‘Then the magicians said to Pharaoh,
“This is the finger of God.”
But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and
he would not listen to them,
as the LORD had said.’
We come to the heart of the human dilemma- and that heart is a heart of darkness!
Moses performs the third of the ten signs that will be needed to break Pharaoh’s will and achieve God’s end – the freeing of his enslaved people. This is the first of the signs that the magicians of Egypt cannot match! Their conclusion: ‘THIS is the finger of God” – that is, a finger of a God who is more powerful than OUR Gods!
‘But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to them!’
It is a statement that should freeze us in our tracks.
Now I know that there are huge issues swirling around this ‘hardening’ involving the sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind. In the story of God’s calling of Moses in chapter 3 the LORD states purposefully ‘but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go!’ (3.21).
Seen from a divine perspective it is apparent that God uses our hardness of heart to achieve HIS good and loving ends; it is also apparent that his good and loving ends are for OUR good! (Note: read verses 22 and 23 of chapter 3 and see that God is determined to reach the tenth plague- the death of the firstborn- that horror which is the mysterious type of the gracious and glorious death of the Son of God).
But seen from a human perspective, Pharaoh’s willful hardness of heart (he ‘WOULD not listen’) should deeply concern us.
Confronted by overwhelming evidence for the presence and activity and desires of God (“Let my people go!’), he nevertheless chooses to resist!
How can this be?
We are not told the answer to this question in this text, but the lectionary has given us another that offers a suggestion. The gospel set alongside our reading is that of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-31).
Here we have the story of a man who is not only attracted TO Jesus (he RUNS to him and KNEELS before him), but who also knows in a deep and visceral way that there is something missing in his life. However, he leaves Jesus in great sadness, because he could not give up the good that he had (‘sell all that you have and give to the poor’) in order to receive the greater that was promised (‘you will have treasure in heaven’).
He would not give up his ‘god’ – his idol, that which truly ruled his life – in order to embrace and follow his True God!
His heart that had been softened and awakened now was newly hardened.
As we approach Holy Week, by all means cry out to God to ‘soften our hearts’ towards his gospel.
But at the same time implore him to also ‘open your eyes, renew your mind, and strengthen your will’ so that you will see, and know and choose to follow him – come what may.