The LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’” -Exodus 4:21-23
You may read Exodus 4:18-30 here: Bible Gateway.
To say this short passage scares me a little is an understatement. It certainly doesn’t paint God as a lovey-dovey guy in the sky. Not only does God plan on killing Pharaoh’s firstborn son because Pharaoh refuses Israel’s freedom, but God also comes close to killing his commissioned servant: Moses himself!
Why would a loving God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Why would a loving God kill anyone, especially Moses?
Five Encouragements God Gives Moses (Warren Weirsbe, Be Delivered)
- His father-in-law’s blessing (v. 18). Although Moses only tells Jethro that he wants to visit Egypt to see if his family is still alive—with no record that he met with Jehovah—Jethro is gracious towards Moses.
- The promises of God (vs. 19-23). God tells Moses not to be afraid to return to Egypt because his enemies are dead. Then He assures Moses that He will enable him to do the miraculous signs, but Pharaoh would only harden his heart and thereby invite more judgments from the Lord.
500 Questions & Answers from the Bible offers some helpful insight into Pharaoh’s hardened heart: “Pharaoh was stubborn, hardening his own heart. He continued to harden his heart throughout the first six plagues . . . then after the sixth plague, when it became apparent that Pharaoh wouldn’t change, God confirmed Pharaoh’s decision. God didn’t make Pharaoh reject Him; instead, God had given Pharaoh every opportunity to change his mind and trust in the one true God. But Pharaoh refused.”
God also assures Moses of His special love for Israel, His firstborn son (Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1). “In the ancient world, the firstborn in every family had special rights and privileges, and God would see to it that Israel, His firstborn, would be redeemed and rewarded, while the firstborn of Egypt would be slain,” (Weirsbe).
- Zipporah’s obedience (vs. 24-26). Moses didn’t circumcise his second son, Eliezer. Weirsbe suggests that God struck Moses with an illness that could have resulted in death. “We get the impression that when Moses had circumcised Gershom, his firstborn, Zipporah had been appalled by the ceremony and therefore had resisted having Eliezer circumcised. Moses let her have her way and this displeased the Lord. After all, Moses couldn’t lead the people of Israel if he was disobedient to one of the fundamental commandments of the Lord (Gen. 17:10-14). Even if the Jews didn’t know it, God knew about his disobedience, and He was greatly displeased.” (For more see The Meaning of Circumcision.)
- Aaron’s arrival (vs. 27-28). Despite Aaron’s faults, God sent this elder brother to meet Moses at Horeb (another name for Mount Sinai) to minister along Moses for the next 40 years. Aaron would also become the founder of Israel’s priesthood.
- The nation’s faith (vs. 29-31). Just as God had said (Gen. 3:18), the Israelites accepted God’s message and believed from the signs God gave Moses. They responded to God’s care with grateful worship.
This was the calm before the storm.
As I wrote of God’s promises, a beautiful double rainbow momentarily appeared in the dark sky. It reminded me that God is both perfectly just and merciful. He is always faithful to keep His promises.
God reminded Moses that he was a servant of a powerful God with unlimited wisdom and knowledge. Moses’ anxiety and fears that the Jewish elders would reject his message and/or leadership never materialized.
Under Old Testament Law, failure to circumcise your son was to remove yourself and your family from God’s blessings. Moses learned it was more dangerous to disobey God then to tango with a stubborn Pharaoh.
Because Pharaoh rejected God numerous times, God finally gave him over to his hardened heart: the most dangerous place to be in relation to God. Although we face consequences from disobedience, God never forces Himself or His will on anyone.
Moses was about to face the greatest challenge of his life. But God would not send Moses where His Spirit wouldn’t be or provide. Faith in the Lord and obedience would unlock the door to victory.
What challenges do you face? Commit them to God. Although God doesn’t promise an easy journey, we can trust that He will always lead and provide.