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What Does It Mean To Be Chosen?
Video 2 of 8
So, in the coming videos, I am going to lay out some of the questions that I have in looking at the story of the Exodus carefully . Two kinds of questions. Questions about HOW the Exodus took place, some strange oddities in the way things took place. Why did they have to happen that way? And also as we begin to understand the ‘hows’, trying to get to understand some of the ‘whys’, was it really just about getting the Jews free or was something else going on? I want you to come with me in a somewhat more detailed look at what actually went on in the Exodus. When we actually read it, I think we will find some very surprising things indeed.
Okay. So let’s jump in and talk about the Exodus story itself. And again I want to invite you to sort of play ‘If you regard’. And if you regard, would it really have taken you ten plagues to get the Jews out of Israel? This I think is a very significant question and I think the answer for most of us would be ‘no’. We could have thought of much more creative ways to get the Jews out of Egypt, simpler ways than actually requiring ten whole different plagues to make this happen . Even if you had gone to the tenth plague; last plague, and done that firstly it might have done the trick - that’s sort of the atom bomb of the plagues. Why wait until the tenth plague that could have perhaps done it all on it’s own? But even without any of the ten plagues, a mean even if you were sort of a pacifist God and you didn’t want to have any plagues at all, you just sort of Alibaba the Jews out with a magic carpet and let the Jews go without any bloodshed whatsoever, without any plagues whatsoever, just a very simple; and by the way if you think this little fairy tail couldn’t really have happened; it could have happened. As a matter of fact , there were plagues that actually took place within these ten plagues which had the making of this sort of magic carpet trick. And of course, what we are referring here to is the great plague of darkness. In the plague of darkness, what happens?
Well, the Egyptians are stricken with darkness, they can’t see a blasted thing. The Jews have light, they can see whatever they want . What better opportunity could you possibly imagine for the Jews to simply slip out of Egypt without the Egyptians knowing a thing? If we are worried about the Jews being hit by some random arrows, we can actually invoke some other thing which happens when the Jews are going out of Egypt and they are confronted at the sea by a pursuing Egyptian army. So then God sort of erected erected the equivalent of force field; it has the pillar of clouds separating between the Jews and the Egyptians and the pillar of cloud absorbs all the threatening arrows from the Egyptians because you know,so let’s sort of combine the pillar of cloud over here with the plague of darkness and we’re good! The Jews are fine! They can leave! Why bother with these very elaborate ten plagues that’s just completely not necessary?
Okay. So let’s continue with this theme: ‘If you were God’ - it actually leads us to a couple of other questions as we continue, sort of, to follow the story of the Exodus. So remember in the beginning, Pharaoh and Moses begin their face-off with Moshe asking “ for three days; just let us go for three days. We will serve God and we’ll come back.” Now, again, think; if you were God, why would you put Moshe up to that? I mean, let’s just face it, it’s not nice to say it but, isn’t that a lie? If you have the power to set the Jews free, a mean,why don’t you just take the stance, “look, send the Jews free and let them go!” If you think of sort of the stylised Hollywood portraits of the Exodus , like the Ten Commandments with Charlton Hasting, or the Prince of Egypt - Steven Spielberg, they don’t have the ‘three days’ a mean that get’s left in the cutting room floor. But in the actual Bible it’s there. Why ask Pharaoh for three days? Why not just say “Let my people go!” and then that’s it!
Now, as a kind of follow up to that question, we might ask the same thing of these kind of lengthy bargaining sessions between Moses and Pharaoh. If you look carefully at the Exodus story, there are these long, sort of haggling sessions; you know, Moshe says “ I want the Jews to go” and Pharaoh says “well,who do you want to go? Maybe you could just take the men.” So Moses say “No. we have to take everybody”. So Pharaoh says “ well you take everybody, but why don’t you leave the kids behind?” “No! We’ve got to take everybody to.” So Pharaoh gets angry and then there is another plague and it get seven more ridiculous, at the very end, Pharaoh says “fine, you can all go! But just leave your cattles behind.” Moses says “ No. You know we have to take our cattles. Not only that, you have to give us cattles. We have no idea what we’re going to serve God with until we go out. Who knows, maybe he’ll ask for sacrifices hippopotamus, giraffe, we’ve got to take everyone. We’re not going to leave a huff behind!” A mean, this is the language that Moses uses when arguing with Pharaoh and it just sort of almost seems like a farce. A mean again, if you were God and you had all of this power, you don’t need any of these bargaining sessions. You don’t even need Pharaoh’s agreement at all. The three days, and the bargaining session together, really seems to suggest that the Jews, for some reason, aren’t going anywhere unless Pharaoh says they can go.
