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: Why Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart? 
Outside in the Northern Hemisphere is winter, but our Torah reading is getting hotter. The reading is from the portion named “Bo” (“come”). We start the reading from Exodus 10:1-13:16, and from the prophets we read from Jeremiah 46:13-28.
The opening statement of our reading from Exodus 10:1 is one of the more difficult Hebrew texts to translate. This is the reason why there are so many different translations of the phrase:
“Go in unto Pharaoh. Go in unto him this time and do not be astonished that he has hardened his heart until now, For I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants.” — Exodus 10:1 [NKJV]
“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I may show these my signs in the midst of them…” — Exodus 10:1 [NASV]
“And the Lord said to Moses, Go in to Pharaoh: for I have made his heart and the hearts of his servants hard, so that I may let my signs be seen among them:” — Exodus 10:1 [BBE]
“And Jehovah said to Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his bondmen, that I might do these my signs in their midst…” — Exodus 10:1 [DRBY]
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh. I have made him and his officials stubborn so that I can do these miraculous signs among them.’” — Exodus 10:1 [GWORD]
“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 miraculous signs of mine among them.’” — Exodus 10:1 [NIV]
The differences in the translations seem to be minor, but when you try to understand the text, these differences make a big difference. In rabbinical Judaism, the rabbis make a big deal of the strange text that seems to imply that God is sending Moses to enter into Pharaoh’s consciousness, because God has hardened the heart of Pharaoh not to let the children of Israel leave Egypt.
This strange behavior is not for the first time. God sends His servants on missions where it is known ahead of time that they will fail their mission. I suppose that you could say that this is for educational purposes, but I think that God does what is politically correct and kind.
You can’t bring a calamity or plagues on a nation without giving them a chance to repent and change their ways and do what is right. This is the right thing to do, even if you know that your enemy will not agree with you and will not respond favorably.
I am bringing here this text from Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary. Just a note about Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra: he lived in Spain at the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century, and was one of the most distinguished Jewish biblical commentators and philosophers of the Middle Ages. He was born in Tudela, Taifa of Zaragoza and present-day Navarre (Spain).
God gives us the reason for hardening the heart of Pharaoh:
“I have hardened his heart that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.” — Exodus 10:1
We don’t need to be surprised that the Lord has an agenda for His action. Here are some ideas that I considered in order to understand the “why” and the “how”:
God functions. The Hebrew language of the Torah indicates the reason for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart with the following concepts: “That I might show”, “They ought to consider,” “That they might understand.”
There is an educational purpose in God’s action with Pharaoh and his actions. It cannot be that a despot, an emperor, a ruler of such a great nation will be scot-free, and Egypt will not have some consequences for around 200 years of abuse, and even an attempt to delete the Hebrew nation by killing the male newborn children of the Hebrew slaves.
The principles of God’s action with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart are both educational and an insurance for the future history that when there is one nation that enslaves another life can’t just go on and no attention is given to the abuse and meanness against innocent people. Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and God helped him fulfill the desire of his own heart.
There are some very important lessons for us disciples of God and followers of Yeshua. Meanness and evil deeds and ignoring the sufferings of our neighbors will always have bad results, and even punishments for our evil actions.
We know that according to the Torah (see Leviticus 26-27) especially Israel, God’s chosen, has and does pay for our sins against God and our sins against our fellow men. We have 4000 years of history and the seed of Abraham.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” — Isaiah 40:2 [NKJV]
The Lord actually reveals to us and to all who read and want to know the story of the Exodus why He went to such a length of 10 different plagues that first touched on the assets of the gods of Egypt, the river, and the livestock, the agriculture, and then on the flesh of the people themselves, and finally on their most precious possession, their firstborn children and livestock, and even the house of Pharaoh himself.
The Lord does all this so that we can tell the story of the Exodus and proclaim God’s power and Justice (“And that thou mayest tell”). God spoke to Moses, who is the representative equivalent to all of Israel.
Similarly, “that ye may know that I am the Lord” means that all Israel shall know the aforementioned. The Torah speaks in human language and terms so that we can understand that God’s nature is also our nature.
We were created in His form and in His nature. We have that divine spark, the soul, that is given us and it is eternal, as the text of the New Testament says even about Hell, “Where the soul never dies!”
So, in the texts of the Bible we find terms like God is angry, and jealous, and loving, and he is long-suffering (patient) and God even hates, as it says both in the prophets and in the New Testament, “Jacob have I loved and Esau I have hated!”
Please read the story of the Exodus again and again, and find out: why is there the command to go through such an elaborate ceremony, and commands to eat matzah and herbs and drink wine, and tell the story of the Exodus every year and always start with our children and end with our children?
