Monday, September 22, 2014

Pharaoh, who played "let's make a deal" with God

The next great example of faulty repentance which views only the consequences of sin is the Pharaoh who opposed Moses, who tried to play a game of "Let's Make a Deal" with God.

Now you might think it strange that a ruler who believed he was a god or a divine force, and whose people looked to him as their divine intermediary with all of the gods, the man who, in his own mind, upheld for his people all of the truth, justice, order and other good (collectively, the ma'at) in the cosmos, would believe he had any need to even listen to anyone who said he represented the One True God. It would be even more astonishing to imagine that his people would permit--and, later, urge--him not only to listen to this God, but to negotiate with him. It would be extremely embarrassing for that divine earthly ruler and extremely threatening to his people. It would literally upset their entire belief system. But that is exactly what happened when Moses returned from exile, and brought YHWH, the LORD, the One True God who loved His People Israel, back from the desert with him. Pharaoh was actually reduced to negotiating with Moses' God, and on several occasions admitted that Moses' God was in the right and he was in the wrong! But these forced admissions of wrongdoing were the confessions of a hardened heart; they were not true repentance, as we shall see.

But first, we need to set the stage. In Genesis 45 and 46, Joseph, son of Jacob (Israel), who has risen to the second highest office in Egypt during a famine and has the complete trust of the Pharaoh then in office, after first moving his brothers to true repentance for selling him into slavery in Egypt years earlier, brings all of Israel's family to Egypt and settles them in Goshen. Then, as is often said, in Genesis 50 Joseph dies, and Genesis ends "in a coffin in Egypt."

Jump forward 400 years for the next record in Exodus. By this time these was a new king over Egypt, one who didn't know Joseph. Ex. 1:8. But he did know of Joseph's people, the Children of Israel, and he regarded them as a threat. They were multiplying too rapidly, and the Pharaoh feared revolution, or treachery in time of war. He gave all of the normal reasons political leaders have given from that day to this to justify hating a minority and committing genocide against it. You can read this in Exodus 1. The motives for race hatred really haven't changed in 4000 years!

The Pharaoh's first plan was simply to work the Israelites to death as slave laborers. When that didn't work, he came up with an even more diabolical scheme--he ordered the Hebrew midwives (there were only two of them) to kill all the boy babies, but let the girls live. Obviously, keeping the girls around would provide for rapid assimilation of the Hebrews into the Egyptian community via forced marriages. This approach did not require wasting the girls, who, after all, would later be useful for creating more slave babies and more sordid enjoyment for Egyptian men! But the midwives did not co-operate, and God, the One True God (really present in Egypt at the time!) protected and rewarded them. When Pharaoh figured this out, he devised his cruelest scheme of all--Hebrew parents were to be made the enforcers of his edict. They were ordered to throw all of their boy babies into the Nile, to drown there. All of this is in Exodus 1.

But, from the first day the Israelites started to groan under Pharaoh's mistreatement, God heard them. Indeed, we are told,

23 In the course of those many days, the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the children of Israel, and God was concerned about them.

Exodus 2:23-25 (WEB).

When God heard their groaning, he acted very promptly--by having a baby born who would later be their deliverer from Egypt. (Ex. 2:1). Through a series of mundane but nonetheless miraculous events, he brought Moses first into Pharaoh's court, as the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, then cast him into the desert of Midian for forty years of exile when he tried to do God's work, saving his people, in his own human strength. Moses had many lessons to learn, and it took 80 years for God to teach him these lessons. This is the subject of chapter 2 of Exodus. God answered Israel's cry, 80 years later, when he had His man ready to confront Pharaoh. (See, also, Acts 7:17-35 and Hebrews 11:23-27). God is not deaf; He just works in His own time.

So, now, 80 years after the persecution began, we find Moses prospering, after a fashion, married, tending flocks in the Midian desert. His people are still suffering, and groaning, in slavery in Egypt. God appears to him in a burning bush, and tells him to go bring God's children out of Egypt:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 9 Now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to me. Moreover I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Exodus 3: 7-10 (WEB).

At first, Moses is hesitant, doubting his qualifications, but God gives him signs, and reveals His Name to Moses. (Ex. 3:12-4:8) He also overcomes Moses complaint that he has never been a fluent speaker by sending his brother Aaron, who was articulate, to meet him--though God was angry with Moses' resistance and preferred Moses would simply trust God to speak through Him. (Ex. 4:10-16, 27-30). All of the main characters are now in place. God's consistent message to Pharaoh, from here to the end, as delivered by Moses and Aaron, is: "Yahweh says, Israel is my son, my firstborn," 23 and I have said to you, “Let my son go, that he may serve me” Exodus 4:22

Moses and Aaron are sent into Egypt knowing that both Pharaoh and Egypt will need to be broken before Pharaoh will let the people go, and even then it will be because he has no choice

1 Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I have made you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land. 3 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will lay my hand on Egypt, and bring out my armies, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch out my hand on Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

Exodus 2:1-5 (WEB).

