Today’s chapters bring the glory of Moses’ meeting with God in the desert down to earth as he tries to put into practice what God has told him to do. And Pharoah isn’t used to gods who disrupt life. The Ancient Egyptian gods were the guarantee that so long as everyone kept in their place and performed their traditional roles, then all would continue as it always had and always would. And if you followed the right rules and rituals, then you might make it into the afterlife without your heart being eaten by a crocodile at the last judgment. The God who had spoken to Moses was different. He wanted to change things – and Pharoah had no intention of letting that happen.
Bricks without straw
First Pharoah tries the traditional tactic of the bully – intimidation. He responds to Moses’ request to allow the Israelites to travel into the desert to worship by forcing them to work even harder than before. It’s the easiest way for tyrants to stop people demanding their rights – make it clear that anything other than just giving in and getting on with their work will make life worse for them.
And by now, the Israelites have got used to the Egyptian way of thinking – they don’t yet realise who God is, any more than Pharoah does. So they don’t see the point in rocking the boat – it’ll only make things worse.
The God who changes things
But Israel’s God is stronger than Pharoah. He wills that his people should be free, and he will make that happen whether Pharoah agrees or not. He sends Moses and Aaron back to Pharoah, to warns him of what is to come. God will not back down, and Pharoah will not win. However, things will get worse for Israel and much worse for Egypt before they get better.
Do we really believe in a God who wants things to change for the better, or one who is concerned to make sure that they stay the same as they always have been so that at least things don’t get any worse? One is the God of Israel – the other is one of the gods of Egypt.
Is it Pharoah’s fault?
There’s a bit in chapter 7:1-5 that raises a question we might have to come back to – God says that he will harden Pharoah’s heart, and that theme comes back through all the plagues that are looming. Does that mean the Pharoah is innocent of responsibility? Does it deny human free will? What does it say about God’s love and justice?
To be honest, I’m asking those questions now so that I won’t be able to back out of trying to answer them over the next few chapters…