What I'm Reading Today: Exodus 9-11
One of the most challenging elements contained in all of Scriptures is the way the story of the plagues is told in today's passage from Exodus. I say that because the story tells us that at each turning point in the story it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would ignore Moses' plea to let the people go – thereby unleashing the next horrible plague upon Egypt. It's uncomfortable to entertain for even a moment the notion that God could be responsible for bringing such pain on the people of Egypt.
So if I don't like to think of God as being responsible for causing the plagues due to God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart, what do I think caused Pharaoh's remarkable stubbornness?
Here's what I think happened.
Those of you who have participated in a Twelve-Step movement know that the First Step (or stage in recovery) involves coming to terms with the following statement: "We admitted we were powerless over [fill in your form of the addiction here] – that our lives had become unmanageable." There are two concepts contained in that step that I think represented what was going on for Pharaoh.
First, I think that like many of us Pharaoh could not accept the fact that he was powerless over the series of events that were unfolding before him. As the people went from one plague to another, it was more important for Pharaoh to cling to the misguided belief that at any point he could simply assert his will and bring the plagues to an end. He held on to that belief in spite of the evidence around him. Second, Pharaoh was unwilling to admit his life was unmanageable because such an admission would have reflected poorly upon him and his leadership. Sure he looked around and saw the carcasses of the dead animals, the boils, the destruction from the hail, the work of the swarms of locusts, the paralyzing darkness, and the bodies of the firstborn. But did Pharaoh REALLY see any of those things? Or did his need to maintain the illusion of control cause him to look through those things? That is the question.
I suppose what I'm suggesting is that Pharaoh – like many of us – spent time in the throes of an addiction. In his case, his addiction was to control. The series of plagues that were unleashed upon Egypt represented a sort of "bottoming out" process for Pharaoh that was needed in order him to admit he was powerless - that his life had truly become unmanageable. Sadly, a whole nation had to go through this "bottoming out" process with Pharaoh before they could get on with their lives.
It's easy to look at Pharaoh and say, "Why didn't he snap out of it earlier and spare the Egyptians the pain and suffering?" I would caution against being too hard on Pharaoh – for lots of us live with our own addictive thinking and behavior. We can be every bit as stubborn as Pharaoh – every bit as unwilling to admit we are powerless over some aspect of our life, and that our lives have become unmanageable. Today, I would invite you to explore what it is that you might be so addicted to that it would take a series of plagues to get you to open your eyes?
Til next time …