Here is the answer: the Lord God of Israel always puts the children in the first place, and cares about the next generations. This is why we are commanded to do Passover every year.
Not only the Jews, but also those from among the nations that have left idolatry behind and joined Israel through the blood of Yeshua, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Here is the direct command from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth:
“Cleanse out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, according as ye are unleavened, for also our passover for us was sacrificed — Christ, so that we may keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with unleavened food of sincerity and truth.” — 1 Corinthians 5:7,8 [YNG]
You can’t misunderstand this text even in Young’s translation.
God bless you all and remember that in the spirit of God every one of us was in Egypt before Yeshua the Rock of our salvation took us out of our own private Egypt and offered us the promised land of God, the land where the sun is the Son of Righteousness, and the light does not come from the sun, but God Himself is our light.
“Instead of thy being forsaken and hated, And none passing through, I have made thee for an excellency age-during, A joy of generation and generation. And thou hast sucked the milk of nations, Yea, the breast of kings thou suckest, And thou hast known that I, Jehovah, Thy Saviour, and Thy Redeemer, [Am] the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of the brass I bring in gold, And instead of the iron I bring in silver, And instead of the wood brass, And instead of the stone iron, And I have made thy inspection peace, And thy exactors righteousness. Violence is not heard any more in thy land, Spoiling and destruction in thy borders, And thou hast called ‘Salvation’ thy walls, And thy gates, ‘Praise.’ To thee no more is the sun for a light by day, And for brightness the moon giveth not light to thee, And Jehovah hath become to thee A light age-during, and thy God thy beauty. Thy sun goeth no more in, And thy moon is not removed, For Jehovah becometh to thee a light age-during. And the days of thy mourning have been completed. And thy people [are] all of them righteous, To the age they possess the earth, A branch of My planting, A work of My hands, to be beautified. The little one doth become a chief, And the small one a mighty nation, I, Jehovah, in its own time do hasten it!” — Isaiah 60:15-22 [YNG]
Yehuda Bachana: It’s All About Family 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
We continue with Ten Plagues of Egypt, including the last and the hardest one — the death of the firstborn: “makat bechorot.” After this, the broken and hurt people of Egypt release the children of Israel, who leave, ironically, with great wealth.
But for some reason, Egypt, and Pharaoh, who leads it, again refuse to release the children of Israel. And we do not understand why, since the official reasons for all the oppression of Israelites in Egypt were matters of national security.
Pharaoh, and Egyptians, claim that the Israelites are dangerous. This is what Pharaoh claimed at the beginning of the book of Exodus:
“’Look,’ he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.’” — Exodus 1:9,10
So if we are a threat, and we want to leave, then let us go! But we understand that this claim of “security threat” is false.
The children of Israel became very successful in Egypt. Too successful. The Torah is clear about it. The Israelites possessed great wealth and property, and Egyptians wanted what they had.
Pharaoh wants to continue exploiting the Israelites. He places tax collectors over them. He wants the Hebrew working force to continue building his empire.
I think that the moment Pharaoh tasted the oppressive and profitable system he created; he was not willing to let it go, was not willing to lose a nearly free workforce. That’s what caused his heart to harden. That is why he refused, again and again, to let the children of Israel go.
Our portion starts with the following verse:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials.’” — Exodus 10:1
In our Torah portion, we learn of God’s plan to harden Pharaoh’s heart. But we already know it, and Moses knows it. As already at the burning bush, God revealed to Moses his plan!
However, there is a problem with this statement. What happened to Pharaoh’s freedom of choice? Can God influence our desires and feelings? Can God decide for us how to act?
If it was God who hardened the heart of Pharaoh, then why did He punish Egypt? One of the classic interpretations holds that Pharaoh and Egypt crossed the line of acceptable wickedness, and the hardening of their heart was actually a part of the punishment, causing Egypt to face the fullness of God’s wrath.
Others point out that people don’t really have a free choice, that everything is predestined and nothing is in the hands or by the choice of men. This point of view is found in traditional Judaism, in Christianity, and in Messianic Judaism as well.
However, I see it differently, and again, I ask you: If it was God who hardened the heart of Pharaoh, why were Pharaoh and Egypt punished for it?
Now, Pharaoh sinned, no doubt. The possibility of doing evil, of hurting someone, or choosing to do nothing is always there around us.
Taking control of your impulses and desires, actively choosing to do what’s good and right in the eyes of God and men, is a sign of great strength. It is not always easy or convenient; it requires effort and willingness to follow the will of God.
Every person is responsible for his own decisions. We can’t blame others for the choices we’ve made.
