Tag Archives: Pharaoh

Villains, Justice, Wrestling

Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.
Exodus 11:5-6 (NRSVCE)

The past few months of COVID shut-downs have been strange on a number of levels. For being non-athletic, creative types, Wendy and I both enjoy watching and avidly following certain sports and teams. We also have the shows we avidly watch. It’s been strange to have so little to watch. Not necessarily bad, mind you. I confess we’ve gotten a lot of things done that have been on the task list for way too long. I’m just recognizing how often we look forward to certain games or new episodes of a certain series.

Game of Thrones was a series to which I was late to the party. Wendy had no interest and I didn’t want to pay for HBO or for each year’s series on DVD. It was a ridiculous Black Friday deal for all but the last season on DVD that gave me many wonderful months of binging while on the road for work.

One of the hallmarks of the Game of Thrones series was the quality of the villains. I can’t think of another series with more despicable characters whom I wanted to get their just desserts and (I confess) die in despicable ways. The writers knew how to create characters I loved to hate, and how to keep me as an audience member passionately desiring a villain’s demise so for so long that when the climax finally arrived it was oddly satisfying in somewhat creepy ways.

Today’s chapter is a climactic point in the Exodus story, though I find it easy to lose sight of this fact. I think that it’s a combination of breaking up the narrative in small daily chunks, translating it into English from an ancient language, and the fact that the ancients weren’t exactly George Martin or Stephen King when it comes to crafting the narrative.

The final plague on Pharaoh and Egypt is the death of every Egyptian first-born, which feels rather heinous on the surface of things as we read with the eyes of 21st-century mindset. There are a couple of important parallels in this story which, I can’t allow myself to forget this, is at its heart about an enslaved, oppressed people being freed from their chains.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians have all the earthly power. They have the absolute authority, socio-economic status, and a system completely rigged in their favor. The Hebrews have one respected leader (Moses, who was raised an Egyptian member of Pharaoh’s household) and this mysterious God who has come out of a burning bush to reveal Himself as the One underdog champion of the oppressed Hebrews against over 1500 Egyptian deities.

[cue: Rocky’s Theme]

Pharaoh has just threatened Moses with death, but Moses informs his nemesis that it is his first-born son (always the favored-one in ancient Patriarchal systems) who will die. I believe most parents would say that losing a child is worse than dying yourself. Pharaoh and the God of Moses have already gone nine exhausting rounds. This plague is the knockout punch. At the very beginning of the story, it was established that the Hebrew slaves cried out in their suffering, and God heard their cries. Now, God proclaims through Moses, it will be Pharaoh and the Egyptian oppressors who will “cry out” in their suffering.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about my African-American brothers and sisters. Historically, it’s easy to see why the Exodus story has always resonated with African-Americans. Wendy and I just watched the movie Harriett a few weeks ago. “Grandma Moses” led her people to freedom. The heinous videos of Ahmed Aubrey and George Floyd (a brother in Christ) haunt me. The Moses story will always be relevant in a fallen world where broken earthly systems favor some people and not others.

As I meditate on these things, Jesus’ first recorded message echoes in my spirit:

[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
 

Some mornings my soul is overwhelmed with questions. Like Jacob, I find myself wrestling with God.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

A Spiritual Contrast

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”
Exodus 8:25 (NRSVCE)

The story of Pharaoh and the plagues is fascinating. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians believed that their leader, Pharaoh, was a god. At least, that’s what Pharaoh would have them believe. By raising themselves to the status of deity, leaders put themselves in a social class all by themselves. They could do no wrong and their actions could not be questioned.

Under the literal events in the text, there is a subtle battle going on between Pharaoh (a god, remember) and the God of the Hebrews. It was common for Pharaohs to claim that their deeds, successes, and victories in battle were done by Pharaoh’s “mighty hand.” Throughout the last few chapters, God through Moses and Aaron continues to claim to accomplish these plagues by God’s “mighty hand.” God even has Moses and Aaron “stretch out” their hand with the staff. In each case, this is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s authority.

The repeated phrase about Pharaoh’s heart being “hardened” can also be interpreted as a challenge to the Egyptian ruler’s claim of being above reproach. According to the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the ancients believed that in the afterlife their heart would be weighed on a scale to determine if it is heavier than the metaphorical feather that they believed represented what was right and just. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart may be interpreted that with each turn it is getting heavier, and thus it is an indictment that the ruler is guilty, even by the Egyptians own religious beliefs, of not doing what is right and just by the Hebrew people that he’s enslaved.

