In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: The Endgame for Pharaoh Was to Destroy Israel 
The Torah reading this coming Shabbat is the story of the Exodus. The parasha (portion) is called Bo (“come into Pharaoh” or “go into Pharaoh”) in Hebrew. It starts from Exodus 10:1 and goes to Exodus 13:16. This narrative is the most dramatic part of the Exodus story. God reveals his “cards” to Moses in the first verses of this reading.
“Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.’” – Exodus 10:1,2 [NKJV]
To our modern eyes and ears this sounds very strange, and unfair. In normal English this would sound like, “I have convinced Pharaoh and his wise men not to allow you and the children of Israel to go out of Egypt, so that I might make a big drama and punish Egypt so hard that you will have a relevant story to tell your children for many generations to come.”
To our modern sense of justice this seems unfair. It also opens the option that God could have softened the heart of Pharaoh to immediately release the children of Israel from Egypt, and let them go to freedom and return to their inheritance from God in the land of Canaan.
This reminds me of a guy who is very religious and feels close to God.
The Guy: At the end of a bad day he turns to God and says, “Lord can I ask you a question?”
The Lord: answers: “Of course, my friend!”
The Guy: “Please don’t get angry with me.”
The Lord: “I promise not to get angry with you, go ahead and ask.”
The Guy: “Why have you made me so many difficulties today? I have had such a difficult and distressing day.”
The Lord: “What do you mean?”
The Guy: “It started with waking up very late.”
The Lord: “Yes, I know.”
The Guy: “My car did not start, the battery was dead, I had to ask someone to help me start the car with cables.”
The Lord: “OK.”
The Guy: “For lunch I ordered, and the waiter brought me the wrong thing. By the time that they fixed what I ordered it was so late that I didn’t have time to eat it and remained hungry.”
The Lord: “Alright, please continue.”
The Guy: “Walking out of my office my phone rang and when I pulled it out it dropped on the pavement and broke. Then I was so tired and upset that I purchased an electric Shiatsu massage chair to relax. I came home with expectations for a peaceful and relaxing evening, but was so disappointed when the chair did not work at all. Nothing went well the whole day!”
The Lord: “I understand! Let me tell you what was happening this day behind the scenes.”
The Lord: “This morning the Angel of Death was on his way to your house to take your soul. I had to send my angels to stop him. This is the reason that I let you sleep longer. I didn’t want you to be involved in this battle.”
The Lord: “I did stop your car from starting because just around the corner of your house there was a drunk driver that would have hit your car.”
The Lord: “As far as your phone falling and breaking goes, the person who called you was a well-known conman who would have cheated you from a whole lot of money with his scheme. As my friend I preferred to save you from this conman’s scheme.”
The Lord: “As far as your new purchase of the electric Shiatsu chair goes, there was a serious electrical problem in this chair and if you would have sat down on it – you would have been electrocuted. So, I cut the electrical cord.”
The Guy: “Lord, I understand now that I didn’t think of all these things being for my good, and excuse me for my doubts and complaining. I just did not think of these possibilities. Thank you Lord for guarding me from all these calamities and saving me today from all the sad things that could have happened to me.”
The Lord: “It is O.K. my friend. You should know that everything that I do is for your good, because I love you, my child. I hope that now you know that all that I do is planned and in consideration of what is good for my children and the ultimate plan for the salvation of the world.”
We see that the Lord knew well what was already in Pharaoh’s heart. After the tenth plague, and the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn son, and after he released the children of Israel from Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and wanted to destroy Israel.
The endgame for Pharaoh was to destroy Israel. The slavery was only a way to break them, and break their spirit and hope. This we see from the first chapter of Exodus. Please notice what was Pharaoh’s plan:
“And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage—in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their service in which they made them serve was with rigor. Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, ‘When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’” – Exodus 1:14–16 [NKJV]
We see from this text that Pharaoh’s desire was to destroy the children of Israel. If there would be no male children of Israel born, it would take one generation for there not to be Israel. If there is no Israel, there are no promises to Abraham, our father, to be fulfilled.