Nevertheless, God sends Moses and Arron to Pharaoh nine times with His message, each time with a stronger demonstration of his power. God gives Pharaoh nine chances to repent. His response shows the hardness of his heart. Like Cain and Esau, he would prefer to avoid the worldly consequences of his sin or rejecting God's direct command. And, as the consequences become more severe, he is willing to negotiate with God and even admit he is wrong. But his hardness never breaks. He never agrees to obey God's command, exactly as God spoke it.

At the time Moses makes his first presentation of God's command to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:8-13), he shows a simple, non-destructive sin. Aaron's rod changes into a snake. But when Pharaoh's magicians are also able to make their rods change into snakes, we are told that Pharaoh's heart was "hardened" so that he would not listen to Moses--despite the fact that the snake had been Aaron's rod ate all of the snakes produced by the magicians! Pharaoh could still lie to himself, saying that the gods he represented were greater than Moses' God.

When Moses made his second presentation to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:14-24), all of the waters of Egypt, including the mighty Nile (one of Egypt's god's), turned into blood. We are told the people had to dig to find groundwater that wasn't blood. Once again, Moses' magicians could turn relatively small quantities of water (compared to the Nile!) into blood. So Pharaoh's heart was again hardened--he could go on believing that his gods (minus the Nile, of course) were greater than Moses' God--even though his magicians could not turn the Nile back into water again!

Moses made his third presentation of God's message (Ex. 8:1-6) accompanied by the start of sudden swarms of frogs (also gods to the Egyptians) throughout Egypt. Once again, Pharaoh's magicians could make a few frogs come up, but couldn't make Moses' frogs go away. This time, for the first time, Pharaoh appears to yield, telling Moses: "Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go offer sacrifices in the desert." (Ex. 8:8). Moses asked Pharaoh to st the time the frogs should be removed, and Pharaoh answered "tomorrow." So, on the next day, the frogs died, and Pharaoh reneged on both his promise to Israel and his apparent repentance toward God. He would not let the people go. (Ex. 8:14-15).

Moses fourth presentation of his message was preceded by a plague of gnats, or, in some other translations, lice, which covered men and animals throughout the land (while the word used is somewhat obscure, it clearly refers to a swarming insect pest). (Ex. 8:17-18). When Pharaoh's magicians couldn't make even a few of these particular pests appear by their magic, let alone get rid of the plague of them that was covering the land, they said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." Yet, even though he had now lost his last rational excuse for believing the gods he represented to be greater than Moses' God, "he hardened his heart," and wouldn't even listen to his own magicians. (Ex. 8:19). The next morning, Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh with their fourth presentation of God's message, and word of the next plague: there were going to be swarming flies all over Egypt. But this time God was going to make a distinction between Egypt and His People: the flies were going to be found all over Egypt except in Goshen, where His people lived. (Ex. 8:20-22). And then the swarms of flies came, as predicted, all over Egypt, except Goshen. Pharaoh then summons Moses and attempts to make a "deal" with God, giving Him part of what He wanted: "Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land!" (Ex. 8:25). Worship your God, but don't leave us and your bondage to us! Through Moses, God refused this offer. (Ex. 8:26-27). Pharaoh then makes a slightly "better" offer to this new God of Moses whom he can't control: "I will let you go offer sacrifices to the Lord in the desert, but you must not go very far." (Ex. 8:28). Moses appears to accept this offer, as it at least let Israel leave to go into the desert, and prays to have the flies removed. But once the flies were gone, Pharaoh, who never intended to let the people go even a little way out of his control, reneged on the offer. The people were not allowed to go. (Ex. 8:30-31).

Moses fifth presentation of God's command was followed by a plague on the livestock of Egypt, but not that of Israel. (Ex. 9:1-4). Pharaoh did not yield--even to the point of summoning moses for negotiations.

Moses sixth presentation of God's command was followed by boils on the Egyptians and their animals (Ex. 9:8-9). Pharaoh was unmoved.