What really struck me as I read today’s chapter was Pharaoh’s struggle. He refuses to let the Hebrews take three days to go into the wilderness and worship God. Then, Pharaoh promises to let the Hebrews go if Moses will pray to relieve Egypt of the plague, and then refuses to keep his promise. Then, Pharaoh promises to let them go but only if they do it on his terms by not going into the wilderness.

In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that Christ asks me to humbly submit myself to God and to others. In fact, that was posture Jesus exemplified in becoming human and obediently suffering on the cross and sacrificing Himself for all. Following Jesus is about following that example, and humbly putting God and others ahead of myself.

In Pharaoh, I see an individual who is sitting on a throne both literal and metaphorical. Pharaoh is the poster child for pride, self-aggrandizement, and self-deception. He is desperately trying to save face and retain some sense of power and authority, but each time he does he continues to reveal that his pride is actually a weakness and a tragic flaw perpetually exposing the deception he’d created for himself.

As I exit the holiday weekend and enter another week, I find myself meditating on the contrast between Pharaoh and Jesus. I don’t have to look very hard to find ways that my thoughts, words, and actions appear more Pharaoh-like than Christ-like. That’s not the person I want to be. I’m reminded of Saul of Tarsus, the powerful and proud Hebrew who was transformed from Jesus’ most zealous enemy to Jesus’ most zealous follower. In the transformation, Paul discovered that weakness is actually strength:

…but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Being “Like God” or Being “Like God”

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.
Exodus 7:1 (NRSVCE)

For 21st century followers of Jesus, the idea of being God’s agent on Earth is a common one. Jesus made it clear that He was entrusting His on-going mission to His followers. Holy Spirit was poured out to indwell believers, impart spiritual gifts to each, and empower every believer as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom. Believers often speak metaphorically of being Jesus’ eyes, ears, hands, and feet; We are asked to be, expected to be, the embodiment of Jesus’ love to others.

It struck me then when God told Moses “I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” The only time that being “like God” has come up in the story before now was when the snake tempts Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit, stating that it will make them “like God.” Until Moses appears, God has been intent on making Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At this point in the story, however, the Hebrews had become a nation of people living in Egypt for hundreds of years with the 1000+ Egyptian dieties.

One of the subtle themes that has already been established in the Moses story is that God wants the Hebrew people to “know” Him, and for Pharaoh to “know” Him. “They will know,” and “Egyptians will know” are repeated statements. In this way, Moses is really the first example of God using a human instrument through which others will come to know God and through whom God will display His power.

This, of course, sets up a really interesting and important contrast.

Being “like God” can be opposite sides of a coin. I can be “like God” by seeking complete control of my life and the lives of everyone around me. If I want to be “like God” by sitting on the throne of my own life looking out for numero uno, doing as I please, and determining my own way with every step, then my path is going to lead to spiritually dark places (even if I wear the facade of being a good and faithful member of my local church). This is the dark side of “being like God.”

When Moses was being “like God” and when Jesus’ followers become “Christ-like” it is a process of humility, vulnerability, and submission. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words to Peter after the resurrection:

Jesus said [to Peter], “Feed my sheep. I’m telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you’ll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don’t want to go.”
John 21:17-19 (MSG)

Jesus explains that Peter had lived the dark side of being “like God” self-centeredly determining his own way, but now he is going to experience the Light side of being “like God” in which he will (like Jesus’ did) humbly surrender his own rights of self-determination and become obedient to places he doesn’t want to go (i.e. “Father, let this cup pass from me”), even to his physical death.

In the quiet this morning, I’m finding myself surprisingly emotional as I meditate on this very simple concept. In my daily life, in the writing of these blog posts, I take on the mantle of being a follower of Jesus. But, are my daily life, words, and actions a demonstration of the dark side of being “like God” or the Light side of being “like Christ”? Am I living for myself under the veneer of being a good Jesus follower? Is my life a demonstration of the humility, vulnerability, and surrender required to be an agent of Christ-like love?

I’m not sure I like all of the answers I’m coming up with to these questions.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Spiritual Hearing and Sight Impairment

Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
Exodus 6:9 (NRSVCE)

When Jesus was teaching, He would repetitiously tag his message by saying, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” This phrase has always resonated with me. Maybe more so because in the experience of delivering a message I have always experienced that some people really “hear” the message and others do not. Jesus was constantly acknowledging this truth. In explaining to His followers the reason He taught with parables He went so far as to embrace that this is part of a larger spiritual mystery revealed by the prophet, Isaiah:

That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again:
“Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing.
    Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
    so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shut
    so they won’t have to look,
    so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face
    and let me heal them.
“But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear!”

