Monday, June 17, 2013

Pharaoh's Heart

Everybody gets things, everybody sees the light and understands things, at differential rates.

And sometimes the Lord works in such a way that he won't move things forward until everybody gets it.

There is a moment in the Exodus account of God's delivery of the children of Israel from slavery when all of Pharaoh's servants beg him: "Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7). They've seen that the fight is over, and they've lost, and they plead with their leader to relent.

Pharaoh himself, of course, wavers throughout the account. At times, he seems ready to let the children of Israel go, but then his heart is hardened. The Joseph Smith translation asserts that it is Pharaoh who hardens his own heart. The original Hebrew text is fairly clear that it is God who hardens Pharaoh's heart, "that I might shew these my signs before him, and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord" (Exodus 10:1-2).

Without wading into the thorny debates over predestination and free will that have historically been provoked by these Old Testament texts about God hardening Pharaoh's heart, it is worth noting that Pharaoh's refusal to let the children of Israel go does in fact seem to serve a didactic purpose. It gives God an opportunity to demonstrate his power in a way that ultimately everybody -- Israelite and Egyptian -- confesses that it is God who has freed the Israelites from slavery and nobody else.

God wanted everybody, Israelite and Egyptian alike, to know who he was and what he stood for, before he delivered the children of Israel from their plight.

That's why it's interesting to me that the Exodus account takes note of what ordinary Egyptians think about the plight of the Israelites. God is as interested in reaching them, as he is in reaching Pharaoh. More importantly, he's reaching the Israelites themselves. He's as concerned about what Moses will tell his children, and what Moses' children will tell their children about what God has done for them.

This gave me insight into any process of social change -- whether we're talking about racial justice, or women's equality, or the treatment and status of gay and lesbian people or transgender people. The process of "getting it" is long and painful, especially when the end goal of the process is for everyone get it.

The United States is not a dictatorship. It has always appealed to "the people" as the ultimate authority. So even more than in Egypt, in America "the people" need to "get it" if anything of lasting social value is to be achieved. If it was important to God that ordinary Egyptians, that ordinary Israelites get it, that they understand that all people deserve to be free, and that they understand that all true freedom originates in our status as children of God, how much more important for ordinary Americans to "get it"?

This isn't supposed to be easy, folks.  If it were easy, we wouldn't need this: this earthly, embodied experience of life and mortality.

These kinds of lessons, painful, life and death lessons, are what God put us on this planet to learn.

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