In Genesis we read that God created man and placed him in the garden of Eden. And there, in the garden, God commanded man not to eat from the tree of life and the tree of knowledge.
Meaning that there was a possibility and a prohibition. God created man with an ability to choose evil or to make a bad choice. At the same time, as humans, we also have an ability to choose good, to make a right choice, to bless and serve God, to help those around us.
Let’s go back to Pharaoh. When God hardened his heart, did it reduce his ability to choose?
As we said before, the first possibility to understand this is that it was punishment, after Pharaoh and Egypt crossed the threshold of wickedness. Hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the punishment.
But, in my opinion, God is using here a different technique. At the burning bush, God commanded Moses to gather the elders of Israel, go to Pharaoh and proclaim to him, “the God of the Hebrews revealed Himself to us, and this God demands that we take a 3-day journey out of Egypt to worship Him.”
Now… it is clear that the plan was not to come back to Egypt afterwards, and Pharaoh, as any other person, doesn’t like to be lied to or cheated. We are annoyed when someone treats us as idiots and lies to our face.
So… Pharaoh is angry and he orders to force the Israelites to work even harder. In this way, from one plague to another, Moses, in the name of God, places doubts in the heart of Pharaoh, who, from the start, didn’t want to let his workforce go.
And even if they must go, let them leave him a guarantee — the elderly, or the children, or at least their property. At the end Pharaoh said to them, “Go, but at least leave your belongings here in Egypt.” As I said before, there are economic reasons behind the Egyptian decisions.
We see it in chapter 10, verse 24, when Pharaoh said, all of you can go, but leave your property as a guarantee. How did Moses answer that? He told Pharaoh — no, not only will we take with us all our property, but in addition, it will be you, the Pharaoh, who will give us offerings and sacrifices… Pharaoh’s reaction is not hard to guess!
But the question I want to ask is, why was it all needed? The answer is found in the beginning of our Torah Portion:
“That you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.” — Exodus 10:2
The Torah tells us that it happened for the sake of our children. We have to tell them; we have to teach our children that it is a miracle that we are here today.
There is a God in heaven. He is faithful; He fulfills His promises; He brought us out of Egypt; He redeemed us with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; He gathered us from the farthest corners of the earth and brought us back to the land of Israel against all odds. He is the One who sustains us till this very day!
This commandment, to tell or to teach children, to educate the next generation, is central in our Torah portion, and is repeated over and over:
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’” — Exodus 12:26
“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” — Exodus 13:8
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’” — Exodus 13:14
Through all these commandments, we see the great importance and the emphasis on the education of children. Yeshua also tells us in the New Testament:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” — Luke 18:15
Our attitude towards our families and children receives here a status of commandment. It is no longer a question of parental preferences. It is not what we would like to do, but it is our obligation as parents.
And one of the parental responsibilities is to teach our children the Word of God. The Exodus from Egypt, the Torah, the Old and the New Testaments.
The Bible orders us to teach our children, but what if I do not know how to teach them? That is why the holidays and the biblical feasts are celebrated as an activity, as an event. The holidays tell and teach our story.
The Scriptures ask us to encourage our children to ask questions, not to be shy to ask. I believe that this approach encourages curiosity and the desire to learn in children, when they ask and we, the parents, answer patiently.
At the end, everything that we do, we do for the sake of our families and our children. They are our whole world, and we care for them not to lack anything, care that they study well, eat healthy, have good clothes and a good social environment.
And we also have to teach them about who they are, who created them. We have to help them to build their identity, to be part of God’s people.
We need to teach them how to listen, listen to their teachers, to their parents, and especially, how to listen to God. It is not easy to listen; it is even hard to really listen to others. Our minds tend to wander away or to adapt a story to our own experiences and preconceptions.
It is also true about the Word of God. It is hard for us to listen to its message without automatically “translating” it to ideas that we already have in our head.
As people, parents, friends, spouses and also as believers and disciples of the Word, we have to learn how to listen. It is hard for us all, and we all need to improve in it.
This week we are commanded to listen to our children’s questions, to understand where are they coming from and to talk to them on their level, to answer them with certainty, “Because of this, the Lord made me go out of Egypt”. Whatever our personal Egypt is.
Our children are also commanded to listen, to listen and to take an active part in building the family booth on Sukkot, in cleaning the house before the Passover, in offering our first fruits on Shavuot. To listen to us, to why we are doing the Biblical feasts, and to learn what God did for us here.
But the responsibility is on our shoulders. As parents, we have to give priority to the education of our children, priority to invest in them.
