Now we are going to go back and look at the story of the Exodus from a different perspective, one that many have not really gone into. This different look will not only tell us what really happened but it will also tell us about the future. We are going to use concepts from a book by Rabbi David Fohrman called “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over.” That is a great title because we almost passed over what was really going on in the Torah. This portion of study will not only help us understand more concepts in Exodus, but it will help us in our understanding of the Messiah and the Second Redemption.
There are three important figures in the Exodus story and we are going to look at all three. They are the Lord, Moses and Pharaoh. We are going to look at what they did, how they interacted and see what we may have done different if we were in their place. Fohrman takes these three characters and plays a “What if” game. What if we were in the same position these characters were? What decisions would we have made compared to what they decided? So, first, let’s start with the Lord.
What would we have done if we were the Lotd and we had to take a whole nation out of a land of very mean slave holders, and take them to a land they have never seen before? How would we do that? We have ultimate power to do anything we want. Would we have used ten plagues? How about something quicker? Why go through all those plagues and just start at number ten (First Born)? That may have worked right away and all the other suffering could have been avoided. We might be able to do it without any plagues at all, after all, we have all power.
Why not just blind the Egyptians and then Israel could have just walked out, taking what they needed as they left. Why not just transport them all to Canaan in the “twinkling of an eye?” It’s not like we can’t do it, we can do anything. We could “freeze” the Egyptians and make it to where they couldn’t move. If we look at the ninth plague (darkness) it was an unnatural black darkness that only affected the Egyptians. The Jewish people could see and they had plenty of light. They had an opportunity to go right there. They had a chance to make a run for the border.
Why didn’t they go? The Egyptians may have tried to stop them but God could have put up a protective shield like on Star Trek and nothing could have harmed them. Arrows and spears would have bounced off, chariots couldn’t even get close. In a way, that was done in the real Exodus story. The Torah tells us that God used a pillar of cloud and fire as a barrier between the Egyptians and the Israelites. In reality, all of these were used to some extent in this story.
God decided to use a longer process with ten different plagues. But why do it that way? Was the Lord trying to be dramatic? Why didn’t the Lord use different alternatives to remove the people quickly? Because the Lord didn’t do that tells us he had a different agenda that we have not really seen yet. We believe that the Lord had a larger plan in mind because there are other issues related to this story, not just the release of Israel.
For example, why did the Lord tell Moses to make a request to Pharaoh to have a religious holiday? Why did he only ask for three days? Why did the Lord tell Moses to tell the elders they were going to Canaan? When Moses first came to Pharaoh he says “please” when asking him to send the Israelites out of Egypt (Exo 5.3). Saying it that way makes us look weak and on the inside, you knew that you were really going to Canaan. Would we have felt dishonest? God has all power so why go through this little word game. Remember, Moses is a shaliach who must speak the exact words of the one who sent him (God). Did Moses think to himself, “Why are we going through all this? Why not just blast the Egyptians and get us out of here?” But Moses had to say exactly what the Lord told him to say, even if he didn’t understand why.
Now, in the movies, Moses deals with Pharaoh in a very different way than what the Scriptures portray. Moses is tough, stern and very demanding in the movies. The word “please” never comes out of his mouth, and here is why. It is because it is not the way we would expect Almighty God to act to an earthly ruler in the movies. But Moses says, “The God of the Hebrews has called to us; let us go, please, for three days in the wilderness to sacrifice to him, lest he strike us with the sword or with pestilence” (Exo 5.3).
We will find out later that Moses had to ask for a three day holiday because these three days will play a major role in this story. That brings us to a another question. Why was Moses asking Pharaoh for permission to do anything? God is all-powerful and Pharaoh is just a man who was very, very limited. Moses is going to negotiate with Pharaoh for permission. Why was it so important to get Pharaoh’s permission to begin with? Moses must show patience as Pharaoh says “Yes” and then he says “No.” Then Pharaoh gives up some things the next time. It is a long, drawn out negotiation. These plagues probably took months to play out.
For an example of this negotiation, we know that wild animals are unleashed on the land. They go everywhere and Pharaoh tells Moses that he will let them go for three days, but can they stay local instead of going out into the wilderness (Exo 8.21). Moses rejects that counter offer because he tells them that when the Egyptians see what Israel would sacrifice, it would offend them (8.22). Pharaoh says he understands and says he thinks it would better of them to leave for three days. But, he says they are to make sure they don’t go too far away (8.24).
All these negotiations seem unnecessary because Moses represents the God who created the universe. Why would the Lord have to negotiate at all with a man whose life is in his hands to begin with? God didn’t need Pharaohs’s approval but for some reason Israel isn’t going anywhere until Pharaoh gives his permission. Why is that necessary? Why is God asking for a three day holiday? Why not seven, or ten, or four? And then why is he telling Moses to tell the elders of Israel that they were headed for Canaan? That sounds like the Lord is being dishonest here, but is he? Whatever is going on here, the Lord has another agenda than just freeing the slaves. Did he really need Pharaoh to agree with his demands?
Whenever we read the story of the Exodus story, we will notice a “tavnit” or pattern. A plague will hit Egypt and Pharaoh will call for Moses. Pharaoh wants Moses to withdraw the plague. Moses will counter and say if Pharaoh agrees to let the people go, the plague will stop. Pharaoh agrees, the plague stops, and then Pharaoh goes back to his old ways and will not let them go. Then this whole cycle begins again.
We will notice something else that happens during these plagues. Sometimes Pharaoh changes his own mind, and sometimes God gets involved and changes his mind for him. The English word used in these instances is the word “hardened” (Exo 9.12) We will look at the words used in these verses that have been translated as “hardened” and we will see something very interesting. Some say that there is an issue with the Lord “violating” the “free will” of Pharaoh. If he did, how can God hold Pharaoh at fault for not letting the people go? Did God deprive Pharaoh of his “free will” in the plagues? If he did, how could the Lord bring other plagues?
Many Bible scholars, both Hebrew and Christian, have seen this and have debated about it. Can God “change” Pharaoh’s mind and still hold him accountable for what happens? God is sending Moses to Pharaoh repeatedly to negotiate. We are going to see that Pharaoh says yes to the three days and he isn’t going to change his mind, then God gets involved and leads Pharaoh to say “No.” He wants Pharaoh to say “Yes” at the beginning of the plagues, then later when Pharaoh has had enough and wants to let them go, God won’t let him but encourages him to keep going. God’s decision to “harden” Pharaoh’s heart doesn’t make sense when we look at this as mere men. Instead of releasing Israel, he hardens Pharaoh’s heart to not let them go just yet. When we look at the words for “harden” in Hebrew we will see this process.
If the Lord wanted this all along (to turn Pharaoh’s “yes” into a “no”) then why bother asking Pharaoh to begin with? He was already saying “no” at the beginning. Why have him say “no” then send plagues to get him to say “yes”, then harden his heart to say “no” again in order to strengthen him to keep going? Does the Lord really care about Pharaoh’s “free will” or not. If he does, why change his mind and his answers while all along asking for his consent?
In Part 82 we will pick up here.