Monday, April 22, 2013

Pharaoh Pulls His Second “Mea Culpa” -- Exodus 9:27-35:


Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the Lord is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.  Make supplication to the Lord, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail; and I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.”  And Moses said to him, “As soon as I go out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be hail no longer, that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.  But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”  (Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.  But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.)  So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread out his hands to the Lord; and the thunder and the hail ceased, and rain no longer poured on the earth.  But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.  And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.


Once again Pharaoh does the calling and the asking.  He tells Moses and Aaron that he has sinned -- “this time”.  Somehow I do not read a lot of sincerity in that verbal admission, but I have always been one not to easily accept stated contriteness – I believe supporting action has to go along with the uttered words.  I guess Pharaoh had not seen his disobedience to God in the past as sin.  Oh well, the man has come a long way.  Pharaoh also recognizes God’s righteousness and readily compares it to his own evilness.  But what I find interesting is that he does not take the whole blame for it alone as he includes his people in the guilty party.  Why so and what exactly caused this ‘confession’ of sin?
What seems (for no one knows the heart of any man for sure) to be at play here is the fact that Pharaoh is just starting to learn the difference between righteousness and sinfulness.  That is always an important step in a person potentially coming into a relationship with God.  But true repentance is only evidenced after the fact by the appropriate actions of the repented person, as well as his/her ability to maintain the desire to do what is right, by God.  Pharaoh was not there yet.  As to why he included his people in his identification of  “evil” sinners’ group, it is difficult to say.  One commentator suggests that he is referring to “his land” – the whole country.  So he may be speaking euphemistically as a “commander in chief” – that is, all the troops are guilty of this calamity they have brought about in disobeying God.
So once again Pharaoh asks Moses to beg God, on his behalf, to forgive Pharaoh and his people.  He says he has had enough of all the consequences God has thrown on Egypt and he agrees once again to let the people go freely.  There is an interesting phrase there with which the sentence ends – “and you shall stay no longer.”  It is possible that Pharaoh had now realized it is best, and perhaps even wants, at least at that instant, the Hebrews to leave for good and not just for a few days to worship their God in the dessert.  Certainly, to have arrived once more to this thinking and these words indicates a very torn heart, even for the most stoic of mankind.
However Moses seems to have gotten to know Pharaoh pretty well by now and he knows better than to believe him out-rightly.  So he basically tells him, “Look, I’ll do it and this current calamity will stop.  But it will stop so you will know ‘God rules the earth.’  But you and your servants still will not fear God.”
I believe it is prudent for us at this point to stop and take note of the series of lessons that God wanted Pharaoh to understand and come to believe as He deals with the heart of this man:
·      Genesis 7:1 – that He is the Lord
·      Genesis 8:10 – that there is no one like the Lord
·      Genesis 8:22 – that the Lord is in the midst of the land (He’s actively involved and present)
·      Genesis 9:14 – that there is no one like the Lord in all the earth
·      Genesis 9:20 – our current verse, that the earth is the Lord’s
In some ways, that is the course of mental travel that one needs to arrive at a relationship with God – recognizing He exists as Lord, that there is no one or no power like Him, that He is involved with mankind moving in our midst, that anything the world can offer pales in comparison to His presence in our lives, and that the entire earth is at His command.  When we arrive at that point, most of us would want to have a close relationship with that kind of God.  And it is from there that we can recognize our sinful nature, and seek the remedy that God has provided through His Son, Jesus Christ, to address what Pharaoh well understood in his head, but did not care for in his heart – that is, that there indeed a gap between God’s righteousness and our wickedness, and that it needs to be addressed somehow, so that we may commune with the Almighty.
Our text then seems to take a bit of sidestep (in brackets no less) as the author, Moses himself, tells us that while the crops of flax and barley were ruined by the hail due to the time of the year and the progressive stage of their growth cycle, the wheat and the spelt were not, as they had not ripened yet.  I find this information rather interesting.  Why is it there?  Well, one possibility is that it is there to show us that God often works within His own set of physical laws of nature.  When He acts supernaturally to intervene, sometimes there are consequences that one would expect.  For example, if God allows or causes a drought to take place, one can also expect that various plant life may well die, and so on.  The other possibility is that Moses is intentionally or unintentionally sharing with us the fact that while many stocks were ruined, the people would not be left to die – starvation and famine would be averted.  While Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh in those days, and we today, may see the long-term cause and effect of circumstances, God keeps His eye on the long-term plans He has for us and for mankind.
So Moses did what he told Pharaoh he would do on his behalf and God did His part – the thunder and the hail stopped, as did the rain.  And then we see that familiar word that can lead to good or to evil – that word “but” appear once more.  The text tells us “but once his troubles stopped, Pharaoh sinned again”.  I think that is what God must dislike very much – the “sinning again”.  Yes, He hates the sin, but He can forgive it.  And He would rather see sincere and determined repentance.  But I believe His heart is broken greatly when after sinning, and repenting, a child, especially one of His own, “sins again”.
It is also interesting that at this point in Scripture the text says in the same passage first that Pharaoh hardened his heart and than also says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.  Here is the verse many of us look for when we wonder, “did God harden Pharaoh’s heart or did he do it himself?”  Well, the answer seems clear – Pharaoh did it from a human perspective and God allowed it to be so from a divine perspective.  There is no need to assess blame here – the fact remains Pharaoh ended up with a hardened heart – a state which God had predicted would be the case much earlier.  And now, even Moses himself finally got in tune with God on this one as he himself had told Pharaoh, “I know you do not yet fear the Lord.”
Where are you on the journey of fearing the Lord?

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