If that’s true, why does God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? You might be familiar or not with the Exodus story to know that, even though at the beginning of the story, Pharaoh changes his mind all the time his mind all the time; whenever it is that he has agreed to let the Jews go to after one plague and another plague he changes his mind, but towards the end of the story, God actually gets involved and hardened Pharaoh’s heart, seems to divinely mess with Pharaoh’s free will and changes Pharaoh's mind. Now, why would he do that? When I say “why does he do that?’ I don’t mean , you know, from a moral standpoint why would he do that. That’s a very interesting question. But that’s not the question I am asking now. The question I am really asking is a tactical question. If you are God, and we care about Pharaoh’s will, when Pharaoh finally says yes, you know, Pharaoh’s consent is important, so don’t go changing his mind. I mean you’ve got to know what you want. So what are we going to conclude? That maybe we don’t care about Pharaoh’s consent. Well if we don’t care about Pharaoh’s consent, then don’t bother trying to get his consent in the first place. This is a very important question. Either it’s this or it’s this. Do you care about his consent or don’t you care about his consent? The truth is whole issue of Pharaoh’s free will and kind of unravelling the role of Pharaoh’s will and consent within our story is a tough one; one which we will come back to.
Let’s look at the text. Here we have one of the verses that discusses God sort of changing Pharaoh’s mind. Now look at the language. Vayare paroh ki-chadal hamatar v’habarad v’hakolot, this is after the plague of hail, Pharaoh saw that the hail was off there was no more hail, vayosef lachato, he continued to sin, vayachbed libo hu vaavadav. Now look at this language over here vayachebed libo hu vaavadav, it literally means “ and he hardened his heart, he and his servants”. But if you pay attention to that word, the shoresh over here is chebed, he hardened his heart; what’ strange about it is that it’s not the only word that is used to describe this process of the changing of Pharaoh’s mind. So for example, take a look at this verse over here, vaychazek Hashem et-lev paroh. Oh, that’s interesting. That’s a different word. Chazak. God sort of strengthened his heart. Here over here in English, you have it mistranslated as hardened in both cases but you can see very clearly it’s different right. You can seen in one case I have vayachbed, chebed; chaf, bet, dalet, and over here I have the vaychazek, chazak, which actually mean two different things. So these are actually mistranslations; there should be two different translations. So the question is, what’s the best translation of these words? Chazak actually literally means to strengthen and vayachbed probably does mean to harden. So the question is what is the difference between these things and are there two different processes going on?
I think there are two different processes going on. And if you look very carefully, throughout the plagues you will notice something else going on too, which is that sometimes, God is the one doing the hardening and the changing of mind and sometimes it is not so clear. Sometimes it is actually Pharaoh that seems to be doing it. Over here vayachbed libo, he hardened his heart, it is unclear who the ‘he’ is. If you actually look carefully, it actually sorts of looks like it’s Pharaoh.
Before we leave this issue of Pharaoh’s will, I want to just call your attention to one other thing and that is this. Over the course of the plagues, Pharaoh sorts of goes back and forth as we have talked about. Now, generally speaking, in these times when Pharaoh capitulates to Moses, does he say “oh well, I am sorry. I did a terrible thing. I sinned” or is it just that he gives in because he says, you know “look, you won and you can go”? Its different thing to surrender because you think you are wrong than to surrender because you think that you were beaten. So generally speaking, when Pharaoh surrenders after each one of these plagues and then he sort of changes his mind; does he surrender on moral ground or not. And generally we think the answer is no, of course not, he doesn’t. And that’s true. But there is one exception and the exception strangely enough comes right over here after plague number seven - the plague of barad. Look at this language over here. So Pharaoh calls to Moshe and to Aaron and he says to them chatati hapaam, I have sinned this time, Hashem hatzaddik vaani v’ami hareshaim, God is the righteous one and me and my people are wicked. A mean this is like moral language. It seems like Pharaoh for the first time is like convinced that he was wrong -I mean very strange .
So one of the thing we want to come back to is what was happening in plague number seven that makes Pharaoh sort of comes to this realisation that he was wrong on moral terms, and we will come back to that. But also I want you to think about the fact that this is very significant for understanding this issue which we’ve been talking about; which is what does it means that God changed Pharaoh’s mind, hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Because as I mentioned before in the beginning of the plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart and changes his own mind. Then at a certain point, God is the one who seems to interfere with Pharaoh’s free will and changes Pharaoh’s mind for him, as it were. Well, when is it that God is the one who starts to hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
It turns out that that happened right after plague number six, the plague right before this, the plague of boils. Take a look at this, vaychazek Hashem et-lev paroh. This is the first time that you really get this language. And God was the one who actually went in and changed Pharaoh’s mind. Okay. So isn’t it strange then that in the very next plague, Pharaoh morally capitulates and says that he was wrong and says that he sinned; those are moral words. There is greater expression of free will more than that. What is going on here? If that’s the best God can do - depriving Pharaoh of free will, doesn’t look like he’s done a very good job. How is it that we understand this? But again, the issues involving Pharaoh’s free will are again very, very complex and we’re going to come back to them. But before we do, we are going to treat with some other issues too. So let’s take a look at some of those other issues now.
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