By John Steele Gordon Christmas famously "comes but once a year." In fact, however, it comes twice. The Christmas of the Nativity, the manger and Christ child, the wise men and the star of Bethlehem, "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is one holiday. The Christmas of parties, Santa Claus, evergreens, presents, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" is quite another.
Each Pharaoh of Egypt had grown up being told he was a god, although they surely must have known better. They had probably seen other pharaohs pass into eternity and had to know they were but men or women who had been born into the right family. They all bled if cut.
When it came time for the slaves to leave Egypt, and Moses and Aaron stood before the throne of Egypt there were certain things that are plain. First, no Pharaoh could do the same signs that this God worked in Egypt, nor could any court magicians. Second, that Pharaoh chose to follow after his own understanding and the stone cold gods; even though The Most High God had made himself known right before his eyes.
All of the Egyptians and their Pharaoh believed in religious lies and myths even as the might of heaven was being displayed right in front of them. But many since do not believe the record of those events as it seems too fantastic. So they reject it all. It is simply a tall tale as is the rest of the Bible. It is easier to believe in conspiracy theories, or that planes were taken out of the air by aliens. But what will you believe: God, or what you have been taught; and what do you put your trust in?
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.’”
Pharaoh rejected what was put before him: the Word of the one true God and the signs and wonders he had worked through Moses and Aaron. And Pharaoh stiffened up with each appeal and eventually hardened up just like he had been made of stone. He became no different than the dead gods he knelt down before and worshiped.
Hardened hearts are found throughout the Old and New Testament. For example: in Jesus’ response to the question posed from the Pharisees as to why Moses granted a decree of divorce, recorded in Matthew 19 and elsewhere, Jesus responded that “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Jesus’ response put it right back on the ones’ asking the loaded question. He said “you have hardened hearts.” He did not directly indict their kings or their ancestors – he laid it at their feet saying, “because of the hardness of your hearts…” That can only mean: If you commit the act, the sin, the Son of God said that you will reap the consequences and the condemnation – it is not about what someone else did or did not do. I suspect that a few of those gathered there even caught the distinction that day. Jesus said, no matter what excuse might be offered; it was the peoples’ fault – personally and in the present tense; because if they continued to defy God’s Law then they, singularly or collectively, would pay the price. A choice is made and with the choice comes a set of consequences. It does not matter in their case, or your or my own case, what the other guy either said or did.
Nonetheless the use of this phrase in English Bibles may leave the impression with some folks that God forces people into doing his will. And many religious minded people believe just exactly that. Now if true then any discussion of free will would be absolutely meaningless. And we (along with Pharaoh, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the people of Israel, and even the first disciples and chosen apostles) are nothing more than helpless pawns in this life. There are many who teach this and that we are predestined or sealed to go one way or the other, with it all set and “cast in concrete” before we ever learned to stand up or walk.
But you know it cannot be true. We all make choices for ourselves, right or wrong – all the time.
When you remove the idiom the phrase reads, “But I will permit Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened, and he will not let the people go.” And God allowed Pharaoh to stiffen and get more stupid with each sign and with every passing minute until he sealed his own fate up with his arrogance. Moses soon recorded — “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.”
Like this Pharaoh of old, God will also allow each one of us to walk out the door on our own and off into a completely destructive state – if that is what we choose. We get to make the choices for how we will end up. It is not the fault of parents or prophets. It is not God’s doing. He will let us be contrary to his Word and to what is good, if that is what we choose. We can deny God in any number of ways and wander off in sin without help or hindrance, without map or compass.
So then to end up in better places we need to be aware of both the will of God and our actions; and we need to make better choices.
People grow hardened right now just like they did long ago. Today you find about a thousand different denominations teaching some form of “Christianity” and almost as many ideas on how to come to Christ. And the teachers of the overwhelming majority have not spent a minute looking into the scriptures. Some ignore the Word of God altogether. It seems every one of them says that they have the truth: that is except for the one person who has actually read and studied the Bible. What that means is that the world is chock full of hardened hearts; and many of them get listened to and fawned over – no matter how far away they may actually be from God’s Word. I suspect this is mostly due to people who do not want to make hard choices in their own lives.
Many choose to do nothing. That is always the first thing on the list and is also the easiest to do. To look into these things slaps us hard with the notion that we are not in command of all things within our lives and our future. We would have to admit that death will come and is a sure collector; and though we know it is the truth, we simply do not want to deal with that. We would rather ignore the leaky faucet imagining that somehow the dripping may stop. We do not like the tick of the clock. So the choice is to do nothing and pay no attention. But God repeatedly states that doing nothing will be fatal each and every time. That leak will become a flood. And time takes no breaks. The rest may not care about God today or tomorrow or about things eternal as much as they care about the price of a gallon of gas.
We trust in the flimsiest things. Most rarely check the details, and will simply follow intuition and instinct; or they trust in what they were taught by their parents or other important people in their lives. And that is the normal case. We like to trust those who are nearest to us, whom we love and respect – and we typically assume we are being told the truth.
But God said you had better get up and pay attention for yourself as “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.” It is up to us to make the choice.
Are we consciously or unconsciously walking down one of those ways of death ourselves, whistling in the dark? Are we ignoring all the signs? Although we do not give it any thought – most of the time we are but a single faulty step away from eternity. There are so many ways that chance can lift us out of this life without notice. And eternity will not hear our cry when we pass from here. Good men and women, the rich and poor, wise or unwise, go out of this life every minute of every day; and though we weep over the loss of loved ones and even those that may be personally unknown to us, the end of those things can and will never be reversed. Did not Solomon write that time and chance happen to all?
That can mean only one thing.
For the ones who may pay some attention and for their sake – for any of those we may come into contact with, as Christians we need to be ready to teach the truth and instruct in righteousness. We need to tell it straight and without embellishment. This is the last line of defense before judgment and the ultimatum of life or destruction. There is joy in living for God and only death elsewhere. It is our duty to put these things out for people to ponder. And we simply can only put the Word out there for the rest praying that they may make the right choices in time.
Pharaoh would have done well to have paid attention to Moses. So would we all.