Posts Tagged ‘pharaoh’

stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my 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. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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cup runs overJoseph got tagged by Pharaoh for one reason only: Joseph was identified as a man of God. That was his bio in short. He had no interview and no references. Pharaoh did not ask him about his five-year plan or to discuss his strengths and weaknesses. Joseph took hold of an opportunity. He put all his eggs in one basket, God’s basket.

Genesis 41:39-40

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

I am pretty sure, if Pharaoh would not have found Joseph’s dream interpretation pleasing, he would have had Joseph executed. That’s how it worked back then. But the truth resonated and so Pharaoh took pendulum and swung it the other way. Joseph was not looking for fame and fortune even. He just wanted out of prison. He got much more than he had bargained for. But all the same, he stepped up.

Have I missed these opportunities? Have I been aware of them at all? And I’m not talking about looking for a promotion. I’ve done that plenty of times. I’ve calculated what impact my work might have and would I be noticed. That’s not the way it works for the people of God. I should know that by now.

Instead, we are asked to simply be the mouthpiece of God in a particular situation, to speak with authority, but without pride, to speak with intent but without ulterior motives.

Pharaoh could have heard the interpretation of Joseph’s dream and then sent him back to prison. But Pharaoh had the power to change Joseph’s life and he did so. That’s all. It was a God moment.

And what about me? Have I ever had the power to change someone else’s life because of my position, my authority? Maybe. Maybe. Something to ponder.

Perhaps it’s time, at my age, to stop worrying about my next promotion (in either secular or spiritual worlds) and simply give promotions to others. Give a level cup of praise or hope or love. Give more than is required. Give abundantly. Give as a pharaoh to a prisoner. Give what I do have.

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Sarai would have been the loser in either one of the Abram/Pharoah scenarios. Either she is pulled into Pharaoh’s household as the widow of Abram (if they confess she is his wife) or she lies and says she is Abram’s sister and goes into Pharaoh’s palace with no loss of life. Undoubtedly, as the sister of a wealthy herdsman/patriarch (Abram), she would be included with some respect.

Genesis 12:12-13
 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me [Abram] but will let you [Sarai] live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

And yet, the woman in me recoils at either plan.

I know, I know. Like Esther, she was highly regarded for her beauty. She was given servants and she was dressed in elegant clothing (or lack thereof, as I’m pretty sure the Egyptian dress of that period for the wealthy was exotic and revealing). She was introduced to and encouraged to participate in their customs. In essence, she became part of the Pharaoh’s harem.

Now, living in a harem was not a bad life in many ways. A harem is really the place where women lived within the palace that was off limits to men (except eunuchs). These women were really the earliest “sister-wives” (to use a term from popular television about a man with multiple wives who live in separate houses). In my experience, any time you have more than ten women in a single space (like my work), there will be the potential for deep friendships as well as deep resentments. I am sure there were ranks among these women, seniority, let’s say. This is often illustrated in the story of Esther (in the book of Esther).

How long did Abram plan to stay in Egypt? Just through the time of the famine? But how, then, would he extricate Sarai from the harem? By then, she would have become a fixture, a working part of the life there. Undoubtedly, she would have had sexual relations with the Pharaoh as well.

We are not told how Pharaoh found out that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife and not his sister, but I would guess, “someone told.” Maybe it was one of the other women. Maybe, as in the time of Moses, it was the plight of the children that brought out the truth. In any case, Sarai was actually released (tossed) from the household.

But what application is there for me in this story? Only one really.

If I believe that God’s hand is on the big picture of my life, even my mistakes are covered and will be transformed into another path that leads to the end God has for me (my true destiny). But I have to submit to the sovereignty of God for this to work out. Abram and Sarai had a habit of trying to help God along in bringing their destinies closer and faster. They trusted God. They loved God. They worshiped God. And yet, God didn’t seem to be working out those promises the way they expected.

We’ll never know, but perhaps God’s original plan had been for Abram’s household to stay in Canaan during the famine and to trust God to feed them. I don’t really know. But going to Egypt during the famine was clearly a “human” solution to their problem. And, as a result, a number of unintended consequences resulted. And yet, God worked WITH their bad choices in conjunction with His will.

There is still hope for me.

And so I say, dear God of my life, take my bad choices and my mistakes and put them back on the potter’s wheel. Reinvent them. As You will.

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It’s difficult to see something with new eyes or get new understanding when our memories abound with old movie images and Sunday School bible stories. Who can forget Yul Brynner’s angry, jealous, heart-hardened Pharaoh who would not let Mose’s people go?

Romans 9:17
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

I used to believe that people who were marked for despicable acts by God were literally “born and bred” for those moments. I limited my definition to the word, “raised” to be “reared” as in a child who is reared by his parents. But there are over 31 meanings for the word including “setting in motion” or “to cause” something to happen. That means someone could be “raised up” in a single moment, a single choice.

We will never know much about the childhood of Rameses or what challenges he faced as he was being trained for leadership. Perhaps he had always struggled with making decisions and his tutors put heavy constraints on him to “stick to his guns.” In any event, he came to a point in his life, when he was confronted by Moses and said, “No.” And with each “No” he uttered, the future of a people was set into motion.

I cannot assume that Rameses was particularly evil or cruel as a child, teen, or even young man. In fact, a quick trip over to Wikipedia shows that he was actually known as “Rameses the Great” and ruled for nearly 66 years. Or was it Rameses I (even that is unclear historically)?

Whichever Pharoah oppressed the Israelites and then later tried to block their “exodus,” his “raised up” moment could have happened in a heartbeat and God used that encounter to birth a nation.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea that a child is born with an evil future. Depending on the scenarios and the choices made along the way, there will be always be turning points that can bring a person to an evil day and time (or not). Does God know how a life will go? Sure, as I have written before, God is outside of linear time. And yet, a life still has more to it than a signature event or time period. Men and women who are remembered for evil may have kissed a child, planted a tree, loved a mate, or created something of a beauty as well.

If I love someone today, anyone, that moment could turn the tide the other way, for me as well as for the “other.” It is why the power is in the now. We can all be change agents for God through touch, compassion, friendship, love: koinonia.

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