Moses seventh presentation of the message contained both a warning to Pharaoh about his own pride and hardness and a warning of the consequences--the worst hailstorm ever:

‘This is what Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, that they may serve me. 14 For this time I will send all my plagues against your heart, against your officials, and against your people; that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For now I would have stretched out my hand, and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; 16 but indeed for this cause I have made you stand: to show you my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth; 17 as you still exalt yourself against my people, that you won’t let them go. 18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as has not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now. 19 Now therefore command that all of your livestock and all that you have in the field be brought into shelter. Every man and animal that is found in the field, and isn’t brought home, the hail shall come down on them, and they shall die.”’

Exodus 9:13-19 (WEB).

The hailstorm stripped all the trees, killed all of the sprouted crops and all livestock left outside--except in Goshen. Pharaoh's next offer admits wrongdoing and certainly appears, on its face, to express repentance:

27 Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time. Yahweh is righteous, and I and my people are wicked. 28 Pray to Yahweh; for there has been enough of mighty thunderings and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”

Exodus 9:27-28 (WEB). But Moses prayed, the storm ended, and Pharaoh reneged, again. The people were not let go. (Ex. 9:33-35).

Moses' eighth presentation of God's message to Pharaoh promised a swarm of locusts to destroy the remaining crops. Pharaoh then offers God another "deal:" "You may go, but only the men may go; the women and children must remain in Egypt." (Ex. 10:10-11). God rejected this offer, and Pharaoh drove Moses out of his presence. The plague of locusts followed.

Next, Pharaoh once again expresses faulty repentance:

16 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron in haste, and he said, “I have sinned against Yahweh your God, and against you. 17 Now therefore please forgive my sin again, and pray to Yahweh your God, that he may also take away from me this death.”

Exodus 10:16-17 (WEB). This time Pharaoh made no promises. Moses prayed, and God removed the locusts. But Pharaoh would not let God's people go.

Before the ninth presentation of God's word to Pharaoh through Moses, God sent complete darkness on Egypt--except for the dwellings of the Israelites, where there was light. (Ex. 10:21-22). Pharaoh then summoned Moses to make his final offer: "Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind." (Ex. 10:24). Pharaoh obviously understands, as Jesus would later say, that a man's heart is where his treasure is. Matthew 6:21. The children of Israel were still immersed in Egyptian culture, which valued its possessions. They had not had time to learn to value God above their livestock--that was one of the lessons of the sacrifices they were to make. So Pharaoh knew that, if they left their possessions behind in Egypt, they would leave their hearts behind, too, and they would return to him as slaves. God, of course, rejected this offer (Ex. 10:25)--the people's wealth must go with them to worship Him, as he may ask them to sacrifice anything they have in worship.

Pharaoh then ordered Moses to leave his presence and never see him again, and Moses confirmed he will never see Pharaoh again. (Ex. 10:27-29). However, on his way out, Moses warned Pharaoh of the final plague: all of the firstborn of Egypt, of people and animals, will die that night, but this plague will not touch Israel, "that yoy may know that Yahweh makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel." (Ex. 11:4-8).

Everything Moses predicted happened that night. All of the firstborn of Egypt died. But in the houses of the Israelites, who showd their faith in God by sacrificing a lamb and putting its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, no one died. (See, Hebrews 11:28). The angel of death passed over their houses. Pharaoh permitted Israel to leave, as God had asked. The Egyptians gave of their own goods remaining to the Israelites, and urged them to leave. (Ex. 12:1-38, 13:17).

But when God did not lead Israel on the direct route out of Egypt, but, instead, led them into an encampment where it appeared they could be trapped by the Red Sea, Pharaoh's heart was again hardened, and he pursued them with the chariots of his army, to bring back his slaves. (Ex. 14:1-9). God protected Israel from Pharaoh's army with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Nevertheless, Pharaoh's heart was so hardened that he continued to pursue them. Ultimately, God divides the sea, so that Israel may pass through the sea to the other side on foot. It is then pharaoh makes his fatal mistake: He presumes that, if the sea has been parted, his armies can follow Israel through it. All of the Israelites escaped from Pharaoh's army through the sea. But Pharaoh's chariots got stuck in the mud at the bottom of the sea, and the sea closed up on them. Israel escaped, but Pharaoh and his army were drowned. (Ex. 14:23-31). "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to do so, they were swallowed up." Hebrews 11:29.

Pharaoh's faulty expressions of repentance arose from a hardened heart. But each time Pharaoh at first appeared to repent, then either reneged or offered God a "deal," his heart was further hardened. In the same way, when we offer God false, faulty repentance, this leads to a hardening of our hearts which will cause us ultimately to foolishly invite God's judgment. This is the lesson that can be taken from the life of this Pharaoh--false repentance is dangerous. God seeks true repentance, which is shown by a willingness to obey what he is telling us to do.