If we want our society to have high moral standards, we need to have a common ground, a common narrative, and to be part of it, we need to know who we are. Where we came from, and what is our purpose in this world!
Our story began with God’s outstretched arm, with hope and freedom, and we tell our children about our responsibility, about our hope and redemption. The Book of Exodus begins with the rise of a Pharaoh, who did not know Joseph, who did not remember him. We, the descendants of Jacob, here and now, do remember.
We remember, because God commanded us to remember. And teach our children to remember.
Joseph Shulam: It’s About the Children 
This week’s reading is from the portion of the Torah that starts with the word “Bo” (“Come to Pharaoh”). The Biblical narrative in this portion of the Torah is probably one of the more dramatic and more influential of the whole Biblical narrative including all the way to the book of Revelation. This is the story of the actual exodus, the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt after near 400 years of living in Egypt, and around 200 of these years living in Egypt as slaves of the Pharaohs.
Pharaoh has hardened his own heart and refused to allow the children of Israel to depart from Egypt and return to the land of Canaan. However, we must not forget that the Land of Canaan at that time was an Egyptian province.
What Pharaoh and his “wisemen” objected to was for the children of Israel to stop being his slaves. Pharaoh objected to the release of the Israelites from their servitude. They were cheap labor and an economic benefit to Pharaoh and his household and to Egypt as a whole.
Egypt was one of the largest and most powerful empires of the Bronze Age, approximately between 2500 and 1000 B.C.E. Most of this period of 1500 years, Egypt ruled from Tunisia in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, from across the heel of the boot of Italy, to Lake Victoria in Africa and on the East the Red Sea and the Straits of Hormuz.
The Israelites were not the only slave group that was serving Egypt at that time. There were many other Asian and African slaves under the yoke of the Pharaoh in the second half of the second Millennium B.C.E., that were in servitude to Egypt.
Allowing the Israelites to leave and be free would have unraveled the whole economic structure of the Egyptian empire. What Pharaoh and his magicians and wisemen didn’t know, is who the God of Israel was. It is for this reason that after Pharaoh hardened his own heart several times in the earlier chapters of the book of Exodus, now for the grand finale God hardens Pharaoh’s heart.
This is what the text says:
“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]
I feel that God is showing His hand to Moses and Aaron and the children of Israel. This is one of these fascinating points in God’s dealing with Israel and with all of His children.
We, both Jews and Christians have a very naïve view of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. In the Bible, and especially in the Passover narrative, God reveals Himself as a very cunning and media-minded all-powerful ruler. Might I say a very benevolent tyrant, who’s will and desire always gets carried out in full.
We must not forget this point, my dear brothers and sisters, that we are dealing with the God who at least created our whole galaxy, including the sun and the moon and all the planets and stars, and maybe much more than our galaxy…
In the first words of our Torah portion this Shabbat God shows special interest in the heritage that we, the children of Israel, will have for the future generations. This is what God tells Moses and Aaron are the reasons why He hardened Pharaoh’s heart not to allow the children of Israel to leave earlier.
These are the reasons that God gives Moses for this hardening of Pharaoh’s heart:
“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.”
If I translate these texts into our own language and time it would be something like this:
“I am doing this to Pharaoh and Egypt for an educational program for the next generations of the Israelite children. I want to educate your children, and I might say the whole world over, so that they might know who is ‘I AM.’”
This same idea is repeated again in our portion of the Torah reading this week in Exodus 12:23-27:
“For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you. And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” – Exodus 12:23-27 [NKJV]
This is one of these texts that totally amazes me and gives me chills. Here is the Creator of the world. Yes, the whole world and everything that is in it – from the tadpole to the rhinoceros, from the tsunami in the ocean to the highest mountains in the Himalaya, all is created and made by the God of Israel: “For He so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…”
With all of God’s power and eternity under His belt, He worries about our next generation, about our snot-nosed children. Especially in these very dramatic historical moments, The Creator Himself is thinking about our next generation, about how we are going to share and teach and educate our next generations.
This is not only here dear brothers and sisters. In the holiest text in the whole Bible notice what God is instructing us to do:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 [NKJV]
Just after this greatest of all proclamations in the Bible, a proclamation that is alluded to from the book of Exodus to the book of Revelation, the next words of God come down from the Olympus of theology and addresses the issue of “your children”. The Creator of the Universe is concerned with our children, with the future generations of disciples of Yeshua our Messiah.
I realize that I got carried away with this very important theme in the Torah and in the prophets, and also in the New Testament. However, I am sad to say that in most Christian circles, churches, and communities, the children are not always at the top of the interests and priorities of the church. For this reason, there are so many seemingly devout Christian families who have lost at least some of their children to the world.
