As the Pharaoh Hardened his Heart, the People Lost theirs…

Light of truth

Jacob Chanikuzhy

What is a frog to a snake, or a fly to the fox, or a locust to a lion? Or what is all of them together to the Pharaoh of Egypt? Even a child can manage a frog, gnat, fly and a locust. But, according to the narrative in Exodus 7-10, it is these simple and despicable creatures that God sent to threaten the ruler of a mighty empire. And it worked! It was not just a frog or fly or lice or locust that God sent but a swarm of frogs, gnats, flies and locusts…And even the Pharaoh of Egypt could not withstand them. When God decides to punish someone for his disobedience and injustice, even the most harmless and simple creatures become their enemies; even the most familiar things become a nightmare.

The Egyptians had different gods for different purposes. They had particular gods to ensure life and ward off diseases and death. There were gods in charge of animals and birds, vegetation and harvest, fertility and prosperity, and light and darkness. The plagues affecting all these proved that none of the Egyptian gods were capable of protecting their devotees. The disasters that devastated Egypt serves the point made by Yahweh: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

It is interesting to note that God warned Pharaoh in advance through Moses about the impending calamities (Ex 8:2; 8:21; 9:2.19; 10:4). An important point behind this warning was to show that the particular plague was not just a casual event, but something brought about deliberately by God Himself. God could have inflicted the plagues on Egypt without the instrumentality of Moses and Aaron. But, the stories in Exodus demonstrates that God seeks cooperation from His chosen individuals so that they too can partake in His power and glory.

The first plague was something that affected the river Nile. Egypt owed all its fertility and prosperity to Nile. The Nile itself was worshipped like a god as it provided the life-line to Egypt. Hence, God first punished Egypt through Nile itself. Whatever separates us from the true God, whatever is considered as more precious than God Himself, will in the long run will become a source of sorrow.

There seems to be a divine plan in not sending an army of lions, bears, or snakes or volcanos or earthquakes to punish the Pharaoh and his nation in an instant. God does not punish the wicked without giving them a chance to repent. Each plague was an invitation to Pharaoh to change his mind. But, through his consistent and defiant decision Pharaoh’s heart became harder and harder. Every time one defies God’s will, one’s heart becomes more and more stony.

However, in the book of Exodus, sometimes it is stated that “God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” How does Pharaoh become culpable for his decisions if it is God who hardened the heart of Pharaoh? Besides, it is mean to make someone’s heart hard and then to punish him for his hard heart. Actually, it is Pharaoh himself who made his heart callous. But, the narrator of this story knows that Pharaoh’s cold-hearted response to Yahweh’s demands made through Moses was not something very surprising to God. In fact, Yahweh knew it well in advance how Pharaoh would respond. The narrator also knows that the obstinacy of Pharaoh can in no way sabotage the divine plan for Israel. He is convinced that Yahweh is capable of actualizing His plan despite the defiance of Pharaoh. Even the hardheartedness of Pharaoh is not beyond God’s control. It is this conviction that the narrator explicates by saying that it is God Himself who hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

Through the story of plagues, the Bible illustrates the tragic drama of how the arrogant hardheartedness of the rulers adversely affects their subjects. The Pharaoh was too haughty to listen either to the demands of his slaves, or to the command of Yahweh. His pride and greed brought more and more calamities upon his nation. And it was his poor subjects that paid the price of his callous defiance to God. They lost comfort and security, health and happiness, animals and plants, fields and harvest, and finally their own first-born children… The story also teaches that however mighty and invincible the haughty rulers appear, God will bring them to their knees, and that too through his simple and ordinary creatures…

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