Pharaoh and his people believe he is the god above all other gods and that he is in charge and no one dare challenge him. Moses knew Pharaoh would not recognize any gods of his slaves. He believes they are powerless, especially since their God cannot prevent their slavery.
Moses asks Pharaoh to allow the Israelites “to go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” (Ex. 5:3) We learn that Pharaoh hardened his heart and does not let the Israelites go. Instead he increases their burdens in meeting their daily quota of making bricks.
So what is a hardened heart? It is an interior condition indicating lack of faith. It is a serious condition of unbelief or even disobedience. In Pharaoh’s case, it is difficult for him to believe that anyone other than he was divine and had power over him.
With conditions worsening for the Israelites, they challenge Moses’ authority. Moses complains bitterly to God. But God orders Moses to tell Pharaoh that he must let his people go otherwise plagues will afflict the Egyptians. Pharaoh won’t budge.
Once the plagues strike the Egyptians but not the Israelites, Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites to leave. As soon as the plagues disappear, he rescinds his permission. This pattern repeats itself through ten plagues culminating in the death of the Egyptian first born. Again Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave only to change his mind. He needs their slave labor. He and his army pursue the fleeing Israelites. Their passage forward is blocked by the Sea of Reeds. Only when the Israelites in faith enter the water does the water separate and they can cross on a dry seabed.
In hot pursuit, Pharaoh, his charioteers, and army enter the Sea of Reeds. Then the water returns, and they all drown.
This story of the Israelites’ slavery repeats itself today. Who are today’s Pharaohs who oppress the voiceless and powerless minorities many of whom tough it out in their home country rather than venture into an unknown and uncertain future? Who among these Pharaohs have a hardened heart? A few good examples to think about are:
- The genocide of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. Many of the survivors escaped to Bangladesh and live in refugee camps. Reporters of the Buddhist army’s crimes have been jailed. And Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi does nothing to help the Rohingya.
- African and Middle East refugees running from violence in their home countries put their lives at risk trying to reach Europe by land and sea, many of whom are denied entry and/or die at sea.
- Millions of Uighur Muslims in China are put into concentration and re-education camps. Children are separated from parents. Those not imprisoned are under surveillance.
- Russian journalists are beaten, clubbed, imprisoned, poisoned, and/or shot if they fail to promote idolization of Putin in the news.
- United States citizens, news reporters, U.S. Senators and Representatives are vilified by Trump if they fail to agree publicly with him and his obsessed and dementia-focused reasoning regarding his wall and his ill thought-out tweets and governmental policies.
- What Pharaohs with hardened hearts say asylum seekers, refugees, displaced persons, and persecuted minorities have no human rights?
Might doesn’t make right.
- Make your list of today’s Pharaohs.
- And then ask yourself how does your self-interest determine your loyalty?
- Do you have a hardened heart?
- Are today’s Pharaohs your god?
- Should they be?
- What about the God of the Israelites and Christians and their God’s demands on you?
When I feel helpless against today’s Pharaohs and their machinations, I remind myself what
Isaiah says about God.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings
like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.