For our children are the most efficient and sensitive Geiger counters of an honest and sincere relationship with the Creator. (Geiger counters are detectors of nuclear radiation, or in this case, spiritual bad-smelling stuff.) For this reason God, in His divine revelation, puts these most important moments in the holy history of salvation and emphasizes the importance of the children and the next generations.
I realize that our Torah reading has so many important aspects and themes that carry through the whole bible to the book of Revelation, but I did get carried away with these first verses because I see the degradation of the youth and the next generations of followers of the Messiah in the world.
I see the emphasis of the churches on the physical plant, the building, and other important things for the community, but the most important things that God puts so much emphasis upon are less emphasized and less invested.
Sorry, for being carried away with this theme, but no apology. Your youth ministers (you should have more than one, at least one male and one female youth minister), they ought to be your premium and best-educated most supervised and best paid servants in your community, and the youth programs ought to be your most financially-invested.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Bo 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom from Jerusalem. My name is Joseph Shulam and together with Brad TV, we are going through the Torah portions that are being read in every synagogue on the Sabbath day. And we have arrived to the Torah portion that is called Bo in Hebrew which means, go to Pharaoh, come to Pharaoh.
God Hardens Pharaoh’s Heart
God says to Moses, “Come to Pharaoh and I will harden his heart. Then the hearts of his servants that I may show these signs of mine before him.” So people say, “Oh, God hardens the heart of Pharaoh? It’s not fair. God is on purpose not allowing Pharaoh to give a positive answer to Moses request of, let my people go.”
Not so simple dear brothers and sisters because we have at least six times before this event in chapter 10, where Pharaoh hardened his own heart. I’m going to go and look at these events. I’ll go back to chapter seven, verse 13 and 14. So that you see that God is fair. God just did exactly what Pharaoh wanted. He (Pharaoh) chose to harden his own heart.
I’m going to read from the New King James version, verses 13, 14 and 15 of chapter seven of the book of Exodus, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them,” he did not heed Moses and Aaron, “as the Lord had said. So the Lord said to Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water, and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him, and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand.”
Then again in chapter seven verse 22, we read the same development. “Then the magicians of Egypt did so with they’re enchantments; And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said.” Then next in chapter seven verse 22 we read, then chapter seven verse 19. No, chapter eight verse 19, sorry.
“Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said.” Notice this refrain that repeats, “Pharaoh’s heart grew hard and he did not listen, did not heed, did not receive the words of the Lord that came from Moses and Aaron.” Again in chapter eight, we have in verse 11, I skipped already. Verse 28 of chapter eight. Again, the same refrain, the same text, the same idea. Verse 28 of chapter eight. Again… The verses in the, between the Hebrew Bible and the English texts are not exactly the same here.
So I’m going to go to chapter nine verse seven, “Then Pharaoh sent, and indeed, not even one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh became hard and he did not let the people go.” Even after the plague of devil (in Hebrew), that struck the livestock of Egypt, Pharaoh did not let them go. Chapter nine verse seven.
Again, chapter nine verse 35, “So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; Neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken by Moses.” So six times Pharaoh hardens his own heart with the advice of his own magicians. Then finally in chapter 10 God says to Moses, you know what? “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.”
This Time, God Did It
Now I did it. He did it to himself till now by the advice of his magicians. But now it’s my turn. Why is it my turn? “Now I may show signs of mine before him that he understands that what his hardening of his heart is, it’s actually a mistake.” It was something that he shouldn’t have done. And now that he’s hardened his heart so many times against the children of Israel, and refuses to listen to me, I’m going to show him now who I am. “That you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s sons 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.”
Wow, that’s verse two of chapter 10. I’m going to harden Pharaoh’s heart because I want this story published. I want this story, whatever I did in Egypt, the world to know, and not only one generation, the children of this generation and the children of the children of this generation and the children of Israel in general, I want them all to know who I am and what I’m capable of doing to people that harden their heart against me and against my will.
I can go along with their hardening of their heart, but it’ll be a lesson to you and to your children and to your children’s children. Some very interesting motif. So much of God’s actions, especially in the book of Exodus, including the whole Passover saga, is for the sake of the next generations, for the children of the next generations until the end of the world.
Yes, God wants the world to know that he is the creator. The only God that created this world with everything in it, from the mosquito to the hippopotamus. And he wants the world to know that it’s his world, and we are his children. And that brings to mind the texts from John chapter three, verses 16 and 17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Yes, God loves the Egyptians also, but when an empire like Egypt, which was the greatest empire of the world in those days, becomes abstinent, difficult, doesn’t hear from the Lord, doesn’t want to obey the Lord, wants to do its own thing and is against the Lord and against His people, then God takes the steering wheel of history and steers that nation.
