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God and a Hardened Heart

The story of Pharaoh and the plagues of Egypt is interesting. If we look into the conversation between Moses and God, a baffling reality comes out which is: God will “stiffen” or “harden” Pharaoh’s heart.

Is this fair? It would seem that God is on a sort of “sadistic” behavior towards Pharaoh who has no choice but to say “No” to God (because God “stiffen” or “harden” his heart in the first place) but at the same time he will suffer from the plagues God will send him. What happened to the “free will” Pharaoh?

The answer of Sforno is enlightening. God strengthened the freewill of Pharaoh. What does it mean?

Let us have some word analysis. Two words are related to the topic namely: “Kibud ha-lev” and “chizuk ha-lev.”

     Kibud ha-lev has a negative connotation meaning a hard or heavy heart while chizuk ha-lev has a positive sense which means a “strengthened heart” or a strong heart.

If you look into the text, you will never find that God made the heart of Pharaoh machbid (as in kibud ha-lev) what the Lord did was machzik (as in chizuk ha-lev) the heart of Pharaoh.

The Lord was strengthening the heart of Pharaoh; the Lord is making Pharaoh courageous so that his actions will come not out of fear. God gave Pharaoh strength so that he can go on with his choice not out of being compelled by God’s power but hopefully from Pharaoh’s willful choice to accept that the God of Israel is the Lord of the universe.

Who is your God? I have a different God(s)

God sent the plague in answer to Pharaoh’s question: Who is the Lord, the God of Israel?

Pharaoh does not know the God of Israel because he has other gods who were the gods and goddesses of Egypt.

The plagues were the answers of God. These were actions that showed how God defeated the gods and goddesses of Egypt who were supposed to control the river Nile, the frogs, the flies, the cattle, and the sun. It showed the God whom Pharaoh does not know is the true God who controls the universe, not the gods of Egypt.

It is easy nowadays to claim that your God is not my God (which is a result of a postmodern way of thinking). But we come to know who God is not by our human intellect but by revelation, that is, it is God who chose to show himself to selected men and women of the past as recorded in the Bible.

The lesson of the story is this: God will give you the courage to follow your own choice. Leaders who are powerful would often question the power of God because, with the power they have over the people, God seems to be inutile or powerless.

Pharaoh claimed that he does not know God because his god is a different God. The reality is that Pharaoh considered himself as the “Lord” of his people. Unspoken in the question of Pharaoh is that assertion that “I do not need to follow your God because I am the Lord of this empire.”

Evil Flourishes if Good Does Nothing

What is the purpose why God made the heart of Pharaoh strong (chizuk ha-lev)?

God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh will acknowledge God due to repentance and not due to fear.

God is indeed is merciful because in strengthening the heart of Pharaoh, God is paving the way of Pharaoh’s teshuva (repentance).

This is the reason why despite all the blasphemies and crimes committed around us, God does not send thunderbolts to strike the guilty. God wants us to see in our lives, in our history, the call to return to him.  Unfortunately, Pharaoh refused to repent.

Another reason is that God wanted to let the light of Israel shine brightly to the world.

Evil exists because the good refuses to act. Moses and Aaron despite their powerlessness did not succumb to the power of Pharaoh. Instead, they continue to challenge Pharaoh to show him that the Lord is the true God. If believers refuse to challenge the evil around them, then evil flourishes. Note that the goodness of Moses did not come from his perfection. In fact, Moses initially refused to accept the command of God because of his imperfection. Moses realized that to stand before Pharaoh is not to rely on his strength but in God’s strength.

The Bible and its narratives are not merely records of the past. It is also showed patterns of the human nature and its consequences. Their stories are our stories.

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June 24 – Repentance A New Culture

The birth of the John the Baptist signals a new beginning, a new dawn that fulfills the Promise of the Old Testament. The life of John the Baptist showed that entrance into this new reality brought about by the person of Jesus and his mission is the need to leave behind those that we have been comfortable.

Repentance can be considered as the “leaving behind of habits that we are comfortable but may no longer be relevant or related to this new or emerging reality. This Sunday went find ourselves being invited to discern what is in us that stands opposite to our being Christians.

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Resist the World and Follow God

We live our lives not in a vacuum but within the context of RELIGION, POLITICS, and CULTURE.

When God liberated Israel from Egypt, they went to Sinai to encounter God. It was there in Sinai that God gave them the TORAH, not land. Most often when we think of Exodus, we think of an exploited people being given land by the Lord. No, what the Lord gave them are the laws that the Hebrews will have to follow if they want to become the Chosen People of God.

The God of Israel gave the Hebrew slaves the TORAH which would serve as the expression of their RELIGION or Faith belief. By following the TORAH or the Laws of God, the Hebrew slaves will become a people separated by God from the world to be his own.

Religion is important because it directs how the people will govern themselves (Politics) and what manner will they live in their community (Culture). The story of the Exodus intended to teach that a nation must have first its Laws based on its faith so that politics and culture will be enlightened by that Religion.

Nowadays, it is no longer Religion which enlightens the Politics and Culture. On the contrary, it is Politics which exerts its influence over Religion and Culture.

For example, Marriage which was instituted by God, according to Religion, between a man and woman is now being undermined by Politics. The political agenda of so-called “equal rights” is trying to impose upon Culture and Religion that marriage between same-sex partners is considered as legal, acceptable and constitutional. The driving force behind Culture and Religion are the politicians who are using their powers are legislators and public officials to impose their personal preferences and agenda.

These politicians and judges are creating laws that are against the laws of God. Unfortunately, the Filipinos are passive and silent. Many of us do not care.

The challenge of our time is to restore back into our lives the rule of God’s law not the rule of the world’s law. If we are truly the heirs of those who stood in Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, then we have to think whether we are following the Law of God or the Law of the World. We cannot follow both.

Let us strive to make Religion (our faith in God and following of his Torah) as the guide for Politics and Culture, not the other way around.

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June 17, 2018 – Growth the Mark of Life

The Gospel today tells us about “growth” as a mark of life. Only those that are alive grows. Non-living things do not grow taller or wider. Yes, there are non-living things that get bigger, but it is not growth but accretion. Accretion increases in size from the outside. While growth in living things comes from the inside and the difference is felt by the whole, in other words, it is organic. The Kingdom of God is “alive” because it grows from within itself. Its growth is silent, you cannot hear it, but when you encounter it, you will know it.

In our lives, growth is important if we are not growing then we might think that we have already stagnated and might be devoid of “life.”