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.

2 replies
  1. Caseydimson
    Caseydimson says:

    This something worth reading for anyone who wants to acquire a deeper knowledge of the bible. Thanks Fr. Deo.


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