If there is no seed of Abraham, there is no Messiah. If there is no Messiah, idolatry and all that it carries with it will be the only force in the world. Israel’s genealogy in those days was through the male children, and therefore Pharaoh’s endgame was to wipe away all of Israel. Therefore, Pharaoh gathered his chariots after he let Israel to go into the desert.
“Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, ‘Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?’ So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him. Also, he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt with captains over every one of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness. So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.” – Exodus 14:5–9 [NKJV]
The object of Pharaoh and his chariots was not peaceful toward Israel. He felt that they are trapped between the sea and the desert, and that now he, Pharaoh, can finish with them.
God had another plan for Egypt, and God’s plan is well-described in the song of Moses (Exodus 15). What is more interesting for me is that in the book of Revelation, when the crowd beyond numbering will be gathered around the Sea of Glass, they will be singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (see Revelation 15:3). This will be the song of the final victory of the forces of God against the forces of evil that control our world.
It is good to know that God is always in control, and that everything that He does is always for the good of those who love Him and Yeshua the Messiah.
Yehuda Bachana: Do We Have Free Will? (part 2) 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Last week we concluded the weekly Torah portion with a thought-provoking question: What happened to Pharaoh’s freedom of choice?
We talked about how each person has the power and the ability to choose whether or not to follow God’s path. Free will is a gift from God; we’ve backed this up with several verses such as:
…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live… – Deuteronomy 30:19b [NIV]
God says “choose life” which means that God places the option in our hands.
We believe that sin, with all that this implies, is our choice. Yes, God has given us the possibility to sin, but we emphasized the fact that He also gave us the opportunity to choose what is right and holy.
Did Pharaoh Have Free Will? Do We?
The theological challenge stands out immediately at the beginning of our parasha:
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them…’ – Exodus 10:1 [NIV]
Let’s focus on Pharaoh – how did God harden his heart without harming his right to free will?
God is omnipotent and human beings clearly are not. However, when a person thinks he is limitless and free of accountability, it usually results in hurting others.
History has known many such great and powerful leaders, who have hurt and destroyed millions of people.
In Egypt, Pharaoh was like a god. The pharaohs were part of the pantheon of Egypt, he was omnipotent, no one could criticize him, and no one could tell him what to do.
Pharaoh was revered as a god, and as such he was full of self-importance. It was his pride that eventually led to his downfall, and all of Egypt with him.
It was inconceivable that Moses would come, declare that he was a priest of God, and demand that the nation of slaves be released.
In fact Moses, acting on God’s orders, didn’t ask Pharaoh to release His people outright. Instead, he was instructed to say that God happened to be revealed to him, and that He asked the Israelites to go to the desert for three days in order to worship God. The intention was for this request to seem fishy, like it was a trick.
The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. – Exodus 3:18,19 [NIV]
Pharaoh sensed that Moses wanted to free the people of Israel. He also felt that Moses was lying to him by insisting that the trip would only be three days in the desert.
At first, Pharaoh didn’t even listen to Moses, because God allowed the magicians of Egypt to perform the same miracles as him. In other words, Pharaoh simply viewed Moses as a very talented illusionist.
Pharaoh’s Negotiations With Moses
When Pharaoh finally started listening, he tried to enter into negotiations with Moses regarding the terms of the deal: If they claim that they are going to worship God – then who is allowed to go? When will the trip take place and for how long? What will remain as a guarantee of their return? Pharaoh was testing out the situation.
Pharaoh’s first proposal was for Moses to remain in Egypt and simply take leave in order so that they could worship God. However, Moses rejected this offer.
Pharaoh’s second proposal came when the threat of locusts loomed over him, when he was under heavy pressure from his advisers, whose spirit was broken by the plagues that Egypt had suffered until then:
Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. ‘Go, worship the Lord your God,’ he said. ‘But tell me who will be going.’ – Exodus 10:8 [NIV]
Pharaoh continued the negotiation. His previous proposal was rejected and he must make concessions with Moses. So he asked, “If I let you go, who will be going?”