Ultimately God’s Will Is Fulfilled
But in the end, whether they like it or not, they will do God’s will. But the price that they will pay will be a very high price. It’s true throughout history, not only with Moses in Egypt, but throughout history, when nations and empires rebelled against God, and did things that were abominable, they paid the price. They paid the price.
So God says, I’m hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that you will have a story. You will have a narrative to tell your children that demonstrates who I am. Because that’s God’s purpose in history. God’s purpose in history is for the world to know who He is, that He created the world and that He loves the world. And so Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said, “Thus said the Lord God of the Hebrews, ‘how long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Not before Moses, before God. “Let My people go that they may serve Me. Or else, if you refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locust into your territory. And they shall cover the face of the earth.” Another plague.
We’re Living Through a Plague Now
We’re living now in a time of a horrendous, horrible plague that really envelopes the whole world from Antarctica to the North Pole. In every continent, in every island, in the most beautiful places in the world and in the ugliest places of the world, this coronavirus is there, and it mutates, and it kills, and it destroys economies. You think it’s an accident that it’s called the coronavirus? I don’t think so.
I think it comes to us because we didn’t want the crown of God, the kingdom of God, to reign over us. And that includes all the European countries, the North American, and the South American countries, have rejected God’s word and God’s rule over them. And God said, you want another crown? Okay, there, you got it. You’re getting another crown. Just like the plagues over Egypt, he started them and he ends them.
God Is in Control
So now we understand that the plagues over Egypt, all 10 of them, were in order for the world to know and for Egypt to know that God is in control of the gods of Egypt. Every one of the plagues over Egypt involve the territory of one of their gods, beginning with the river Nile, which was one of the most important lifelines for Egypt. And the God of the Nile was very, very famous and worshiped by the Egyptians.
God Always Gets His Way
And ending up with the livestock and with the nature itself and finally with the human being himself. God is in control and God wanted the world to know and Egypt to know that this is His world and when He demands something, He will get his way every time without doubt. So Moses goes, another plague and another plague.
And one of the more interesting plagues is upon us. And that is the plague of darkness. Just like the plague of, it’s called Devorah in Hebrew, over the livestock. The livestock of the Israelites was not affected, only the livestock of the Egyptians was affected. The darkness also was a plague, where the children of Israel were in the light. The darkness was over the houses of the Egyptians. That is an interesting thing because light comes from the sun. It covers the earth. So how God arranged, for the children of Israel to be in the light and the children of the Egyptians to be in the darkness, that I don’t know physically how that’s possible, but it’s possible. And it was done and God did it.
Pharaoh offers compromises several times. And in our Parashah, he offers a compromise. After the plague, Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh, they didn’t come by themselves. It wasn’t their initiative. After the last plague Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron and… He says, “Go serve your Lord, your God, who are the ones that are going? No, you can go but tell me who is going?” And Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds, we will go for we must hold the feast of the Lord.”
Then he said to them, “The Lord had better be with you when I let you and your little ones go. Be aware for evil is ahead of you. Not so, go now you who are men and serve the Lord for that is what you desire. And they were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” In other words, Pharaoh offered a compromise. Okay, the men can go, but the women and the children stay behind. He wanted the insurance that they will come back, that he’s not losing his workforce. His slaves, that built his cities and his tombs, you know, funerary cities in Egypt.
So he said, you men can go, why not? Go worship your God in the mountain that you want to go worship, but the women and children stay. It’s not good for you to take women and children into that wilderness. And verse 12 of chapter 10, “And the Lord said to Moses, stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land – all that the hail has left” Another plague coming from the Lord. This time it’s on the plant life, on the vegetation. On their vegetables, on their wheat, on everything that is growing out of the land.
The locust, and even in my lifetime, I’ve seen three or four locust plagues over Egypt that even arrived to Israel and ate up the wheat fields of the Negev and the fruit of the Negev. So yes, we have seen the locusts. They literally cover the sun. And today we have, you know, dusting planes that dust fertilizer and pesticides over the fields. But with those dusting planes, it’s easier to get, you know, kill a lot of the locusts. But at that time they didn’t have that technology and the locusts, you know, devoured everything in Egypt.
But… Again, we see again that Pharaoh doesn’t give in. Doesn’t give in to him. He tries to compromise again. Says, okay, you can go with your wives but leave your livestock behind, leave your wallets and your bank accounts behind. No, we will go, Moses answers. We will go with our livestock, with our property, with everything, women and children, old and young, we’ll all leave together. We’re in this together.
