Pharaoh was going to be a part of this revelation of Yehovah to the world from the beginning. Pharaoh isn’t really the center of all this, and Rabbi Fohrman implies that the Lord had an underlying message for Pharaoh here. He says that it was like the Lord was saying to him, “Despite your evil oppression of the Israelites, you can still play a constructive role here. But if you choose not to play it, there will be other ways my ends can be achieved.”
We don’t believe God had a Plan A, a Plan B or a Plan C here in the Exodus story. We believe that all of this, as it played out, was his original plan to begin with. The Lord was going to make his name known to the world and certain people, like Pharaoh, were going to do what the Lord wanted them to do. It would be a good thing if the Pharaoh of Moses was like the Pharaoh of Joseph. It would have been nice for him to let the Hebrews go for the three days into the wilderness to worship Yehovah, but he didn’t. They will go anyway because Pharaoh and Egypt will be destroyed and the whole world will know there is a God in heaven. The one, true God, whose name is Yehovah, will be manifested to all of mankind for ages to come through Pharaoh and Egypt. Egypt is the stage and Pharaoh the Egyptians, Moses, Aaron and the Hebrews are the actors. With that said, let’s look at the plague of hail.
This plague was not like the other plagues in that it was very unique. Like the other plagues, it had a precise time of arrival (“tomorrow”) and that is not unique, but other things are. This plague comes with a warning from Yehovah. He tells them how they can save their livestock and the people who are outside. The other thing that is unique about this plague is that fire will be encased in the ice.
Exo 9.24 says, “And there was hail-and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very severe, such as had not been in all the land Egypt since it became a nation.” The KJV version says the fire “mingled” with the hail. In other words, the fire was encased in the hail.
God warning to Egypt shows he was not at “war” with Egypt. This was not a battle of “equals.” God had compassion on those who made him an enemy. A creator God will have mercy on a child gone astray, but not a pagan god. That brings us to the fire encased in the hail. In a polytheistic society like Egypt, these two powers are in conflict. Fire and hail are opposite powers who are at war with each other. They extinguish one another. However, when there is a creator God who created both, then this shows he has the power to control both and he has authority over both of these forces.
What does Pharaoh say after this? Exo 9.27 says, “And Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time; Yehovah is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones.” This is the first time Pharaoh talks about sin, righteousness and wickedness. This is spiritual language, not the language of paganism. You appease a pagan god and power because it is the best thing to do for you. You don’t “sin” against a pagan god, but you can sin against a creator god.
Does this indicate that Pharaoh finally understands? Rabbi Fohrman puts it this way, “YHVH, the creator God, has been in the right this whole time and my people and I, who have been enslaving the Hebrews in defiance of our creator’s will, we have been the wicked ones.” Has Pharaoh come to grips with his creator? Has he finally come to the realization that his polytheistic society is false? If that is the case, then the story would have ended right then and there. Israel would have been able to go for those three days into the wilderness to worship Yehovah, and Egypt would have helped them accomplish that, just like Egypt did when Jacob died. But, we all know that is not what happened.
There will be three more plagues coming, so what is going on here in verse 27? Exo 9.34 says, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” The same old cycle begins again. The plague is predicted and comes, Pharaoh calls for Moses and makes promises. When the plague stops, Pharaoh goes back on his word and the cycle repeats. But, this time it is different. This plague and Pharaoh’s change of heart is called “sin.” What makes Pharaoh’s change of heart sin? What is different here? Pharaoh has never made a confession that he was a sinner to a pagan power before. You don’t do that, you appease a pagan power and deity.
However, after the hail, he makes the confession that Yehovah is real and that he has sinned against him, and that he has a responsibility to makes some changes in his life, especially with the Hebrews. To stand against Yehovah is sin. Pharaoh can’t go back now. He can’t undo everything he has seen and said. He knows there is a creator God because of the uniqueness of the hail and so he knows this Yehovah is a creator God and he has been in conflict with him. When Pharaoh goes back on his word here he is taking the truth he now knows and throws it away. It is the work of sin and evil. But Pharaoh also does something else here.
The Torah says he “hardened his heart” (Kaved ha Lev) and his “heart was strengthened” (Chazek ha Lev). This is the first time the Torah uses both terms at one time. Pharaoh “strengthened” himself mentally for what was coming. He is resisting Yehovah on purpose now and that means he will never give in to what the Lord wants on his own volition. He will not do it in obedience to Yehovah, ever.
Pharaoh will later confess he has sinned but it won’t mean anything. There is a difference between “remorse” and “repentance.” Remorse is self-centered. We are remorseful when the consequences of our actions come upon us. A criminal is remorseful when when he is caught and has to go to jail, or receive the death penalty, but that doesn’t mean he has changed. He just regrets what he did because of what is going to happen to him. But repentance is different. This is when he knows his sin has saddened the Lord and his actions have had an affect on others in a negative way. It is like the alcoholic who goes to jail for a DWI and his family visits him in jail. He looks at his family and sees the pain and anguish in their faces and realizes he ha done this to them. He then says that he will never make them feel that way again and gives up the alcohol for good. Remorse is self-centered, repentance has a concern for others and not the self.
Pharaoh is remorseful because he is self-centered, and he will never see the truth as clear as he does after the plague of the hail. Now he is not a player in the drama but a tool in the hands of Yehovah. He rejects Yehovah as creator God, so now Yehovah will use him for his purposes. The focus of the plagues will now change, and they will no longer be done to show Pharaoh and Egypt who Yehovah is, but they will be done to show Israel who he is. The Hebrews will be the focus now, and we will pick up with that concept in Part 91.