Moses answered, ‘We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.’ – Exodus 10:9 [NIV]
Before Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh answered: ‘No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for…’ – Exodus 10:11a [NIV]
Pharaoh was trying to play a psychological game with Moses. Moses demanded that all the people, including their belongings, go out to worship God. Pharaoh sensed that this was a trick, and suggested that only the men go and worship the Lord. Pharaoh was hoping that Moses would give in and agree to some kind of deal.
Pharaoh’s offer was relatively fair, he was willing to send all the men to go worship the Lord. However,Moses cannot accept this offer.
After the plague of darkness, the desperate Pharaoh called Moses and laid out before him his latest offer:
Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind. – Exodus 10:24b [NIV]
Pharaoh was basically saying that if this was some sort of holiday, then take the whole family and the children too, but leave most of your livestock behind as a deposit to guarantee your return.
Moses answered Pharaoh with complete confidence:
Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God… – Exodus 10:26a [NIV]
Moses could have continued negotiating how much livestock to leave behind, how much to take to worship God, what percentages – all of the small details. Indeed, Pharaoh was already agreeing to send all the people of Israel.
Instead of focusing on the little details, Moses said the following:
…and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord. – Exodus 10:26b [NIV]
Moses was saying to Pharaoh, “I can’t leave anything here, because I don’t know what God wants, so I’m taking everything, just to be on the safe side.” Moses was speaking with honesty and sincerity, but to Pharaoh’s ears his words sounded like the most blatant lie he uttered so far. How did Moses not know? What kind of high priest doesn’t know how to worship his God?
Pharaoh was now convinced that Moses’ intentions were crooked, that he did not intend to worship his God. His plan was to run away with the people of Israel.
Let’s try to look at things from Pharaoh’s point of view: he has given up everything, he was willing to let the people go. The fact that Moses was not willing to leave a guarantee, that he as a priest didn’t even know how to worship his God, clearly showed that the people of Israel had no intention of worshipping their God. They were merely planning their escape.
These points are what hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
My argument is that Pharaoh had complete free will. When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he did not do this arbitrarily or in a supernatural way. Rather, He used Moses as well as a few psychological tricks to accomplish this. He caused Pharaoh to become suspicious and cautious.
Pharaoh’s problem was that he saw himself as a god, as a supreme ruler, and he was not used to losing in negotiations. It was beneath his dignity and status. Here we can refer to the familiar verse:
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 [NIV]
When we try to be like Superman, strong and independent, we usually fail. The desire to be independent is with us from birth, and it is a healthy desire, as long as it does not become an obsession and we are able to maintain balance in life.
It’s good to be self-sufficient, but is crucial to remember that we have parents, family, friends, and a community, we are not alone. We live on a two-way street of give and take. If we build others up, then they will build you up, if we invest in others, then they will invest in you.
Pharaoh learned only how to take, he did not know how to give and especially how to give up, and that is what pushed the Egyptian army into the Red Sea in the end.
Don’t Hide the Light Inside of You
Before we finish, I want to add a final thought about this week’s portion from a slightly different direction.
Before Moses was known as “Our Rabbi Moses”, he had a stuttering problem and was tasked with the job of encouraging a nation of slaves to lift their heads and prepare to be free.
In addition, he had to stand before the strongest and cruelest king in the world and negotiate freedom for his people.
Moses had a stutter, but despite this, God used him to stand before Pharaoh, the supreme ruler, and lead the people of Israel to freedom. God used him to speak to the entire nation of Israel as well as to teach the Torah to them for 40 years in the desert.
God can use us all as well. We may also “stutter” in many aspects of our lives, but each one of us is called to be a leader and a teacher in his or her surroundings, family, and workplace.
God looks at what is inside of us, at what cannot be faked, at our renewed lives in Yeshua, who transforms us into the light of the world. It’s best not to give in to our “stuttering”, but rather to let the light of Yeshua shine from inside of us, from our lives, and from our families.