And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'”
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exod. 5:1-2)
The account of the plagues that came on Egypt is one that has occupied my mind and my imagination since childhood. Imagine how many frogs there were! And the swarms and the lice!
And you also marvel and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. How stupid can a guy get? Ten times he hardens his heart and refuses to let God’s people go. And even then, at the end, he changes his mind and chases after them – right into the Red Sea where he and all of his armies drown!
What kind of madness drives a man to this point, where reason and prudence go out the window? What kind of madness drives a man into his grave like this, where he would rather lose everything than concede defeat?
This morning, it struck me. In Pharaoh’s mind, HE was god. He was the absolute ruler, placed on the throne by the gods themselves. He made the law. He did not let Jehovah’s people go, because to do that would be to acknowledge that there is a greater god than he, a God who commands obedience, who doesn’t negotiate the terms, who doesn’t compromise. A God who simply commands and must be obeyed.
When Jehovah says, “Let my people go”, there is only one proper response.
But to Pharaoh, this was unthinkable. No one commands Pharaoh. The Israelites were Pharaoh’s people, not Jehovah’s. “I can treat them as I please, for they are mine, not yours. I have the right given to me by the gods to do as I please with what is mine.”
For Pharaoh to submit, Pharaoh would have to give up everything he believed about himself, about Egypt, about men and women, and about God.
And God didn’t negotiate it with Pharaoh. The nerve! Pharaoh tried again and again to modify the terms. “I’ll let you go a little ways. I’ll let just the men go. I’ll let you go, but the livestock stays here”.
Pharaoh was willing to treat Jehovah as an equal and compromise and come to an agreement. He was willing to use diplomacy.
But Jehovah doesn’t negotiate. The command was simple, unchangeable, and there was only one proper response. “Let my people go.”
As I was pondering this over my coffee this morning, I also thought of this passage:
9 “Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His?
10 “Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity; And clothe yourself with honor and majesty.
11 “Pour out the overflowings of your anger; And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.
12 “Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him; And tread down the wicked where they stand.
13 “Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place.
14 “Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:9-14)
God is teaching Job the distinction between the creator and the creature. A creature doesn’t command all of nature (chapters 37-39) and a creature also has no ability to humble a proud heart. Pride is a monster that no man can tame.
Pharaoh would not submit to the simple command of Jehovah for only one reason. To submit to that command would be to admit he is a mere creature who cannot do as he pleases; who is created for obedience and righteousness. He is a creature created to reflect God. And he will never be an original. He will always be a copy.
For Pharaoh to set the people free, Pharaoh would have to acknowledge that he is not a god. He has no right to oppress, control, command, possess or abuse any human being, much less the people of God.
For Pharaoh to let the people go, he would have to bend the knee, recognize that the people of God are the people of God, not the people of Pharaoh and God will hold him accountable for how he behaves and how he thinks and how he acts. That he is not sovereign, independent, and has no right to do as he pleases.
And this he will not do. It is impossible for a proud man to be humble. Only God can change a heart. Job can’t do it. and neither can I.
God gave the command and he didn’t negotiate it. Obey it, or die. He repeated that command over a dozen times. he gave Pharaoh chance after chance. But he didn’t change his mind. Obey it, or die. Those are the options. And Pharaoh chose to die with his whole army rather than bend the knee.
But one time, in all of history, God gave different terms:
18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. (Isa. 1:18)
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
He has offered us his only begotten Son. He still does not negotiate with the creature. He is still holy. He still commands. He still says, “The soul that sins shall die.”
But he has given us his Son and has commanded us to lay down our weapons and believe on the one who offers his perfect righteousness for us. It is the only terms of peace with God that we will ever receive.
But in order to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you must be born again. Otherwise you will act just like Pharaoh.
“Who is the LORD? Why does he think he has the right to tell me what to do? Why should I serve him? What did he ever do for me?”
And only the LORD can soften the proud heart. Let’s face it, we humans like to think of ourselves as the Moses or Aaron of the story. But humans are far more like Pharaoh. We also, if God does not soften the heart, would drive right into the sea and drown rather than submit ourselves to the hand of God. We mock Pharaoh’s foolishness while we do the same things. (Here I am speaking of the unregenerate heart. The mark of a believer is that his heart has been softened by the Holy Spirit. If you have believed on the Lord Jesus, it is because you are no longer like Pharaoh by the grace of God).
Look around. We see how men and women destroy themselves and their families every day. They know that they are doing it, but they also know that the only other alternative is to submit to the hand of God. And that, they will not do. They would rather die.
God has offered us life, instead of death. May he grant us the grace of humbled hearts that we might learn to bend the knee and place our neck under the yoke of Christ, for “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.”