Thursday 06 November 2014

Bible Book:

“Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” (v. 13)

Exodus 7:8-24 Thursday 6 November 2014


How strange is this Bible passage! It isexceptionally difficult for us to put ourselves into an ancient,pre-scientific world and make sense of what we read. But, grantedthat this writing belongs to a complex culture of long ago, we canadmire the dramatic way the story unfolds. Today's passagecomprises a prologue (verses 8-13) and the first of nine plagues,which will be capped by an appalling tragedy (the death of Egypt'sfirstborn children - Exodus11-12) before the Hebrew slaves are liberated.

The prologue identifies the main challenge,namely Pharaoh's 'hardness of heart' (meaning his stubbornness andrefusal to countenance suggestions or requests from sources he doesnot control). It also tells us in advance the nature of thestruggle (the LORD's power over and against the magical arts ofEgypt); and it indicates the outcome (God's power will prevail:Aaron's staff-turned-into-a-snake eats the Egyptian magicians'snakes).

The first plague, like the eight to follow,refers to natural phenomena in the Egyptian environment, butmagnifies and interprets them in vivid storytelling. Each plaguebecomes the occasion of a "wonder" (v. 9) that God will perform, tostrike at Pharaoh's hard heart.

In this case the water of the river Nile (and thewater everywhere in Egypt) is turned to blood, depriving Egypt oftwo of its basics for sustaining life - clean water and fish. Thestory builds on the annual rhythm of the Nile waters in which, inthe summer months, the water has a dirty red colour because of thesilt carried down it.

All compelling storytelling in the ancient worldappeals more to the imagination than to natural history. Our ownimaginations (honed by our current knowledge but not constrained byit, and shaped by our faith) can perhaps glimpse the spiritualsignificance of what is so skilfully narrated in Exodus.

To Ponder

  • The God of love and life whom Christians worship does notdeprive people of what sustains life. So how do you make sense ofthe fact that millions of people in today's world struggle againsthunger and unsafe or inadequate water supplies?
  • Prejudice, religious extremism and uncritical devotion to anideology are all resistant to reasoned argument. What in yourexperience is most likely to dent irrational certainties amongthose who will not share in sensible debate?
  • How would you distinguish in yourself between a heart-feltconviction and hardness of heart? 
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