Matthew 13 :13-16 (MSG)

Not everyone wants to see it or hear it in this moment.

Not everyone is ready to see it or hear it in this moment.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses’ first attempt at getting Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go was a dismal failure. Not only did Pharaoh reject the appeal, but he made life even worse for the Hebrews whom Moses is trying to lead. In today’s chapter, Moses is prompted by God to have another go at it but his people would not listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on those whom I observe to be suffering from spiritual hearing and sight impairment. In my experience, the institutional church and its regulatory minions have been too quick to diagnose such a person with a terminal spiritual condition. Judgment and condemnation quickly follow before shaking the dust off and returning to the cloister. I confess that, in my own spiritual journey, I have been guilty of this very attitude.

Mea culpa.

As I began to walk life’s journey along-side those who are struggling to spiritually see and hear, I found them to be a lot like the Hebrews in today’s chapter. There is something broken spiritually. Often it is something old and painful that is deep-seated. Typically it is of no fault of their own. It is the scars of circumstance. I have also observed that there is almost always a true desire to spiritually hear and see, but there is a process. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, the first time Jesus rubbed the man’s eyes everything was blurry. It took another repetition before the man gained his full sight.

It’s going to take repetition for Moses’ people, too. They are broken. They’re struggling under the weight of their chains and the scars of their overseers. It’s going to take time, repetition, and perseverance before they can hear what God is saying and see what God is doing through Moses.

Along the way, I’ve learned that if someone is spiritually deaf and blind, it simply means I need to keep speaking in love, listening patiently, acting kindly, responding gently, serving faithfully, and controlling my reactions. I’m reminded that on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was still complaining that His closest followers weren’t hearing Him or seeing what He was doing.

Some things take time.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Of Tribe and Time

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”
Exodus 1:8-10 (NRSVCE)

When it comes to a film, the first shot the director gives you is always an important one. In movie terms it’s called the “establishing shot” and most casual viewers don’t realize how important it is to provide you with the setting, the environment, and the emotion. In many cases, the establishing shot will foreshadow the entire theme of the movie with one quick visual. For those interested, here’s a quick look at some of the best of all time…

Likewise, great authors provide readers with a literary version of an establishing shot. The opening prologue or chapter lay out the scene for the reader.

In today’s chapter, the author of Exodus establishes the scene for the story and the journey on which I am about to embark. At the end of Genesis, Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) and his 70 descendants and their families, flocks, and herds had migrated and settled in the area of Egypt to escape a famine. His long-lost-son, Joseph was Pharaoh’s right-hand and had welcomed them and provided for them.

Exodus now picks up the story, and in the establishing shot, we find that Israel’s descendants have settled in Egypt and have been fruitful in multiple ways. His sons and grandsons are growing their families, having lots of babies, and each is becoming his own tribe. Between Genesis chapter 50 and Exodus chapter 1 we’ve gone from one Hebrew tribe to twelve growing tribes. The problem is, political winds have shifted.

In ancient cultures (we’re talking about 3500 years ago) the world was a harsh, violent, lawless and brutal place. It was tribal. You were born into a tribe, your tribe protected you, and life was about surviving against other tribes. Some tribes, like Egypt, had successfully become nations but every nation and every tribe was focused on protecting themselves against the threat of other tribes bent on conquest.

In Egypt, the new Pharaoh (that is, Egyptian ruler) and his administration take stock of the fact that Israel’s tribe has become tribes, and they have slowly proliferated within Egypt’s kingdom and territory. That is a threat. Remember, it’s a tribe vs. tribe world. Having that many people from a foreign tribe living in their kingdom was scary. It’s one thing to protect yourself from an attack from the outside. It’s another thing if a tribe living among you goes rogue. From a political perspective, Pharaoh had to address the threat. So, he moves to persecute the Hebrew people living among them and to limit their population growth.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over both the differences and similarities in our world. It’s that point of tension between two extremes. On one hand, the world has changed drastically in 3500 years and that’s the reason many 21st century readers struggle mightily with the brutality and violence of the ancient stories of the Great Story. If I want to understand the Great Story, I have to be willing to embrace that I will never fully understand ancient history yet embrace the understanding that it has value in the context of a larger eternal narrative.

