Posts filed under ‘Old Testament’

‘And I will harden Pharoah’s heart’ – a Reflection and Proposal on God’s goodness

It was a beautiful morning as four of us prayed Matins today at St Mark’s Lutheran Church in Williamsport. The readings for before Holy Week are from Exodus, the plagues leading up to the Passover and the rescue of the Israelites from Pharoah, which Christians see as an anticipation of our rescue from sin, death, and the devil by Jesus the Messiah.

Of course, Exodus has that tricky dichotomy. God says, ‘I will harden Pharoah’s heart, so that he will not let the Israelites go.’ The reason for this, says the writer, is so God’s glory may be shown. In other times in Exodus, such as today’s reading, the wording is, ‘Pharoah hardened his heart’ or even ‘Pharoah’s heart was hardened.’

This of course is problematic on many levels. There are many attempts to justify God for hardening Pharoah’s heart, and depending on your point of view they work better or worse. Of course, trying to justify God’s action is a fundamentally dangerous thing to do.

But sitting there hearing this story, with sunlight shining through the windows,  I thought – what if God hardens Pharoah’s heart by showing him goodness? After all, every time there are plagues, and especially when the plagues get serious, Pharoah ‘gets religion,’ but when the plague is removed, Pharoah hardens his heart and changes his mind, and will not let the people go. His rash words and promises in the midst of the darkness are cooly reconsidered in the light of day.

This sounds much like what we do when there is tragedy, crisis, or other seemingly insoluble problems in our lives. But once the plague is removed, once our lives ‘return to normal,’ the urgency is removed. The openness to God and others that we had vanishes. We look at the world around us, with its pleasures and possibilities, and reach out for them. There is nothing to hold us back, and the problems we had seem far away. We return to seeing the world as we always did.

If it is God’s goodness that hardens Pharoah’s heart, the return of a relative sense of peace and security that beguiles Pharoah into living like he always did, into not changing his attitude towards God or the Israelites, then God is acting in character, as the benevolent, loving, sustainer of all life, and it his very activity as a good God that hardens an already calcified Pharoah’s heart. He shows himself to be ignorant of the source of the blessings of life, and refuses to turn and worship. After many of God’s attempts to change his heart, his hard heart is dashed to pieces. The expression ‘I will harden Pharoah’s heart,’ may anticipate Paul’s’ saying, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon their heads.’

Am I trying to justify God here? I hope not. And yet it seems to be consonant with reality as we know it. God acts in character, to give us all we need, and being surrounded by so many apparently good and permanent things, we harden our hearts against all that would take them away, or anything that seems to deny them.

In Christ Jesus, God himself entered into his good creation, and yet Jesus received it as a gift from God and not as God himself. Faithfulness to God led him on the road to the cross, and the darkness did not diminish his faith in his Father. His resurrection leads us to understand that in good and bad times, we may be open to the Lord who gives us himself as his best gift.


March 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment


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