But it couldn’t be from any lamb but an unblemished male acquired four days, not five, or three but four days prior then killed between the hours of late afternoon and dusk, not noon to dusk, but afternoon (3:00 p.m.) to dusk on the 14th day.8 The Lord scheduled his visit at midnight that night inflicting death upon every first born human (meaning Hebrew or Egyptian) and animal not just in Goshen but in all of Egypt.
So there it was the Hebrew people (sort of like Pharaoh) could follow these directives or suffer the consequences. Then like today there were probably some who thought they could skate by with an old lamb from their flock supplying the blood. I can imagine some of them saying “After all what if this plague doesn’t happen or it doesn’t convince Pharaoh to let us go? Pharaoh will not only get even madder at us but he’ll maybe take our livestock. We gotta hide our yearling lambs!”
Then there were possibly some who thought the whole idea of marking the doorway to their home was silly and didn’t do it properly or at all. “Hey, I have a rather nice mud brick home in a better part of Goshen and I don’t want to mar its curb appeal! Besides, this is the first time we’ve ever been told to do this. Could this really be necessary?” Maybe there were some who didn’t prepare the lamb as specified or eat it that evening in haste.9
The story in Exodus doesn’t speak of hard headed ones but since we’re talking about approximately 2 million people, over half of them adults, there’s no doubt there were some among them. Seems there’s always someone who thinks the Lord’s will is, well, a suggestion or request. Just like Pharaoh and his court they think they’re as smart as God and can defy him but in the end they only condemn themselves. Though its another story for another day they began to gradually demonstrate their stiff neck attitudes (almost immediately after the waters came back together over the entire Egyptian army) eventually buying themselves a four decade tour of the Arabian desert.
- Exodus 7:11, :22; 8:7 (NKJV).
- Id. 8:8, 9:27; 10:16.
- Exodus 11:1 (NKJV).
- Id. 11:4.
- Id. 11:5.
- Id. 12:3-6.
- Id. 12:11.
- Beale, Gregory K., “The Exodus Hardening Motif of YHWH as a Polemic,” Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976, pp. 46-52.
- Price, Randall, Ph.D., “The Stones Cry Out,” Harvest House Publishers, 1997.
- Read, F.W., Egyptian Religion and Ethics, Watts & Co., London, 1925, pp.110-111.