These are some of my notes for Sunday, March 14, 2010 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.
Books referenced in these notes are:
1. The Stone Chumash, edited by Nosson Scherman
2. New American Commentary: Exodus by Douglas Stuart
3. NIV Application Commentary: Exodus by Peter Enns
4. Spirit of the Reformation Bible (NIV) by Richard Pratt, Jr.
Moses and Aaron: God instructs that these two are to be accompanied by the elders of Israel when they see Pharaoh, but the elders are not mentioned. The traditional Jewish explanation of this comes from the most highly regarded sage Rashi, who explained that the elders all abandoned the brothers before the party arrived at Pharaoh’s court. The consequence of the elders’ timidity, Rashi adds, is that the elders were not allowed to receive the Law on Sinai with Moses in Ex. 24. (Stone Chumash)
In this modern age of highly protected, cloistered political leaders, one might find it strange that Moses and Aaron were able to see Pharaoh himself. But in much of history monarchs were expected to be available as “court of last resort” to redress complaints of their subjects, thus there were “audience days”, times and places where if one could stand in line long enough, one could address his/her monarch about a complaint.(Stuart)
“Thus says the LORD” is first used here in the Bible, but it is an ancient formula for spokesmen of the powerful, ancient documents often saying “Thus says (insert king’s name here)”. The point is that the speaker is quoting the named person, not merely saying their own thoughts. This formula is more often used in the Bible during hostile confrontations than before friendly listeners.(Stuart)
The demand to release the Israelites to hold a festival is ancient Near Eastern etiquette, whereby when one wants a favor he starts with a small request and then, gaining a favorable response, expands the request until his full desire is met. It is the opposite of the classic bargaining etiquette where one asks for far more than he wants, assuming the bargaining will drop to what one actually wants. A familiar example of this favor request etiquette is Abraham requesting God spare the cities of the plain in Gen 18:24-32, where he starts with fifty righteous and works his way down to ten.(Stuart)
Pharaoh’s defiance here can be split into three forms:
1.Is this LORD so powerful that I, a living god myself and ruler of the greatest kingdom in the world, must obey him?
2.I don’t know any god by that name: Egyptian courts included scholars who kept records of all sorts of deities and spirits and how one dealt with them. Knowing the gods and the ceremonies was doubtless a major part of being Pharaoh.
3.I will not send out my valuable labor force, despite this divine decree. (Stone Chumash)
God of the Hebrews: Using this title to indicate that the god they spoke for was the national deity of the Israelites, and thus they could not disobey Him. Most nations or at least royal dynasties, had patron gods, so this would make it more clear to Pharaoh.(Stone Chumash)
Strike us with plague or sword: Jewish sages are in disagreement as to who the threat applies to. Some said it was aimed at Egypt and Moses was being polite but implying clearly Egypt was threatened, while other sages say think Moses meant everyone, Egypt and Israel alike, would suffer if God was not obeyed.(Stone Chumash)
There are four stages of Israel’s redemption given in these two verse, which the Jews relate to the four cups of Passover:
1.I will deliver you from the forced labor: The Israelites stopped laboring in Egypt six months before the actual Exodus.
2.I will free you from slavery: God would take them out of Egypt so they were slaves no more.
3.I will redeem you: The destruction of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea ended the last possibility that the Egyptians might even manage to force the Israelites back to Egypt and slavery.
4.I will take you (v.7): God would formally take the whole nation as His people at Sinai.(Stone Chumash)
Forced labor/slavery: Freedom from servitude, similar language used in (Gen 27:40; Lev 26:13, Deu 28:48; 1Kgs 12:4)(Stuart)
Outstretched arm/great acts of judgment: Reference to the upcoming plagues, punitive sentence of God against Egypt for enslaving the Israelites.(Stuart)
My people/your God: Classic covenantal language (Jer 7:23, 11:4, 30:22; Ps 50:7; Hos 1:9; Lev 26:12; Is 40:1; Ezk 36:28)(Stuart)
When would the people know this had come to pass? Plainly, when they were away from Egypt cleanly. That would be at Sinai, when the covenant was being fulfilled by the giving of the Law.(Stuart)
A possesion/heritage: The land God would give them would be forever theirs, their property. The oaths to give the patriarchs’ descendants the land are found in Gen 15:13-20, 24:7, 26:2-5, 28:15, 35:12, 48:4. (Stone Chumash, Stuart)
Like a god: Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh would resemble God, His prophet, and the common people, so that Pharaoh would revere Moses, Aaron, and the God they represented. Alternately, Moses would be like a judge or officer of the court, capable of imposing his will on Pharaoh and punishing him. This is God’s way of again removing Moses’ chief objection to going before Pharaoh. In the event it seems Moses did more than his share of talking.(Stone Chumash)
Ex 7:3 Harden Pharaoh’s heart: A theological nexus and a constant debate point, this verse isn’t even the first verse to use the phrase “harden Pharaoh’s heart”. That’s Ex 4:21, and that is where most commentaries deal with the issue. There are three different words used to describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but they all seem literary equivalents, not subtle shades of different meaning. It’s hard to make a firm judgment about the meaning of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, because the source varies; sometimes God does the hardening, sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart, sometimes Pharaoh’s officials or the Egyptians are included in the hardening. (Stuart)
1. Douglas Stuart makes a telling point that the heart was the organ of feeling and moral choice for the Egyptians, and in the Egyptian religion it was the heart that the gods weighed to judge a person’s righteousness before assigning them to the Egyptian “heaven” or not. In this sense, Pharaoh, as a divine being, the earthly son of the gods, would naturally be considered to have a pure heart. That God hardens his heart implies that Pharaoh is not pure, but a sinner, and also makes the divine pharaoh subordinate to God in a way besides the plagues, since it implies God has the power to weigh Pharaoh’s heart and judge it wanting. (Stuart)
2.Peter Enns sees the exchange between Pharaoh’s hardening and God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as an unfathomable tension whose chief point is God’s total control over the situation.(Enns)
3.Jewish exegetes typically see the plagues as punishment for the Egyptians’ harsh treatment of the Israelites, and either say Pharaoh’s hardened heart was to facilitate the punishment of Egypt’s previous enslavement of Israel, or that Pharaoh actually had freedom of choice, but that his apparent repentance (signified by his offer to release the Israelites after the first five plagues) was only a desire to avoid more plagues, not repentance for Egypt’s crimes against Israel and recognition of God’s sovereignty over him. For Jewish exegetes, the hardening of the heart shows that there is a point of sinning beyond which God will no longer forgive, but punish.(Stone Chumash)
4.Among Calvinists the hardening is explained as God judgment on Pharaoh for his sins, giving over Pharaoh to his own evil nature, either by removing whatever restraint of evil existed in Pharaoh or by removing Pharaoh’s capacity to choose for good.(Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible)
Egypt will know that I am the LORD: Pharaoh’s words in Ex 5:2 show a complete ignorance of the existence of God. One Jewish sage, Sforno, even claims the first nine plagues were proofs of God’s existence and over-ridding power. Only the slaying of the firstborn and the destruction of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea were punishments in this interpretation.(Stone Chumash)