Scripture: And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'” Exodus 4:21-23 ESV
Observation: Moses is ready to embark on his mission with the staff of God in hand (his only material weapon of warfare) and his family by his side. But first, the Lord reiterates three critical elements of the soon conflict:
- Perform all the miracles he has endowed on Moses.
- Remember that Pharaoh’s heart will harden.
- Say to Pharaoh, Yahweh declares that Israel is my firstborn son; let the nation go to serve me or else I will kill your firstborn son.
As expected, each of these points centers on God taking the initiative. He has empowered Moses to perform miracles and will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And he commands Pharaoh to let his people go to serve him, or else he will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. Moreover, the loss will be collateral, for the collective singular use of the pronoun “you” applies to Israel (God’s firstborn) and Pharaoh (all of Egypt will lose their firstborn sons).
Takeaway: God initiates, and we execute. The first might sound unappealing to some of us as if we are puppets on strings, directed by our Maker. But is there no sense of “free will” in this understanding of our Lord’s sovereignty? No. One aspect of why the angels of heaven marvel over humankind’s divine image (imago Dei) is that we possess the freedom to reject God’s best for us and go our way (as did Adam and Eve). Still, why would a loving God harden anyone’s heart? Perhaps, the better question is why would a loving God allow humans bent on marring and destroying those he loves to carry on their atrocities? Is it unloving to harden one’s heart to put an end to senseless suffering and the loss of lives? Would we question why God hardened Hitler’s heart? Still, even if we find no argument satisfactory, Paul leaves us with closure to this discussion:
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? Romans 9:20-21 ESV
So what does this mean for you and me? Indeed, it is not our place to stand in judgment of our Creator. Instead, we should express our gratitude that our good and gracious God initiates: he initiates our salvation from the ultimate Enemy who seeks to destroy our God-bearing image. And he has done so at the insurmountable cost of his only begotten Son. And like Moses, he calls us to execute all the Power he has instilled in us to fight against skirmishes of evil that linger in this post-resurrection age.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who poured out his life to set us free from the bondage of sin that otherwise ravishes our lives. Would you please help us trust in and celebrate how you initiate your good and perfect will and rely on your power to work through us to overcome evil? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling