Moses puts the truth out there in Exo 5.1. The creator God Yehovah is telling Pharaoh to let his people go because he wants to celebrate with them. Yehovah is God’s name and he is the creator. He expects Egypt and Pharaoh to comply and let them go. The idea of a “celebration” means that this God has a relationship with the Hebrews, which Pharaoh does not understand in his polytheistic view.
Pharaoh, as we know, rejects this command by saying in Exo 5.2, “Who is Yehovah that I should listen to his voice to let Israel go. I do not know Yehovah, and what’s more, I will not let Israel go.” This God Yehovah wants a relationship with his people and Pharaoh has no concept of this. In his mind, you appease or sacrifice to a god, but you don’t have a celebration with them.
Pharaoh has never heard of Yehovah in his pantheon of gods, so he dismisses Moses. However, now he has heard of Yehovah and his theological education has begun. As a result, Moses now teaches Pharaoh with a little more information, in ways Pharaoh will understand. Moses says in Exo 5.3, “The God (El/power) of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us go, please, for three days in the wilderness and sacrifice to our God, otherwise, he might hurt us with pestilence or with the sword.”
Rabbi Fohrman makes a point by saying this speech was like telling Pharaoh that Moses wants to make things easier for him to understand. In other words, it is like saying, “Forget about the name Yehovah for a second because it was confusing. Let’s agree that this God who sent me to you is an El (power). You know about “powers.” And for a moment, forget what I said about a relationship between this God and the Hebrews, who he also calls Israel. Let’s stick with the name Hebrews for a second. And forget about this idea of a celebration. Let’s just say we are really concerned about our El, our power. Our El might get angry with us if we don’t go into the wilderness for three days to sacrifice to it. You can understand that, can’t you? This El might strike us if we don’t obey. You know what that is like, right? Like if your sun god got angry. All we are asking for, Pharaoh, is a little religious freedom to appease our God in the same way you would appease your gods.”
Now Pharaoh can understand this request. The God of the Hebrews isn’t so different after all. So, Pharaoh says in Exo 5.4-5, “But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors.'” He goes on to say that the people are many and Moses wants to have the people to cease from their labors? Pharaoh understands exactly what Moses is saying now.
Everyone serves a god, and Israel is afraid of their God and they must appease him, and Pharaoh understands that concept. But he rejects the second statement because the people are being told that they might get a few days off. So, Pharaoh is going to make them work harder. He thinks they fear their God more than they fear him, a god on earth. So far, Pharaoh and Egypt is not coming to the realization that the God of the Hebrews called Yehovah was the creator God, the one true God. That would have been the easy way. His education will have to continue the hard way.
Pharaoh will contend with a God he has never heard of, nor does he even think he is real, but that truth is coming down the track right at Pharaoh. Egypt and the wealth of that nation was obtained, in part, because they had slaves. Egypt will now taste some of the bitterness it has inflicted on Israel. Pharaoh will be educated in the knowledge that there is a one, true creator God and he will also learn that he is a Father who cares for his children.
We have gone over the palace scene with the staff of Aaron and the serpents, so we will not go over that again now. However, when Pharaoh’s magicians duplicated this sign, “the heart of Pharaoh was strengthened and he did not listen to Moses and Aaron” (Exo 7.13). This is the phrase “Chazak ha Lev.” He encouraged himself into thinking his people can counter whatever Moses does. Exo 7.14 says, “And Yehovah said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn (heavy); he refused to let the people go.'” This verse tells us the phrase “Kaved ha Lev” means that Pharaoh hardened his heart, or made his heart stubborn. Pharaoh may think of himself as a man of courage and strength, but God sees it as being stubborn.
Exo 7.12 says, “And the staff of Aaron swallowed all the other staffs.” What a palace scene that must have been! But, what does it mean? Pharaoh could have deduced that his polytheistic views are vain. This could have shown Pharaoh that there is one God, Yehovah, who rules and is the creator. But Pharaoh misses the point, and that is why God tells Moses what he did in Exo 7.14.
He is not strengthening himself for a battle between “powers.” He is being stubborn. He does not want to see the truth, he is hardening himself to it. The phrases “Chazak ha Lev” and “Kaved ha Lev” are going to be all through these passages dealing with Pharaoh and Moses.
We know that the Nile will turn to blood, and the Egyptian are forced to dig wells for drinking water. What does Pharaoh do? His magicians tell him they can do that, too. Using their magical arts, they turn water into blood. Then Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened (Chazak ha Lev) and he did not listen to Moses and Aaron. Pharaoh looked for courage to stay in the fight with this God. Pharaoh thinks his magicians are better than the tricks Moses is pulling, so he thinks if he just holds out all of this will end. This brings us to the plague of frogs. This is the plague where Moses got into it with Pharaoh about when Pharaoh would like Moses to stop the frogs.
Exo 8.9 says, “And Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘The honor is yours to tell me when I shall entreat for you and your servants and your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses, that they may be left only in the Nile.'” This is letting Pharaoh control the time. So, Pharaoh says, “Tomorrow.” Now, this is a strange answer. Why put up with the frogs for another 24 hours? It is because he wants to see if Moses can turn off the frogs on Pharaoh’s precise schedule. So, Moses goes along with it, but then he says, “May it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like Yehovah God.” Why was it important to test the ability of Moses to stop a plague according to a precise time? Moses is making a statement here.
He is showing Pharaoh that precision is God’s trademark. Everything is under his power and control. His plagues are all linked and he does what he wants, when he wants. And, he is even letting Pharaoh pick the time. This is the first time Pharaoh thinks he is up against something, or someone, he has not seen before. This is no magic trick. he begins to think that there might be a power that can be that precise in this world. That is something he doesn’t see in his polytheistic pantheon of Egyptian gods.
Of course, Pharaoh will go back on his word to let Israel go after this plague. Its says in Exo 8.15, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart his heart” (Chazak ha Lev). He looked for courage to continue. Pharaoh is beginning to see with the frogs that he is dealing with more than a “power.” He begins to see that this God is in control. Had Pharaoh not been so stubborn, he could have abandoned this whole “war” right then and there. But, he won’t do it and keeps on “fighting” despite the evidence. He is no longer fighting Moses or his God, but reality has become his enemy now.
This is what happens when we talk with people and show them exactly what the Word of God says about Yeshua and Torah observance, and they get stubborn about it. We need to remember that at that moment, we stop being the enemy, and their real enemy is now reality itself.
We will pick up here with the next plague in Part 89.