For the week of January 8, 2005 / 27 Tevet 5765
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 6:2 - 9:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21

Obstacles to Freedom

You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. (Shemot / Exodus 7:2-4)

The role of Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus is crucial. It seems that not only was God intent on delivering Israel from oppression, he was also determined to display his power. It is not as if God has a need to show off; it is that people need to know who he is and what he can do.

It was Pharaoh's stubborn refusal to let the people of Israel go that provided this opportunity. Some people think that Pharaoh had no choice but to play the part he did. They think that God caused Pharaoh to be stubborn. The Torah certainly gives that impression. Out of the 16 references to Pharaoh's hard heart, ten refer to God making it so. Of the other references four simply describe his heart as hard, while two say that Pharaoh himself hardened his heart.

I think spending a lot of time struggling over how much control God has over people, misses the point. What we have in Pharaoh is an illustration of a heart that is turned from God. I think we would do well to take a look at the things that entrapped Pharaoh’s heart and mind. While these things may be secondary causes – the things that God used to harden his heart – taking note of them will help us avoid them and their hardening effect.

The first is fear. The original motive for enslaving the people of Israel was the fear that they would one day side against Egypt by aligning themselves with Egypt's enemies. Fear breeds nothing good. Fear causes us to act in an unloving and irrational manner, by blinding us to the truth and creating a culture of unreality. Fear often leads to violence and destructive behavior.

The second thing is an unhealthy focus on the economy . For Pharaoh to comply with God's demands would mean economic disaster due to the losing of Egypt's vast cheap labor force. When we focus on economic matters instead of God, we will be controlled by them. Yeshua said that there was no way to serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). No matter how hard we try, we will never prove him wrong on this point. It can't be done.

The third thing is pride. To let the people go would mean to give in to God's demands. Pharaoh was king. As far as he was concerned no one tells him what to do. His pride in his place and position prevented him from seeing how wrong he was to the point that he would rather see his country destroyed than to accept that God was greater than he.

Fear, money, and pride. While these are not the only things in life that keep us from knowing and following God the way we should, they are certainly three of the most significant. It seems to me that most of us struggle with these things, but just because they are common to our existence as humans doesn't mean that we have to put up with them.

For us to live in the freedom we so desperately need, we must allow God to confront things like these in our lives. To resist is to remain in bondage. Pharaoh didn't know that he was in a greater bondage than the people whom he had enslaved. As for the people, it would take some time before they would come to realize that they too possessed within themselves the very same things that enslaved Pharaoh. Their freedom from Egypt was just the beginning of what God wanted to accomplish in their lives.

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