Still Pharaoh hardens his heart again. And… The final plague that comes upon us is the plague of the firstborn. You know, He hit the river, He hit with the varmints, the frogs, the lice, the plagues over the animal world, the plagues of the locusts and now darkness.
And then he doesn’t want to listen to them, he doesn’t want to let the people of God leave… See, remember this, God had promised Abraham that his children will be in Egypt for four generations and that they will serve another nation, the Egyptians. And after that they will return back to the land of Canaan. That’s in chapter 15 of Genesis, and God keeps his promises.
Pharaoh Doesn’t Know the God That Keeps His Promises
Pharaoh doesn’t know God and he doesn’t know that God keeps his promises. And a lot of us today, Jews and Christians, don’t realize that God is keeping his promises. The fact that we as Jews, have come from 103 different countries back to this land, is not the work of Zionism, it’s the work of God. God promised it’s going to happen in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Hosea and Amos and on and on, Zachariah and finally, Malachi.
So folks, God keeps his promises. Pharaoh doesn’t realize that. I don’t know if even Moses really realized it, but I think he believed it. I don’t think he understood the depth of what God was doing. And I just want to go on and not end talking about this portion without getting to chapter 12.
In chapter 12, after the promise of God that he will, you know, bring the last plague over the first born of Egypt. And he commands the Israelites in each family to get a lamb and store the lamb in the house for a few days and then on a certain night, on the first night of the 14th of Nisan, the first month. The 14th, full moon. Remember the Hebrew calendar goes by the moon, not by the sun. The 14th of the month is a full moon. The angel of the Lord will descend and strike down the firstborn of Egypt and of everyone who did not put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.
But whoever put it, whether they’re Egyptians, Canaanites, Canaanities and others, if they put the blood, like if they saw what the Israelites are doing and they did the same, the angel of death skipped their houses, but he hit the houses of Egypt. And then Pharaoh finally understood the mistakes he had made. And he says to Moses, now you can go.
And the children of Israel in obedience to God’s command take the wealth of Egypt with them and leave, in a hurry, hurriedly. After they eat the Passover lamb all night, at dawn they hurriedly leave Egypt and go toward the unknown, toward the desert of Sinai. And then they come to the sea, but that’s in the next week’s portion.
Blood Placed on Door Posts
Right now we are still in chapter 12 of Exodus. And God says, let each one of you take a lamb, bring it to your house, store it in your house. And on the 10th of this month, the 10th of the month of Nisan, which is the first month in the ancient Hebrew calendar, each man should take this lamb and slaughter it and place its blood on his door post and on the threshold of his house and put the blood on the door posts and go inside, cook the lamb, roast the lamb and eat it and don’t leave anything behind.
Anything left behind you just forget it. And they didn’t have time for the bread to rise. It became matzah, became unleavened bread, and they packed their bags and they left Egypt. But one more verse I want to share with you before I end, and that’s from chapter 12 verse 26.
After they do all this, the feast and everything, God explains why all this rigmarole, why all this ceremony, why this, the lamb and the blood and all of these, why this is happening. And there’s a wonderful explanation that opens the door to a lot of very important things.
Verse 26 of chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, “And it shall be, when your children will say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’” by all this hard work? “that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when he struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Look, this text is very important because it shows us a very important interest of the Lord. God is interested in our children, and all this Passover ceremony, and all this, is so that your children will ask you, what is all this service? What is all these running around about that you’re doing? It’s so, you know, that God took us out of slavery and into freedom from Egypt.
And as Christians, you are commanded to do the same in chapter five of 1 Corinthians verses seven and eight it says, “Keep the feast for Christ is our Passover.” It doesn’t say like Christian tradition says, don’t keep the feast, keep Easter. It says, keep the feast of the Passover for Yeshua Hamashiach is our Passover. We’re going to continue in the next portion, the story of the Exodus from Egypt. God bless all of you. Shalom from the TVA and from Jerusalem.
Joseph Shulam: A Rabbinical Perspective on the Passover Lamb 
The Torah portion this week is Parashat Bo, Exodus 10:1 – 13:16. It is the last chapters telling the Exodus of the children of Israel from over 200 years of slavery in Egypt. The portion from the prophets that will be read on Shabbat is Jeremiah 46:13 – 46:28. From the New Testament the reading is Luke 22:7-30.
The text from Exodus 10:1, is very strange:
“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 [NKJV]
Literally in the Hebrew He says to Moses, “Go into Pharaoh!” What does it mean, “Go into Pharaoh?”
