05 Apr The 10 Commandments, Part 2: When God’s Grace Hardens The Heart
God had sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand that he let God’s people go so they would be free to worship God. Moses warned Pharaoh that if he would not let God’s people go, God would send punishment in the form of plagues upon the Egyptians. The fact that God kept sending Moses to Pharaoh reveals God’s love, compassion, patience, and kindness toward Pharaoh. Moses kept inviting Pharaoh to submit to the real God and walk away from his own sin. Yet Pharaoh continually hardened his heart.
Some of us stand back in judgment of Pharaoh, but we overlook the fact that we’re much like him. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, and he didn’t want the real God telling him what to do. That’s a hard heart. How often do we stubbornly refuse to turn from following our own desires to following God’s call to obedience?
You and I, if we’re honest, would admit that we have seasons of hardness of heart, where God says no and we say yes, where we disagree with God, where we defy God, where we disobey God. That’s what Pharaoh did.
In addition to Pharaoh hardening his own heart, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart—through love, grace, patience, and kindness. This is what people mean when they talk about killing someone with kindness.
The Puritans were fond of saying that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay. Some of us melt when we hear from God, and we say, “Oh, you’re right; I’m wrong. I need to change. Thank you for telling me the truth.” Others of us harden and defiantly say, “No, I will not change. I will not agree. I will not relent. I will not repent. I will edit God’s Word. I will ignore God’s Word. I will find another god. I will be my own god, but I will not submit to that God.” That’s hardness of heart. Some of us say, “I don’t have a hard heart.” Yet every time we sin, it’s ultimately the result of hardness of heart.
Because Pharaoh’s heart continued to harden, the plagues became increasingly more costly for the Egyptians. All of a sudden, they were faced with terrible suffering—the ruin of their environmental well-being, a failed economy, and the destruction of their spirituality. The suffering culminated with the killing of the firstborn sons.
The firstborn son, particularly in that culture, was the hope of the family. He was the legacy of the family, the future of the family. The firstborn was the one who would take care of his parents in their old age and make sure their family name extended into the future. God warned Pharaoh that if he would not let the Israelites go, Egyptian lives would be lost. Pharaoh hardened his heart, and “at midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead” (Exodus 12:29-30).
The sound of weeping filled Egypt. Just think of an entire nation where all the firstborn sons are dead and all the mothers are weeping. Some lost sons; some also lost husbands. My firstborn son’s name is Zac. He’d have been dead in a night. If I had been there, I wouldn’t have had any chance to officiate the massive funeral, because I would have been dead too.
The wages for sin is what? Death. Death usually comes one at a time, so we don’t pay a lot of attention. When death comes all at once, we’re overwhelmed by the fact that sin leads to death. In Egypt, sin led to death, and death came at once for all.
Death came for all, except for those who, in faith, participated in the first Passover. God poured out his wrath, but he mercifully made provision for his wrath to pass over his people. Each household within God’s people took a lamb without spot or blemish, representing sinlessness and perfection. The lamb, a symbolic substitute for their sin, was then slaughtered, because the wages of sin is death. And then, in obedience to God’s instructions, they took the blood of the lamb and painted it on the exterior doorposts of their home. When death came to every home, it literally passed over those homes that had the repentance of sin demonstrated in the shed blood of the lamb.
This all points to Jesus. There is no Passover without Jesus. He alone is the sacrifice for our sins, the substitute, the Lamb who was slain, and the only One who alleviates the wrath of God from coming on us. Through the Passover, God delivered his people from death. And later, through the parting of the Red Sea, God liberated his people from slavery. He set them free.