Hardened Hearts

Tue 03/28/06 at 10:05 am

Though debated, I think it is fair to say the prevalent view in Judeo-Christian belief is that Yahweh endowed Adam and Eve with free will. I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem with Yahweh’s demonstrated penchant for interfering with the normal course of human events with an end to influencing the progress or outcome such events. Take, for example, the protracted negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh regarding the liberation of the Jews as recounted in Exodus, Chapters 4 through 14. At the end of Chapter 4, Yahweh commands Moses, “to perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power.” Should these wonders in and of themselves prove the means to accomplish the end for which he was sending them, however, Yahweh goes on to reveal that he intends to “harden [Pharaoh’s] heart, so that he will not let the people go.”1

The writer of Exodus suggests that at the conclusion of their initial meeting after Aaron’s staff-turned-snake swallows up all the Pharaoh’s magicians’ staffs-turned-snakes, Pharaoh was inclined to end it then and there, except “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to them.” Exodus 7:13. In the ensuing chapters, the phrase “hardened heart,” or a variation thereof, appears more than a baker’s dozen times as the reason for Moses and Aaron’s lack of success. Instead, the Nile must be turned to blood and the land of Egypt and its people made to suffer from frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, thunder and hail, locusts, and darkness. Before sending the swarm of locusts, Yahweh leaves no doubt that He is behind Pharaoh’s stubbornness, telling Moses to “[g]o to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his officials, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them—so that you may know that I am the Lord.” Exodus 10:1-2.

Ultimately, He hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that at midnight He can send the angel of death to strike down “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” Exodus 12:29. This last act induces Pharaoh to give the Israelites leave to depart. But Yahweh isn’t done yet. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart so he will pursue the Israelites.2 Exodus 14:8. Finally, after having Moses stretch out his hand to part the Red Sea, and after making sure the Israelites will get safely across, Yahweh hardens “the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them,” and thereby meet their watery end. Exodus 14:15.

Though Exodus is by far and away the most striking example of Yahweh’s practice in this regard, a search of the term “hardened” reveals several instances where He sees fit to harden hearts (or spirits, necks, even faces) throughout the Bible. Kind of makes me wonder about other Pharaoh-types. Say, for instance, Pontius Pilate (but I’m getting way ahead of myself – so far ahead in fact I’m not even sure that’s where I’m going). In light of the above, maybe the next time you’re tempted to say, “The devil made me do it,” you’ll find yourself wondering if it isn’t Yahweh’s influence instead. It also makes me wonder what might happen if it were just up to us humans and all we had was our threescore and ten, give or take. Psalm 90:10.

I found the idea that we are somehow being manipulated by the “powers that be” to behave inhumanely troubling long before I started thinking about The First Voice . This entry, however, stems from some follow-up research I conducted with respect to the already posted entry entitled “The First Quotation.” In that entry I reveal that the opening quotation is from Isaiah 6:6-7 which reads “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” On the morning in question (September 15, 2005 to be exact), I looked up the passage in my Oxford’s New Revised Standard Version so as to compare it with its King James’ counterpart.

Then I did something I’m fairly certain I had not done before, I read the rest of the chapter. For those of you who have been reading my blog from the beginning, or for those of you who have taken my suggestion and are reading the entries chronologically earliest to latest, you’ll perhaps understand why I can still remember I experienced an adrenaline rush as I read the line: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Id. at 6:8. I had stumbled upon a hitherto undiscovered instance of God conversing with the mysterious “Us.” See September 13, 2005 Post. You may also understand why I experienced a chilling sensation as I read the next few verses — though neither the words “harden” nor “heart” appears in the passage, the intent is unmistakable. Isaiah continues:

And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:
Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
Until cities lie waste without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

Id. at 8-12.

If I’ve said it once . . . “We have met the enemy and . . .”


1 It appears the only reason the Israelites were in this mess in the first place was because Yahweh had forgotten about them again. At least He tells Moses the reason He’s sending him to Egypt is because “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” See “Of Rosemary and Flies to Wanton Boys,” September 9, 2005 Post. We learn in Exodus 12:40 that Yahweh’s memory lapse in this instance lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of 430 years. Yet again I suggest we can all pretty much ignore the admonition Cave, Cave Dominus videt [“Careful, careful, God is watching”].

2 To write this entry, I reread the pertinent portions of Exodus and when I got to this juncture, I experienced what chat-room inhabitants and text messengers describe as an LOL moment. The writer of Exodus tells us that upon discovering that Pharaoh and his army were in hot pursuit, the Israelites, who had spent hundreds of years in captivity building the pyramids, confront Moses with the question, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Exodus 14:11.

Copyright © 2006 by cko.

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