God is saying to Moses, both as instruction and direction that he must not be satisfied with just coming and talking to Pharaoh. To Moses, God says that you have to break through to Pharaoh’s heart, because I have strengthened his heart. For I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants.
It was a test to see if they will understand the signs and the plagues that I have sent to them to wake them up and understand that Israel is My people, that it was I that sent them to Egypt, that I sent the plagues of blood, frogs, and all the other plagues that Pharaoh and his nation experienced, so that they would know and understand that it is time to release My people Israel and send them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, as an inheritance.
Actually, God is telling Moses that he must go into Pharaoh’s heart and speak to him in a way that Pharaoh could understand.
I learn from this text that The Lord understands men’s hearts, and understands that, without the impact of the plagues, Pharaoh and the people will not understand.
The brain is not enough for people to understand God and His plan and program. The message from God has to be transmitted to Pharaoh through both his brain and his heart.
We too can only understand the Lord when our brain and our heart are working together and receiving from God, through the Word first, and then through our experience and heart, from within, through our hearts, just as Pharaoh’s heart has to receive the challenges of love, hope, and faith!
In my opinion that is why the Lord speaks to Moses differently than all the previous times, saying – “Go inside of Pharaoh I have hardened his heart!” That is to say, now you go inside of Pharaoh and communicate my heart!
The story of the Passover is also a part of this Shabbat’s reading! There are many secrets in this week’s reading. I want to start with one that which is truly close to my heart.
We often forget that the drama of the Passover, and the theatrical aspects of the Passover show, are not issues of magic, or of witchcraft. The drama of the eating of the lamb in each household, while we are all dressed up and with a staff (wooden stick) in our hand, our shoes on, and while standing – what is this show about?
Here is the revelation of this secret:
“And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” – Exodus 12:26,27 [NKJV]
We see again the importance that the Lord places on our children. This text gives us the same priority that God presents in the Shema, which is considered the most important and the holiest text in the Bible that begins with this greatest of God’s commands:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 [NKJV]
(Note: After the great declaration, “The Lord our God is One!” The Lord focuses our attention – our minds and our hearts – on our children, on our homes, houses, and on our daily schedules. There is not some great theological reference to the nature of God, to the angels, or to the Messiah.)
Today, we don’t really have a real biblical Passover celebration. What we have is a dinner and a retelling of the Passover exodus. There are symbolic representations of what was.
However, even today the children play an important role. From the beginning to the end, from the opening with “Ma Nishtana” (the four questions) to the end with the finding of the afikoman (hidden piece of matzah) by the children.
We must refocus our ministry and restore the focus that God’s word prescribed a long time ago. The greatest treasure that God gave us is our future generations. The treasure He entrusted to us is our next generations. Not our theological beliefs. We must remember that one of the qualifications for being an elder or a pastor is that he has faithful children.
The upshot of this qualification is that if a “pastor’s” children are not faithful, i.e. disciples of Yeshua, that pastor is disqualified and must look for another job:
“…if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.” – Titus 1:6 [NKJV]
The parasha also has another secret! This has to do with the Hebrew grammar of Exodus 12:5,6:
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.” – Exodus 12:5,6 [NKJV]
Please look at verse 6: “Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.” Grammatically it should be written “shall kill them.” It is not possible for the whole congregation of Israel to kill one (“kill it”).
Why do you think that John the Baptist calls Yeshua and says, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes the sins of the world!” Yeshua is called the Lamb of God, related to the Passover.
This is Rashi’s commentary on this verse:
“And they shall slaughter it etc. — But did they all slaughter it (one alone did this on behalf of the company formed to eat that particular lamb; cf. Chullin 29b)? But we derive from this statement the legal principle that a man’s agent is as himself (this is derived from the fact that although one alone slaughtered the lamb on behalf of many, Scripture still states: they shall slaughter it) (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 12:6:2; Kiddushin 41b.) it speaks here of assembly, congregation, Israel, whilst one of these terms alone would have sufficed; hence they (the rabbis) said: the paschal-lambs of the congregation (a term used in contrast to that which was sacrificed by an individual on the 14th of the second month; cf. Numbers 9:9-14) are to be slaughtered in three groups, one after the other — the first group entered and the doors of the court were closed, etc. as is to be found in the Talmud, Treatise Pesachim (64a).”
This commentary of Rashi above is just one of many rabbinical commentaries that understand this text is special and that it has a secret. It is a hint for what would happen over a thousand years later, and on the same day in the same afternoon of the 14th day of Nissan, the Lamb of God, Yeshua, is condemned to death by the authorities of Israel collectively. Some of the rabbis understood that this unusual text has a secret that involves all of Israel.
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.