ויאמר יהוה אל־משׁה בלכתך לשׁוב מצרימה ראה כל־המפתים אשׁר־שׂמתי בידך ועשׂיתם לפני פרעה ואני אחזק את־לבו ולא ישׁלח את־העם׃
"When you get back to Egypt, make sure that you do before Pharaoh every one of the wonders I have enabled you to do. Nevertheless, I am going to make him hardhearted, and he will refuse to let the people go. (Exo 4:21 CJB)
"Go to Pharaoh, for I have made him and his servants hardhearted, so that I can demonstrate these signs of mine among them, so that you can tell your son and grandson about what I did to Egypt and about my signs that I demonstrated among them, and so that you will all know that I am Adonai." (Exo 10:1-2 CJB)
These words seem to imply that Pharaoh did not stand a chance. HaShem himself hardened his heart. This begs the question that Paulrhetorically asks about what HaShem said to Moshe in this parasha,
For the Tanakh says to Pharaoh, "It is for this very reason that I raised you up, so that in connection with you I might demonstrate my power, so that my name might be known throughout the world." So then, he has mercy on whom he wants, and he hardens whom he wants. But you will say to me,
"Then why does he still find fault with us? After all, who resists his will?"
To which he answers,
Who are you, a mere human being, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me this way?" Or has the potter no right to make from a given lump of clay this pot for honorable use and that one for dishonorable?
Now what if God, even though he was quite willing to demonstrate his anger and make known his power, patiently put up with people who deserved punishment and were ripe for destruction? (In other words, "you don't make a fuss when I show mercy to those who deserve punishment")
What if he did this in order to make known the riches of his glory to those who are the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory --that is, to us, whom he called not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles?
(Rom 9:15-24 CJB)
To sum it all, the text of the Torah tells us that HaShem wanted this situation, and that he allowed it in order to establish his Name or 'reputation' on earth. He tells us that he has done it for our sake today.
It is true that we shouldn't question HaShem's ways. Many disasters in History ended up having a redemptive silver lining. But this still leaves us with a dilemma, "Is our life based on predestination or self-determination?"
The answer really is that HaShem did not initiate Pharaoh's resolve against the Children of Israel. He only used what already existed in Pharaoh's heart. It is most striking when we read the text in English, whereas the Hebrew is more specific. We are also faced with this dilemma when we read the text with the cultural mentality of 21st century urban Westerners. Now that we have an idea as to why HaShem allowed this situation, let us see what was Pharaoh's stubbornness motivated by.
For the first 5 plagues, we are not told that HaShem hardened Pharaoh's hard, we first told that HaShem will make Pharaoh's heart 'difficult קשה'. A 'difficult heart' is a heart that is oppositional, contrary; someone who refuses to cooperate and listen to others. "My-mind-is-made-up-so-don't confuse-me-with-the-facts" type of attitude.
Then we are told that 'Pharaoh's heart was "hardened יחזק "(Ex 7:13). What does it mean? What is a heart-hardened person? In our culture, we tend to associate the heart with feelings and emotions. A "hard-hearted" person would therefore be an insensitive person who "doesn't like kittens".
In Hebrew, the heart represents the seat of the will and decision-making. The description would be therefore as of someone who is arrogantly stubborn and doesn't change their mind about things. No matter how much you challenge them, they are unmovable. This is something that is very common to human nature.
We are then told that Pharaoh's heart was 'heavy כבד'. (Ex 7:14) In English, a heavy heart is a sad heart. In the case of Pharaoh it refers to his pride being wounded. The pride of the haughtiest man in the world was wounded by he of whom HaShem said was the meekest man in the world (Numb 12:3).
We are also told that Pharaoh 'strengthened his heart' יחזק (Ex 8:19). At first in English it may even it sounds good, but what that means is that Pharaoh strengthened his already made up assumptions or decisions. It's a very common human reaction. How do we strengthen our hearts in the sense used here to describe Pharaoh's attitude? By rationalizing our opinion and disobedience. against HaShem's commandments.
All those things represent the anti-thesis of what we should be. When our heart takes the unshakable resolve to strengthen itself against HaShem's will and ways in our lives through rationalization in order to save our pride and so-called honor, we resemble Pharaoh.
As we read these things, we may suddenly realize that, in our stubborn proud ways, we may resemble Pharaoh more than Moshe.
We do not have to be Pharaoh in order to be like Pharaoh. All we have to do is harden our hearts and resolve against those things that HaShem asks us to do; against the way he wants us to be. This was the devil's sin from the beginning. Of all the sins in the book, pride comes at the top.
There are six things Adonai hates, seven which he detests: a haughty look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet swift in running to do evil, a false witness who lies with every breath, and him who sows strife among brothers.
(Pro 6:16-19 CJB)
We can all remember times when we have hardened our hearts against HaShem's will. Even today, He may call us to repent from some type of behavior, some bad habit, but even more from some grudge, some "unfinished business" with relatives, co-workers, spouse, former spouse, or children but we don't because ... (fill in the blanks).
Moshe and Jeremiah analogized a stiff-neck proud and stubborn heart with an 'uncircumcised heart'.
In our new understanding that the "heart" in Hebrew is the "will", let us apply Moshe and Jeremiah's challenge to our lives today:
Therefore, circumcise the foreskin of your heart;
and don't be stiffnecked any longer!
"People of Y'hudah and inhabitants of Yerushalayim, circumcise yourselves for Adonai,
remove the foreskins of your heart! Jer: 4:4
Stephen, the first Jewish messianic martyr challenged his hard-hearted religious opponents with,
Stiffnecked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears!
You continually oppose the Ruach HaKodesh!
You do the same things your fathers did!
(Act 7:51 CJB)
Moshe tells us that in the messianic Age,...
... Adonai your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your children, so that you will love Adonai your God with all your heart and all your being, and thus you will live.
MAY IT BE SOON HASHEM
EVEN IN OUR DAYS!