In my twenties I had the gift of working as a nanny for a family in Cambridge. They welcomed me into their home more as a family member than an employee and invited me to celebrate holidays with them. This was the first time I observed Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, or Passover with a Jewish family. Perhaps this is why their reflection about the exodus and passover remain so ingrained in me: “I will never understand why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.”
Reading the scripture from Exodus today, I too wondered why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart. Although I cannot provide a definitive answer, I hope here to offer some perspective.
The story begins with a rearticulation of God’s love for God’s people: God is heartbroken by the oppression God’s people are experiencing in Egypt and vows to protect and liberate them from slavery. This promise of love is beautiful, but the painful truth is that God’s love here does not extend to all people. Rather than work towards the good of both the Egyptians and Israelites, God terrorizes Egypt’s land, instigates murder of Egyptian children, and hardens Pharaoh’s heart which leads to the massacre in the Red Sea.
How do we worship such a God?
First, it is important to remember that this account was written retroactively by the Israelites who were trying to make sense of what happened during the exodus. Their understanding of God’s role was surely influenced by their experience and their desire to follow a God who protects them. The Egyptian account would no doubt differ greatly. That withstanding, the holy scriptures still point to a God that is vengeful, wrathful, and seemingly inconsistent with the idea of unconditional love.
An alternative view examines not the quality of love but the reach of God’s love. As I’ve referenced before, I believe God ALWAYS desires to be in relationships with God’s people. However, the span or reach of exactly who God’s people are has not always been consistent. And, at this time, God didn’t regard the Egyptians as God’s people.
This breaks my heart. Ideally my God would love all the people, all the time. That said, it is powerful to think that even God is always adapting and expanding to maintain relationship with us. For those of us in the Christian tradition, this eventually culminates in God’s willingness to take on human vulnerability in the life of Jesus. He is our great Passover, in whom all people are protected and liberated.
Prayer: Expand my capacity to love.
Reflection: How, in your life, has God expanded the love you have for others? What are the consequences of following an unideal God?
Art: The art from today comes from this blog post on the book of Exodus.