On the other hand, I also find myself muttering that there is “nothing is new under the sun,” and the more things change the more they stay the same. In China, the government is persecuting people groups and religious groups within their population to try and stop their proliferation. They also have, over recent decades, infamously adopted birth control measures eerily similar to Pharaoh (e.g. allow the girls to live, but not the boys) in an effort to control the political and economic threat they feel from population growth. It also strikes me, as I mull things over, that the same tribalism at the root of the Egypt/Hebrew conflict presented in today’s chapter is at the root of everything from benign sports rivalries to toxic racial, social, nationalist, and religious prejudice. I also think of gangs, cartels, crime organizations, religious denominations, and political parties. Humans are still tribal in a myriad of ways.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, told the story of the Good Samaritan, healed the child of a Roman Centurion, and sent His apostles to “ends of the earth” He was pushing His followers beyond their tribe. He prescribed a different type of conquest in which tribal boundaries are breached with love and proliferate generosity, understanding, forgiveness, repentance, and redemption. That’s the tribe with whom I ultimately wish to be associated.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Copyright Infringement

Source: Christopher Dombres via Flickr
Source: Christopher Dombres via Flickr

Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord. “‘Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine; I made it….'” Ezekiel 29:9 (NIV)

Just last week I read a story about a legal dispute in which recording artists Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were sued by the family of Marvin Gaye. The family of the late soul legend claimed that Williams and Thicke stole elements of their father’s copyrighted song Got to Give it Up for their song Blurred Lines. In the end, a jury awarded the Gaye family $7.4 million dollars.

Copyrights are a big deal. When a book is written, a song produced, or a movie is distributed there are laws designed to protect the writers, artists, and producers. In our internet age in which things can be produced and distributed across the globe with a click, disputes over who created something and who has the rights to this or that get messy. The legalities get even messier when you include individuals and their lawyers from different nations.

I thought of this as I read this morning’s chapter in which God accuses Egypt of spiritual copyright infringement. The Egyptian pharaohs had a long history of claiming themselves to be deities. To claim that you were a god was a common way for ancient rulers to elevate themselves as authorities over their constituents. In his proud claim of divinity, it seems that Pharaoh took credit for creating the Nile. Creator God took note of the copyright infringement and the next couple of chapters stand as His summary judgement.

It’s easy to think of Pharaoh’s pride as a relic of ancient monarchs. I have observed, however, that we live in a scientific, techno-industrial age in which God is summarily dismissed as non-existent. We are asked, instead, to place our faith in scientific theories presented as indisputable truth. In the absence of an almighty God before whom we are to be humble, we are free to feel a sense of creative pride in the babies we make and genetically engineer in our laboratory. We are free to take personal responsibility and/or credit for healing disease, being a well-spring of hope, or bringing salvation in various forms to people, relationships, our environment, city, region, state, nation, planet, or universe.

I often wonder if we haven’t simply engineered a more subtle and spiritually insidious form of Pharaoh’s ancient copyright infringement.

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Spiritual Arteriosclerosis

Schematic of a transplanted heart with native ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? 1 Samuel 6:6 (NLT)

The events described in the past few chapters occurred some 400 years after the Israelites were delivered from their captivity in Egypt. How fascinating that the events of the Exodus were well known to Israel’s neighbors hundreds of years later. Not only were they aware that the events happened, but they knew the story of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. The pagan priests of the Philistines knew the story, and believed the story, well enough to warn their own leaders against making Pharaoh’s mistake.

There is a consistent theme in God’s Message of people being afflicted with spiritual arteriosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. Pharaoh had it. The Philistines warned against it. Solomon warned of it’s consequences in his proverbs. Belshazzar was afflicted with it in Daniel’s day. The prophet Zechariah warned the people of Israel against the condition.  Jesus said that many did not understand His parables because of the spiritual hardness of their hearts and later chastised many in the throng of those who followed him because of the condition. Paul warned in his letter to the Jesus followers in Ephesus that the condition leads to darkened understanding and continued separation from God.

Thank God there is a cure. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that God desires to perform a spiritual heart transplant on each of us. When we enter into a relationship with Jesus and receive Holy Spirit into our hearts He takes away our “heart of stone” and gives us “a heart of flesh.” It’s actually a simple procedure. Better yet, it’s totally free to us because God paid for the operation Himself. All you have to do is agree to it.

Our culture is well aware of the risks of heart disease and cardiac health. Today, I’m thinking both about the condition of my physical heart, but also my spiritual one. As long as I sojourn in this life, I want my spiritual heart free of the plaque that builds up over time and slowly reduced the life flowing in me. Even as my body ages and fails, I want my spiritual heart pumping life in and through me.